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SCBWI Picture Book Rretreat 2015

Wood pigeons are dictating to me on the last morning in the rose garden at Holland House. There is chipping and chirping all around me as I write. I've ended in a place I hadn't planned.

I started the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat thinking that I was coming to play with my picture book characters but everything changed with the workshops and experimenting over the next few days.

How amazing that in all my 'Scoobie' (SCBWI_BI in conversation) years, I hadn't thought about harvesting my own childhood memories of wonder and discovery - as early as aged 4.

Loretta Schauer and Alexis Deacon played the Post-it quiz, pairing us up to ask each other questions about our childhood experiences.

We ended up with a wall of post-it note inspiration - real childhood moments that could spark a story idea.

It has been a weekend of telling stories to each other and I've met so many new Scoobies with fascinating other lives and we didn't stop talking about picture books all weekend.

How amazing to still be in the conference room after midnight sharing art and character and ideas.

Each morning, I woke at 6:30am and went into the garden for an hour. On the first morning, I packed my paintbox and mini stool and sat with the cat beneath the sundial and drew in the fairtrade sketchbook I'd bought from the Holland House gift shop (why wait until the end of the retreat to exit with a souvenir?).

I made several ink sketches focussing on colour. I returned later to add the watercolour when the ink was dry.

Concertina Sketchbook Holland House Sue Eves

Last year, I made great progress with my colour work and dummy book. This year I made my first concertina sketchbook (Bockingford lightweight paper with cardboard box end pieces) - cutting, sticking (PVA glue) and making something that looked a little like my childhood ice-cream wafer sandwich.

My concertina sketchbook was a little blank invitation to play (I made the shortest version - 6 pages of watercolour was less intimidating and as it turned out - enough for me to complete one in the weekend).

Well, you could knock me down with a paintbrush. How come I didn't know about these?

I finished painting my little sketchbook this weekend because Lynne Chapman showed us how to make the most of them - paint tones rather than outlines - keep the flow from one page to the next - add snippets of overheard dialogue or your own text. Use small bulldog clips to stop the pages expanding out of control. Limit your colour palette. I'm pleased I brought my folding camping stool - essential to getting exactly the right POV of your chosen subject and I finally had a use for my Pentel water brush ( I carry a screw top plastic pot of water too).

I always thought that to paint in watercolour, you dipped your brush in water, loaded it with your colour and sploshed it on quickly before it dried. No! No! Wet your watercolour paper first where you plan to colour and then add the colour. As soon as the paint was dry, I added line and text. 

I had worked in acrylics, oils, pastels and inks at art school but I had never tried watercolours because I'd been painting with them all through my childhood. I wanted to try something new.

This weekend, I rediscovered them and plan to make a full length storyboard for one of my picture books.

Emily Lamm, Commissioning editor at Hodder Children's Books. From the bigger picture to 'the finer detail' of picture book making

Andrea MacDonald, Executive Editor for picture books at Penguin Random House Children's Books.

The picture book is a '32-page stage'.

More photos of the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat on flickr

Harvest stories from your own childhood.

What was your memory of the death of your first pet?

What food did you most fear or look forward to at school?

What accident did you suffer through your own stupidity?

Unwinding Into The Weekend

Concertina Sketchbook

Lavender sweet and long

Barrows short and strong

Don't sit under the apple tree

How sweet the sound

We all went away knowing we had work to do - but we left with new tools to tackle it

But first we are in need of sleep
But first we are in need of sleep


The BookMap and the Golden Egg

Sue Eves BookMap at The Golden Egg Academy
BookMap - folded first pages

I know where I'm going - I've been there before and I'm going back - with my BookMap.


I've made 16 poster-sized pages of the journey through my story. Unfolding each page reveals columns filled with words about setting, characters, motivations and revelations.


I had no idea how important 'mapping' my novel would be when I began analysing the 2nd draft.


The timing was perfect for me. I couldn't wait to finish my accounts' spreadsheet in April. It was such a relief to be filling columns with words instead of numbers.


