Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: 2017 Japan Writers Conference

October 8-9, 2017

by Mari Boyle

This year’s Japan Writers Conference was held at the Ekoda Campus of Nihon University College of Art, near Ikebukuro in Tokyo. This free, two-day conference, hosted writers, editors, photographers, and literary artists who are based in or have a connection with Japan. Whilst many of the attendees are living and working in Japan, others came from as far afield as Singapore, Canada and Australia to either present or simply take part.

As with any good conference, I found myself spoilt for choice as the conference covers an extensive range of literary styles, from poetry to textbooks, creative non-fiction to horror, children’s books to adult memoirs, and so much more in between.

There were several sessions on the business of writing in which the speakers recounted their experiences of self-publishing groups, e-publishing platforms, small presses versus large publishing houses, with honest discussion on the pros and cons of each.

Other sessions focused on specialised forms of writing, such as Baye McNeil’s entertaining session on how to become a newspaper columnist, Edward Levinson’s inspiring tutorial on the basics of photography for writers, and Jacinta Plucinski energetic introduction to the complexities of interactive children’s fiction.

Some sessions required audience participation, such as creating rhyming couplets with C.E.J. Simons, identifying sub-categories of ‘punk’ fiction with John Paul Catton, whilst our own SCBWI co-Regional Advisor, Holly Thompson, provided an opportunity to review a slew of fabulous non-fiction picture books, coupled with some invaluable advice on the subject.

Nonfiction Possibilities

Writing Picture Books: Nonfiction Possibilities, an interactive session led by Holly Thompson, Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI Japan.

Other sessions explored more personal styles of writing. Suzanne Kamata and Ann Tashi Slater led a session on creative non-fiction, raising the question, at what point does creative non-fiction become memoir? This was a perfect segue into the final session I attended–Leza Lowitz’s talk about her personal experiences on the art of writing memoir.

Creative Nonfiction

Captivating session on creative nonfiction with Ann Tashi Slater and Suzanne Kamata

Midway through the first day we also had an opportunity to gather together for a casual SCBWI meeting. Having attended last year’s conference, it was lovely to see the growing interest in writing for children. There were many SCBWI members from around Japan and overseas present, as well as some new faces who wanted to find out a little more about SCBWI and writing opportunities in children’s literature. Those who were new came with lots of ideas and questions and hopefully left with some answers and an understanding of the support and opportunities that SCBWI membership can offer.

By the end of the two days, I had learned so many new things, met lots of wonderful people, both familiar and new, and had a head and notebook full of new ideas. I saw additionally that all the speakers shared an element of boldness. Not in a garish, or brash sense, but in their willingness to take chances with their writing. It was interesting that in Leza’s Lowitz’s session, I was reminded of the adage, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’; be bold, take the chance, seemed to sum up much of the discussion, or as Leza put it, “If the door slams in your face, it’s no different than if you never opened it.”