An Interview with IWR Alumni Megan Herbert

An Interview with IWR Alumni Megan Herbert

We are profiling some faculty and alumni leading up to the 2018 Retreat. Megan Herbert joined us in 2014 and 2017 as a participant, and in 2017 as a participant and off-venue faculty member.

Megan worked for almost two decades as a storyliner, script writer, script editor, story producer, and development writer for television shows including long-running Australian drama Neighbours, and BBC dramas EastEnders and Holby City. While living in Iceland, she was Head of Development for Pegasus Pictures. Also a visual artist, she writes and illustrates children’s picture books (and many other things). She now lives in Amsterdam with her husband and son. Her new children’s book, The Tantrum That Saved The World, is available at .

How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?

I was living in Iceland the first year the event took place. I think I saw a Facebook post about it. I signed up almost immediately.

Have you ever participated in a similar kind of retreat, either as faculty or as a participant? If yes, how did the experience benefit you and/or your writing? 

I’m an illustrator as well and I’d attended several art retreats before. They were always hugely beneficial, giving me time to think and plan and gain new insight into my work. The IWR was my first writer’s retreat though. Perhaps because I’d worked as a writer since graduating university, I hadn’t found the need to attend something like that until when, in 2014, living in Iceland, I found myself suddenly writing a lot more for myself than for TV shows. And needing inspiration and guidance and community. The timing was perfect. I skipped 2015’s event when I was back in Australia, but returned in 2016, hungry for more. In 2017 I returned again, this time as both student and an off-venue faculty member, which had a nice full-circle feeling to it. 

What did you most look forward to about the Retreat?

The first year I attended, I was balancing writing with new motherhood and freelance work, and the chance to put all that aside for a few days and to really immerse myself in what I was writing, as well as others’ ideas on the craft of writing, was a real luxury. It was fantastic discovering ‘new’ authors too, many of whom are now my among my favourites; Eliza and Erica are excellent curators of literary talent.

I’ve also made it my habit, every time I’ve attended, to live draw the event and share the results with the other attendees (you can see some of my previous efforts at and ). Trying to capture both the likeness of a faculty member while also distilling what they’re teaching into a pithy caption is perhaps the best mental exercise I know. It’s a challenge I relish.

 What was the biggest lesson you took from the retreat? Or perhaps a piece of advice, or writing exercise that had an impact on your writing?

 Having attended three IWRs, I am lucky to have been able to glean all sorts of invaluable information from faculty members. Some of the rarest gems snuck up on me when I least expected it, like tips on writing engaging creative non-fiction from Andrew Westoll (when I was convinced I was writing a memoir). I have in my arsenal writing exercises from Iain Reid, Vincent Lam and Elina Hirvonen that I still use to this day. And tucked away in my notebooks are nuggets of pure gold on the topic of effective research (and turning that into sparkling prose) from Geraldine Brooks and Susan Orlean. I won’t describe them here because what worked for me won’t necessarily work for anyone else. That’s what’s great about the IWR; everyone walks away with their own treasures.

  What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?

 The biggest challenge for me is finding enough time to see through to completion all the ideas that come to me. Being a cross-disciplinary writer and illustrator (my work ranges from TV and film scripts, to kids’ books, to product design, to journalism, graphic novels, and everything in between), it’s difficult to stay focused in one area long enough to see through things through. I’m getting better at it though, one idea at a time!

 What are you working on currently and/or is there anything exciting that has happened in your writing life since the retreat?

 I’ve just published my latest kids’ book called The Tantrum That Save The World – a picture book explaining climate change to kids in language they can understand and empowering them to do something about it. It’s part story book, part science book, and part call to action, and was a collaboration with climate scientist Michael E. Mann. I first started work on this book around the time of the first IWR, so that gives you some idea how long these projects can take to get over the finish line. I’ve been thrilled by the response to it so far; hearing from complete strangers how much their children are captivated by your story is perhaps one of the most gratifying experiences a writer can have. (It’s available for purchase now at J )

How was the process of crowd funding for the book? Is it something you would consider doing again in the future?

 The best thing about crowdfunding a book (or any creative project) is that it provides you with deadlines. Deadlines that, in my case, almost killed me… but they also resulted in a finished book, printed and distributed ahead of schedule. For anyone considering crowdfunding, I advise to do your research (there’s a ton of great information out there from crowdfunding veterans), and to start planning and building your campaign early (i.e. a minimum of 6 months before you launch). And have a finished product before you launch because the running of the campaign itself is equivalent to about 3 full time jobs. I’m still at the tail end of this campaign, having just delivered to my backers), so it’s too soon to say if I’d consider doing it again. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but it does get results!

 Any final comments you’d like to share with our followers?

the view from megan's summer home

The view from Megan’s summer house in Hvalfjörður, where she disappears to for several months each year.

 I was lucky enough to have lived in Iceland for 8 years, during which time I was able to experience the miraculous, confounding, terrifyingly beautiful Icelandic nature daily. I also learned the Icelandic art of staring out a window at a mountain for long stretches, and just thinking, and sometimes not thinking, percolating, meditating on nothing, without feeling guilt or that I was wasting time. Staring at mountains is NEVER a waste of time. But living in urban settings for too long makes us feel like it is. As a local participant, I had already experienced this aspect of the IWR and was able to apply it to my work. If you don’t live in Iceland, you really do owe it to yourself to come not just for the writing and the faculty, but to stare long and hard at a mountain. You won’t regret it.

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