SCBWI British Isles 2014 Writing Retreat

Dunford House

We're delighted to have Colleen Jones report for us on a recording-breaking year for the SCBWI writers' retreat at Dunford House

Over to Colleen…

While others were slaving away at the Book Bound retreat, we were eating cake at the SCBWI British Isles 2014 Writing Retreat! Oh, we did a bit of writing too.

I was the lone representative of SCBWI Ireland and was feeling every bit a retreat newbie. I put my hand up when Teri Terry asked for a volunteer to gather the bios of all the participants. This was rather clever of me as I got a sneak peek at almost everyone’s bio before they were distributed to the group. The fun part was matching the faces to the bios when we met on Friday evening.

About half the group met in the pub across the road from Haslemere train station. When most of us had staggered in with our luggage around 15:30, car pools and taxis were arranged to get everyone to Dunford House. (Thanks for that, Teri.) This was my first meeting with Matt and Zoe as we admired the lush countryside and hoped our taxi driver knew where he was going (he did).


Dunford House was once the family home of a local MP, taken over the YMCA in 1952 and turned into a meeting and event facility. All the guest rooms are named after family members. I was in the “Stella!” room. (I can never say that name without having a Marlon Brando melodrama moment.) The staff were very helpful and friendly and with them, we were very lucky to have the run of the place for the entire weekend.

The house is a warren of interesting nooks and crannies, with an endless selection of places for people to settle in to write.  One of my favourite things in the house was an old photo album, which included pictures of some of the family pets. There was an old projector in the hall, a baby grand piano that Cath Howe played beautifully, several libraries, and a conservatory full of plants with one very scared bird and then later a giant bumblebee. Both were eventually freed from their glass prison with a little coaxing and an open window or two.


There are paths through the woods and all around the grounds. I didn’t go far on my own trek, but other people found the Bluebell Woods. The whole area is gorgeous, even in the rain, but we were lucky to also see some blue skies and sun.

Evenings were lively and loud with lots of talking, sharing of ideas and techniques, and general chatter as we got to know each other. The Friday night icebreaker was a quiz devised by Teri. I sucked at that!

Meals were simple, delicious, and mostly locally grown. Dunford catered very well for people with food allergies and intolerances. Participants brought a small mountain of cakes and other treats, which were laid out like a sacrifice to the writing goddesses. We had four guys at the retreat – that’s some kind of record, isn’t it?
Matt Killeen - Writing

Saturday and Sunday were loosely structured around meals and tea breaks, and we never seemed to stop eating! I’m still drooling over the gingerbread loaf and those little caramel balls. There were many fan favourites on the cake table. I like that we actually HAD a Cake Table.

David Fenell - Also Writing

One-to-ones were booked in advance with Elizabeth Wein and Bryony Woods over the two days. We had lots of time for writing, and I was quite amazed at how much I actually achieved when I stopped faffing about and actually focused for an hour or two at a time.

Elizabeth Wein, award-winning author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire and  gave two workshops on Saturday and Sunday with a focus on plot and structure. She gave us exercises to do, and there was discussion of each one. One assignment involved writing the opening scene from the point of view of a social worker and then from the point of view of an antagonist or other character. Those were fun and really helped me to look at my story differently.

Writers could be found deeply engrossed in their projects in every room, sometimes gathered in small clutches, working silently but companionably. People gathered spontaneously for tea breaks or walks outside, which generated a lot of discussion about story ideas, plot issues, character development, cake, and any other topic like how the Eurovision competition might be going (it was semi-banned from the retreat, though possibly someone took a peek on their tablet). Saturday night, we bared our souls for two (timed) minutes to read snippets of our current projects to each other in the lounge. It was great to hear what other people were working on; there was quite a range of subjects, styles, and age ranges being covered. Alas, we had to eschew the pyjama party, but Miriam and I may have started a comfy-slipper-wearing tradition! Note to self: Get thicker slippers for walking across the gravel driveway for meals.

Something's missing from this picture...
To finish the weekend in style, Bryony Woods, literary agent  from Diamond, Kahn & Woods Literary Agency, gave a presentation on Monday morning. She did a show-and-tell of some of the books that her agency has published, then did some exercises with us around writing a good query letter. In groups, we analysed a really BAD letter and fixed it. Each group had a slightly different way of rewriting the letter, and it was a fun and informative session.

I gave myself this retreat as an early birthday present. A few other people said they’d also treated themselves to the time away from their regular, busy lives. It was a chance to put the world on hold, leave the kids with the spouse, and really knuckle down and work on our projects.

There may have been a birthday celebrated. Possibly. Nick?

Thank you to Teri Terry and her team for organizing a truly inspiring and amazing weekend!

Originally from Canada, Colleen has lived in Ireland since April 2005. She has been writing stories since age 14 when she wrote the world’s most boring (and unfinished) kidnapping adventure. Currently, Colleen is working on A Dragon Named Thelma, about a dragon who wants to sing in a folk music festival, but she doesn’t realize she can’t sing! How will her best friend, Sashi, help her realize her dream? Colleen volunteers for SCBWI Ireland.


  1. Thank you Colleen! - I soooo missed the cake table this year.

    1. Thanks for the opportunity to wax poetic about a great weekend!

  2. Thanks, Colleen - it was great to meet you. And Happy Birthday to you too!

  3. that was a great recap! thanks!

    1. Thanks for being a great facilitator, Elizabeth! See you this weekend! :)

  4. Fab article - you've captured the whole lovely experience! Hope to see you all again soon.

    1. Thanks Gareth! It was fun meeting you and hearing what you are working on. Might see you at Winchester in November! :)

  5. Sounds like a great event. Thanks for sharing. [Memo to self: take cake to every retreat from now on.]

  6. Thanks Rowena! It was wonderful, and I highly recommend doing a retreat whenever you can.

  7. Really well created work you have shared here Thanks a lot for sharing german sentence corrector


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