The April Mapping Your Novel workshop with Imogen Cooper and Vanessa Harbour was a little terrifying. Especially the 'Spider Chart'. How could I begin to work out what my novel was really about?

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BookBench Authors & Artists

Photo of Sue Eves By Candy Gourlay
BookBench - Sherlock Holmes stories Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Artist: Valerie Osment
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Quote Monkeys

"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away. And in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall." - Roald Dahl
"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away. And in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall." - Roald Dahl

Done it! My illustration for our Quote Book - Just Imagine Centre Illustrators' Group


Our last one, the Travelling Sketchbook, took a year to complete. I am number 2 in this round. You can follow the illustrators'  journey on facebook.


We each chose a sealed envelope that revealed a quote about reading books. I was excited by mine but I avoided searching for the root of the quote so that I wasn't influenced by any illustration that had gone before. Now I know the text is from Roald Dahl's  Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. I'm glad I didn't recognise the Oompa-Loompas' words in the quote but I must find Quentin Blake's illustration for it! 




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SCBWI Picture Book Retreat 2014

painting outdoors Caran D'ache Paints
Caran D'ache Gouache Paints

It helps if you have a good reason to go on a writers' or illustrators' retreat but it's not essential. Sometimes you surprise yourself.


I needed to explore colour again. My picture book in progress has had interest from a publisher - (ooo, I love that phrase). And also, an A4 letter of suggested changes.

 Since returning from the retreat a week ago, I have re-read and checked those comments and I'm amazed to find that I have cracked the story problem, broken the colour barrier, even rewritten the whole thing and it was all down to one tiny little thing:

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Through The Narrator's Eye - Golden Egg Academy Workshop

New eggs to the incubator given Golden Egg Bag
Cracking Weekend!

I am!

Thrilled to say that I'm safe and snug in The Golden Egg Academy incubator. Last weekend I joined 9 other 'Eggers' for Through The Narrator's Eye workshop.


I'm already a member of Society Of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Society Of Authors (SOA) the who, what, where of children's book writing and illustrating so why Golden Egg?


Last year, I wrote my first Middle Grade children's story (2nd draft 48,000 words) and I didn't know what to do with it.

I submitted it to the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2014.

When they passed on it I knew that I hadn't even discovered my voice yet and I needed help.


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Sweet Dreams - Words And Pictures Advent Calendar

Reindeer with Candy-Striped Antlers
Spritzed with peppermint from her head to her toes - she shall have Christmas wherever she goes






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The Graveyard Book Leaves Sunny Old London

Post Office in North London
Sunny Old London

























Today we posted The Graveyard Book from sunny old London to begin its new life -

in sunny California!

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Alexis Deacon: Visual Storytelling - SCBWI Conference 2013

Perfecting Your Illustration Technique

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Woofy's Rushed Read For Typhoon Haiyan Appeal - The Graveyard Book

It was 31st October 2008 and I joined the line and Neil Gaiman signed The Graveyard Book - twice and I read it twice and I'll read it again and again because I have both editions but we are letting this one go (as soon as Woofy has finished reading it).

Author For The Philippines is raising money with an online auction in aid of the Typhoon Haiyan Appeal. Bidding opens 8am Wednesday 13th November and will close 8pm Wednesday 20th November (both GMT).

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SCBWI Writers' Retreat 2013

SCBWI Writers' retreat 2013, Dunford House
Dunford House, West Sussex

Thanks Teri Terry for a beautifully crafted weekend retreat. Author, Lucy Christopher, you set me down in the place I've always wanted to write about and it smells good to be back! Lucy Coats - thanks for taking my brain beyond the Dunford Drawing Room ceiling (wait till you see what you've started). Candy, what a wonderful way to end the SCBWI writing retreat -pyjamas and 21 bedtime stories. Thanks to Rebecca Frazer at Orchard Books for sharing industry secrets (we won't tell, honest) and all at Dunford House last weekend. I would thank my agent...