CREATIVE SECRETS Kate Willis-Crowley


In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features Kate Willis-Crowley, also known as Inky Willis.

Kate is a writer and illustrator of humorous fiction for young readers. Her school-based Scribble Witch series was recently published by Hodder (Hachette) and was greatly inspired by Kate’s other passion, working as a primary school teaching assistant. When Kate isn’t juggling her writing, drawing, Skillshare teaching, and school-based work, she can be found fossil-hunting with her kids on the East Kent coast. Previous publishers include Puffin, Chicken House, Faber and Templar.

Kate Willis-Crowley

Images of Kate's cats "helping"

Cover of Scribble Witch

Tell us about your creative space.

Having kids, pets and multiple jobs means I’m limited on space and time. Essentially, when I find myself with a spare five minutes, I want to be able to pick up my drawing or writing straightaway. So my creative space can be anywhere, just so long as I have access to the Word app on my phone, or Procreate on my iPad. I’ve got used to writing in queues, in waiting rooms, at bus stops. I’m not convinced this approach is entirely healthy, as it can mean switching between reality and imagination dizzyingly often – but I’m surviving the chaos so far.

Kate working at home

Your creative tools – what are they?

For writing I use a combination of tools: pen and paper, post-it notes, my phone (avoid unless you want RSI), my tablet (same re the RSI!) and, when possible, my laptop. Word 365 has been a bit of a life saver for me, as I switch between devices so frequently.

I also have a copy of a really useful book called Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, which I use to help shape my plots. Even though my chapter books aren’t novel-length, the plot points still apply. I’d absolutely recommend this to new writers.

For illustration, I work in a combination of traditional and digital mediums. For black and white illustrations, I tend to use the Procreate app on iPad. For colour work, I still love traditional watercolour, but these days I do a fair amount of digital nipping and tucking.

Do you have a routine?

I work as a teaching assistant, which is incredibly inspiring – but, at the same time, it massively limits the amount of time I can spend on creative work. In other words I don’t have much of a creative routine, more just lots of clawing for spare minutes here and there.

I have two nights a week earmarked for writing and drawing, which is no way near enough. So at other times, when my kids are absorbed in activities, I’ll work alongside them. Sometimes my youngest will pull up her sketchbook and we’ll sit together drawing.


Do you need particular prompts to get started?

I don’t need anything specific to get started, but I do have a go-to activity for getting unstuck with my storytelling, which is walking. Walking is honestly like a wonder-drug for the creative part of my brain.


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

The advice which sticks in my head is to view other writers and illustrators as colleagues not competitors, so to find joy in other people’s successes. The alternative is a world of jealous misery.

A related bit of advice would be to find your creative community. This is preaching to the converted, I guess, as we’re all SCBWI members – but even so, sometimes I have to remind myself to reconnect with others, to participate in crit groups, to support and listen.

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

Be tenacious. I could offer loads of advice related to reading, networking, honing skills (all important stuff). But above all, keep going. Some are lucky enough to take giant leaps into the publishing world, most take lots of small steps with plenty of hurdles along the way – all routes are valid.


What was your favourite book as a child?

I loved Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence, which I’m rereading right now, as it happens.

Favourite ‘how to’ book about writing and/or illustrating?

Stephen King’s On Writing is excellent – a mix of memoir and expert storytelling advice. It’s the first book I read on the craft of writing, and it’s absolutely bursting with great advice and insight.


What must you have at hand in order to be able to create?

Haha, I would love to be a diva-style storyteller who refused to work without Jaffa Cakes – but no. I mean, I do have an unhealthy caffeine dependency, but I like to think I could still work without it. Maybe I’m delusional.

Planner or pantser?

I plan, always, because I need the reassurance that my story is going somewhere good, and that the resolution won’t fall flat. But inevitably the plan will change a few times before I’m done. The more I get to know my characters the more likely I am to tweak or change plans to keep their story arcs strong.

What inspired you to first start writing/illustrating?

I studied Fine Art at Reading University, where I became more and more interested in the narrative aspects of painting. So I made the financially questionable decision to stay in education, but shift my focus to illustration. I did an MA at the Royal College of Art, which allowed me space to explore illustrative storytelling. I cottoned on pretty quickly that if I wanted to choose what I illustrated, I had to be writing too, so I started honing my skills in that area too, and that's just continued ever since.


And why children?

I think initially storytelling for children was just the obvious choice because of the illustration potential. Also, I started working in a school just after starting my MA, and got a big kick out of matching kids with books – especially kids with barriers to reading. It's the best feeling, seeing someone fall in love with a story, because suddenly their world opens up with possibilities – what other books might be out there waiting for them? Anyway, I liked the idea that my books could do that for someone one day.

Marketing material for Scribble Witch

You can find out more about Kate here or on Twitter or Instagram.

*Header by and all pictures courtesy of Kate Willis-Crowley


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

1 comment:

  1. I found your post to be interesting. I want to read more of your shares like this in the future. Thanks, bloxorz.


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