EVENT Picture Book Retreat

Deep in the heart of the English countryside lies a magical retreat, an oasis that lies out of time where over thirty picture book writers from across the world assembled – from Tanzania, Stockholm, even right down the road in Worcestershire! 

In this magical retreat our souls and bodies were replenished through garden and riverside walks, yoga to connect with ourselves and delicious and continuous freshly made meals and snacks.

Picture Book Attendees and Speakers

Our creative imaginations were sparked the first evening through a workshop facilitated by Paul Morton and Clare Helen Welsh entitled Speed Dating Picture Book Ideas. Activities such as Story Sticks, Magazine Magpies, What’s in a Name, Mystery Object and Questions and Everyday Gems had us laughing, joking and generating volumes of picture book ideas.

Saturday and Sunday were filled with intense writing and character development workshops, an overview of the picture book publication process and trends by Caroline Wakeman and Kate Johnson from the CW Literary Agency, individual mentoring sessions and critique groups. These mentoring sessions and critique groups provided invaluable insight to improving our own existing picture book manuscripts and taught us other ways of telling the same story.

The effervescent and empowering Amy Sparkes guided us on the journey of taking a picture book idea to an outline and making sure that each word in it is working. She taught us how to strengthen our picture book idea – how to break through ‘the top levels of the rainbow’ by really developing it, our voice and action. She emphasised the importance of ensuring that our idea, story, plot, each page spread and even each word should have the 5Es – Emotional, Energising, Entertaining, Engaging and Exciting. She reminded us that people give up a portion of their lives to read our stories and we should make it worth their while.

Amy Sparkes

The energetic and excitable Jonny Duddle gave a masterclass in developing the voice of our characters through in-depth character development; to provide full, rich backstories to characters even if we don’t use all of that in our stories as it will provide an authenticity to their actions and words once we know them fully. He also led us all – even us non-illustrators – in a workshop on how to use sketching to further develop our character, to help us visualise how our character looks, acts and moves as this will also determine their actions in our story.

During this retreat a community of writers was forged through these connections and shared experiences including late-night talks, looking at picture books and discussing everything from politics, Turkish toilets, the hoppy taste of ale vs lager to the use of rhyme and pictures in our favourite stories. Not to mention Gary Fabbri reading us bedtime stories such as Bathe the Cat and Go the F&*% to Sleep

We all left on Monday to return to the world with new friends, pages of notes – brimming with ideas to shape new and existing picture book manuscripts and with our hearts and souls rejuvenated.

Many thanks to Paul Morton and Clare Helen Welsh for the organisation of such a fabulous weekend and to Holland House for delicious food and such a tranquil retreat.

*Header image: In-house collaboration between Ell Rose and Tita Berredo 


Jennifer L Etheridge
is a member of SCWBI and, after being a primary school teacher for 26 years, is now pursuing her love of writing. She is particularly interested in writing picture books and has undertaken various workshops and courses. Facebook: JEtheridgeBooksTwitter: JEtheridgeBooks,  Instagram: JEtheridgeBooks, Threads: Jetheridgebooks


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at: illuscoordinator@britishscbwi.org

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