Friday 12 May 2017

Asian Festival of Children’s Content

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is held annually in Singapore. This year it takes place next week, from Wednesday May 17, to Sunday May 21. The Festival, organised by the National Book Development Council of Singapore, aims to strengthen the creation and promotion of children’s books and other content, with an emphasis on Asia. Lucía Damacela reports.

More than one hundred local and international authors, illustrators, editors, and other professionals from the publishing industry will participate in this year’s AFCC. Countries represented include Australia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Thailand, the United States and the United Kingdom.

This year, the country of focus is Indonesia. The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) is a regional intergovernmental body promoting cooperation through education, science, and culture. It operates a regional centre for quality improvement of teachers and education personnel in Jakarta, where  Dr. Felicia Utorodewo is the director in language. She will be speaking at AFCC, as will Dr. Murti Bunanta, children’s literature specialist and president of the Indonesia section of the International Board on Books for Young People. Mr. Wandi S. Brata, CEO of Indonesia’s Gramedia Publishing, will also attend, along with a team from Indonesia’s Society for the Advancement of Children’s Literature.

Ticketed programmes include the writers and illustrators conference, masterclasses and workshops, a teachers' congress, and a parents’ forum. Free events include a children’s book fair, a gallery of illustrations, book launches, performances and other activities.

Pitching sessions are a popular feature of the Festival. They enable authors to pitch their manuscripts or media projects to agents, publishers and media executives. Singapore-based Danish expat Helle Norup did just that at last year’s AFCC. She pitched her manuscript to Sarah Odedina, London-based Pushkin Press children’s books editor; the company subsequently decided to publish her debut novel. It has the working The Missing Barbegazi, and it will be published in 2018. I asked Helle about pitching a book successfully.

How much of The Missing Barbegazi was ready when you pitched it?
I had written and analysed the first draft. That meant I had a good understanding of the themes in the book and a clear idea of how to shape the story in the second draft.

Was that the first time you pitched a book?
No, I pitched another manuscript to agents and an editor at AFCC in 2015. I also submitted the first 100 words of that story to a ‘first pages’ initiative at AFCC, where Sarah Odedina was part of the panel. She liked the opening, and after AFCC she read and gave me feedback on the full manuscript.

Is The Missing Barbegazi your first complete manuscript?
No, it’s my second one, and there are several half-finished novels in forgotten folders on my Mac.

Any advice for writers pitching at this year's Festival?
It’s important to prepare and practice a pitch. In less than ten minutes, you must be able to explain the key elements of the story: title, genre, reader age range, setting, main character, their internal and external conflicts, climax, and resolution.

When you prepare, try to get to the heart of the story by asking yourself questions like: what does the protagonist want and why? What is her or his greatest fear, and why? Who or what is preventing the protagonist from obtaining this goal, and why?

Being able to explain character motivation is fundamental to showing the depth of your story and how well you know the story world.

As I remember the pitch last year, Sarah asked me, “why?” at least ten times. I had prepared and practiced my pitch with a friend, so I didn’t have to invent any answers on the spot.

Connect with Helle on Twitter: @HSNorup.