Camilla Chester has won the Crystal Kite Award, a prize awarded by SCBWI members in the UK to the book they feel is the best of the year. Congratulations, Camilla!

Call Me Lion, by Camilla Chester with illustrations by Irina Avgustinovich 

Q. You have said that your inspiration for Call Me Lion came to you as Leo's voice speaking to you, and that you gradually realized he could talk to you but not to other people. This must have been a very strong motivation to tell his story. Have any of your other books begun with something like that?

No. It was a completely unique experience and I honestly think it was a calling. I don’t expect to ever have it again in my lifetime, but I was honoured to be chosen to write Call Me Lion.

Camilla Chester

Q. What did you know about Selective Mutism before you started to write? Did you research the condition first, or outline the story and then do the research?

Nothing. Once I realised my MC [main character] was unable to speak I started researching and drafting at the same time. When I reached out via the charity SMiRA [Selective Mutism Information and Research Association], the story completely changed, as I felt I had permission to write authentically about SM rather than tagging it on. I had to really empathise with the families living with SM in order to do that.

Q. Does anyone in the book remind you of yourself as a child?

I was the youngest of four, so I know how Lion feels with his arguing older siblings. My dad remarried and had another four children and I enjoyed being the older one in his house. I think where you sit in the pecking order is very important to how you view and experience the world. Other than that, there is no particular character like me, although of course we all put aspects of ourselves into our characters. I’m outgoing like Richa, but definitely not as kind as she is.

Q. You say you like to know where the story is going before you start. So you are a plotter? Did you come up with the other characters for the needs of the plot, or did they just appear fully fledged in your head like Leo?

The other characters were gifted to me by Lion (he told me about his family and dog). Richa is based loosely on a close friend whom I’ve lost touch with now, and the idea about her secret came from meeting someone on a plane who worked with second-language children and told me how common it was. I do plot. I find I get in a muddle if I try to wing it. The characters usually come first and the story afterwards. 

Camilla with Jamie's mother, Donna Redrup

Q. I was sad to read about James, a young man with Selective Mutism who died in his early twenties. When the idea of this story first came to you, were you already thinking ahead about how it could help people with this condition to be better understood, as it surely has?

I definitely wasn’t. I heard about James through SMiRA. It was incredibly moving, and from that point on I knew the book was more powerful than me. I felt completely confident that it would eventually be published and I love the fact it is helping so many people. It is an absolute honour to be the author of something that touches lives in such a positive way. Long may it go on.

Q. One of the things people have said they like about Call Me Lion is its setting in an ordinary place that children can identify with. How deliberate was your choice of Luton for the story setting?

That really was my choice. I live very close to Luton and have visited schools there. It's a hugely diverse town and some of the landmarks, such as the Mall, are real places. I liked the idea of the heatwave being extra potent in an urban setting, putting more pressure on the characters.

Q. What story are you excited about writing next? Do you always have new projects in your head, or do you like to finish the one you're working on before thinking about a new idea?

I’ve just finished a draft of a pony book, which is a completely self-indulgent project I started after two failed book attempts. I’ve enjoyed every moment of writing about Lowri – a self-centred nearly eleven-year-old obsessed with getting her own pony. She’s a riot! I usually like to finish something before moving on, but sometimes with my commission work that's impossible. I can only work on one book at a time, although I have got another shiny idea about children on a boat...

Q. What were you most concerned about getting right?

Authenticity. I’m always thinking about representation and so writing out of my own experiences means I have to make sure I totally ‘get it’.

Q. Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always written and before I could write I was a story-teller. I think I am a writer – I was just born that way and the fact I can do it as a job makes me feel incredibly grateful.

Camilla signing copies of Call Me Lion

Q. You have been very productive, publishing four books including Call Me Lion. How do you work? Do you listen to music? Do you write in a cafe? Do you set a regular time for writing each day, or set yourself a word count?

Thank you! It doesn’t always feel that way. There’s a big gap between Thirteenth Wish and Call Me Lion, but I had written Darna’s Sky in that time, which never got picked up by a publisher, but it was what got me an agent. 

I’ve also written two books since Call Me Lion – well, three, if you count the pony book! I do work fast. My author friends think I’m a machine. I’m a fits-and-spurts writer. It’s nothing or all the time, any moment I can. It’s a bit like reading for me. We now have a garden office (the Pod) that I love to write in, as it has a big screen, but before that I wrote anywhere. I don’t set targets, but I did recently do the Write Magic Bootcamp, which was brilliant at getting my draft done. I have to have silence to write. 

Q. What was the hardest part of Call Me Lion to write?

It was just before I did the final rewrite. It was a totally different book. I had all the feedback and emotion from my personal research and I just couldn’t figure out how to move forward. I was totally stuck, and my agent and I couldn’t work it out. I almost ditched it but didn’t, because I felt a duty to the children who had trusted in me, plus Donna of course, James’ mum. 

Two fellow writers, Xena Knox and NM Browne (from my original SCBWI Critique group) got me through. Xena told me I had two books and I had to chose what story I wanted to tell. Once I decided, Nicky gave me a very simple story structure. It was like I had permission to redraft. I started afresh, sticking with my characters and setting, but with a whole different story and within a month I had Call Me Lion. It was like a miracle!

Child during a school visit holding copy of Call Me Lion

Q. In your school visits, what are the most common questions the children ask about Call Me Lion?

I get asked why I wrote it, how I thought of it, why Leo doesn’t talk. The other day I met the real Richa – she said, all smiles, "My name is Richa and I speak Gujarati." I said, "You’re in the book then!" It felt like a special magic to actually witness a child recognising themselves in my book. Wonderful. So empowering. 

Q. What writers inspired you to write your own children's books? Who(m) do you admire among recent children's writers?

We’re in the golden age of children’s writers. There are so many wonderful writers (and illustrators and translators) out there. I’m a big fan of clean, crisp writing that pulls at my emotions but also gives me a gripping story. Big fan of Katya Balen, Zillah Bethnel, Jo Cotterill, Polly Ho Yen, Katherine Rundell and of course our own wonderful Candy Gourlay.

Camilla Chester

Q. As a long-time SCBWI volunteer, organiser, and all-around team player, you have worked for years to help other people in the children's book world. How did you find out that you had won the Crystal Kite Award? 

Thanks again! I do try and help others, mainly because I’ve had so much support myself and it’s only fair to pay back. 

I found out by email. I really wanted to win and I can’t tell you how chuffed I am that I did. Thank you to everyone who voted for Call Me Lion. Every time I think about the fact that my book has won the Crystal Kite I grin. It’s totally brilliant to have won. THANK YOU!!!

Thank you Camilla! We wish you all the best in your future endeavours!

* All photo credits: Camilla Chester.


Camilla Chester is a professional Dog Walker and hybrid Children’s Author, with three self-published and one traditionally published novel, entitled Call Me Lion. Winner of the 2023 Crystal Kite Award, Camilla has been shortlisted four times in other national competitions, writes on commission for the popular online school resources Serial Mash and Fiction Express, is member of SoA, NAWE and SCBWI, works freelance for Writers & Artists Yearbook and is represented by Veronique Baxter at DHA

Links to more information about Camilla can be found here.


Julie Sullivan is a SCBWI volunteer who loves meeting inspiring authors like Camilla!

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