Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

SCBWI Author & Illustrator Retreat

Date(s) - 13/Oct/2017 - 15/Oct/2017
4:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning, The Ilawarra
150 Macarthur Drive - Wilton, NSW 2571




This is going to be an amazing opportunity for SCBWI illustrators and authors to come together, develop a piece of work, critique, learn and listen to industry experts and each other. The aim of the retreat is to develop a writing/illustration project in a supportive, professional environment. There will be peer critique sessions, dedicated writing/drawing time and keynote speeches from illustrator Bruce Whatley, Penguin Random House publisher, Zoe Walton and Nancy Conescu, Executive Commissioning Editor of Walker Books Australia. There will also be a limited number of manuscript critiques that will be conducted by Bruce, Zoe and Nancy on a first come first served basis.

Places will be limited to only 38 delegates and will be strictly SCBWI Members only so you will need to book fast.


The Venue


Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning, the Illawarra, NSW, Australia

The Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning is a peaceful oasis of gardens and bushland. Accommodation is in comfortable twin or triple share rooms with en suites. The rooms look out over serene gardens and bushland surrounding the meditation centre. SCBWI thanks Brahma Kumaris Australia for making their beautiful retreat centre available to us for this retreat.

The BK Centre is 90 min from Sydney CBD. If you’d like to take the train, the journey is 1hr 40 from Central to Picton and a 20 min car/taxi ride from there. We will arrange limited pick ups from the train station. (Details below.)


You need to be willing to:

• Bring a project you are working on and develop it across the weekend

• Establish a goal for the retreat

• Share your work

• Listen to constructive feedback

• Provide feedback to others to help develop their projects

• Spend sharing & caring time helping with team clean-up after meals


What you need to bring to create (a list of practical things you'll need is below)

• Completed draft of a picture book text OR

• First chapter/opening of a novel

• For authors, a one page synopsis that outlines the beginning, middle and end of your story. This will be important to crystallise your idea.

• A specified age range for your story

• For illustrators bring along thumbnails for a picture book that already exists or your own text

• This is a writing/illustrating retreat, so please bring several pens, journal or notebook. You can also bring a tablet or laptop if you prefer to create this way.



The Faculty

3db0557Nancy ConescuExecutive Commissioning Editor of Walker Books Australia
Nancy was previously an Executive Editor at Penguin New York; Executive Editor at Dial, Young Readers and she has worked at Hachette New York; Senior Editor at Little Brown, Young Readers. Nancy brings a wealth of editorial experience, and enormous energy to the role of Executive Commissioning Editor of Walker Books Australia




zoe_walton_med_hrZoe WaltonPublisher, Children’s and Young Adult, Random House Australia
Zoe is the publisher and editor of John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, which has now sold over seven million books worldwide and has been on the New York Times bestseller charts for more than 60 weeks. She is proud to publish Australia’s best authors for children and teens, including Michael Pryor, Belinda Murrell, Deborah Abela, Colin Thompson, Sophie Masson, Tristan Bancks, Michelle Cooper, J.C. Burke, Serena Geddes and many more. Zoe likes to work with debut authors and has recently launched new authors including Skye Melki-Wegner, Nicole Hayes, Samantha-Ellen Bound and Allyse Near. 


image005Bruce Whatley, BA Phd—Author and Illustrator
Since 1992 Bruce has written and/or illustrated over 80 children’s picture books. His international award winning titles include The Ugliest Dog in the World, Looking for Crabs, Whatley’s Quest, Detective Donut and the Wild Goose Chase, Little White Dogs Can’t Jump,  Diary of a Wombat, The Little Refugee, Flood, Fire, Cyclone and And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. He often works with his wife Rosie Smith, who has co-authored several of his earlier titles and more recently the My Mum’s the Best series and The Secret of the Mona Lisa (Aug 2017). In 2002 he formed a successful partnership with Jackie French resulting in the Award winning Diary of a Wombat series of books.

Bruce uses a variety of illustration medium including gouache, pen and ink, pencil, oils, watercolour and more recently CGI software. His latest release, a 96 page picture book come graphic novel called Ruben is his most ambitious project to date. 


Tania 62

Tania McCartneyAuthor, illustrator, editor
The founder of Kids’ Book Review and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, Tania has almost three decades’ experience in the publishing industry, including magazine/book editing, and layout and design. Tania’s books have been published in Australia, New Zealand, China, Canada, the US and the UK and she has received various awards including two CBCA Notable books, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and the CBCA Laurie Copping Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. In 2016, Tania’s first self-illustrated book, Australia Illustrated, was released, and she is now creating illustrated works for the National Library of Australia and HarperCollins. In December, her first children’s map will be published (Hardie Grant Travel). A juvenile literacy advocate, Tania currently lives in Canberra with her family, a forest of artwork and a mountain of books.





