EVENTS A Picture Perfect Retreat

Just back from a weekend at the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat, Words & Pictures' Production Editor Tracy Curran tells us what it was like to attend for the very first time.

It was with some trepidation that I set out on Friday afternoon, July 8th, to my first ever Picture Book Retreat at Holland House in Worcestershire. The event, now in its 10th year, was organised by Paul Morton, Clare Helen Welsh and Natascha Biebow. Despite my excitement, I knew very little about what the weekend would entail. 

I shouldn't have worried. From the moment I arrived, it was clear I was in very safe hands. The setting was stunning, the weather was perfect, the food was delicious and, most of all, the people were lovely. After initial introductions and a discussion of our favourite picture books, Paul and Clare handed us a very packed schedule. I barely had time to settle into my room and we were off...

Friday evening

After a delicious dinner full of excited chat, we met in the 'classroom' where we were set a couple of idea-generating challenges. Paul's challenge was to create a picture book dummy — a little booklet that allowed us to plot out our spreads — and Clare's was to collage images from a variety of magazines, using any words and pictures which inspired us. As my ideas have been as short on the ground as rainfall recently, I very quickly became absorbed in this relaxing activity. What did I end up with? Some scribbles about a book-reading dog, a frog's birthday and some very unfriendly plants. Watch this space...

Generating ideas though collage


After a rather late night spent socialising in the living area and reading the picture books that everyone had brought with them, I awoke early for a quick run and yoga on the lawn with Gary Fabbri. Post-breakfast, we then assembled for a morning workshop led by Garry Parsons, the illustrator of many wonderful picture books including The Dinosaur That Pooped series. Garry talked us through his journey to publication and the picture books that inspired the development of his own work. 

After lunch, we were treated to an industry talk by Malena Stojic, Creative Director at Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto Publishing. This was followed by individual 121 sessions. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to obtain some feedback on my manuscript from the brilliant, Pippa Goodhart. Despite my nerves, Pippa really put me at ease and gave me some invaluable advice. She then went on to lead a hands-on session on 'Lift-the-Flap' books and how we could create them to best effect. 

Malena Stojic giving an industry talk about working at Happy Yak

Not that we needed any more food, we were then treated to another lovely evening meal before teaming up in a picture book quiz. I'm not quite sure how I ended up on a team with Natascha Biebow, Pippa Goodhart AND Garry Parsons but I'm so glad I did because… we won! That's an evening I'm not going to forget in a hurry.

Garry Parsons showing off his ability to draw poo blindfolded!


This time, I allowed myself a more leisurely start to the morning with a lie-in and more yoga. Our first workshop was with Pippa again, who led us in more detail through the art of page-turns and ways of creating impact, which I found fascinating. The best bit was that Pippa read us a whole range of picture books and I found myself listening like an avid child. It was a shame it had to come to an end but Perry Emerson, Senior Editor at Little Tiger Group was waiting to give us another industry talk which detailed the steps to publication following a text being acquired. 

Pippa Goodhart talks about creating maximum effect in picture books

This was followed by a fascinating talk from Perry Emerson

Finally, Garry Parsons led us through another hands-on session — a riotous hour of illustration games which really got the creative juices flowing and sparked several more ideas that I can't wait to work on. By this time, we were more than comfortable with the group dynamic and everyone took great delight in sparking ideas off each other. The illustrators in the room were particularly on fire and I was in awe of the level of talent on show. 

Alas, after a phonecall home and a final meal, I had to depart the retreat on Sunday evening. Although sad not to be staying for the paper aeroplane flying, the postcard writing (I did manage to scribble one quickly) and the Monday morning breakfast and goodbyes, my children had been struck with a bug and my husband needed to get back to work. 

However, the length of time it took me to say goodbye and my sadness at leaving only reinforced to me how much I'd loved the weekend for so many reasons. There was one reason, however, that outweighed all the others: I'd met and shared this experience with the loveliest of like-minded people. The sense of welcome and inclusion was truly special and I really hope to see them all again. 

The group of 2022

*Images courtesy of Tracy Curran and Tita Berredo


Tracy Curran is the Production Editor of Words & Pictures and writes picture books, chapter books and lower middle grade novels. She also runs a book review blog, The Breadcrumb Forest. Her debut picture book, Pumpkin's Fairytale was published in September 2021. Follow her on @writercornish LittleCornishWriter LittleCornishWriter.


  1. Thank you for an inspiring weekend with a group of lively and interesting writers and illustrators. I stand in awe of the illustrating talent on show! Best wishes to all Shelagh Moore

  2. Nice write up Tracy thanks. Sums up the weekend I think. : )


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