EVENTS Retreat 2022


Holland House, country house retreat centre and gardens

As in-person SCBWI events start up again, Words & Pictures Events Editor Eva Wong Nava reports on her first-ever writer's retreat.

It was 7am on a Thursday, at Paddington Station. Much too early even for Paddington Bear, but not so for the many of us travelling by train out of London. The morning was crisp but spring was in the air. I looked up at the Passenger Information System to find my platform. My train to Evesham was departing in 50 minutes from platform 2. I was on my way to Evesham for a Writer's Retreat. I’ve never been to Evesham nor have I ever been to a writer’s retreat before. So, I was raring to go. There is nothing more invigorating than leaving toute seule on an adventure. I felt brave like Thomas the Tank Engine. 

I found my seat, indicated by a small LED screen lit by a green light with words that said, “14C, Reserved to Evesham”. I settled into my seat, luggage by my feet with my carry-on bag on the empty seat next to me. It was a three-day retreat, but I had packed enough clothes and things for a week. Wishful thinking, I guess. 

As the train pulled out of London, a thick fog descended. My heart dropped, anticipating a gloomy three days at Holland House, situated right by the River Avon. To pass the time, I read a middle-grade book. The tea lady passed by with a trolley and I ordered a cup of tea. Slightly under two hours later, I arrived at Evesham to glorious sunshine and a welcoming smile that warmed the cockles of my heart. Susan Bain, Retreat organiser and a long time volunteer for SCBWI British Isles, gave me a bear hug before we both climbed into her car: she was also the bona fide chauffeur for the Retreat. 

Evesham is a pretty little English market town situated in Worcestershire in the West Midlands. It is scattered with Tudor buildings. The Retreat was a 10-minute drive away from Evesham station. Originally built between circa 1580 and 1620, Holland House started as three labourers cottages. A gable above the dining room area of the main building says HHA 1904 across it, which was the year the house was modernised. 

Holland House has a long history, as their website told me. The main building is a Tudor style house with a thatched roof that has two modern buildings attached to it: a 1970s-style block (containing more hotel rooms) and a chapel/prayer space that was added in 2018. The house is surrounded by three acres of luscious and well maintained gardens. A sunken garden styled after the British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, sits at the front of the house, and by the side of the chapel, guests can relax in a little sun-trap garden hidden behind a wall of topiary, making this little space a haven for writing. 

In fact, the whole hotel is a haven for writing. Wandering along the corridor that leads to the conference room, where the Retreat workshops were held, you’ll find cosy armchairs where you can relax into and write or just sit and soak up the ambience. The library, which is tucked at the back of the dining room/restaurant, is a gem of a find. A little bay window seat allows a guest to hide and read, or write. Armchairs lined with cushions let you type away undisturbed in this room lined with shelves of books, which I discovered were mostly Bible related. But that didn’t make me, a staunch atheist, uncomfortable. And in a little nook-room by the side of the library, where Jo Nadin held her one-to-one tutorials on Sunday, you could daydream and write away, pretending that you’re Jane Austen. 

I was enthralled by Holland House. It is quaint, quintessentially English, and so befitting for a bevy of female authors and a band of three male writers to commune for the 2022 SCBWI-BI Retreat. 

The workshops were given by writing mentors Sara Grant and Jo Nadin. The mentors change annually, of course, depending on who Susan can book. Sara shared industry tips and knowledge of her revision process, while Jo workshopped us on opening lines. The learning was precious and I took plenty of notes. There was camaraderie among old friends and new ones. I made many new friends that weekend (I am new to the BI chapter) and I have a feeling that these friendships are going to last. There was good grub served and an honesty bar (this kind of trust belongs to another universe). I ate well and sipped some great tipple, too. The drinks fridge was well stocked with locally produced beverages, wines, beers and ciders. And tea and coffee were available free-flow and elevenses was filled with gluten-free biscuits and cakes, as was tea-break at 4 pm. “Not cake again” was a phrase I heard being mumbled, but we all ate cake that weekend. 

As a first time participant (or a Retreat Virgin), I am grateful to be able to attend this exclusive retreat that was nothing but inclusive. I was selected for the BAME scholarship which covered my fee and travel. To be selected, I had to submit a piece of writing of no more than 3,000 words. I cobbled together excerpts of my work-in-progress — a middle-grade magic realist story — into something that, hopefully, read like a story with a beginning, middle, end. Writing is about the craft, after all, and I have learned that a story must have this Aristotelian arc. After pressing the submit button of a google registration form, I crossed my fingers and got on with life. 

The waiting was agonising, but I was so delighted to get an email from Susan to say that she loved my piece and that SCBWI-BI would be happy to offer me a place. 

At the Retreat, I met Jo Nadin, who gave me a one-to-one critique of my piece. Her analysis was spot-on and tremendously helpful in making me see what I can do to make the story shine more. 

I will always remember March 18-21 of 2022 because of the SCBWI British Isles Writer's Retreat. 

A huge thanks to Susan Bain, because organising and co-ordinating an event like this takes much woman-power, time management skills, and super-heroine agility to be everywhere at once. 

*Header image: Holland House,; other photographs by Eva Wong Nava


Eva Wong Nava is Events Editor at Words & Pictures. You can contact her at

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