SCBWI FACES Stephanie Cotela


SCBWI Faces goes behind the scenes to meet our volunteers! This month, Tania Tay chats to Stephanie CotelaNetwork News and Events Editor for Words & Pictures.

Stephanie Cotela

Stephanie studied History of Art at San Diego State University and the University of London, Birkbeck College. She’s worked at cultural institutions including The Metropolitan Opera, American Museum of Natural History, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and The Dulwich Picture Gallery. She writes across genres from children’s picture books to adult crime fiction and is particularly fond of ghost stories. Originally from New York, she has been living in and around London for nearly two decades. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Ghosts of Hawkthorn, will be released later this year.


What do you write?

Prior to venturing into kidlit, I published and contributed to books and magazines in the art historical genre. When I started writing for children, I naturally began with picture books – those manuscripts have since been shelved and I have instead been concentrating mostly on middle-grade ghost stories. I’m also currently working on a YA cosy crime and an Adult thriller. Regardless of genre, I tend to sneak elements of art and architecture into all of my writing.


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

Not currently. Surprisingly, employers are not keen to hire an art historian (at large) who has been a stay-at-home mom for the past ten years. It’s rather disheartening that full-time parenting is decidedly unimportant in our society. Fingers crossed this writing thing works out.


Describe your writing space.

My writing space is my haven. It’s a cosy home office decorated with pictures that inspire me: the Northern Lights, Polar Bears, photographs from Italy and of course an Agatha Christie wall calendar. I recently purchased a bed for the cat, my incredibly unhelpful assistant, but he prefers to sleep in the space under my desk.


How long have you been a SCBWI volunteer?

I have been the Network News and Events Editor for Words & Pictures magazine since June 2022.


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

I commission features related to news and events from all networks across the UK region. Occasionally I write articles as well. The nitty gritty entails formatting text and images and uploading to our blog platform.


Do you do any other volunteering?

I volunteer at my sons’ primary school every now and again, as a reading helper or chaperone. I also run the annual Christmas Art Competition, which is one of my favourite events of the holiday season. This year will be my seventh year as the judge!


Has volunteering influenced your writing in any way?

I think so. I’m more aware and/or involved in what other members are doing and how they are doing it. This enables me to engage with a supportive network of people and to share resources and ideas which have certainly influenced and improved my own writing.


What are the advantages of being a volunteer?

The team at Words &Pictures is definitely the biggest advantage. They are a lovely, supportive group and it’s nice to exchange ideas and chat about kidlit. On that note, it’s a real thrill to read the submissions from SCBWI British Isles members and keep up with what is going on in each network.


How many hours per week do you spend volunteering?

It depends. If I’m writing an article from scratch it will take longer than if I’m formatting and uploading a commissioned feature. Neither are intensely time consuming, I would say on average 1-3 hours per week.


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

Every boundary in my life is blurred. Time management is not my strong point. I try to prioritise my volunteer work for Words & Pictures because there is a deadline. My personal writing projects often take a back seat due to parenting commitments, everyday responsibilities and of course, procrastination.


Favourite children’s book?

Ooh. This is a hard one. There are sooooo many. I think I’m going to have to pick two! I’ll go with Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

Stephanie's favourite books

*Header image: in-house collaboration by Ell Rose & Tita Berredo


Tania Tay is second generation, British Malaysian Chinese and lives in East London. Her writing explores female friendship, mothers and daughters, often with a supernatural twist. She’s also a screenwriter and was part of BBC Writersroom London Voices 2021.


Anne Boyere is one of Words & Pictures' Feature Editors and runs the #SCBWIchat Twitter chat about books for all ages @SCBWI_BI. You can find her on Twitter.

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