Writing Spaces - where do we write, draw and dream?

An Interview with Kimberly Pauley
by Michelle Newell

In this series, we take a peek into the places and spaces where our authors and illustrators imagine, plan and create. This week, we chat to Kimberly Pauley, a full-time writer of YA fiction. 



She is American and lives in West London with her husband and five year old son. Kimberly is the author of Sucks to Be Me, Still Sucks to Be Me, and Cat Girl’s Day Off. 



You’ve had three Young Adult books published, with another on the way. Were they all written in the same place and space?

Oh no – we’ve moved three times since then. The first book I wrote when we were living in an 1893 Victorian in Kentucky. My office was in the former lady’s dressing room of this old house and I had this half-circular writing desk with a leather top. It was really lovely and completely impractical. I banged the first book out sitting in the front parlour window. Then we moved to Chicago and I had an office space with bookshelves all along one wall, a huge oak desk and big red leather chair, and I wrote mostly sitting looking out the window. That second book was written after I had a baby, so it was a little challenging to go out. My third book I also wrote mostly in that same office. My fourth book, which is going to come out in 2014, was written here in London, even though it’s set in Florida. I wrote most of it in one café around the corner from our house and at a pub called the Elgin in Ladbroke Grove. They have big cushy couches and sometimes they light the fireplace.


You’re experimenting with finding different spaces to write in now. What do you look for in a public writing space?

Since I have a really rubbish laptop battery I often look for somewhere I can plug in! Lately I’ve been trying to write with other people, because writing is such a solitary occupation. It’s nice to have other people there who are doing the same type of thing you’re doing. I posted on Facebook and I found a few people to join me, including some people I met at the SCBWI Conference. We’ve been writing mostly at the British Library, and we’ve also tried the Wellcome Collection and the Metropolitan pub at Baker Street tube. Our choices are determined by tube lines!




You write mainly humorous fiction for girls but you’ve also written something darker recently.

That’s the book that’s going to come out next. It’s definitely strange writing darker things around other people because what you’re writing is really intense. I had some scenes with more intense kissing [than my usual books] and it felt strange to be writing those private comments in a café with people walking around me. I felt sorry for my poor character! With funny books, it’s lighter and easier to write in public. If I crack myself up, people think I’m just the strange lady in the corner, whereas if I’m writing about killing somebody, I feel a little more exposed [laughs].


You also write at home, and I’ve seen on Facebook that you’ve succeeded in your quest to find the perfect writing desk!

I moved in September. Before that we were in a two bed flat and I was working on the kitchen table. It was hard, and my husband [the family cook] didn’t like coming home with the computer and paper everywhere! We moved into a bigger home with an office/guest bedroom. I like old things, and I didn’t want to go to Ikea and get a throwaway desk – there’s no romance to mass-produced stuff. We live near Portobello Road and we went through all the antique and restoration shops. I finally found a desk that I really liked – it’s black and has a weird rub to it with red undertones. We’re renting the house and it completely doesn’t go with anything in the room. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s about creating your own space kind of thing. It’s my everything room, with my craft things and then some writing books that I always like to have around.


What are they?

The ones I refer back to are Stephen King’s On Writing and another one that is probably more new-agey than I would go for, called Writing Down the Bones (by Natalie Goldberg). I write a lot of young fiction, so I also have a book called Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine which I had signed by her. I’ve figured out what works for me now – and everybody’s different. You can read a billion bits of advice from a billion different authors, and it’s not necessarily going to be the thing that works for you. You have to take the things that work for you.




To wrap up, what one thing would you always keep on your desk - wherever you travel in the world, wherever you live?

I do most of my writing directly into the laptop, but I do like to have a notebook and pen because my laptop is a huge old brick of a thing and I don’t always want to take it with me! I write character notes and snippets of scenes as they occur to me in books. Sometimes I’ll even write out a chapter in the notebook and take it home later and type it in. My husband got me an incredibly expensive pen for my [milestone] birthday in January, with green ink. I like coloured inks because they’re more fun.


That colourful writing matches the tone of your books.

Yeah, I’m a little goofy.



  • Any space can be YOUR space. You can spend hours trying to make a space the perfect space, but it's more important to spend that time actually writing. 
  • Learn to adapt to wherever you find yourself. I’ve written in pubs, cafes, parks, trains, my mother-in-law's living room... Get a notebook for those times when an idea or a scene hits you. You never know where you'll be when you need it.
  • If you can, try and write with other people sometimes. Writing is very solitary and it's good to recharge by writing with others. 


If you find inspiration for your work in an interesting, strange or unique place, we'd love to hear from you. Please email writers@britishscbwi.org

@michelnewel
Michelle Newell was born and raised in a country town in Australia. She taught history at an all-girls school before moving to England a decade ago to take up the thoroughly modern job of designing new schools. Michelle still loves anything old, and has compulsively collected ‘junk’, as her bemused family call it, since she was a girl. Her flat in London is crammed with fluffy 1950s ball gowns, daintily painted tea sets, and well-worn children’s toys. The stories she imagines behind each of her vintage treasures ultimately inspired her to fulfil a long-held ambition to write novels with an historic twist for young adults. Michelle is currently working on her first novel and is represented by Jenny Savill at Andrew Nurnberg Associates. 

9 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading about where you worked, Kimberley - great idea for a series, Michelle.
    Favourite line: "I banged the first book out sitting in the front parlour window." fab picture!
    And I agree coloured is top:o)

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  2. Great feature! Interesting to see how and where other writer's work. I would love to write at the British Library!

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  3. I believe that if you are a member of the Society of Authors, you are eligible to join the British Library. I'm going to try it out sometime.

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    Replies
    1. I would love a primer on how to do research in the British Library. Calling Jan!

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  4. I don't know how you manage in the British Library! It seems so busy! It's interesting what best alchemy works for people ... I fear that if I were working in the company of others I would just want to chat ... and eat cake.

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  5. Wow Kim, I never realized you. Wrote while in my living room! Very observant of me. Out of curiosity which book were you working on? I feel as though I contributed a very tiny bit (even though it was only a spot to sit). Lol

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