EVENTS Holland House retreat

What could be better than a creative retreat with fellow SCBWI's in a picturesque English village? Sarah Broadley reports on March 2023's Holland House retreat, organised by Susan Bain.

In the small village of Cropthorne lies an oasis of calm. A magical house that takes tired SCBWI creatives, puts them through a spin cycle of great food, excellent company and enthusiastic workshops, and lets them out at the other end feeling refreshed and determined.

A spring weekend in March at Holland House lured members from far and wide. Promises of editing, writing and illustrating were declared by all on the first night, prompting early walks to shake off sleep and get down to work. A whole weekend ahead, how would you spend your time there?

Retreaters at Holland House

The conference room filled with folk clutching precious notebooks brimming with ideas to welcome our first speaker, the brilliant Patrice Lawrence. Award-winning novelist and picture book writer, we were swept away by her incredible session on "You and Your Characters", which took an in-depth look at the antagonists and protagonists that flit around the pages of our stories and keep us up into the wee small hours as we wrangle plot holes and story arcs. Patrice urged us on to consider so much more when it comes to those in our books.

What’s in a name? How are your secondary characters related to your main characters? What are they afraid of? What do they love, hate and everything in between? How well do you know them? How well will your readers know them by the end of your book?

Patrice Lawrence and Justin Davies

The next day, the bundle of joy that is children’s author Justin Davies, enthralled us all with his session on world building. It’s not just about creating a place for your characters to live, it’s what they wear, what the weather’s like and how it affects the setting of your story, the food they eat (I'm still not inclined to try certain types of seaweed), the currency they use to spend and barter, and so many things to consider that can ultimately change the landscape of your story and where you take your characters.

Fond farewells given, we made our way home amid the various Monday morning traffic alerts. Reminiscing as we travelled, of the friends made over the course of the too-fast weekend, the edits made to drafts, the filling of blank pages with new stories, and the desire to succeed and write "The End".

Huge thanks to SCBWI member Susan Bain for organising such a tremendous weekend, and to the staff at Holland House who always make us feel so welcome.

*Header image: Holland House; all images courtesy of Sarah Broadley.


Sarah Broadley
writes for children of all ages and lives in Edinburgh. She is a member of SCBWI Scotland, the Society of Authors and the Scottish Book Festival Network. A trustee on the board of Cymera Writing Festival, she also chats with creatives on her Words & Pictures feature Writers’ Minds and is a children’s book reviewer for on-line resource My Book Corner.


Stephanie Cotela is the Network News & Events Editor at Words & Pictures magazine. 

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