In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features award winning poet Joseph Coelho, whose collection Overheard in a Tower Block was long-listed for the Carnegie.

 Tell us about your creative space. 

My study is filled with pictures, film posters, postcards, and a print of a photo of The Watchers, a work of art by Lynn Chadwick which was viewable from my third floor flat in Roehampton when I was a kid.

 It’s a warm room facing south and has a reading nook complete with bean bag and a ton of plants and candles. I write at a standing desk with a small red leather chesterfield behind to collapse onto when I need to think. One thing I couldn’t live without is my filing cabinet. It became a must as boxes of manuscripts started to pile up. I was reluctant to get one because they are quite imposing pieces of furniture, but I managed to soften it with a spot of decoupage.

Why does this place work for you?

 It’s somewhere I can be surrounded by my thoughts and idea and things which inspire me, be they illustrations, quotes or titbits. I can be guilty of hoarding and often keep things for no other reason then I like how they feel in the hand.

Joseph Coelho in his reading nook 

 Do you need particular prompts to get started? 

I like silence. If I write to music, it’s to one playlist that has only Chet Baker and Jeff Buckley tracks; anything else distracts me. I’m also quite particular about light. When I’m really into a flow I tend to close the blinds and put on several corner lamps creating an ethereal space which is neither night nor day.

 Your creative tools - what are they? 

Scrivener all the way. I doodle sometimes, and recently I’ve been writing freehand a lot, straight onto an iPad Pro which is great because you can convert handwriting to text for copying and pasting into digitised documents.

 Do you have a routine? 

As a kid I was hyper-active and I don’t think that trait has ever left me. I’ve learnt to manage it with exercise; I have to be active in the day and get into a calmed state in order to write from the evening and into the wee hours. But that said, when I’m deep into a story or poem I tend to just work it relentlessly until it is done.

What advice would you like to give to writers/illustrators who are trying to get established? 

Rid yourself of the idea of ‘gatekeepers’ and blocks to your journey. Whilst there are certainly hurdles and the industry is tough, believing yourself to be powerless does nothing for your art. You have to know that if we found ourselves in a post-apocalyptic world tomorrow, you would still be writing and illustrating because you don’t do it to be discovered, or ‘picked-up’ or for success, you do it because you must.

Research your industry, spend afternoons in bookshops and libraries reading the types of books you want to write, list who wrote and illustrated them, who published them. Get involved in the industry, join groups like SCBWI, visit the book fairs, search daily for articles. I get annoyed when people tell me they have an idea for a children’s book and would love to ‘do that’ but have made no moves to find out about the industry. There is a ton of information out there and the more you research the closer that world becomes.

 Does walking or exercise help the creative process? 

I have always struggled getting to the gym regularly. Over the last couple of years, running has really appealed because I love getting the medals from shorter and some longer runs. However my training schedule leaves much to be desired and I’m fortunate in that I can get away with not doing much training and still getting through a 10k. This last year I’ve started going to Hotpod Yoga which has been wonderful, the mix of relaxation, stretching and core strength building have really suited my needs. I still run and occasionally go to the gym but now realise that I need that touch of relaxation to make exercise likely. For me this means going for a gentle swim after a gym session (and perhaps a steam) and ensuring I have the right gear to make training comfortable and signing up for runs that inspire me and challenge me to get that endorphin fix. All of this helps stave off the inevitable “body of a writer” and gives me the stamina that writing and touring and schools visits demand.

 What must you have at hand in order to be able to create? coffee, biscuits, chocolate…. 

I have been a notorious snacker in the past and now I’m getting older am noticing that it gets harder to keep fitness and health up, especially if your diet is coffee and biscuits and chocolate. Recently I’ve found that home cooked foods and fermenting and juicing are totally the way forward. I bake often which gives me control of how much sugar are in the treats I need and definitely want and are often far nicer then anything bought. I have also started baking a lot of bread - in the past I could easily work my way through a lot of toast made from shop bought bread which did nothing for my tummy and the five coffees a day would have me up at 3am. I now bake sourdough bread with gluten free whole grains and alternate between decaf and caffeinated coffee (no sugar - maybe some honey) I feel much better for it, I have more energy. It is amazing how tired writing can make you, the brain is our most expensive organ and if you have ever spent 8 hours+ on the trot writing you will know that it is a different level of tiredness that, if not managed, can lead to very destructive snacking habits, a poorly tummy and bad sleep hygiene.

Do you have a word you are dying to use in a story, but haven’t yet found room for?

Archeoastronomist! It’s on a post-it note on my computer right now and as a trained archaeologist the word is just delightful to me - It will appear in a story very soon!

Overheard in a Tower Block by Joseph Coelho 

What question do you most like being asked about your work? 

I love being asked about the language and symbolism of my work - I go to great lengths to pepper symbolism through my work and across my books so it is always a delight when a reader asks a question which indicates a deep reading of the text, such as the bird symbolism in Overheard in A Tower Block or the use of fairytales across much of my work. 

You can find Joseph on: 
Twitter: @poetryjoe
Instagram: @josephcoelhoauthor

Caroline Deacon lives in Edinburgh and is the 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

The header image is by Emma Graham, a Hook finalist at the 2016 SCBWI BI conference and a finalist in The Stratford Literary Festival picture book competition 2017. Emma's 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. 

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