Team Cooper's Agent Retreat - Part One

by Gemma Cooper from the Bent Agency and Team Cooper

The night the retreat idea was born
I have SCBWI totally to blame for my client retreat! Discussions started after the mass book launch party at last November’s annual conference. I was surrounded by my clients all drinking late into the night, and someone (I have no idea who) said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we could all get together for a whole weekend?’ ‘What, like a retreat?’ said someone else (rumoured to be me). And this started the wheels in motion...

Fast-forward to January, and I had looked at publishing dates, literary festivals, school holidays and emailed everyone a suggested weekend. I didn’t really have a schedule in mind at this point, having never been to a writing retreat myself, but I threw myself into planning. I sweet-talked one of my favourite editors into coming, asked members of the group to share knowledge, badgered another awesome editor for literary questions for the quiz and thought about what workshops I could run. In the space of a few weeks, I had a schedule!


10am – Workshop – Gemma – Engaging writing, self-editing and high-concept ideas
12pm – Lunch
1pm – Annalie Grainger (Fiction Editor/Walker Books) – Demystifying the publishing process and a Q+A
3pm – Yoga/stress meditation class – Caroline Glason
4.30pm – Tea and cakes
5pm – 7.30pm – Free writing time or 1-2-1s with Gemma (half-hour slots to be allocated to those who want them)
7.30pm – Pizza, chips and dips and literary-themed quiz


10am – Workshop – Gemma – Picture books and non-fiction
12pm – Lunch – BBQ
1pm – Workshop – Mo O’Hara – Making the jump from writer to performer (tips for school visits)   
3pm - Free writing time (or 1-2-1s with Gemma)

(Schedule does not accurately show just how much cake was eaten or tea and wine was drunk.)

Team Cooper and Friends
Luckily, I have the best of all best friends, Emma, who agreed to come and cook and basically look after us all for the whole weekend so I could focus my energies on my clients. Asking her this favour was the best decision I ever made! Sadly, we could only have my UK clients attend, but the lovely Benjamin Scott (friend and honorary member of Team Cooper) videoed some of the workshops and we are sharing them with my US clients and some whom I’ve signed since the retreat.

I have asked the SCBWI members of Team Cooper to talk about what they took from the retreat. Some of them joined SCBWI after chatting to the more well-known members at the retreat, so they may be new names to you seasoned members. Look out for them at events and to say hi. I’ll start by handing you over to the oldies!


Mo O’Hara 

People go on Writer’s Retreats for lots of reasons. I go to get away and immerse myself in my writing, to meet and hang out with other writers and to learn something new. I’ve attended the SCBWI Writer’s Retreat many times (4 years I think) and have always had a really great experience. So as an avid ‘Retreater’ I was very excited when Gemma hatched her plans to have an Agent Writer’s Retreat this year.

The Team Cooper Retreat did not disappoint.  We had a great weekend of writing, hanging out and learning (with lots of laughs and cake thrown in too.) I suppose the most useful way to look at the experience is to compare it to the SCBWI retreats that  I’ve been on before.  Because although they were the same in name they were both very different, yet both really positive experiences. 

1. Immersion in my Writing:

If I’m honest this is the one aspect of the weekend that I would have liked more of. One of the reasons I go on retreats is that my own life has lots of things competing for my writing time and the retreat is one way of carving out that time just for my writing. On the SCBWI retreat, I definitely got more writing done, but in the Team Cooper retreat I discussed my writing much more. This happened both in the one-on-one sessions with Gemma and in small group impromptu discussions with the other writers. I had so many ideas sparked off during those discussions but I could have done with a few extra hours in the day to get them down on paper. It was so good to be on the retreat though with my agent right there. Gemma and I could bounce around ideas freely and everyone’s imput was so valuable. Maybe I just needed to pry myself away from the cake table (and oh yes, there was one) to run away and write in my room

2. Hanging out and talking with other writers:

This is one aspect of the SCBWI retreats that I always look forward to. They are like writers reunions almost. Time to reconnect with people you only see once or twice a year sometimes. The Team Cooper retreat was the source of so many fantastic conversations and so many new friendships. It was ‘Team Building’ in a good way. Not in a corporate ‘let’s all do a pointless exercise and pretend to build a bridge’ kind of way, but in a ‘let’s discover and get to know an amazing group of people who’ve all been snatched up by the same agent because they are all amazing’ kind of way! I really felt privileged to be part of this team.  Everyone had such different experiences and styles but we all had such a great time. The atmosphere was relaxed and the quiz on the Saturday night was the ultimate ice breaker.
Quiz time!
3. Learning new things:

