Friday, 7 October 2022

Notes from the CWIG AGM and an announcement, by Dawn Finch

On September 20th  2022 we had the Society of Authors' Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) AGM, and there was a lot to report! Apologies in advance for this long article but there's a lot to tell you.

Since the main pandemic restrictions eased the committee and the SoA have been working hard to embed lots of things that were previously in the planning stage.

Things that have happened this year in CWIG:

We released our statement opposing the government’s plans to convert the Oak National Academy into an Arms Length Body, which can be read in the Where We Stand section of the SoA website.

In March, CWIG released a joint statement with the SoA in support of Simon Green and the LGBTQ+ community, when his school visit was cancelled for being ‘outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school’ by the Southwark Archdiocese. You can read this statement on the SoA website, Click here.

The committee has been examining issues surrounding DBS documents (Disclosure and Barring Service), with the result being that the SoA is planning to help authors acquire DBS through an umbrella body as a membership benefit in the near future. Further details of this will be announced very soon and we are sure that our members will be hugely relieved to have access to this. 

This was a matter that we had discussed extensively over the past few years and we are fully aware that in theory an author should not require this extra level of safeguarding, but in practice an increasing number of local authorities are demanding it. We were faced with two options; we could continue to argue the case on behalf of our members and risk alienating schools, teachers and local authorities, or we could work towards SoA becoming an umbrella body so that members could get this documentation. We felt that in the long term it would make more sense to help our members get the extra documentation they required in a simple and affordable way. This helps schools fulfill their safeguarding requirements and ultimately protects and supports our members too.

The Committee has been working with SoA staff on new template contracts for school visits, which is currently under construction and will be available very soon. Two new guides will also be made available to members: one to help authors draft their own terms and conditions for school visits and other events and a separate guide members can send to schools/events organisers. The aim is for these to be regularly updated.

In our events we hosted a Big Issues in Children’s Literature event with A M Dassu, Darren Chetty, Stuart Lawrence, chaired by Isabel Thomas. The event was a huge success, as you can imagine. We only made this event available for one month on Vimeo at the request of the panel. I have been asked why we might make a panel event available for only one month and there are a number of reasons, the most important being panel member request. It is a good reminder to everyone who has an event recorded that you should consider what will happen with that recording and you have every right to ask for an expiration date for the recording for whatever reason you see fit.

CWIG hosts many online events throughout the year and we decided to continue with this online access as it has the potential to reach many more people than and in-person event. Our most recent event was an Industry Insider event exploring school visits and how to protect yourself with booking forms and clear conditions. This is a perfect example of the kind of events that are there to provide really practical career guidance.

Our CWIG Reading for Pleasure Award for schools continues to be well received (and much desired by schools) and we are thrilled to announce that author Nicholas Allan has stepped forward to offer financial support in the form of a grant that will benefit the recipient schools in their work to support reading for pleasure. The Reading for Pleasure Award was rather the victim of its own success and therefore we needed to have a bit of a refresh to make sure that it kept its status. Nicholas Allan stepping up to support the award is very exciting and CWIG are looking forward to being able to relaunch the award in the near future. In the meantime you can still nominate as the existing award will run on the current model until the relaunch. If, however, you wish to hold off until the new model is in place that should be later this year.

SoA group staff coordinators have also been busy on our behalf -  Teddy and Sarah attended Farshore’s Annual Insight Presentation for their review of the children’s book market.  Group coordinator Teddy McDonald represented the committee in attendance at the Carnegie Greenaway Awards at The British Library. 

Coordinator Teddy McDonald joined a sector partners meeting with Great School Libraries and received an update on the next phase of their campaign. Phase two will focus primarily on head teachers, Ofsted, and government. The SoA will be amplifying the findings of their next survey into primary and secondary school library provisions when the results come in – the survey is still open, so please do submit to this. See their website for more information

As well as my work on committee I have been in conversation with the National Literacy Trust about speaker fees. I took part in the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group report giving evidence and examining the negative impact covid has had on the incomes of authors. As well as engaging in all discussions at the Society and beyond about the rights, incomes and careers of creatives. I continue to work with library and literacy groups to support reading for pleasure and have a number of ongoing author rights discussions that I will see through.

After five years as a CWIG committee member, and two and a half further years as Chair, the time has come for me to take a breather. I have been on committee with dozens of members and when I agreed to take on the role of chair back in 2019 I thought that it might me a lovely way to end my time at CWIG. A few award ceremonies and launches, some lovely events with a few chilled glasses and lots of lovely chats with interesting people.

Sadly a pandemic put paid to that and instead of invites my inbox was full of heartbreaking pleas for help and support. I’m so proud that the Society and CWIG stepped up during this time. We suddenly found ourselves immersed in a world where we could only reach out to our members online, and so that is what we did. I never did get to go to those fizzy wine awards, but I did have a much more important time than I expected. 

Now, I’m delighted to hand over to Isabel Thomas and I’m very happy that I’m leaving the committee and the new members in such safe and expert hands. Isabel is already very well known to most children's authors as an award winning author with over 150 books under her belt, but you can find out more about
on her website

I would like to thank everyone at CWIG for making this possible and for making such a difference during the most challenging of times. Thank you Teddy, and Sarah at Soa and Jo McCrum who guided my hand at the start of my journey. Thank you Nicola Solomon for your guidance and leadership, and special thanks to Joanne Harris who has talked me into calmer waters more than once! Most of all thank you to the many committee members who have been there with me over the last 7 and half years. You know who you are, and I’m honoured to have worked with you.

My own future in writing for children is far from certain, I had not had any contracts since before the pandemic and I may have to make some difficult decisions in the near future. that said I will continue always to make a stand for rights for creatives. Children's books and the people who create them and work with them will always be close to my heart.

Dawn Finch (aka Dawn McLachlan) - is an author, poet, activist, allotmenteer, seed herder, community cook, and former chair of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group at the Society of Authors

Twitter @dawnafinch

Instagram @dawnamclachlan

To join the Society of Authors and gain benefit of all this and more, please click here.



Pippa Goodhart said...

Thank you so much for that thorough and clear report, Dawn, and for ALL that you've done in representing and battling for us all over the years. You're ace!

Sue Purkiss said...

Exactly what Pippa said - thank you so much!