In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features author, Keith Gray

Tell us about your creative space. 
I have a desk and a tiny space at home grandiosely referred to as The Study. It’s actually a corner. But it’s mine, all mine. And compared to several other authors’ desks I’ve seen it feels disappointingly neat and tidy most of the time. More often than not I share it with my parrot, Bellamy. She sits on my shoulder or on my computer monitor eating peanuts and making a mess.

Why does this place work for you? 
Writing’s a lonely job – which is why so many of us get trapped by Facebook, Twitter, whatever. So it’s good to have someone to talk to, even if it is a parrot. And I like to have a ‘work’ space. Somewhere that feels different from the rest of the house.

Do you need particular prompts to get started?
I enjoy listening to music as I write. I try to decide what kind of music my characters would be into and have that on in the background. And I talk to Bellamy a lot too. She rarely disagrees with me, which is nice.

Your creative tools - what are they? 
I prefer writing longhand in pencil to begin with. I write lots and lots in notebooks – no rubbing out, only crossing out allowed because sometimes I rub out sentences I wish I’d kept – then sit at the computer, with Bellamy, to try to make sense of it. All my novels start out twice as long in notebooks before being edited down as ruthlessly as I dare onto the computer.

Do you have a routine?
I write every day. Birthdays, Christmas, on holiday – doesn’t matter. And I write a minimum of 500 words a day. They don’t have to be good words, polished words, or even words that will appear in the current novel, but I feel I need to write every day. I find it’s much easier than writing ‘sometimes’. When I’m deep into a novel, as I am right now, then I prefer at least 2000 words a day if I can.

What is the best creative advice you’ve been given? 
Writers write. No one ever gets remembered for the things they didn’t do so I’ll never be remembered for the fabulous book I left in my head and never made time to get down on the page.

Favourite book as a child?
As a child I only really read comics – Asterix comics were my favourite. (And these days my 7 year-old daughter and I read them together, both putting on the voices and making the sound effects). As a teenager I started reading ‘proper’ books and discovered ‘The Machine Gunners’ by Robert Westall. It’s definitely the book that made me want to eventually become a writer.

What is your favourite ‘how to’ book about writing?
I love ‘The Art of Fiction’ by David Lodge. It’s not a How To… book, but it tells you so much about how fiction works and how writers do it. It’s a bit of a bible for me and I must have owned half a dozen copies over the years.

Does exercise help the creative process? 
I think exercise is a good thing if it’s boring. The best ideas come to me when I’m bored. I go for long bike rides through the city where I live (Vienna) without listening to music or podcasts, whatever. I force myself to have nothing else to think about except the current book. We fill our lives doing too much stuff. I totally, absolutely, 100% believe that boredom is fertile ground for creativity.

Planner or pantser? 
I’m a complete ‘pantser’. I find planning dull and hard. And when I’ve attempted it in the past the books always changes so much in the writing that it never feels worth all that effort. My favourite writing times are when I surprise myself, almost as if I were the reader.

What inspired you to first start writing?
I just wanted to be able to write the kind of books I enjoyed reading.

And why children?
I’m not the most imaginative writer and more often than not I stick to the rule: Write what you know. I was only 21 when I wrote my first publishable book (it went on to be published when I was 24) so I knew pretty much what it was like to be young, a child, a teenager – I hadn’t sussed out what being an adult was about. So I wrote what I knew. And it stuck. 

Keith Gray's first book, Creepers, was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award. Ostrich Boys was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, won the Scottish Teen Book Awards and has been adapted for the stage. The Runner won a Smarties Silver Medal. His latest book is Houdini and the Five Cent Circus (Barrington Stoke).

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. 

1 comment:

  1. Here's to the work in progress - can't wait to read it!


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.