SCBWI FACES Alison Gardiner


SCBWI Faces goes behind the scenes to meet the volunteers who keep our Society ticking. This month, Anna Gamble chats to Alison Gardiner, co-chair for the 2022 SCBWI conference in Manchester.

Alison Gardiner

Doctor, mother, radio voice performer, writer, reasonable cook, terrible gardener (ironically), Alison loves all her roles, but sometimes her priorities get muddled (except for being the banana-bread chef; that’s always right up there). She loves to travel, having spent her early years in Jamaica, USA, Gibraltar and Scotland. She also loves gathering flashes of ideas to weave into tales. She’s ridden a camel, fed elephants, cuddled snakes and patted a hippo. She attributes her wildlife fearlessness to having four children. 

What do you write?

Mainly middle-grade fantasy, threaded with humour. However, getting my ideas into a line can be like herding pigeons, so I’ve also written adult books (no, not like that), but discovered that my heart was not in Romance. A tour de writing picture books was refreshing and educational; I enjoyed trying to peer at the world as if I were only a couple of feet high. I’m currently converting my film script into a young fiction novel, which is terrific fun. So, when Hollywood comes calling for my book, I can hand them the original film script as I decide on what shade of crimson I want for my red carpet. Job done. (Did I hear a voice in the background saying ‘Dream on’?) I’ve written a perfect murder but wasn’t too keen on obeying laws pertaining to time or physics, which leave no room for flying crocodiles or panda rockets. It's more fun to envisage then create without needing any blessing from Newton or his laws. Thus, my wizards’ castle contains a coffee table made from a horizontal Catherine Wheel. I want one too, only Newton would never let me have one. I love tackling the suspension of disbelief right into the eye-stretching zone.

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

My roof-provider job is a private GP. It’s rewarding and absolutely fabulous, combining solving puzzles with helping people. As every individual manifests a vast number of diseases in their own way, they react differently depending on lifestyle, temperament, body, so there’s an endless raft of possibilities in terms of diagnosis or management. It's a bit like being a biological Sherlock, but run more by common sense than brilliant theory. It’s a partnership: I do my bit, they do theirs and hopefully people end up on a better path.


Describe your writing space.

Mainly a room with a sofa and an entire wall of books; very distracting. As I’m possibly the worst typist on the planet, I use voice recognition software to capture a story as fast as the words tumble out of my mouth: somewhere around ‘terms-and-conditions-apply’ speed when I’m really excited about a concept. At other times I can be found on a different sofa, propped up in bed or anywhere next to a flat surface with a cup of tea on it. Trains do.


Alison busy writing

How long have you been a SCBWI volunteer?

About 5 years as conference doctor plus helping with front of house. However, when I dropped some sessions at work I joined Mo O’Hara and Candy Gourlay for the PULSE stream to help run the 2022 Young Fiction Weekend, then volunteered for the Manchester conference. Top tip: never miss one of the early meetings or you’ll discover you’ve been voted in as conference co-chair. Steep learning curve, but enormous fun working with a superb team. It was complete joy to see it all come together in Manchester and be part of that whole process.


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

Circus performer, mainly. Plate spinning, juggling. I envisaged being ringmaster (ha!) but the role involves everything from selling tickets, to arranging chairs and helping to clear up afterwards. Luckily I wasn’t called on as lion tamer as everyone was so wonderful and no one needed to be growled at. However, I did keep my sparkly tights, upended chair and whip handy just in case.


Alison at the SCBWI conference

Do you do any other volunteering?

I’m a voice performer on Litopia Pop-up Submissions, GP representative on my local hospital’s Medical Advisory Committee, a minimalist school and do an amount of charity work, like the pier-to-pier swims in Bournemouth for the British Heart Foundation, although it seems ironic to be in water raising money for a defibrillator. Walking around London in the dead of night dressed in a bra and gymslip for the Moonwalk was interesting…


Has volunteering influenced your writing in any way?

Volunteering has made me feel much more part of a writing community and given me the confidence to call myself an author with my head held high rather than ducking the issue with my impostor syndrome hat on: ‘scribble a bit…doggerel, really…splash a few words down…’. People have also been very open about the writing world’s joys and pitfalls, which has been invaluable in plotting my own track.


What are the advantages of being a volunteer?

It’s given me multiple opportunities to meet experienced published authors, agents and editors which has been terrific in terms of learning my craft, honing my ideas about my aims for a future in writing and given me a path to follow. It’s much easier to comprehend a world by living in it rather than being on the outside looking in.


How many hours per week do you spend volunteering?

Peak or trough? With the conference upcoming sometimes 2 to 3 hours a day, but now about two hours a week. When time was much tighter, volunteering for tasks solely connected with conference was perfect as I could pitch in when my time was already ring-fenced for writing immersion.


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

Blurred to the point of entirely melded together: ink on wet blotting paper. I like to check emails or messages often to make sure I’m on top of what’s happening. Nosiness or commitment? Difficult to tell. However, bigger projects, like a budget, are given pre-allocated time as I’m a great believer that 10 minutes +10 minutes +10 minutes does not equal half an hour. For me, each break is a backtrack, requiring the picking up of mental threads to weave into a cohesive tapestry, the making of yet another cup of tea and finding the cat to put him back on the desk is a handy distraction.


Favourite children’s book?

Despite writing MG, many of my favourite children’s books are picture books, like The Kiss That Missed, The Jolly Postman, anything by Mick Inkpen, Nick Butterworth or Julia Donaldson. I also came late to reading Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild, which I loved. Latterly I very much enjoyed Mo O’Hara’s Agent Moose and Camilla Chester’s Call Me Lion. Re-reading children’s classics is interesting but less inspiring than dipping into the modern material. Not many of the old ones are frankly fun; I do love to laugh.


Alison is the author of The Serpent of Eridor. She's written several picture books and two Young Fiction books, currently being re-re-edited and has a brain full of so many bits of ideas it really needs de-fragging.


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


Anna Gamble has a career in the arts. She became a SCBWI volunteer in 2021 with the role of Social Media Editor and, since recently, member of the conference committee. She writes MG and picture books. 


  1. When Alison stepped up to volunteer, Mo and I nodded at each other and swore not to let this one get away! We were not wrong! Enthusiastic and calm, Alison helped helm a conference of inspiration and joy - thank you.

  2. This was hugely enjoyable to read. I’m going to have to buy her books.

  3. As a newcomer to the British Isles I so appreciate getting to know the people in this community. Thanks for the profile!


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