EVENTS Picture Book Retreat is 10 (part 2)


SCBWI-BI's Picture Book Retreat has reached its 10th anniversary. Co-organiser Paul Morton and seven other previous organisers share their views and experiences of the decade.

Paul Morton (current co-organiser)

From my first ever PBR in 2015 I fell in love with Holland House and the relaxed atmosphere. Being submersed in all things picture books’ over a luxurious four-day weekend, with like minded creatives, was a revelation and a joy.

Lynne Chapman and Alexis Deacon were the weekends professionals and we had the time to get to know their working practices and to inspect their methods of approach. I picked up practical tips and ideas to further my own fledgling PB career, not to mention the drinks on the lawn under a warm July’s summers evening sunset and playing croquet, which all sounds idyllic, and it was. It always is!

It can be a little daunting to be thrust into the company of two dozen ‘strangers’ but, sharing that time with newfound friends made a huge impression on me, and I wanted more. Ive been back every year since, becoming a co-organiser for the last four years.

I have made many friends and had numerous PB ideas, one of which is currently at the submission stage. PBR helped me to focus on the craft of creating picture books and also galvanised me to seek further knowledge. After two pandemic virtual retreats, this years 10th anniversary PBR weekend promises to be another belter. Garry Parsons and Pippa Goodhart are our two presenters and I cant wait!

Over the years weve had a wealth of experienced PB talent and here are some reflections from some of the people who helped to make it all happen. Thanks to all the organisers, in particular to Anne Marie Perks and Bridget Strevens, who first came up with the idea of the Retreat. The main concept was for a place which would encourage creative exploration with other, inspiring, writers and illustrators at a beautiful venue with plenty of space and great food. Holland House fulfilled this and some.

Mike Brownlow

More by accident than design, Ive been lucky to attend all the Picture Book Retreats, first attending as a Mentor. Subsequently, I helped out as an organiser, along with Loretta Schauer and, latterly, Paul Morton. The hardest part for me was always finding publishers, agents and art directors to fill the various industry slots and I quickly worked through my (not very extensive) list of professional contacts, calling in as many favours as I dared. There were frequent, polite, refusals, and it dawned on me that these publishing gods were just as nervous as us ordinary mortals when it came to public speaking. 

Holland House proved to be an inspired choice of venue, providing ideal spaces, both indoor and out, for lectures, craft sessions, one-to-one mentoring, quiet contemplation, the opportunity to share ideas, as well as socialising and general fun and games. The PB Retreats have always been especially enjoyable because we get to do something thats actually quite rare, which is to spend time with people who all share a common obsession with and love of the art form of the picture book. My tribe!

Nick Cross

I first became aware of the Picture Book Retreat via Facebook. I guess this was back in 2016, and my timeline was filled with photos of SCBWI people romping around the grounds of a country house, doing creative exercises and generally having fun. Whats this, I thought? Arent creative retreats supposed to be full of writers complaining about the state of the publishing market or agonising over their latest edgy YA novel? Even though I didnt actually write picture books, I signed up for the next year, keen to attend one of the few events on the SCBWI calendar where writers and illustrators meet as equals. It was fabulous, and became the first time I admitted to someone other than myself that I wanted to be an illustrator as well as a writer. 

Ive attended two more Picture Book Retreats in person since then (both fantastic), and also helped Paul Morton to organise the two virtual events in 2020 and 2021. I have so many great memories over the years, but Ill finish by mentioning my greatest achievement. No, not becoming a graphic novelist, but my glorious victory in the paper aeroplane competition in 2019! 

Clare Helen Welsh

I'm delighted to be visiting Holland House again in person, this time as the new co-organiser of the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat alongside Paul Morton. This will be my fourth time attending the retreat but my first as part of the SCBWI team. When I saw the vacancy, I couldn't resist applying. I'm especially looking forward to repaying the kindness, expertise, and support I've been fortunate enough to receive on my visits. 10 years of picture books retreats is really something to celebrate! Here's to meeting up with old friends and making new ones at a retreat that is all about a shared love of words, pictures and the magic that happens when they come together in picture book format.

Natascha Biebow 

This year I’ll be returning to the PB Retreat after 10 years. I was planning to attend in 2019, but . . . last year’s retreat was sadly moved online, although, for those of you who were able to attend, it turned into a fantastic mini-conference weekend, jam-packed with inspiration and information.

For one reason or another, since 2013, I haven’t been able to ‘escape’ other commitments, but this year I am hugely looking forward to a few days of picture book immersion. Last time, I distinctly remember having left my then two-and-a-half-year-old for a longish weekend and feeling a bit strange, as if I were missing an appendage. Then being able to finish a conversation and actually sit and write under a tree under the lawn was so amazing! I met so many wonderful people, some of whom have become close friends. The gift of time to work on your craft at the retreat is something special. I’m so very grateful to our previous, and current, highly dedicated, volunteers whose vision we are building on year-on-year and who originally saw the importance of creating this opportunity for picture book writers and illustrators to come to gather and collaborate. Thank you, you know who you are!

This year, I’m looking forward to playing, connecting, and having space to create! I can’t wait to hang out with Pippa and Garry, both of whose fantastic books I’ve had the privilege to edit and who are collaborators on the Picture Book Den blog, and also to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I’ll be mentoring some authors and illustrators, too, which is always a lot of fun as I’m passionate about story-shaping. Here’s to another 10 years!

                                                                                                                       * Images credited to Paul Morton

Paul Morton runs Hot Frog Graphics illustration and design studio and is the author of Bug Belly – Babysitting Trouble. His second book Bug Bully – Froggy Rescue was published in 2021. Find Paul at Hot Frog Graphics website and on Twitter @paulhotfrog


Tita Berredo is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.

Contact her at

Find her work at, Instagram and Twitter.

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