In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrator to tell us about their creative space. This month features Piers Torday.

Piers' first book, The Last Wild, was nominated for the Carnegie Award, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, the UKLA Award, and won both Stockton Children's Book of the Year and Calderdale Children's Book of the Year. It's been published in 14 other countries, including the USA and China. In 2014, its sequel, The Dark Wild, won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. The third and final book in the series, The Wild Beyond, came out in 2015. His latest book series is Narnia inspired: The Frozen Sea came out in September 2019.

Tell us about your creative space.I am very lucky to have a study at home, which I only use for work so it always feels like the working day has started when I come in. A small room, it is painted green, which I was told helps concentration, and it is certainly soothing when you need to stare into space. I write at my dad’s old walnut desk that he wrote his books on, but I have rather ruined it by placing a standing desk contraption on top. I tend to write sitting down and do emails standing so I don’t completely seize up into a curled woodlouse. The walls are decorated with framed book covers and play posters, which sounds egotistical because it is. Writing is a constant high wire act, with lack of confidence your greatest enemy, and surrounding yourself with reminders of past achievements is helpful for those days when every word feels like a herculean effort. There is a crumpled cushion by the desk for the dog to nap on and growl at me from if I am falling behind.

Piers Torday in his creative domain.

Why does this place work for you?
Everything is just right – the chair is the right height for the desk, the screen the right height for my eyes, the internet connection fast and reliable, so I never have to waste time constantly adjusting them. I have, generally, access to all the books and papers and notebooks I could ever need for one project. If I need to stare out of the window open-mouthed like a vacant goldfish, no one can see or worry that I’m having a stroke. (Which will be awkward if I do have a stroke.) I write a lot to music, and always on headphones, but I never need to worry that I am disturbing someone else. But most of all, I’ve made it feel like a home for my ideas, a place where they can grow undisturbed.

Do you need particular prompts?
I do spend probably too much time choosing music and playlists before I start writing, but if I find the right piece – normally a TV or film score, that echoes the tone I’m searching for on the page, it helps me summon the requisite emotional state, and also keep the tone constant.

Your creative tools – what are they? 
I begin any book by reading – books generally similar to the kind I hope to write, both to seek inspiration and avoid as much as possible what has already been done, as well as lots of non-fiction around the theme, and these books remain my most valuable consultative tools until my book is finished. I make notes in the books and in a notebook, although these are generally illegible.

I write straight onto the screen, because my handwriting is so depressing, using Scrivener to map out the story, collate further online research, and to draft.

I only move into MS Word for final copy edits and so on, using track changes.

Piers and MS Word amidst a story.

Do you have a routine?
I wish, but (in normal times) in between school visits, dog walks, and the odd meeting, it is hard to pretend I do have one. But I try and put school visits in the afternoon as I tend to be most productive in the morning, between about 10 and 1. Then I often have a second wind between 5 and 7, to either polish the morning’s work or frantically try and achieve it.

What is the best creative advice you’ve been given? 
Try not to repeat yourself.

What advice would you like to give to writers who are trying to get established?
Have faith. Don’t rush it. Writing is not a race or a competition. Never submit too early, second chances are rare, and you might regret it. Writing is a process, try to enjoy it. Don’t despair if publication feels like an anti-climax, most writing careers are painstakingly built, not catapulted into the stratosphere. Don’t take reviews personally, they are a guide for readers with a broad range of tastes, not a teacher’s report on your ability. Try and find a mentor, or at least a writing peer or two, to share joys and disappointments, and for experienced guidance through any bumps or difficult decisions.

What was your favourite book as a child? 
The Land of Green Ginger, by Noel Langley.

New edition of Noel Langley's The Land of Green Ginger.

Favourite ‘how to write’ book? 
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. It demystified the process for me and turned it into a task that can be managed with application, rather than some alchemic mystery, requiring only inspiration and genius (often in rather short supply) than dogged toil. But also allowed me to enjoy writing the way I wanted to, rather than the way I felt I should.

The 25th Anniversary edition of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.

Does exercise help? 
Absolutely, because writing is a physical process as much as a mental one. Sometimes the brain just gets “stuck”, or the connection between your hands hangs much like a WIFI router can … and it feels impossible to express what is brimming in your subconscious. But just walking/exercising has a miraculous ability to reset that connection, repetitive movements help re-establish a rhythm.

And don’t forget to breathe! If you are tense when you write, chances are you’re not letting the best stuff out …

Any food or drink you must have at hand in order to be able to create?
Coffee and cake in the morning, tea, and biscuits in the afternoon.

Caffeine and sugar may be a cheat, but they really work.

What question do you most like being asked about your work? 
Does writing make you happy? Because no one will ever have a complete answer to that.

Which is your least favourite question? 
Where do you get your ideas from? If I knew where that was, I would never leave …

* Images courtesy of James Betts

Piers’ books including The Last Wild trilogy and his 2019 release The Frozen Sea, can be found at all good bookstores and Amazon.

Follow Piers on the following platforms:

His website: Piers Torday
Twitter: @PiersTorday
Instagram: @Piers_Torday

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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