In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features Tony De Saulles, illustrator for the award-winning Horrible Science series, published by Scholastic. Although this has kept him busy for many years, he also loves to write and has just finished writing and illustrating his first fiction trilogy for children, Bee Boy, published by Oxford University Press.

Tell us about your creative space? 
Working from home has always suited me. In an assortment of basements, lofts, dining rooms, and living rooms, I’ve enjoyed 30 years of happy isolation. Seven years ago, with the children gone, we fancied a new challenge and bought an old cottage in West Sussex. I was keen to make a studio from an old wash-house but it turned out to be too far gone. With little or no foundations, we were forced to rebuild. I did, however, save an arched iron window. Sandblasted and resprayed, it looks out over the fields where I watch the seasons pass and work on my books. It is a small space but I find it easy to get lost in my own creative bubble when I’m in there.

The window now restored and in situ

Why does this place work for you? 
The short walk down the garden to the studio helps separate work life from home life. Inside, I have a tiny bathroom, a wood-burning stove, a bookcase, an Ikea bed/chair and two desks. It has required careful planning to fit everything into the small space. We live in the countryside and, surrounded by trees and fields, it is a calm and peaceful place. I share the space with a studio assistant, Betty. She is a lazy lurcher and her job is to remind me (around 11 o’clock) that we need exercise. We wander around the woods, and creative problems are often resolved by the clear-thinking that comes from a good walk.
Studio outside shot

Do you need particular prompts to get started? 
My love of warmth means the wood-burner is lit probably more often than most people would want. Janet’s opening line when she wanders down from the cottage is, ‘It’s SO hot in here!’ On days that I’m writing, I need total silence but when illustrating, I flick between Radio 4 and Radio 5 or listen to music. Our children send us their Spotify playlists – such a great way to discover new tunes and, at the same time, enjoy a small link to their lives.

Tony De Saulles' working space and creative tools

Your creative tools – what are they? 
Pen and ink, Scrivener, Post-its, A3 pads, oils, watercolour, etc, etc. I write in Word on my 27 inch iMac. Having several pages open on the big iMac means I can cut and paste and generally move everything around quickly and efficiently. There’s also room to open other Word documents containing my notes. I originally trained as a graphic designer and worked for years as a book designer. This, and a love of typography, has proved incredibly useful in my work. My illustration style is, basically, black line drawings that have been coloured in. These days, although roughs are sketched in pencil, I draw most of my line-work on a Wacom Cintiq graphics tablet. If I’m not creating digital line-work, I like to draw with Rotring Tikky Graphic pens (usually 0.2 mm). I colour my illustrations in Photoshop and drop them into Adobe InDesign layouts with the text imported from Word. I’m currently enjoying working with Oxford University Press and they’re happy for me to tweak text even as I’m dropping illustrations into place. This means I can be thinking about text, design and illustration at the same time and it works well to have such control.

Do you have a routine? 
An hour a day, when the fancy takes me, when kids are at school, 9-5, etc. I’m an early starter and a fairly early finisher. When I’m busy I like to start around 6 or 7 am. I think more clearly early in the day. If for some reason I start late, it can mess things up. I’m usually done by 5 pm. As mentioned, the late-morning dog-walk is a must. I enjoy each season, and Betty and I go out in pretty much all weather. Ideas flow when I’m walking, and I also find driving a good time to think. But better than anything else is bed! If I wake in the night, I find it a fantastic time to come up with new ideas and solve plot problems. I guess we’re at our most creative when we are relaxed.

Tony De Saulles with Betty, his studio assistant

What advice would you give to writers/illustrators who are trying to get established?
I’ve been self-employed for over 35 years. Like most creatives, I scrutinise other people’s work and, of course, we can’t help but be inspired/influenced by work we admire. But apart from cultivating our creativity, (and this is something I often tell students that contact me), I would say: always turn up to meetings on time, always deliver work on time, don’t undersell yourself, be positive and polite and never give up. I think it would be a great idea for universities and art colleges (if they don’t already) to invite freelancers to talk to students about the general practicalities of working for yourself.

What was your favourite book as a child? 
I loved all fairy tale books, especially English Fairy Tales and the Tim books by Edward Ardizzone.

Does walking or exercise help the creative process, and if so, what do you do and why? 
As well as the dog-walks, I love badminton. I play for a club in the evenings but I’ve recently joined a group that play at lunchtimes. An hour of badders breaks up the day nicely and I find that I return to work refreshed and ready to go again. It’s so important for us to keep fit in body and mind. Working on your own can be an isolating experience and it’s good to find ways of interacting with others. 

What about food and drink – what must you have at hand in order to be able to create? 
I enjoy porridge and honey for breakfast, then I return to the cottage for a late morning coffee (expresso) and, if Janet’s been baking, a slice of cake. Later, if things have gone well, I might have another slice!

Planner or panter?
I plan my storylines carefully but if new ideas present themselves, I tend to go with the flow and see where it takes me. For me, this is the thrill of writing. Sometimes, I read back through a morning’s work and think, where did that come from?

What question do you most like being asked about your work? 
For the past couple of years I’ve been visiting schools, libraries and book festivals to talk about my Bee Boy trilogy and the life of bees. I have been amazed and delighted by the bee questions that are asked in our Q&A sessions after a workshop. I’ve had so many thoughtful and original questions – ‘what happens if the queen bee dies?’ ‘why do bees die when they sting but not wasps?’ ‘can queen bees sting?’ etc, which confirms that not only have the children been listening carefully but they’ve been interested too. So rewarding!

Photos courtesy of Tony De Saulles 
Illustrations by Tony De Saulles 

You can find out more about Tony De Saulles on the following platforms:

Twitter: @tonydesaulles

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

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