Let’s go behind the scenes at SCBWI-BI to meet the volunteers who keep our society ticking. This month, Tamsin Cooke chats to Nick Cross, Blog Network Editor and Picture Book Retreat/Weekend co-organiser.

Hi Nick, thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about what you write?

I write MG and YA – my mental age is clearly somewhere around 14! As of about four years ago, I’m also an illustrator, which has led me inexorably towards writing and illustrating my own fiction. I’ve wanted to make my own comics since I was a kid, but always thought there was no way I could do it. Fortunately, my lovely agent Heather is just the right mix of pushy and supportive, and together we’re finalising my first graphic novel manuscript which will go out on submission soon.


Ooh how exciting creating a graphic novel. We wish you all the best with that. Could you describe your writing/illustrating place? If you don't have one, can you describe your favourite place to write?

My favourite place to write was the library at work. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I haven’t been in the office for over a year. Currently, I have to write at the same desk at home where I do my day job. I used to enjoy the change of scene (I also liked writing in cafes), and I've definitely found inspiration harder to come by during this period.

Why did you decide to become an SCBWI Volunteer?

I’ve been volunteering since 2009, so it’s a little hard to remember how it all began! I can remember going to my first SCBWI-BI conference and feeling that I’d finally arrived – here at last were my kind of people. So, I started volunteering here and there, and have at various times been SCBWI-BI Webmaster, run a critique group, organised conference sessions and written quite a few articles for Words & Pictures.

Describe the main tasks of your role as a SCBWI volunteer. 

I wear a couple of hats at the moment. My long-term role (since 2013) is being the Blog Network Editor for Words & Pictures. I maintain the list of member blogs, and once a fortnight I read as many of them as I can and compile the Blog Break feature. More recently, I’ve been helping Paul Morton to organise the Picture Book Retreat, which is my favourite event of the SCBWI year. Sadly, Covid meant we had to cancel last year, but we are busy organising a virtual Picture Book Weekend for this September. 

How many hours per week do you spend volunteering?

The Blog Break takes about three hours a fortnight. I like it because it’s a very self-contained activity, so I can work to my own schedule – I’m not reliant on other people sending me material, and I’ve been writing it for so long in the same format that it doesn’t really need to be edited.

The Picture Book Retreat/Weekend work is a bit more sporadic, and I’ve struggled more with that because a lot of the tasks have been happening during the week, when I’m often very busy with my day job. It can be hard collaborating with other volunteers who are freelancers when you have a set daily work schedule, because your calendars rarely align!

What's your day job?

I work five days a week managing a digital publishing team of 10 people. My job is quite demanding with a very full calendar of meetings, so I don’t always have as much spare headspace on weekdays as I’d like.

Goodness, it sounds like you are very busy! Has volunteering influenced your writing in any way?

I’m sure I absorbed a lot from the many extracts I read when I ran a SCBWI critique group. It’s really helpful to discover the wide range of writing styles that people bring, and also see mistakes to avoid or clever narrative devices to store up for later reuse. My blogging has been strongly influenced by volunteering, because it’s helped me to find out what writers and illustrators are interested in, and to spot those subjects that aren’t getting as much attention, so I can add value by blogging about them.

Illustration by Nick Cross.

What are the advantages of being a volunteer?

I really value the sense of community that comes from volunteering for an organisation of like-minded people. I’m also aware of how hard it is to get exposure for your work, when so many others are out there shouting about themselves, and I like that I’m able to draw attention to good writing by talented people.

Do the boundaries between volunteering get blurred or do you have clear schedules for writing/volunteering times/space?

Everything gets blurred in these pandemic times: home, work, family, volunteering, writing, illustrating. I often seem to be juggling 10 tasks at once, which is exhausting. When I get to the end of the working day, it can feel like I’ve got nothing left in the tank, in which case I have to be kind to myself and not try to overachieve.

It is really important to be kind to yourself. And finally, would you say you are a plotter or a pantser?

I am a bit of a hybrid – I call myself a 'plotser'. My usual method is to write relatively freely for the first third of a book, and then to gradually map out my plot so by somewhere around the middle of the story I have a detailed idea of how to finish. A strong ending is very important to me, and I think you can lose sight of that by pantsing the whole way.


Nick Cross is a writer, illustrator and blogger who has had over ten short stories published in children’s magazines. He has won both SCBWI Undiscovered Voices and the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for published short fiction. Nick recently contributed a comic series to SCBWI Words & Pictures magazine called Antisoci@l Media, and is currently writing and illustrating graphic novels. He is represented by Heather Cashman at Storm Literary Agency.


Tamsin Cooke is the award-winning author of The Scarlet Files and Stunt Double series. She writes fast paced adventure stories, full of excitement and danger, and her books have been recommended for reluctant readers. Tamsin used to be a primary school teacher but now writes full-time. She loves visiting schools, sharing her passion for reading and writing. She likes to think her Nahualli (spirit animal) would be a lioness or a jaguar, but her friends tell her it’s a Labradoodle.


The header image is by Irene Silvino, 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 magazine. Contact her at

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