02 June, 2011

SCBWI SA (Gauteng) Writing and Illustrating Retreat

Create Develop Review 
20-22 May 2011

Sixteen writers and illustrators signed up for the first SCBWI SA Retreat to be held in Gauteng. Our venue was Mokoyo Lodge near Hartebeespoort Dam. The owners allowed us to have this beautiful resort completely to ourselves for the weekend and that was a real treat. We could go out and be inspired by the lovely, tranquil setting without being disturbed or distracted.

The Retreat began on Friday evening in the Lapa with an activity about our names. Rozenn Torquebiau made little books and developed questions about our names. We each answered the questions in writing or through illustrations. The questions were meant to guide but not restrict our creativity and participants were free to interpret as they wished.

After a delicious dinner, a foretaste of more amazing meals to come, we shared our books about ourselves. Through this exercise, we got to know more about each other. Rozenn created an atmosphere which allowed us to share important personal experiences. This helped to build the trust that we needed to support one another's work and efforts throughout the weekend. This is something that we at SCBWI are really trying to do - namely, support one another's creativity in every way we can so that each person is given the opportunity to develop and hone his or her work.
Saturday began with a joint Writing and Illustrating Session, facilitated by Donna Wyckoff-Wheeler and Joan Rankin. The focus was on creativity and Donna started us off on various writing assignments while Joan used slides to illustrate a range of styles. Donna was enthusiastic and always had another idea to offer while Joan encouraged creativity and new approaches.

After lunch we continued working on different styles and techniques. Then we split into two groups: Illustrators and Writers.
The illustrators and writers were each given three words: an adjective, a noun and a verb. The writers wrote on their words while the illustrators illustrated. Much fun was had when we joined up again and compared our interpretations of the words - so many ways to tell a tale!

After yet another delicious dinner, we decided that we'd stick to the Programme and brave the mid-winter night around a fire to share some stories. The sky was crystal clear and we could see stars that we couldn't normally enjoy in the city. The fire was huge and warming. Donna started the story telling with a story from the Northern Hemisphere and Ida Gartrell carried on. She's based in Kwa-Zulu Natal and has studied Zulu tradition and culture and has learnt many stories from the amaZulu. She uses isiZulu phrases and acts out her characters - a special favourite on Saturday evening was the chameleon with his jerky and deliberate movements.

Sunday morning arrived crisp and clear and we continued with our workshops, this time focusing on characterisation, dialogue and point of view. Writers wrote a scene while illustrators illustrated a wordless scene. Then we were given one another's scenes to illustrate or write about - a fascinating challenge. The pieces that emerged were so creative and deserve to be mulled over and taken further.

An important aspect of a Retreat like this involves networking and new contacts and friendships. Matina Genkova-Mpofu shared her new books with us, Lynn Joffe challenged us to think differently about publishing and Themba Mabaso told us about his experiences in promoting his own books. Each person brought value and insight and it was fabulous! Thank you to all I haven't yet mentioned - James, Thandi, Danisile, Claire, Adelle, Paddy, Anna .... everyone!

Our working session ended with a final story from Ida Gartrell which involved every participant in an unexpected way.

It was a wonderful weekend but it needs to go somewhere. What now? Both Donna and Joan felt that they didn't have enough time to look at each person's work and that that work could be taken to another level - so, of course, this means that we need to plan another event - what it will be, time will tell ...

For me, I was thrilled about the Retreat and think that we've started something special. I couldn't have done this without the SCBWI grant, the advice of Marjorie van Heerden and Elaine Ridge in Cape Town and the support of Rozenn, the Committee: Yvette de Beer, Hazel Cuthbertson and Julia du Plessis. And of course, we were all appreciative for the leadership given us by our mentors, Donna and Joan.

Our weekend ended with a picnic and lots of discussion about what to do next ... We planned several events ... Claire Penn said she'd share some of her research about children's language with us. Themba Mabasa said we could visit the State Herald, Lynn Joffe offered a Studio Visit ... and so we're set up for the year.

Another benefit of the Retreat is five new SCBWI members: Welcome Matina Genkova-Mpofu, Ida Gartrell, Anna Wallis, Claire Penn and Themba Mabaso.

Jenny Hatton (Assistant Regional Advisor) SCBWI South Africa

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