SCBWI FACES Camilla Chester

In our monthly volunteer chat, Central East Coordinator Debbie Edwards met the many-hatted SCBWI member, Camilla Chester

What do you write?

I mostly write upper middle grade, which to me means for children 8-12 and have three self-published titles: Jarred Dreams (a scary story about a ghoul who steals children’s dreams and drains the world of colour), EATS (a ridiculous, slightly grotesque, story about two boys who win a celebrity cooking contest) and Thirteenth Wish (an adventure story where a boy goes missing from our world and his sister has to rescue him).

I also wrote a fourth book, entitled Darna’s Sky about a girl born in secret in the underground world of a hotel in Singapore, which was a finalist in the Mslexia competition 2019 and led me to signing with my agent, Laura West at DHA. Jarred Dreams was also a finalist in the New Author Prize in 2015 run by The National Literacy Trust.

My fifth book, Call Me Lion is for slightly younger readers aged 7-9. It’s about a boy with Selective Mutism, an extreme social anxiety condition which prevents him from talking and is currently out on submission to publishers. 
I also write one or two short books (around 3-5,000 words) a year on commission for an online school resource called Serial Mash. I’ve done the first one in a series for them about a girl who comes to live next to a City Farm in Sheffield. I’ve had a go at picture books (both fiction and non-fiction) and have enrolled onto a course at the City Lit in London to help with this. They are very hard to do well.
For adults I write the occasional short story (I have one entitled 'Terms & Conditions' coming out in The Punch Anthology some time soon) a bit of flash fiction and I’m currently in the middle of a teen love story. 

Phew! As you can see, I’m definitely not a one book kind of woman and I’m in this for the long-haul. 

Describe your writing space

In bed, at the kitchen table, outside — I was even writing at Thorpe Park World of Adventures the other day — and in the car waiting for my daughter. I will literally write anywhere, and if it’s noisy I put on noise cancelling headphones! My dream is to have a little writing place just for me, but my life hasn’t worked out that way (yet).

How long have you been a volunteer?

For SCBWI-BI I’ve been volunteering for almost four years, but I have always been involved in some kind of volunteer work, even as a kid.

Describe the main tasks of a SCBWI volunteer

I have two roles — Industry Insider Coordinator, which is soooo cool as I get to meet all kinds of industry professionals and put on events that I think I will, er, sorry I mean, SCBWI-BI members will enjoy and benefit from career-wise. I say that, but lockdown has meant I’ve only been able to organise one event so far, alongside the fabulous Rashmi Sirdeshpande. My other role is Front of House Coordinator at the conference which is brilliant too. I make sure all the practical things for the conference come together and am the ‘go to’ on the weekend for any problems. If you’ve never been to the conference then I cannot recommend it highly enough. It can be literally life-changing career-wise and so much fun.

Do you do any other volunteering?

Not specifically at the moment, but I do quite a lot of free things connected with my writing — library/festival talks, the occasional school visit. If an organisation has no money but would really benefit from an author visit then I will volunteer my time. I’ve done lots of other volunteer work in the past, from being a mentor to teens and walking rescue dogs.

Has volunteering influenced your writing in any way?

Hugely. I’m a strong believer of using my life experiences in my writing. I recently volunteered for two weeks full-time to help a local farmer with his lambing. The book I am currently writing is entitled For The Love of Lambs — a love story where the characters are brought together during lambing season. Can't get a stronger influence than that! I’m in good company too — I listened to Maggie O’Farrell at the Hay Festival talking about how she learnt falconry in order to make the details of her latest book, Hamnet, authentic. Volunteering is a cheap way to do book research and you’re really helping out someone or even an entire community — win win!

What are the advantages of being a volunteer?

Apart from book research? Well, for SCBWI you get to hob-nob with all the big wigs, who, it turns out, are regular people, who knew? This puts you at a massive advantage because you get connected and potentially rise to the top of the slushpile. Volunteering means you pick up really good tips, you develop your craft and you connect with lots of SCBWI people who are the kindest, loveliest, most supportive and wonderful people in the world.

How many hours per week do you spend volunteering?

At the moment it’s a big fat zero. My roles are just around events: no events, no hours. The conference build-up is intense — it can feel like a full-time job, but once it’s over, then there is very little time commitment. Lots of the roles are ongoing and steady, but I volunteer like I write: in big, long bursts of intensity, then nothing!

Do the boundaries between volunteering get blurred or do you have clearly demarcated writing/volunteering times/space?

I’d be lying if I said the boundaries were clearly set, it all becomes one big, crazy jumble at times, but isn’t that the joy of life? I’d never give up my volunteering, unless I felt that my full-time job was giving me the same sense of satisfaction, self-worth and feeling of connection as volunteering does.

What advice would you give for someone interested in volunteering with SCBWI?

The easiest way to find volunteering opportunities is to look out the website. You need to apply, just as you would for a job, but the process is painless and I promise you won’t regret making the effort. If you are thinking of volunteering with SCBWI then it means you should jump in — the water’s lovely!

*Photo of Camilla:


Camilla Chester is a dog-walking, children’s author extraordinaire. You can find out more about her and her books by visiting her website: Insta: CamCauthor Twitter: @stanleydogblog


Debbie Edwards is a children's author living in Norfolk. Home is a wooden shack at the bottom of a disused chalk quarry. Her current book, The Iron City, is about to go on submission with the Golden Egg Academy. She has been a SCBWI volunteer for five years, three of those as Central East Network Organiser. 


The header image is by Irene Silvino. Irene Silvino is an illustrator based in London and founder of Editartz. She loves to illustrate people (especially focusing on their feelings and emotions), nature and animals! Find her at
Fran Price is an editor for Words & Pictures, the online magazine for SCBWI-BI. Contact her at

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