In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features Carnegie Medal winner Tanya Landman.

Tell us about your creative space

When I started writing I had two small children to look after, so I worked in a corner of the kitchen. I'm still there. I have serious Shed Envy. I once tried to work in public but I discovered that I talk to myself when I'm typing – just to get the voices right. It's not a good idea to do that in a crowded train.

Tanya Landman in her fantastically glamorous wearable sleeping bag. She gets really cold when she’s sitting at her desk so it's an important piece of kit. She usually has a hot water bottle stuffed inside there too! (Tanya's own photo)

Why does this place work for you?

It's near the kettle. And I drink an awful lot of tea.

Do you need particular prompts to get started? 

I do like silence. I can't listen to music at all, and these days find it hard to write if there's anyone else in the house.

Your creative tools - what are they?

I always carry a notebook and pen in case inspiration strikes in weird places. But the serious work is done at the desk on a computer. Once I've got things well underway I use Post-Its to muck around with the structure.

Do you have a routine?

The routine varies, but ideally it's 8.30am until whenever my children get home. I try to do a minimum of 1000 words a day. If it's going well, that's easy. But there are days when it feels like a real slog. I can often push through that, but sometimes it's best just to switch off the computer and go for a long walk.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Stig of the Dump. It's such a brilliant warm, funny, magical read and has been a massive influence on me. I spent my entire childhood looking for Stig. The book made me feel that the past was a real and magical place – separated from the modern world by only a very thin veil.

Does walking or exercise help the creative process?

Everyone has days when they feel that not only are you writing the worst stuff you've ever written but you're writing the worst stuff that anybody in the whole history of the universe has ever written. When I get days like that it's best to take the dogs out for a really long walk. I'm lucky enough to live in a very beautiful part of the country and the landscape always cheers me. And it's impossible to stay depressed if you've got labradors. They are SO excited by absolutely everything - "LOOK!!!! WOW!!!! TREE!!! LOOK!!!! WOW!!!!! GRASS!!!!" - they always transform my mood.

Planner, pantser, or mixture of both?

Depends on the book. I plan the murder mysteries in great detail, writing a synopsis of each chapter before I start. But the YA books are much more to do with character. I usually know roughly what the last scene will be because that gives me an idea of why I'm writing it, and what I'm trying to say. But other than perhaps knowing a few key scenes, I don't want to chain the characters down to a detailed plan. I'm always waiting for the moment when a character will surprise me by doing or saying something I hadn't expected, which can then take me off in a different direction. Sometimes it leads me down a dead end and I have to back track and re-write. It can waste a lot of time and energy, but it feels important to me to explore and experiment.

What inspired you to first start writing?

It was weird, really. I hadn't got any plans to write and then the first line of the Waking Merlin just dropped into my head from nowhere. I jotted it down and then the rest of the story started to take flow through my head – it was like I'd tuned into a radio station.

Why writing for children?

This is a very personal view and a massive over-generalisation, but I think one of the differences between books for children and adults is to do with the potential of the main character. Adult books often take a character for whom everything is fine at the beginning and then during the course of the novel things unravel – the story arc goes Disaster, Divorce, Death. With a book for children/YA the character can start from a very low point. Things are done to them, they have no control over their destiny. But by the end (which does NOT have to be happy or cheerful) they will have a sense of who they are and what they are capable of. So although I deal with some very serious subject matter my characters' individual journeys are, on the whole, positive. I like writing about people who are growing and becoming stronger rather than falling apart.

Tanya's YA novel Buffalo Solider won the 2015 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Which is your least favourite question?

I really hate being asked what I'm writing next! I'm always scared I will jinx it.

Caroline Deacon lives in Edinburgh and is author of several childcare books. She now writes MG and YA and is agented by Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates, Edinburgh. Find her on Twitter @writingdilemmas and at

Header image by Emma Graham
Emma was a Hook finalist at the 2016 SCBWI BI conference and a finalist in The Stratford Literary Festival picture book competition 2017. Her first illustrated book, Symphony Hollow, was written by Jessica Reino and published by Spork. She is commissioned illustrator for The Children’s Appeal at Ipswich hospital creating illustrations for publicity, charity events and the refurbished children’s ward.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you, I enjoyed reading this post and love the sleeping bag idea, I'm very tempted!


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