CREATIVE SECRETS Geraldine McCaughrean

In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features Geraldine McCaughrean, keynote speaker at SCWBI BI conference.

Tell us about your creative space. 

I get all my best ideas in the shower, then I get back into bed for as long as I dare. In bed, my brain’s in good fettle for writing. I can spread out everything I need – notes, cards with research on, books with post-it markers in them.... As soon as I go downstairs, emails lie in wait to eat me alive. And washing and cooking and shopping and gardening... all those unimportant but insistent things that are so much less fun than writing.

Cozy nights and all things write.

Your creative tools - what are they? 

I write longhand: beautiful notebooks, horrible handwriting. The typing-up is an important part of the process of improvement. I don’t think I could learn now how to write straight on to the computer.

Do you have a routine? 

 I routinely look for an excuse to stop what I’m doing and get back to writing. When I’ve got a novel on the go, I’m pretty obsessive. Carrying a novel in your head is like carrying an open carton of 24 eggs: stop concentrating and it may fall into nothing but a mess at your feet.

What is the best creative advice you’ve been given?

Three things:

  • Have something happen on every page. 
  • Cut to the chase (i.e. jump headfirst into the story). 
  • No matter where you go with the story, you owe it to a young reader to leave them in a safe universe at the end.

Geraldine signs her name on one of her published pages.  

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

Don’t write unless you would go on writing even if you NEVER got published. That way no one can break your heart. Write for your own satisfaction. There are a lot of rules to follow, but fundamentally, it’s a selfish game. If you’re writing for young children, write for the child you were. If you’re writing for older children, inhabit your protagonist: it’s very rejuvenating!

What is your favourite ‘how to’ book about writing? 

Maybe Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader, perhaps because it puts us in our place and says that reading is purely a matter of taste and you won’t please all of the people all of the time.

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

Liquefaction. Happily, it’s trickled its way into my latest book to head up a chapter.

Planner or pantser?

 I never used to plan. I would dive in on the first page and keep going till I got to the end. Then I started writing adult books and discovered the joys of research. (Adults delight in telling you if you’ve got your facts wrong.) Anyway, such absurd, incredible things happened in the past that you couldn’t make them up. They have a tendency to help write the book (as do the characters, of course, to give them their due). I NEVER want to know how the story ends or everything that will happen to the protagonists. If I did, I’d have no motive to write the book. I want – I need – to be in the same state of mind as the reader, wanting to turn over the page to find out what happens next.

What inspired you to first start writing? 

I was so shy I could barely express myself, but I discovered that if I wrote things down, I could put what was inside on the outside. I was also timid, but not so when I was writing an adventure story. I was as heroic as any knight in armour.

The smile of adventure and wonder. 

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

“When’s the next one coming out?”

Which is your least favourite question? 

“What have you read lately?” I’m a very slow reader. I don’t read often other authors’ books while I’m writing a novel. (You pick up their cadences and rhythms and lose your own.) I can’t remember titles or names, which makes it hard to answer the question. And I have a backlog of books piled up on my bedroom windowsill that I fear I shan’t manage to read until everyone else has read and forgotten them.

                                                                                     Photos courtesy of Geraldine McCaughrean 


 Geraldine has written more than 170 books, ranging from picture books to young adult. She is a three-time recipient of the Whitbread/Costa Children's Book Award and a triple Carnegie Medal winner; her most recent medal was awarded in 2018 for Where the World Ends.

You can find Geraldine at

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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