SCBWI Faces goes behind the scenes to meet the volunteers who keep our Society ticking. This month, Natascha Biebow chats to Mo O'Hara, Pulse Coordinator with Candy Gourlay.

Mo O'Hara is the author of My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish,various picture books including Romeosaurus and Juliet Rex and More People to Love Me, and the new Agent Moose graphic novel with Jess Bradley. She grew up in Pennsylvania and now lives in London, where she works as a writer visiting theatres and schools all across the UK, Europe and across the world. Mo and her brother once brought their own pet goldfish back from the brink of death (true fact).


What do you write?

I write fiction for 7+, graphic novels for 6+  and picture books for younger readers. I also love writing poems and am working on a few scripts for animation and TV.

Do you have a ‘day job’ as well as writing?

I am a full-time writer but rolled up in that are days leading workshops with kids and with adults. I love the connection to my readers that I get from doing live events. I missed that enormously in the last couple years. It’s so good to be out doing school visits and festivals again.


Describe your writing space.

I have a study that I like to write in. But in the winter months I decamp downstairs sometimes if no one else is home as my study is the coldest room in the house. I feel like I’m in the Brontë parsonage sometimes when I’m wrapped up in a knitted shawl to write 😊


How long have you been a SCBWI volunteer?

I became a SCBWI volunteer about 10 years ago after I gave Natascha Biebow a lift home from the conference in Winchester. She had two hours to convince me that I really wanted to volunteer for SCBWI 😊 It was a fantastic decision though. I ended up running the Masterclass series for a few years and then working on the conference committee. I met my agent, Gemma Cooper, because I was volunteering at the conference and she was one of the speakers. Now I am one of the coordinators of the PULSE strand of programming. My volunteering with SCBWI has meant that I met so many fantastic industry people and it also meant that I’ve made some truly amazing friends.


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

PULSE is the strand of events that is aimed at published SCBWI members. We try to programme talks and workshops that would be of interest to these members ( Often though, there is overlap with what pre-published members want as well 😊 ) There are some regular fixtures in the PULSE calendar like the Debut Bootcamp that we run in January for nearly or newly published writers and illustrators and then there are usually ‘Pop Up’ events that we run to respond to things happening in the industry. During lockdown, we obviously had to switch to all online events so we programmed things like OMG Weekend which was a whole weekend of talks, panels and discussions about middle-grade Books. In 2022 we are doing the same kind of thing with an online Young Fiction Weekend in February. Hopefully we’ll also be able to programme some in-person events in 2022 as well. We have lots of ideas and plans in the works!!


Do you do any other volunteering?

I think I’m always volunteering with something. When my kids were little, I volunteered as a breastfeeding peer advisor. When they got older, I volunteered with Cub Scouts and I’ve always also volunteered with writing groups. I am currently also very active with CWISL (Children’s Writers and Illustrators for Stories and Literacy) and volunteer with them to bring writers and illustrators into schools and bring kids into universities for workshops that give kids new opportunities and, hopefully, new aspirations. Most recently, I’ve volunteered this summer at vaccination centres as a Volunteer Steward.


Has volunteering influenced your writing in any way?

Volunteering in general has given me confidence in working with people in various situations. It’s also made me realise how transferable a lot of my skills are and how I adaptable I can be in new circumstances. Volunteering with SCBWI has honestly been one of the best experiences of my career. I’ve made countless contacts with industry professionals and, as I’ve said, I met my agent at the SCBWI Winchester conference. I have also had the privilege to attend some fantastic workshops and sessions that have helped my writing as well as having the great experience of being in various crit groups with members that I met through SCBWI. It is also just a fantastic source of inspiration and support. Writing can be a very solitary experience but having the SCBWI community around has been a real support to my mental wellbeing.


What are the advantages of being a volunteer?

There are so many. There are career advantages – you get personal connections to industry professionals. You can be sat next to someone at a talk or in the line to get a coffee and strike up a conversation leads to an introduction or even a job. There are also the personal advantages of the friendships that you develop through working together with such committed and creative people. And, as I mentioned, there is the development of your craft that comes from the peer learning that takes place and the skill sharing that happens.

 How many hours per week do you spend volunteering?

It varies so much. There are times of the year (like coming up to the conference or another big event) where I could be doing 8-12 hours a week or more. Usually, I think I spend about 3-5 hours a week doing planning, administration, meetings, and other various jobs.


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

I should probably have more delineation between my volunteering time and my personal time but I’m not very good at that. I do carve out time that I need to for my writing and am more possessive of anything eating into that time. Also, things like attending SCBWI events are both part of my volunteering responsibilities and part of my social life 😊


Favourite children’s book?

Oooh. Can I have two? The Velveteen Rabbit is my favourite picture book and story. I LOVE funny books though and so Matilda is probably my favourite funny book.


Natascha Biebow is an experienced children's book editor, mentor and coach. She is the founder of a coaching and mentoring service aimed at helping children's authors and illustrators to shape their picture books, young fiction and novels pre-submission. She is the author of The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, winner of the Irma Black Award and a best STEM book. She has been the co-RA (Chair) of SCBWI British Isles since 1998, and in 2018 was awarded SCBWI Stephen Mooser Member of the Year and an MBE for services to children's authors and illustrators.


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


Anne Boyère is an editor for Words & Pictures and the host behind #SCBWIchat on SCBWI BI's Twitter account. Her Twitter handle is @AmusedNonQueen.

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.