Again, in the SCBWI retreat I tend to come away inspired by the  couple of really good workshops over the few days we were there and eager to put what I’ve learned into practice.  On this retreat, we had so many really incredible sessions.  My favourite were probably the session on Picture Books and Non- Fiction Writing that Gemma did and the session with Annalie from Walker Books. Both really filled me with a push to get on with writing some picture books and sparked some great ideas too. And as terrified as I was to lead a session on school visits it was really good for me to do. It was a supportive atmosphere and a relaxed way to share experiences with the other writers. I even learned lots in the session that I was leading, and I know that might sound strange, but that’s a really good thing. 

I want to say thanks to Gemma  for hosting us all and programming and leading such an amazing retreat and to her friend Emma who made us such lovely food. As we all know writers run on their stomachs so it was very much appreciated (as was the aforementioned cake, cookies, pies, flapjacks etc. that individuals baked). Roll on Team Cooper Retreat 2014!!!

Mo is the author of the My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish series. For more info on her books click here


Julienne Durber 

I’ve always favoured the SCBWI Conference in November rather that its Summer retreat, so this was my first time retreating and I found it fabulous and so different from the ‘schoolroom’ feel of the Conference. This was much more like a secret camp - our own little world of writers sharing experiences. Sympathy for shared defeats and heartfelt congratulations for successes. It really did allow me to ‘retreat’.

On the practical side, Gemma’s talk about picture books and especially non-fiction titles showed a whole new area that I hadn’t thought about exploring. And Annalie’s willingness to answer all of our questions about the mysteries of the ‘behind closed doors’ side of the publishing industry was really interesting. Even Mo’s school presentation talk, which I’d seen before, took on a more intimate feel - friends sharing advice. But I have to say that the revelation of the weekend was the mid afternoon yoga session. A great way to de-stress and clear the mind before more story swapping (and a challenge not to giggle at inappropriate moments.)  I don’t think a mass Tai Chi session in the Stripe car park at the November Conference would work, but the thought made me smile. (Gemma – I think the conference organisers should get on this. Jo, are you listening? I’d pay to watch!)

And out of all of the positives, the most valuable thing was to spend time with like-minded people all on various stages of their careers, and know that we’re all in it together.

Julienne blogs here 


Katy Cannon 

The Team Cooper Retreat was my first time at a writing retreat, so I don’t know if they always involve quite so much cake, but I can certainly recommend that they should.

Getting to hang out with the rest of the team – with other writers, who are willing to have bizarre and detailed discussions about imaginary things – was a great experience. And the opportunity to learn from them, as well as the visiting speakers and Gemma, was incredibly valuable.

For me, the most useful session was Mo O’Hara’s workshop on arranging, planning and giving school, bookshop and library visits. This is something I’ve never done before but, with the publication of Pooch Palace, my series for 6-8 year olds, next year, I suspect I’ll soon be thrown in the deep end! Listening to Mo and learning from her has given me a lot confidence in my ability to put together a decent show.

I also got an awful lot out of the sessions on picture books and non-fiction for kids. So much, in fact, that I picked up an extra project to work on with my husband… watch this space! I do want to say an enormous thank you to Gemma, and her friend Emma, for organizing such a fantastic weekend. It was incredibly useful – and so much fun!


Katy is the author of the Pooch Palace series, the first two books be published by Stripes in March 2014. Go here for more info about her books


In the second part of Team Cooper's Agent Retreat, on Wednesday, 24th July, Mike Revell and Robin Stevens talk about their retreat experiences, as well as SCBWI BI's very own Benjamin Scott who also attended the retreat.

Gemma Cooper represents authors of books for children and young adults. For more information about Gemma, see The Bent Agency website and blog. 


  1. Thank you Gemma, Mo, ,Julienne and Katy for letting us share in your 'secret camp' sounds like lots of fun and this has to set a trend.

    Looking forward to part 2 already!

    I'm also so sorry, I muddled my weeks and didn't flag this up on Sunday.

    1. Next year I might call it 'writing camp' not retreat. Has more of a ring to it!

  2. Admit it, you wrote this just to make me jealous. ;-)

    P.S. Katy - in my experience, all writing retreats involve a lot of cake.

  3. What a fantastic idea, Gemma. I wonder if it will catch on with other agents?

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