SCBWI FACES Elizabeth Dale


SCBWI Faces goes behind the scenes to meet the volunteers who keep our society ticking. This month, Kathryn Evans chats to Elizabeth Dale, who runs Chi SCBWI - the Chichester discussion group.

Elizabeth always dreamed of being a writer, but thinking, ‘I can’t possibly do that’, she instead studied for a Physics degree and subsequently became a health service manager. But when she started her maternity leave, she began writing, attempting an adult novel before she moved onto writing both teenage and women’s magazine fiction. She found that these shared the same major attraction – they were much shorter and more fun! However, once her daughters were born, she became immersed in children’s books, initially through reading to her daughters, but was also inspired to write them. As well as being short and more fun to write, they allowed her to stop pretending to be grown-up and to stay a child at heart. And so she found the perfect career. Elizabeth has had over two thousand stories (teenage and adult) published all over the world, and has more than 90 children’s books published, or being published this year, and has won several awards. She lives in rural West Sussex, where she sits, laptop on knee, gazing out at the garden, letting her imagination run riot, exploring the child within and trying never to grow old. Her three daughters have now flown the nest and are children’s authors, too. 

What do you write? 

Everything from board books to MG. My most recently published books are picture books and Early Readers. I really enjoy writing funny books which have a subtle message to reassure children about issues that may worry them. I also write fiction for women’s magazines.

One of Elizabeth's Picture Books, Billy and the Balloons,
published by Salariya and illustrated by Patrick Corrigan

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

No, I am lucky enough to be full-time focussed on my writing career and, as I never seem to have enough hours in my day for that, I’m full of admiration for those who write and do another job, too.

Elizabeth believes in introducing books to children as early as possible.
Here she is reading her book Mix-Up Monday (Maverick Publishing) to her granddaughter, Mary.

Describe your writing space.

I live in a cottage, which is generally quite dark, so some time ago, we added on a room, with big windows which looked over the garden, to be a study/family room. I sit on a settee by the window with my feet up – being inspired – or is it distracted? – by the wildlife I see! Having said that, like most writers, I am thinking up ideas and writing wherever I am – I find train journeys and cliff and mountain-tops most inspiring!

Looking out at the garden from where Elizabeth sits and works -distracted by the view

How long have you been a SCBWI volunteer?

I’m not sure exactly but I think it’s well over ten years.


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

I run my local SCBWI group. This involves dealing with enquiries from potential new members, arranging and chairing meetings, and discovering and passing on details of upcoming writing courses and opportunities to group members as well as trying to help them with any problems. I am also a link to our SCBWI Region’s Network Organisers, and have been involved in their events and discussions. Occasionally I’ve also organised special events (sometimes with a nearby group) such as talks from editors or agents. I’m so fortunate that my group is wonderfully supportive and encouraging towards everyone in it, so it’s like a big family where, as well as discussing our writing, we have also helped each other through difficult times. It’s such a pleasure to be part of it.


Do you do any other volunteering?

Not anymore. I helped for years with reading at my daughters’ primary school and I have been a school governor, as well as helping to run our local road association.


Has volunteering influenced your writing in any way?

Yes. I have made many interesting contacts and, searching out details of writing courses etc to pass onto my group, has led me to attending some great sessions!


What are the advantages of being a volunteer?

See above! In addition, running the group means that I enjoy closer contact with group members – all of whom are amazing. Also, it is very rewarding to encourage and help beginner-writers on their journey by explaining the advantages of becoming a SCBWI member and joining a local group, where everyone can be inspired by each other.


How many hours per week do you spend volunteering?

It varies so much. But, on average, it comes to an hour or two a week.


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

I don’t have any specific times to do my volunteering work. I drop my own writing to take on volunteering duties if any problems or queries arise.


Favourite children’s book?

Oh, this is so difficult to choose! In fiction, I absolutely love Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech for its powerful, emotive story-telling and great twist and anything by Morris Gleitzman or Jacqueline Wilson. For picture books there are so many treasures – The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde and Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley, which are both so sensitive and touching; Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins – a perfect example of pictures telling the story – and two fun rhythmical, rhyming stories, The Jolly Christmas Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg, and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (or any other Hairy Maclary book) by Lynley Dodd.

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Dale

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!

Kathryn Evans has a background in theatre and a lifetime in business, and now writes contemporary novels with a Science Fiction twist. She’s won multiple awards, including the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award, the SCBWI Crystal Kite and the CrimeFest Award. Nominated for the Carnegie Medal, her books have also been translated into multiple languages and optioned for a film.

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