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This year's British SCBWI retreat was once again held at Dunford House in beautiful Sussex.

In addition to giving participants a chance to write, the sold out event also included a packed programme with workshops held by Marcus Sedgewick, L. A. Weatherly, Helen Boyle (commissioning editor from Templar Publishing and in a change to the programme, Kate Harrison stepped in for Bekki Hill who was unable to attend due to illness). L. A. Weatherly and Helen Boyle also did one-to-ones with some of the attendees.

Unfortunately I was late to the retreat on Friday evening, and so missed Kate Harrison's talk on writing (although the feedback from other attendees was very good).

Saturday started off with a bit of excitement as the fire alarm went off, resulting in everyone gathering outside on the lawn (some of them having had to unexpectedly cut short their ablutions) and an unexpected visit from the fire brigade who eventually gave the all clear. Turns out that the alarm was caused by someone having a hot and steamy shower.

After we came back in and settled down Marcus Sedgewick held the first of two workshops on writing a novel - Writing A Novel: From First Concept To Page One. This workshop explored how to work on initial concepts to develop them into a wider plot and potential novel structure. The key points that I took away from it were:

- Almost anything makes a good idea for a novel;
- We are the worst judge of our own work and our own ideas; and
- Anchor your story in something real - try to identify what it is about the idea that means something to you.

Marcus illustrated his talk with stories from his own experience of writing such books as Revolver and White Crow.

In the afternoon L. A. Weatherly held a workshop on Killing Your Darlings. Key things that I took away were:

- Think about the story that you're trying to tell and what the spine of that story is;
- Keep things simple as complicated plots can be a headache; and
- Follow your instincts - understanding pace comes from reading and re-reading your work.

Sunday started with the second of Marcus's workshops, Writing A Novel: From First Words To Submission. This was a great workshop and one that I found especially inspiring. In particular it was heartening to hear of Marcus's experiences, notably with writer's block, and in the process that he goes through to write his books. Key points that I took away were:

- Think about why we should care about the character;
- Characters are about detail and subtlety - what matters is that you give your readers enough reason to believe that they are real; and

In the afternoon we broke for individual writing time and one-to-ones. I was lucky enough to have a one-to-one with Helen Boyle, who gave me some very useful feedback on the opening chapter of KYBS that gave me the confidence to make some changes I'd been thinking about but hadn't done.

In the evening, Helen Boyle gave a talk about Templar Publishing and their children's and YA list. Templar is an interesting publisher because they don't do many hardbacks, preferring to release in paperback. They don't jump on bandwagons and so have a varied list of titles. She also said that the advantage of going with a smaller publisher like Templar Publishing is that they can give you more attention and are good at building new authors.

They also have an open submissions policy (although it takes them a long time to respond). Anyone interested in submitting should send the first 3 chapters (double-spaced), a covering letter and a synopsis. Helen said that the covering letter is very important - it should get across your passion for the book with an elevator pitch and contain something about yourself as well.

Templar will have 24 titles coming out in 2012 (across the 7+ to YA range) and 30 titles in 2013. Of those titles, about 30% are YA, the bulk is younger fiction and Middle Grade. Of their list, 20% of the title consists of acquisitions from the USA and Australia.

In terms of a wish list, Helen said that she would like to see:

- action driven stories for the 9+ readership (books like SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT);
- humorous fiction; and
- quest-based fantasy adventure.

Templar would like its authors to be willing to do tours and/or events organised by Templar. It would be also be good if they're comfortable with social media and use Twitter, Facebook or blogging. They would like authors to be willing to do book reviews.

L. A. Weatherly hosted the final workshop on Monday on Second Book Syndrome, which she defined as the state in which an author finds the writing of their second book more stressful than the writing of the first or alternatively writing under pressure. She looked at the causes of it and suggested possible solutions. Key points that I took away were:

- don't tell yourself that you have plenty of time. Start on book 2 as soon as possible so that you have plenty of time to play and take wrong turns;
- tell your publisher if you need more time as early as possible. The longer you wait, the more costly the delay; and
- find the way to write that works for you.

By the time we left on Monday, the consensus seemed to be that it had been a great weekend as organised by Sue Hyams and Benjamin Scott. I know that I took away some great tips and managed to tot up quite a few pages of writing (which is a rarity for me). I should also mention that it was a weekend filled with cake, which I ate far too much of (seriously, they had to roll me back onto the train).

So many thanks to all and I'm already looking forward to the 2013 retreat.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 20th, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
Lovely post. Sorry I missed the retreat but glad it went so well.
Sue Hyams
May. 20th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
Didn't mean to be anonymous. Meant to be me!
May. 20th, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Oops

It did go very, very well I thought. Everyone seemed to have a good time and I know that I was productive.
May. 20th, 2012 02:00 pm (UTC)
I was very sorry to miss the retreat - this is a terrific review - and please post a photo of them rolling you onto the train.
May. 20th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
Ha! I shall never reveal the photo of the train staff trying to squeeze my blubber through the carriage doors. Never, I say!
May. 20th, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC)
Terrific post! Brings it all back. It was great to see you there.
May. 20th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks - great to see you too!
May. 20th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
It was fun and the fire was bonus fun. Cake was excellent and biscuits were pretty good as well. All that and writing and workshops too! Good to see you there, caroline - did you eat the rhubarb and custard boiled sweet?
May. 20th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
I am not Anonymous
that last comment was from Addy
May. 20th, 2012 07:54 pm (UTC)
Oh it came from you! I was wondering. I thought it might be a secret sweetie pixie. Yes, it was lovely, thank you!
Barbara Ann Godwin
May. 30th, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
Lovely weekend, lovely setting, thank you Benjamin and Sue for organising it.

Thank you also to Marcus, Lee, Helen and Kate for their wise words and entertaining workshops. I learnt lots, not only from them but the group of such active writers.

Also got a lot of writing done, when I wasn't amoung the bluebells and waterfalls, or digging into those piles of fabulous food.
Christina Vinall
May. 30th, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
Brilliant post Caroline & good to see you there. Loved every minute - though did dream about being pursued through bluebell wood by large cake! And BIG special thanks to Sue & Ben for all there hard work organising it! Christina :)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


Caroline Hooton

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