During all the eight years I was working so hard to get published, there was only one major conference I paid to go to and that was being held at Harvard’s Law School.

Oh I took lots of courses and workshops, but not that many really expensive conferences.

It was called the Children’s Literature New England conference.

This was the summer of 1996. My youngest son was only two years old (he’s seventeen now).

My husband decided to make a vacation out of it.

We drove all the way to Boston and when we got there, it became much more practical for me to stay on campus in a dorm room even though it meant paying about $600 for the week of room and board on top of the $600 plus I had paid for the conference.

In the long run though, that conference saved me thousands of dollars because it made me realize that finishing my university degree would not help me become the writer I wanted to be.

The conference was full of university graduates.

I actually think too much university interferes with good writing.

Good writing goes back to being instinctive, and ‘decensoring’ yourself. Peeling away the layers of socialization and being truly honest.

I would say academia is almost the exact opposite!

Despite how valuable that conference was, my general advice to aspiring writers is don’t spend a lot of money on conference–unless you can really afford it!

If it’s money just lying around–fine. Go.

But be fiscally responsible when it comes to your art and dreams!

I’ve watched Dr. Phil episodes of people pursuing their dreams and bankrupting themselves in the process!


Don’t be pathetic!

Make sure you live your life as well.

Give you an example.

I’ve been talking about how I really want to go to England to attend the ceremony for the Muslim Writer’s Award.

It’s the fifteenth award that Wanting Mor has won and/or been shortlisted for. But the only reason I want to go is because the ceremony is being held in the Shakespeare Globe Theatre!

If writers had a ‘mecca’ it would be the Shakespeare Globe Theatre!

And how appropriate! I went for Hajj, to the real Mecca, last year, and this year I’m invited to my career’s mecca!

Oh it just feels right on so many levels!

And yet a few days ago, I was completely willing to cancel the trip because the logistics weren’t working out.

When I got back from that Children’s Literature New England conference, a little voice inside me told me something I’ve never forgotten.

It said, “Don’t you ever pay so much to go to a conference like that again! Wait till they invite you!”

It was the same with all the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators conferences in L.A.

That voice insisted, “Wait till they invite you!”

Well last August that finally happened.

It was a matter of discipline.

I knew my family could not afford my going before. I knew my time was better spent at home, working on my craft.

Basically if you write something fantastic, eventually they’ll have to notice ! And when they do, they’ll invite you!

For this England trip, nothing was working.

I had thought that my best bet lay with the Muslim community in England. I mean they should be impressed with this accomplishment right?

All I needed was to book enough presentations to basically pay for my hotel and meals. Air miles would take care of the flight. (There’s one benefit to all those trips I’d been taking!)

I sent a mass email to all the Islamic schools in London–about thirty or forty.

Got one response. No commitment.

Tried this and that.


My sister wanted to come, agreed to pay half the hotel expenses and I thought maybe that would work.

Nope. Still too expensive.

Then I realized that I was on a childrens’ literature listserve where most of the members were academics out of the U.K.

This listserve is very high calibre! I mean Philip Pullman’s on it for goodness sakes. Half the time I feel overwhelmed with the issues they discuss.

I only ever dare pipe up when I really feel I’ve got something to add.

There was one author on there who was constantly making annoucements and self-serving promotional notices! Oh it was excructiatingly embarrassing!

I vowed I’d never do that.

But in desperation I emailed a couple of people on that list, privately and asked them for some help. One of the ladies gave me some suggestions but said I should ask the list.

Long story short I did appeal to their collective wisdom, and graciously a number of them responded with excellent suggestions. I think they were so good-natured about it because I had contributed to issues in the past.

I’ve taken all their suggestions. Not sure if any of them will really pan out, but in the process other funds (the royalty cheque from Big Red Lollipop–woohoo!) came in and I’m in an excellent position now to go. ie. I can now afford it!

I’m still going to try to make this trip pay for itself. I want to earn enough in presentation fees to maybe even come back with a bit of profit–but at the very least break even.

My point in all this?

Always, always act fiscally responsible! Don’t go into debt to pursue your dream.

If you have to pay for your travel, it means you haven’t mastered your craft!

Write well enough and they’ll pay you to attend!

Believe me, this approach works.

I’ve been steadily building up an international speaking track record.

Every bit of promotion helps, and that’s how I see presentations. They’re promotion but they also help pay the bills!

I guess I’m fortunate too because ever since that Boston trip, I’ve also been able to get travel grants from the Canada Council whenever really big opportunities presented themselves.

But even in that case, it involves sending a writing sample, and if my writing sample isn’t good enough, if my craft isn’t good enough, no grant.

So work on your craft!