Writers’ Retreat 2017 with an Agent, an Editor and Two Award Winning Authors

The annual Writers’ Retreat at Dunford House took place in May with LBA agent, Louise Lamont, and special guest author Emma Carroll, along with bonus author Teri Terry, and children’s book writer and editor, Emily Sharratt. Here, Marianna Reed Barber shares what she learnt and offers some excellent insights on writing historical fiction and the agent, author and editor relationships.

A retreat has many benefits; from dedicated writing time and three days not cooking, to meeting fellow story crafters, and learning from experts in the industry, not to mention tea on tap and a table teetering with cakes! I was particularly excited with this year’s line-up of distinguished talent from the publishing world, ready to share their expertise and inspire us to produce our best work yet!

Agent Louise Lamont. Photo Credit: Candy Gourlay

We kicked off Friday evening with Louise Lamont from LBA Literary Agency, who raised a laugh with her starter question, ‘Agents – what are they good for?’ In true rhetorical style, she answered with examples of her three main roles.
First, as negotiator between author and publisher, to handle those tricky meetings about terms, royalties and rights, and ensure the author gets the best deal possible. These conversations preserve the author-editor relationship, which can then focus on other decisions around the manuscript.

Second, as support to authors’ career development, from the first round of submissions to negotiations with publishers that approach an author for specific projects. Advising on publication strategy is key to assisting authors in making decisions about scheduling work effectively, to avoid clashes on publication dates and to ensure points of difference between books coming out with different publishers.

Third, as ally to the creative process, spotting ideas, discussing their development and advising authors on improving the work. ‘Writing demands a lot of you,’ said Louise. Of a book that doesn’t sell, she was sanguine; ‘No writing is wasted. That book will have taught you so much.’ She suggested moving on to another project, ‘for fun, to take off the weight. Sometimes that may be the one that sells.’

Louise gave us some snippets of why she loves her job so much, that she has, ‘the freedom to approach someone with a nice turn of phrase.’ That she writes blurbs and is fiercely protective of them! That she can spot a story idea from a tweet and suggest to an author to write it. Her integrity as an advocate of children’s literature shines through, demonstrating that agents are indeed good for many things!

Special guest Emma Carroll, author of many historical middle grade novels. Photo Credit: Candy Gourlay

On Saturday, author Emma Carroll talked about her writing career that spans six books since graduating from the MA at Bath Spa, and how each book has taught her something new, from fascinating historical facts, how to approach publishers to suggest book deals, to working to tight publishing deadlines – which mostly involves lots of self-discipline: ‘I’m not phoning friends or doing any laundry!’

Emma shared how she develops ideas into stories, researching historical events, creating Pinterest boards for visual prompts and surfing online auctions to buy authentic props for her characters. As a former English teacher, she knows how to include engaging themes for her audience. Her latest book, Letters from the Lighthouse (Waterstones Book of the Month, May 2017), is set during World War II, yet its themes link inextricably to today’s refugee crisis. ‘Bureaucracy stands in the way of doing the right thing, and these mistakes are being made again.’ She is passionate about fulfilling, ‘a job to make sure our kids grow up right.’

In Emma’s Historical Fiction workshop on Sunday, she had various prompts to kick-start our imaginations: old photographs, objects, family stories, and historical events. Old newspapers can be bought online, which provide a rich source of language and absurd stories, such as, ‘Extraordinary Fecundity,’ about a sheep bearing eight lambs! For historical world-building, think about the news stories of the time, beliefs, social hierarchy, domestic details, and era-appropriate names. Emma said historical fiction is great because times were more dangerous and children were generally less supervised…so, there is more freedom for a writer’s imagination to roam!

Emily Sharratt (left) in conversation with Teri Terry Photo Credit: Marianna Reed Barber

Our final talk on Sunday afternoon was with Teri Terry and Emily Sharratt in conversation about their author-editor relationship, describing the process of turning a manuscript into published book, starting from the initial offer package by the editor for an author to accept – or reject! - through the various phases of edits, to the cover design and final proofs. Effective communication is paramount, as Teri commented, ‘you have to take criticism well, and find common ground on suggested changes,’ and Emily added, ‘I represent the reader, so you have to consider you’re writing to be read.’
Agents play a key part in the process too, and Emily said she particularly respects those who want to discuss the an author’s career and the editorial vision, not just the money aspect. Similarly, Teri said although a positive author-agent-editor dynamic is ideal, you should remember that editors do move around, so choose a publisher that you like generally, not just based on one person.

I came away from the retreat not only richer in knowledge, but also with the feeling that the children’s writing community is a wonderful place to spend time. Just don’t ask me how many times I visited the cake table!

Feature photo above: Dunford House. Credit: Candy Gourlay


Marianna Reed Barber is completing the Writing for Children MA at the University of Winchester and is currently working on a YA contemporary novel. As an English tutor for homestay students from other countries, she is ever curious about the human experience, especially where the inner and outer worlds collide.
Twitter: @createwrite

A M Dassu is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, she manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage.
Contact her at events@britishscbwi.org
Twitter: @a_reflective

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