Writers' Retreat - Event Report

Dunford House

Alex English reports back from the 2015 SCBWI Writers' Retreat at Dunford House, deep in the Hampshire countryside. 

When I'd first gone on the SCBWI writers' retreat in 2013, I'd arrived with a blank notebook and no idea what I'd write. I came away with the first 1,000 words of a middle-grade novel set in a Venetian pizzeria. Now, in 2015, I arrived at the writers' retreat with the goal of finishing what I'd started two years ago. Unfazed by the fact I'd forgotten my laptop lead, I cracked out my fountain pen for a long weekend of low-tech writing bliss. 

The SCBWI writers' retreat group traditionally takes over the whole of Dunford House, a country house turned YMCA with bedrooms named after the original family members. I was in the “Moriarty” room. Where better to write all my remaining baddie scenes? 

There were plenty of places for a writer to hide away at Dunford House, although I didn't stray too far from the salted caramels and popcorn on the incredibly well-stocked cake table (another SCBWI retreat tradition). 

Bluebell Woods at Dunford House

For anyone in need of some fresh air and inspiration, there were all kinds of trails for walking and running, including the legendary Bluebell Woods. We were blessed with beautiful weather and one flexible Scoobie was even seen contorting herself into yoga positions on the lawn. 

Writing. The cake table close by...

There were all sorts of writers at the retreat, from complete SCBWI-newbies to the bestselling Teri Terry, from writers of picture books about peas (or maybe cats) to veterinary tales to the darkest of YA. 

The weekend had a loose structure of talks in the morning and afternoon, with 121s slotted around them and plenty of writing (and cake scoffing) time too. 

Caroline Sheldon & Teri Terry
First up was uber-agent Caroline Sheldon who made us laugh (at the world's worst submission letter) and cry (at the 10,000 submissions in her slush pile). We all left her talk much wiser and we now know never to sign off a query letter with 'Cheers'. 

After a huge lunch, we were treated to an afternoon talk by Sally Nicholls, who told us about her journey to becoming a bestselling author and her slightly unusual writing methods. more here

Evenings were all about the booze (and more cake). Saturday night saw us gather to read out snippets of our work. Teri Terry was ringmaster and kept us all in check with her egg timer as we stuttered our way through our dodgy first drafts. 

Lauren Buckland, HarperCollins

On Sunday morning we filled our bellies with bacon and our brains with publishing wisdom from Lauren Buckland of HarperCollins, who filled us in on the acquisitions and editorial processes. 

Our final session on Sunday afternoon was probably the most unusual. Sally Nicholls returned to make us (shudder) act, with a workshop on improvisational storytelling. Sprouts were planted, babies were stolen, and then the ninjas arrived. You really had to be there. 

All the while, Caroline, Sally and Lauren were squeezing in personalised feedback via the 121s. And did I mention, we ate some cake? 

Monday morning came all too soon and I for one can say I had a very productive few days finishing off my latest draft. Thank you to Tanya and the speakers for a fantastic weekend and see you all next year!

Alex English's first picture book, YUCK SAID THE YAK, was published by Maverick in 2014. Her second, PIRATES DON'T DRIVE DIGGERS will be published on 28 May 2015. She is currently working on a middle-grade novel as well as more picture books. She volunteers for SCBWI as a sub-editor for Words & Pictures and is represented by Joanna Devereux of the Joanna Devereux Literary Agency.


For more information about SCBWI Events click here
With thanks to Sue Eves who provided the photos of the Writers' Retreat  http://www.sueeves.net/ @sueeves


  1. Sounds like writers' heaven! Wish I'd been there - maybe next year!

  2. uh oh....I sign off almost everything with 'cheers'! Must be the Aussie in me :o)

    1. Ha! Me too! I thought it was a northern thing, but then I'm an honourary Aussie at the moment!

  3. Was there in 2013 too... would love to go again sometime.

  4. I would love to go to this retreat - sounds like my idea of heaven - and what a line up! Thanks for this great write up Alex, it's the next best thing to being there...

  5. I'd go every year if I could - I recommend an empty notebook and an open mind and writing first drafts with a fountain pen - after handwriting 5,000+ words again this year, I'd have to put it down to my magic wand - the Lamy 2000 (a nimbus 2000 for the brain). Alex - you captured the weekend in a blogshell! Thanks to Tania Tay for organising!

  6. Spot on, Alex. A great weekend, brilliantly balanced between talks, writing time & cake. Thx again, uber-organiser Tania.

  7. Thank you very much for this article ,well written and I learned a lot. Here I recommend personal statement writer a best site for everyone.


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