Thursday 26 March 2015

How We Learned to Embrace Our Bonkersness and Encourage Bonkersness in Others

By Miriam Craig and Lorraine Gregory

#ukmgchat has been going for one whole year! Whoop and hurrah and other celebratory exclamations! 

We’d like to say it’s down to our brilliant forward planning and excellent social media skills, but we’d be lying. We’re not even quite sure how it all started. One minute we were chatting on Twitter about how wonderful #ukyachat was and the unfortunate lack of anything similar for middle grade books, and the next we were organising the very first chat.

We’d never really organised anything before, so our planning went something like this:

Lorraine: This is so cool! I’m so excited! How are we going to do it?
Miriam: I don’t know. We should tweet that it’s happening, I guess?
Lorraine: Yeah we should. Should we plan questions?
Miriam: I don’t know.
Lorraine: What day should we have it on?
Miriam: I don’t know.
Lorraine: Should we have guests?
Miriam: I don’t know.
Lorraine: Do you want to go and get some sweet potato fries and talk about it?
Miriam: YES! Let’s do that!

We muddled (= munched) our way through. The chats evolved from lasting half an hour to an hour, then from once a month to twice a month and we have been hugely lucky to have persuaded amazing guests to join us.  Over the past year we’ve had chats on mysteries, ‘the fantastical’ and historical fiction; we’ve got into the nuts and bolts of writing craft with chats about plotting, how to write series and how to write action scenes; and we’ve discussed ways writers can address diversity in their books.

We’ve also moved on to having #ukmgchat meetups IN REAL LIFE! We’ve had two socials so far and there will be more to come (as soon as we’ve recovered from the last one). It can be a tad strange when you meet someone in person for the first time and realise that they are not, in fact, twelve years old. But once you get over that, it’s great.

And our planning for #ukmgchat hasn’t changed all that much. It’s still basically:

Miriam: We should probably organise the next chat.
Lorraine: Yeah, we probably should.
Miriam: When shall we do that?
Lorraine: Soon.
Miriam: Shall we meet up for dinner then?
Lorraine: OK.
Miriam: Can it involve sweet potato fries?
Lorraine: Yes I think so.
Miriam: And books?
Lorraine: Definitely books!
Miriam: And maybe a brownie? With vanilla ice cream?
Lorraine: *gurgle*

(It’s really ALL about the food.)

But here’s the thing: while we started using the #ukmgchat hashtag as a way of talking about the books we loved – and while we have also used it as an excuse to eat A LOT of sweet potato fries – we’ve ended up with something much better. (CHEESY MOMENT COMING UP) We’ve ended up meeting loads of great people, and hopefully helping those great people meet each other.

Because the way we see it, #ukmgchat is just a tiny part of a wider and much more splendid children’s book community – you could call it the Unofficial Children’s Book Support Network. That network is made up of #ukyachat, which is what inspired us; the new #ukpicchat that will be happening on Sunday nights; the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (which is how we met); Children’s Book Circle, which links writers and illustrators with those who work in publishing; the discussion forum; the inordinate number of fantastic bloggers who help get people excited about books; MG Strikes Back (of course). And without question a lot more that the two of us don’t even know about yet.

These things are important. They’re how you find out your funny middle grade novel should NOT be 120,000 words long (Miriam). They’re how you learn there’s more to editing than moving commas around (Lorraine). They’re how you can get 20 recommendations for ‘great middle grade books involving wolves,’ should you so want them (AND WE DO).

Working on children’s books, whether writing them, publishing them, or blogging about them, can send you more than a little loopy. Is there any point to this? Why am I doing this? What in fact AM I doing? Why is there a weird brown stain on my writing cardigan? etc. If we want this to work in any way at all, we need to help each other out. We also need support networks like this if we want reading and writing great books to be accessible to *everyone.* And we need other people who are as bonkers as us to reassure us that it’s good to be bonkers, and sweet potato fries can in some circumstances be considered a health food.

In conclusion: we started #ukmgchat as a way of yakking about books, but we’ve ended up being part of something much more rewarding. We’d like to say a huge thank you to EVERYONE who’s joined in our chats, spread the word, guest hosted, and generally made #ukmgchat such brilliant fun – in particular Annaliese Matheron (@Matheron), who created our website.

You can have a look at said website to find out more about #ukmgchat, including a list of past guests, pictures from our latest social, and what we think of the term 'MG.' And the next #ukmgchat is happening TONIGHT - it'll be a general chat about middle grade books, at 8pm as usual.

If you have anything to add to the Unofficial Children’s Book Support Network, please add it in the comments below – the more, the better. And do tell us your ideas for the future of #ukmgchat!

Lorraine and Miriam at the #ukmgchat social in February - BOWLING!

Lorraine Gregory - on Twitter: @authorontheedge 

Miriam Craig - on Twitter: @miriamhcraig - on Instagram: @miriamhcraig


  1. Great post! I'm going to try to look on the chat tonight, I always seem to get there just as it's finishing but of course this means I can catch up, if not participate, via the hashtag. Well done Miriam and Lorraine for starting it all off.

  2. You two are GREAT
    (And quite crumby I expect, too)

  3. You two are GREAT
    (And quite crumby I expect, too)

  4. Awesomely cool - congrats on your happy birthday!

  5. Thanks all! Yes, we are usually to be found with ketchup stains somewhere on our person!

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