SCBWI Faces goes behind the scenes to meet the volunteers who keep our society ticking. This month, Mo O'Hara chats to Sara Grant, chair of the Undiscovered Voices committee.

Sara's books have been published in the US, UK and Europe. Dark Parties, her first young adult novel, won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award for Europe. As a freelance editor of series fiction, she has worked on twelve different series and edited nearly 100 books. She teaches master’s courses on writing for children/teens currently at Goldsmiths University and previously at the University of Winchester. She has given writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe. She co-founded Undiscovered Voices – which has launched the writing careers of forty-two authors and illustrators, who now have published more than 400 children’s books worldwide. 

Sara Grant

What do you write?

My debut novel – Dark Parties – was a YA dystopian novel published in 2011. Since then I’ve published ten books ranging from YA to a series for readers 7+. My most recent series is Chasing Danger – a middle-grade, action-adventure series set in exotic locations. I’m working on a new middle grade novel at the moment – a sort of political thriller.


The Chasing Danger series by Sara Grant

Do you have a job as well as volunteering?

I teach the master’s course in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Goldsmiths, University of London. I also consult for Storymix, an inclusive fiction studio that creates children’s stories with diverse casts of characters in an organic, joyful and authentic way. And I’m lucky to be asked to speak at schools and offer workshops for adult writers.


Describe your writing space. If you don't have one can you describe your favourite place to write?

I primarily write in the office that I share with my husband. I have a lovely view of the Thames. My office is organised chaos. I have binders and folders for my work in progress, but I tend to have piles for key projects, which I like to keep within arm’s reach. I have a lava light similar to the one I had when I was kid and am surrounded by lovely bits and bobs, each attached to a fond memory; stones collected from beach holidays, a Daliesque clock – a gift from my mother, my boarding pass from a once-in-a-lifetime trip on the Orient Express and, of course, lots and lots of books!

Sara in her office space

How long have you been a volunteer?

I first volunteered for SCBWI in the United States nearly 30 years ago. I was the regional advisor for the state of Indiana. When I moved to the UK 18 years ago, connecting with SCBWI British Isles was one of the first things I did. It gave me a community, and I’ve made lifelong friends.


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

I currently chair the Undiscovered Voices committee as I have done since its inception in 2006. If you don’t know about Undiscovered Voices, you can find out about it at It’s launched the writing careers of nearly 50 writers who have more than 400 books read and enjoyed around the world. We recently published the Undiscovered Voices 2022 anthology. You can download it for free on the website. At the end of this year we will start planning for the next anthology, and in 2023 we will host events to prepare writers to submit their 4,000-word extracts as well as review nearly 300 submissions to select the twelve talented writers who will be featured in the next anthology. I also work with Andrew James and Paul Webb planning this year’s masterclasses. More details on topics and times coming soon. And I volunteer as the moderator for the agents party.


Has volunteering influenced your writing in any way?

Absolutely! I’ve met so many wonderful writers, agents and editors and had the opportunity to work with and learn from them all. I’m constantly inspired by SCBWI members and speakers.


What are the advantages of being a volunteer?

I wouldn’t be a published author if I hadn’t volunteered for SCBWI. I met my agent through Undiscovered Voices. Having my name on the spine of a book has been my ambition since I was eight years old, and it was amazing to have achieved that goal, but maybe even better than that is the pride I feel for what we’ve achieved through Undiscovered Voices. It’s a thrill to watch authors we’ve selected for the anthology go on to have unbelievable careers. And then having those authors serve as mentors for the next generation of Undiscovered Voices and even serve on the committee. There’s an amazing satisfaction in paying forward what I’ve received from SCBWI. Another benefit is the opportunity to meet your literary idols. In the early days of Undiscovered Voices, when my friend and co-founder Sara O’Connor and I planned the project, we used to select our honorary chairs based on authors we wanted to meet – award-winning authors like David Almond, Melvin Burgess, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, and many more. And volunteering gives me one-on-one access to industry professionals who I’d never have met otherwise. Through planning masterclasses and other events I’ve met a huge range of agents and editors. And when planning topics, I can create events based on what I need to learn and attend those events for free. But maybe the most important benefit is the friendships I’ve built through volunteering. I met some of my closest friends through SCBWI.


How many hours per week do you spend volunteering?

It varies greatly – from an hour a week to probably 20, which is when we are accepting and reviewing submissions for Undiscovered Voices.


Do the boundaries between volunteering and writing get blurred or do you have clear schedules and separate spaces?

The boundaries are blurry for sure, but I do try to be organised and it helps to be part of a committee of dedicated and professional volunteers. The Undiscovered Voices committee has been working together for many years. They are creative, smart, and reliable people, which makes volunteering much easier and loads more fun.


Favourite children’s book and why?

Oh, there are too many to choose from! My first favourite was The Secret Garden. I checked that book out of my elementary school library again and again. As a writer, there were two books that I really learned a lot from – Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech and A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly. I loved these books so I dissected them and tried to uncover how those authors crafted such powerful books. I’ll never reach their level of awesome, but they taught me a lot.

Both of these novels inspired Sara as a writer

*photos courtesy of Sara Grant


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! 


Mo O'Hara grew up in Pennsylvania and now lives in London, where she works as a writer visiting theatres and schools across the UK, Europe and the world. Mo and her brother once brought their own pet goldfish back from the brink of death (true fact).

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