On Friday I set off with my friends Maureen Oakeley, Sue Hyams and Paolo Romeo and headed for Dunford House Conference Centre in West Sussex.  The journey was very smooth and we got there with plenty of time to spare.  We got seen to our rooms by some great smiling employees of the conference centre.  We sat around and there was some small talk with other members of SCBWI who were there for the weekend.

After dinner I joined Paolo for a writing session in the main conference room and clocked just over 3k on a new work in progress.

After scaring the living daylights out of myself whilst in my small creaky room reading SJ Bolton’s Blood Harvest I eventually turned in, but only after sending Mark a text message to tell him I’m too scared to turn the lights off!  I could hear him laughing at me all the way from Kent.

Saturday after breakfast there was some more writing and then a session with Candy Gourlay about “Weightwatchers for Writers – how to get rid of exposition and add meaning”.  It was a great session and it genuinely made me think about my writing and how I can cut boring bits and expand on interesting sections instead of skipping ahead. I love that she reiterated something aspiring writers tend to forget: that your writing and your story is not for you but for your readers and to bear them in mind at all times.

Candy touched on the story mountain and the whole three act structure.  She mentioned that teachers will ask you to talk about this if you visit a school.  Personally I’ve never heard about the story mountain, but I do know about the three act structure.   Candy made a great point by showing us the standard story mountain and then pointing at another picture of a range of mountains, explaining that in reality, our stories are more like the jagged mountains before us.   With peaks and valleys, to make sure that our stories remain interesting, unexpected and fun.

It was a great talk.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  After Candy’s talk we had a break for tea and coffee before heading for lunch.  After lunch we got to listen to Tommy Donbavand’s talk.  Tommy chatted to us about Writing for Boys.

Tommy was so great.  He had us laughing and giggling – not just at him but also at ourselves.  A great speaker he immediately set about explaining his own background and how he came to write is super successful series – Scream Street – and how much fun he had doing it.  He showed off the books – there will be thirteen in total – and told us about some ideas he has for upcoming books.  He spoke with such enthusiasm about writing for boys and I loved that he showcased the books he did for Barrington Stoke (a publisher I would one day love to write for) and he also chatted to us about some techniques he uses writing for boys:

–  short chapters

–  short sentences

–  short paragraphs

–  chapters ending on cliffhangers

–  try and keep to a single point of view or two at the most if you must

–  the book must have a solid definable quest

–  resolve the conflict, but allow the reader to perhaps guess the twist before the characters…and then pull the rug from under them

It was such a great inspirational presentation by Tommy, complete with mummy-wrapping and I came away with such a buzz.  I know everyone else was walking on a high when we left the room for coffee and tea.

I stayed behind and got some more writing done.  Saturday evening everyone relaxed after dinner and ended up in the bar chatting.  When I say bar…it’s more like a communal area with chairs and a serving hatch.  But the conversation was lively and we didn’t care.

I eventually sloped off to bed after eleven and crawled into bed to watch Ten Things I Hate About You.

Sunday morning after breakfast we had Janetta Otter Barry from Frances Lincoln in to talk to us about their lists and what they were currently looking for.  It was an interesting presentation as she took us through their various authors, artists and books they currently have and she also had several examples to show us.  I bought a copy of The Snow Leopard by Jackie Morris which I fell in love with.  I’ll be reviewing it on MFB in July.  It is glorious.

We left just before four to drive back home.  I came away, having written 6,200+ words on a new WIP novel and some great new resolutions.  It was a great weekend and I got to meet a great many new talented people.  Thanks to Sue Hyams for arranging this excellent weekend away.  I’m looking forward to next year’s one!

5 thoughts on “SCBWI British Isles Retreat

  1. Great weekend wasn’t it. I felt I took in so much info on Saturday that I’m still processing it now. It was great company too.
    x Mo
    ps. Thanks for synopsis here of story mountain stuff. My notes got a bit wishy washy at that point.
    Couldn’t write fast enough.

  2. Liz,
    Sounds like you had excellent presenters who came up with effective ways to advise on writing. Feeling tuned up? 6k words over a weekend is magnificent!

  3. I can only echo what others have already said, it was a great weekend. Thanks for the write up Liz, it helps fill out my notes nicely!

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