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

Ross McKenzie is the author of The Nowhere Emporium, winner of the Blue Peter Award and the Scottish Children’s Book Award, plus the stunning sequel, The Elsewhere Emporium as well as Shadowsmith. He lives in Renfrew, where he grew up, with his wife and two daughters, but spends much of his time in another world.

Tell us about your creative space and why it works for you?
I love going out to coffee shops to write. I do write at home, mostly when the house is empty and all is quiet, but there's something about a coffee shop, the buzz and the smell of the brewing coffee, that really gets my muse in the mood, if you like.

Ross Mackenzie working hard in a coffee shop. 

Do you need particular prompts to get started?
The only prompts I really need are somewhere to sit and a blank page staring back at me from the laptop.

Do you have a routine?
I try to write at least a little every day (ideally a thousand words) to keep the story and characters fresh.

What is the best creative advice you’ve been given?
He didn't tell me directly, but I've read lots of interviews in which Neil Gaiman (my favourite writer) advises young authors to "keep going and finish things". This is incredibly important. Finishing a book, even if you lose steam along the way, is a great accomplishment. It shows that you have what it takes. And, like most things, if you've done it once you know you can do it again.

What advice would you like to give to writers/illustrators who are trying to get established?
Make peace with the idea that people will turn down your work. This is a right of passage for every author. Listen to any constructive criticism that an editor/agent is willing to give. They don't hand that stuff out to just anyone. Keep trying.

'On Writing' by Stephen King 

What is your favourite ‘how to’ book about writing?
On Writing by Stephen King is filled with nuggets of great advice from a master storyteller. I've read and reread it a dozen times and will continue to do so.

 Does walking or exercise help the creative process?
I love going to the gym, but I mostly use this time to listen to audiobooks so it doesn't provide me with many ideas. Most of my ideas come at random times, maybe at the dinner table or when I'm driving. 

What about food and drink - what must you have at hand in order to be able to create?
Coffee, coffee, coffee!

What inspired you to first start writing?
When I was nine, our teacher read us The Witches by Roald Dahl. This is the book that flicked the switch in my head and turned me on to reading. When I'm writing, a big part of me is hoping to kindle that feeling of magic in my own readers.

Planner or pantser?
It's a mixture of both. I know many of the points I want to visit along the way, but between those points, I like to let the characters explore.

Why children?
Because, so far, those are the stories that have demanded I tell them. There are others. It's all about which idea nudges its way to the front of the line.

What question do you most like being asked about your work? ‘
Will you read us some more, please?’

Which is your least favourite question?
‘Where do you get your ideas?' This is a very natural question to ask, but it's almost impossible to answer! In any case, I'm quite superstitious and often worry if I think about where ideas come from too much, they'll stop coming!

Ross Mackenzie 

Ross MacKenzie is the author of The Nowhere Emporium, winner of the Blue Peter Award and the Scottish Children’s Book Award, the stunning sequel, The Elsewhere Emporium as well as Shadowsmith. He lives in Renfrew, where he grew up, with his wife and two daughters, but spends much of his time in another world.

You can find Ross Mackenzie on the following platforms: 

Twitter: @RossAuthor

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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