12.30pm-4.30pmCritiques with Bruce or Tania and Zoe 
Critiques are arranged in advance and booked separately. If you are arriving early for a critique, please be aware that the rooms will not be available until 4pm and you are responsible for your own lunch and afternoon tea. (See details below)

4.00pm-5.00pm—Arrive for registration and settle in your rooms. Free writing/drawing time. 

The Brahma Kumaris volunteers will welcome us to the centre and explain any house-keeping we need to know.

Susanne Gervay, RA, will talk about how the weekend will run, allocate the after-meal clean-up teams, discuss the purpose of the peer group sessions and reiterate the aim of the weekend: getting to the essence of our stories. Everyone will be asked to set a goal for their stay that is specific and quantifiable.


7.00pm-8pm—Tania McCartney and Zoe Walton: How to Crystallise Your Idea 
Zoe and Bruce will discuss how to get to the essence of your idea followed by Q&A.

8.00pm-9.30pm—Peer Group Session: What's Your Story?
Participants will share their project and present it to their group. This is a chance to introduce your work and share any concerns you have or problems you need help resolving to develop it further and achieve your goal for the weekend.

Each group will nominate a timekeeper to make sure everyone has equal time.

The groups will be created before the retreat according to the genre or age group of the specific project that will be workshopped. The groups you can choose from are:

• Picture Book  
• Young Adult
• Middle Grade/Junior Fiction

9:30pm—The retreat asks that a quiet atmosphere be maintained after this time.



6:30am-7:15am—Yoga (45 mins. Optional)

7.00am—Wake up bell

7.30am-8.00am—Meditation (Optional)


9.00am-10.00am—Nancy Conescu
From concept to conception: Exploring ways to plot a story for every age group 

Nancy will start with an idea and then show how to plot a story about it for a picture book, a junior fiction novel, and then an older novel. 

10.00am-11.30am—Peer Group Session: Exploring Plot
In this session, we will be focussing on the one page synopsis to be critiqued by group. Each group will be given a list of Pixar rules they may like to consider in reworking their synopsis. Morning tea will be 10-10:30am so please feel free to grab a drink and snack before heading to your groups.

11.30am-1.00pm—Free Writing/Drawing Time and Critiques


2.00pm-2.30pm—How Are We Going So Far?
Bruce or Tania, Nancy and Zoe will share their reactions to the critiques they’ve given, paying particular attention to what was done well and what needed work. They will offer pointers about what to focus on when developing our work, particularly in relation to openings.

2.30pm-4.00pm—Peer Group Session: The Opening Page
Participants are invited to share the opening page of their manuscript or their first pages of text or images for picture books.

4.00pm-5.30pm—Free Writing/Drawing Time and Critiques
Afternoon tea will be available from 4pm-4.30pm.

5.30pm-6.30pmBush Reading by Torchlight
This will be an opportunity to share with the wider group a piece of writing to a maximum of one page or an illustration you have developed at the retreat. 


7.30pm-8.00pm—The 30 Second Pitch 
Can you crystallise your idea in a 30 second pitch? You have thirty seconds to 'pitch' your children's book idea to your fellow SCBWIies, which will include a silent vote for the best pitch. The three best pitches will receive our admiration and prizes.

8.00pm-9pm—Inside Ruben's World: A Behind-the-Scenes look at Bruce Whatley's latest work.
Bruce will give us a sneak peek into the workings over many years that has lead to the creation of his latest remarkable work, Ruben. 

9pm-9.30pm—Book signings and Last Words for the Day

9:30pm—The retreat asks that a quiet atmosphere be maintained after this time.



6:30am-7:15am—Yoga (45 mins. Optional)

7.00am—Wake up bell

7.30am-8.00am—Meditation (Optional)


9.00am-10.00amTania McCartney and Zoe Walton: Getting to Know Your Character
What is your character good at? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they do?

10.00am-11.30am—Peer Group Session: Getting to Know Your Character
Morning tea will be 10-10:30am.

11.30am-12.30pm—Free Writing/Drawing Time and Critiques

12.30pm-1.00pm—The Big Finale
This will be our final chance to share our work from the weekend.

1.00pm-2.00pm—LUNCH and a last chance to catch up with friends before the big goodbye.

End of Retreat

*Program subject to change.




The cost is $385 per person which includes all meals and accommodation (share 2 or 3 people in an ensuite room for 2 nights). (BYO Lunch Friday if you're there early for a critique)

All meals are vegetarian (also without eggs, onions or garlic) and prepared by BK volunteers practising spiritual principles. Most special dietary requirements can be catered for and any dietary requests that you have made on your registration form will be communicated to the centre. At no time is non-vegetarian food to be brought onto the property.

The premises are completely drug, tobacco and alcohol free.

