CREATIVE SECRETS Lockdown Special 1

In the first of a two part special feature, Caroline Deacon revisits some of her past interviewees to find out how the pandemic has affected their creative output, and to ask whether social distancing is something we’re all going to have to incorporate in our writing going forward.

Apart from a few big names, making a living as an author has become harder over the last few years. Covid-19 has only compounded this. Kathryn Evans, author of Beauty Sleep and More of Me  had this to say. 

The initial weeks of lockdown were horrible. All my work was cancelled; festivals, multiple school visits. I suddenly had no income and a gaping void in my diary. I couldn't see my daughter, my parents. My brain froze in terms of writing but I had to do something so I set up Our Corona Diary with Candy Gourlay, Matt Killeen, Jo Wyton and Addy Farmer. We pulled together resources from all sorts of creative people to help young people keep diaries. It was wonderful to keep a creative hand in and feel useful.

As my brain has settled I'm able to write again. My new book is really tricky so I'm not fast, but I think that's because it's just hard. I haven't changed anything consciously in my writing in terms of social distancing etc; the worlds I create are not here and now. I think, for my stories, that would just date them in a way I don't want. I'm sure the pandemic will filter through somehow. It might be the extra time I've spent on social media, the influence of #blacklivesmatter, the trans debate (get over it people…). All feed into my work in terms of intersectionality. That's a good thing!
Our Corona Diary - a way to get together and get through

Childcare also became a huge issue for many people during lockdown. Matt Killeen, author of Orphan Monster Spy and Devil Darling Spy called the lockdown: “creative poison, or a creativiticide, if you like."

I’ve been working from home for nearly a decade so nothing much changed there, but then I become my four-year-old’s full-time companion, and critically, I also became his teacher. I have hang-ups about my own education and the pressure I felt taking this role on was excruciating. The fear of failing him crippled me. Was I being too tough? Not tough enough?

As an introvert I badly need space to recharge, and losing the time in my own head meant I couldn’t do much in the way of thinking. On my few workdays, by the time I got my mind back in the game, it was time to stop and be teacher again. How a single-parent or someone commuting to a demanding full-time work five days a week gets anything done, I don’t know.

As I write historical fiction, I haven’t had the dilemma of either embracing the pandemic and potentially ageing my book in the aftermath, or ignoring it and creating something unbelievable. However, I inadvertently published a book about disease, colonialism and racism right at the start of all this, which was unfortunate timing in many ways.

All that said, the walks with child #2 in the woods every day have inspired a story that I’m quite excited by. If I only had the time…
Walking in the woods can lead to great ideas...

Was lockdown any different for illustrators? Tony De Saulles, who illustrates the Horrible Science series  had similar issues.

The negatives: In general, work has slowed down. All workshops for the year have been cancelled — a significant part of my earnings. My pension fund has also dropped dramatically. Just before the pandemic, I had decided to part with my agent but lockdown has not been conducive to finding a new one. Having no agent has meant less contact with publishers and this has affected both confidence and creativity. It’s as if a huge ‘pause’ button has been pressed.

The positives: I work from home so my overheads are low. With school visits and other creative trips cancelled it has been interesting and enjoyable to develop an online cartoon-illustration drawing workshop with Authors Aloud. I hadn’t considered if the pandemic might influence my work until asked to create a new illustration for Horrible Science - Deadly Diseases, soon to be republished. The challenge has been to create an image that acknowledges the pandemic without scaring our readers. It is a work in progress.

Before the pandemic took hold, I had just finished working on a Horrible Science board game for Galt Toys, called GERM ATTACK! Who could have guessed how topical this would prove?

A final lockdown positive is that I have got to know every footpath for miles around and developed a better knowledge and appreciation of the countryside on my doorstep. I’m sure I won’t be the only creative to say that having a dog and walking daily is a great benefit to my mental health.
Tony plus dog

The Horrible Science Germ Attack board game

The airline industry was a major Covid-19 casualty. Justin Davies, author of Help! I Smell a Monster and Whoa! I Spy a Werewolf is otherwise known as @flyingscribbler (watch out for his Creative Space contribution later this year).

Like so many others, my creativity was initially numbed by the shock of the pandemic; I went through very definite episodes of anger and denial. I was also furloughed from my cabin crew job. Sensing that I would be unlikely to have this much freedom of time again, I set about filling it.

I had already planned to re-start a children’s novel that I’d had to shelve some time ago, and that became my main focus from mid-March. At the same time, I began live daily broadcasts on Instagram, reading from my two published books, also posting videos on my shiny new YouTube channel. It was an attempt to remain connected with young readers, having seen so many school visits and book festival events cancelled. 

Five months later, I finished the third draft of my project and sent it off to my agent. In a fortunate twist of luck, the story is set in a place which, if not entirely other-worldly, is apart from the world as we know it. Therefore I haven’t had to concern myself with including social distancing in the plot. I’ve yet to consider how the upheavals to our daily lives will need to be included in future projects. Stories with fantastical elements, in unusual settings, might be the way forward!

Looking back, I’m not sure quite how I managed to complete an entire book. It has been a tumultuous few months in which I have gone through the threat of enforced redundancy, prolonged furlough on reduced pay, and of course, coping with all the life changes that the pandemic has forced on all of us. 

Several things have helped me along the way: I generally write at home anyway, so I didn’t have to adapt my working environment; attending my online critique group with SCBWI Scotland friends has been brilliant; and I’ve also had my writing “support” clan to do daily Zoom Pomodoro sessions with, which has been a huge boost to my creativity. Maintaining a regular writing schedule throughout these months really made a difference, giving me something positive to focus on when the world around me seemed to be falling apart.

As I write this, at the start of August, I have now left my flying career behind, and am about to embark on a new working life as a Pupil Support Assistant at my local primary school. It is a turn of events I’d never have been able to predict, but I feel like the luckiest person to have found a new job so quickly, and one that will give me precious writing time too.

Justin reading his book every day online

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 gorgeous new header image for Creative Secrets is by Words & Pictures' Illustration Features Editor John Shelley. Find him at

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