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Writing is child’s play?

Children’s writing workshop one of five seminars at Whistler Writer’s Festival and Retreat

By Nicole Fitzgerald

What: Whistler Writer’s Festival

What: Children’s Writing seminar

When: Friday, Sept. 15 to Saturday, Sept. 16

Where: MY Millennium Place

Fee: $40

Anybody can write a children’s book. How hard can it be? Writing children’s books is a great stepping-stone to writing a novel. It will get you to where you really want to be. Expect to make a lot of money off of it. Look at how JK Rowling took off.

If you believe any of this malarkey, sign up for the Children’s Writing seminar hosted by award-winning author Sheryl McFarlane, part of the Whistler Writer’s Festival and Retreat.

“It’s harder for new writers than it used to be,” McFarlane says of making it in the children’s book industry. “The best way to break into the business is to be very good at what you do. There is always room for that. Really spend time getting to know the business and perfecting the craft.”

The same could be said for any of the writing genres. Children’s Writing is only one of five seminars offered at the Whistler Writer’s Festival. Navigate the Rewriting Process with Mary Schendlinger, Bring Your Writing to Life with Michel Beaudry, and delve into Screenwriting and Learn How to Pitch Your Book/Story with Rebecca Wood Barrett.

Become the best writer you can be, but even if you’ve mastered the writing craft, learning the business end of the different genres is crucial to success.

McFarlane boasts a small library of successes, with a dozen children’s books and her first young adult novel about to hit bookstore shelves at the end of this month. Her novel, The Smell of Paint, published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside, is the first of many young adult novels to come.

The new book came about not from novel-ambitions, but career survival. She sites reduced funding for school libraries, a decrease in population and a saturated writers’ market for her switch from children to young adult books. You can also add peer pressure from her editor to the mix.

Understanding how the industry works has kept McFarlane writing full time as well as reeling in the accolades, including getting short listed for the Chocolate Lily Award twice, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre “Our Choice” title three times and CBC Radio’s Morningside Children’s Book Panel recommendation twice. She has also garnered Canadian National Library, B.C. Book Prize and IODE National Chapter Book awards and nominations. McFarlane has written the book on how to be successful in children’s book writing, she wants to share the wealth and her seminars are great places to start.

At her Whistler seminar, participants will learn about the different genres within children’s books, the craft itself, the difference between writing for adults and kids, and understanding the expectations of both the public and publishers. Writers will study character, dialogue and plot during the seminar as well as learn about the standards of the industry in Canada, Britain and the U.S.

“It is important to know what is expected of you these days,” she says. “The expectation and quality is really high…. What I hope is that I can give people a lot to take away and obviously play with.”

Children’s Writing, Navigating the Rewriting Process and Screenwriting take place Friday, Sept. 15 to Saturday, Sept. 16 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at MY Millennium Place. The Bringing Your Writing to Life seminar is Sunday, Sept. 17 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and Learn How to Pitch is Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Spruce Grove Field House.

Seminars range from $20 to $60.

In addition to seminars, the festival also hosts three different reading events open to the public. Maude Barlow, the Council of Canadians chairperson, reads Thursday, Sept. 14, Joseph Boyden, touted by CBC Canada Reads Program, reads Friday, Sept. 15, and Eden Robinson, B.C. Book Prize winner and finalist for the Governor General’s Award, reads Saturday, Sept. 16 from 8 to 10 p.m. at MY Millennium Place.

To register for seminars or to purchase reading tickets in advance, visit