Tickets at Trybooking:



Optional Manuscript Critiques

Optional Face-to-face Manuscript Critiques will be available on Friday before registration and Saturday and Sunday during the retreat. Please be aware that if you are arriving early on Friday for a critique that the rooms will not be available until 4pm and you are responsible for your own lunch or afternoon tea. Critiques are 20 minutes and are only available to attending delegates. At time of booking you will be able to choose your preference from the available time slots and assessors.

Assessors include:

Zoe WaltonPublisher, Children’s and Young Adult, Penguin Random House Australia
Nancy ConescuExecutive Commissioning Editor of Walker Books Australia
Bruce Whatley, BA Phd—Author and Illustrator

$65 per critique and places are limited to one per person. Critiques are non-refundable and non-transferable, so please choose carefully.

Tickets at Trybooking:


Submission Guidelines for Manuscript Critiques: 
Following your booking CLICK HERE to submit your manuscript or picture book text or thumbnails. Please take note of the September 10, 2017 deadline and the format for submissions. Unfortunately, submissions that are late or that do not conform to the specifications cannot be accepted.


Your Manuscript critique submission should include the following:

• An overview of your project to a maximum of 1 page including your name, email and website (if applicable)


• An outline of your project idea with synopsis and short writing samples for comment and discussion to a maximum of 10 pages, double spaced in 12pt Times New Roman or similar


• An extract of your draft manuscript to a maximum of 10 pages, double spaced in 12pt Times New Roman or similar


• A full picture book draft text to a maximum of 10 pages, double spaced in 12pt Times Roman or similar


• If a writer-illustrator an illustrated picture book dummy with text.

Most assessors prefer word document format so they can make inline notes, however, pdfs are also acceptable. Picture books in thumbnail form can be supplied as pdfs. Please label your file including Surname, Title (abbreviate if necessary), Genre (PB, C, YA) and indicate if it is Non-Fiction NF: ex. Surname_Title_PB_NF



IMPORTANT Information and Things to Bring!

You need to bring your own Sheets, Pillow Cases and Towels. The beds are all single beds. Pillows and blankets are provided. Please, in order to prevent bed bugs, do not bring Sleeping Bags.

Pen and Paper: This is a writing retreat, so please bring several pens, journal or notebook. You can also bring a tablet or laptop if you prefer to write this way.

Meals: PLEASE DO NOT BRING ANY OF YOUR OWN FOOD. All meals are vegetarian (also without eggs, onions or garlic) and prepared by BK volunteers practising spiritual principles. Most special dietary requirements can be catered for and any dietary requests that you have made on your registration form will be communicated to the centre.

The premises are completely drug, tobacco and alcohol free.

Tasks Roster: The centre is mainly maintained by volunteers, and with them, we form one large community. We kindly ask you to support our community by volunteering to do simple tasks once or twice during your stay, during mealtimes, e.g.: helping with dishes, wiping tables.

Meditation Chairs: Padded chairs, extra cushions and special low-lying meditation chairs are available at the center. For those who prefer to meditate cross-legged or in a kneeling position please bring your own meditation cushion or kneeling bench/stool to provide you with the comfort and support you require.

Yoga Mats: Please bring a towel or yoga mat if you would like to participate in the optional morning yoga.

Torch with extra batteries: The center is in a country setting and even though there is path lighting a torch would be most useful for moving around the area at night and for the Torchlicht Readings.

Drinking water bottle: Please bring your own water bottle to refill. The centre has several filtered water fountains including the dining area and at the entrance of the main hall.

Wifi: There is limited wifi on the grounds, which can be accessed in the main centre but not in the rooms.



Getting There

Ninety minutes south of Sydney, the Retreat venue is accessible by car and train. The train from Sydney, goes past Sydney airport and stops at Campbelltown, and then a train to Picton, which is the nearest train station to the Wilton center. It is a 20 min car or taxi ride from Picton to the BK’s Centre. The trains at the moment are scheduled to arrive in Picton at 3:21pm on Friday and we can arrange a pickup from the station at that time. We will of course ferry people back at the end of Sunday for a drop-off that meets the train, which leaves at 2:48. We will confirm the train times closer to the retreat date. If you are interested in a lift to and from the train station, please contact us at


The Brahma Kumaris Centre—The Ilawarra

150 Macarthur Drive
Wilton NSW

‘A’ marks the spot. Basically you take the M31 (highway to Canberra) and get off on Picton Rd B88.



An additional note

All those who live on the premises or are helping with the retreat are volunteers following a Brahma Kumaris spiritual lifestyle.

BK is a spiritual centre that requires modest dress i.e. no shorts, sleeveless tops or revealing clothes.

We would appreciate residential participants maintaining a quiet atmosphere after 9.30pm.


Terms and Conditions

SCBWI is a not-for-profit volunteer run organisation and all proceeds from these tickets are committed to Event expenses. Unfortunately we are unable to provide refunds and Critique tickets are non-transferable.