Picture Book Retreat 2014 – a Novice’s View

After excitedly anticipating this event for over six months, the day had finally come to embark on SCBWI’s Picture Book Retreat. I did not know what to expect, but having gone to lots of other fantastic SCBWI events organised by Anne-Marie Perks and Bridget Strevens, I knew that we would be in for a treat! By Shana Nieberg-Shuschitzky


Holland House is a fabulous location for inspiration. The original architecture is stunning, the staff are warm and welcoming, the rooms lovely and peaceful, and when you step out into their phenomenal grounds your eyes are greeted by a sea of lavender and hollyhocks and a green expanse that’s just asking to be enjoyed.

We had a couple of hours to unwind after our travels and I was pleased to discover that I wasn’t the only rookie there. Bridget and Anne-Marie handed out our programme of events, which provided the perfect balance between group activities, appointments with assigned Mentors and Individual work time.

There were two fabulous guest speakers present: Alexis Deacon (Beegu, Croc and Bird) and Helen Stephens (Fleabag, How to hide a Lion), who, over the course of the weekend, ran a series of fun and challenging workshops and talks to inform and stimulate us. 

Alexis beguiled us with his powers of observation, fantastic approach and understanding of storytelling, not to mention his classic and amusing impressions of a blackbird and its cheeky mimic, the robin.

Helen dazzled us with her stunning illustrations and their corresponding roughs, of which she brought so many to show us that at one point I had piles handed to me from both directions and was almost drowned by awesomeness!

Saturday afternoon we were incredibly lucky to have a visit from two Industry talents: Sarah Malley, the Deputy Art Director from Egmont Books, and Maria Tunney, Senior Picture Book Editor at Walker Books. They talked us through various examples of Picture Books that they loved and what it was that made them special. Then they gave us an honest and revealing account on how many developmental meetings and how much decision-making happens before books are taken on.

Interspersed throughout Saturday and Sunday were the Mentor appointments held with: Alexis Deacon, Helen Stephens, Mike Brownlow, Sarah Malley and Maria Tunney. However, all of the Mentors were so incredibly open and approachable that many of us ended up having more than one appointment.

The food at Holland House deserves a special mention, particularly their cakes (I’m biased to sugar, it gets a raw deal!). All their food was made with local produce and one mealtime included a black forest gateau with the most delicious cherries the size of plums that almost made me cry, it was so good!

Throughout the whole weekend however, the most unexpected bonus was the utter joy of being amongst such like-minded and spirited people. Being part of SCBWI inspires a feeling of camaraderie akin to belonging to a tribe. The socialising and fun-filled activities, including a most memorable midnight game of croquet, complete with iphone lighting, was like the cherry on top.

I think that I can speak for everyone when I say that we all came away with our heads buzzing with inspiration and our hands raring to go, and it’s all down to the amazing efforts of Anne-Marie and Bridget, so thank you both so much.

In short, this is an experience that every storyteller should have, at the very least, once in their lifetime.

Weavers of Words and Pictures Unite!

Photos used by courtesy of Helen Stephens, Sue Eves, Candy Gourlay, Anne-Marie Perks & Shana Nieberg-Suschitzky.

Shana Nieberg-Suschitzky aka Shanarama creates stories and illustrations for both picture books and older children’s fiction, though she has a few other tricks up her sleeve. In 2012 she won the Undiscovered Voices Competition for illustrating and is a proud SCBWI member. Her website is http://shanarama.co.uk
Also, follow Shana on Twitter.


  1. Great write up Shana. I'll have to go next year!

  2. Wow, looks wonderful! Thanks for your write-up, Shana :)


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