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

A. M. Dassu is the internationally acclaimed author of Boy, Everywhere, which has been listed for 25 awards, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Carnegie Medal, is the 2021 winner of The Little Rebels Award for Radical Fiction and is also an American Library Association Notable Book. She writes books that challenge stereotypes, humanise the “other” and are full of empathy, hope and heart. Her latest novel, Fight Back, has just been published by Scholastic and A. M. Dassu is currently touring the country, signing as many copies in as many bookshops as she can!


Tell us about your creative space.

I used to work on the kitchen island, sitting on a bar stool, but I started getting backache and decided to write standing up. So I wrote and edited the first draft of Boy, Everywhere, standing up! Then I started sharing the desk in my children’s play area, which was a nightmare,  because they’d play around me noisily – it's probably the reason why the first draft of Fight Back was such a mess! Thankfully, we’ve since moved and my desk is now in the front room. I've completely taken it over and put banners of my novel covers up. No one is allowed inside during the day or if I have an online event (there’s no TV in this room, so the kids aren’t tempted anyway). It's the place where I work best, and where I can concentrate. It's also a peaceful space, at the front of the house, away from the noise and mayhem in the back and next to the stairs for trips to the loo!

Your creative tools - what are they?

My phone and my desktop. Even though I have a lot of notebooks, I don’t use them. You could say I’m a collector! I like to write at my desk. I have written some scenes, even whole chapters, in draft on my phone, but I have to edit at my desktop and in silence. I actually wrote an important scene on my phone last night so that I wouldn’t forget the dialogue! If an idea comes to me, I usually email it to myself, so that I can search for it whenever I’m ready to write it.


Do you have a routine?

It took me a while to figure out that I work best in the mornings. My mind is fresh and I'm able to get more done without any distractions. I rush home after the school drop, put my phone on silent and leave it upstairs so I can’t log onto Twitter or Facebook. I like to write at my desk. I don’t think I could work in a café – I am easily distracted!


Do you need particular prompts to get started?

The only prompt I need is a deadline! If I know I have to submit a piece of work, it forces me to sit on my chair and to write (even if it’s self-imposed).


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

Don’t edit as you go along. Write the whole book first – you can fix it later and it’s better than an impending blank page, or half a perfectly edited book, which you then can’t/might not finish.


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

My advice is to take feedback on the chin – criticism is about the words on the page, not you. No one can write a perfect book. And it’s only through feedback and critique that you can polish it. If you really want to get published, be ready to edit it and listen. And don’t give up. Be persistent. Publishing is so subjective, you just need to find the right person at the right time to read your book! If I’d become disheartened and given up on Boy, Everywhere when it first went out on submission to agents in July 2016, it wouldn’t be published today. With work, every book can be rewritten and you can absolutely make it stronger for submission. Also, believe in yourself and keep on writing. It’s a long journey, so be patient. Keep rewriting and getting that butt in your chair to edit yet again!


What was your favourite book as a child?

Whenever I’m asked this question, I can only ever remember the picture book Where's Spot?, I really loved it and read it until I was way too old for it! I even had a Spot the dog soft toy! Then, as I got older, I loved Funny Bones and The Jolly Postman. Then there’s a huge gap where I can’t recall any books I read until I got to secondary school of which one of my favourites was Brave New World. But, recently, I went through a bunch of boxes that my mum took down from the attic. They contained all my schoolbooks and I found a diary in which I’d started (and not finished) a list of my favourite books. Judging by my writing I was probably aged eight and apparently I loved The Worst Kids in the World and Charlotte Cheetham even though I don’t remember them at all!


Favourite ‘how to’ book about writing?

I’ve used Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison before, but, if I’m honest, when I try to follow rules, I end up questioning myself too much and so reading other authors' methods/experiences on social media is more helpful for me.


Does walking or exercise help the creative process?

I know it’s supposed to be good for filling the creative well, but I prefer walking at the weekends with my family. If I associate an activity with writing, I am less likely to feel creative from doing it. It feels forced. I’ve found that my best ideas come to me when cleaning the kitchen, sorting the kids things out or ironing. Mindless, monotonous, repetitive tasks seem to be my plot fixing times. And these tasks help when I’ve been stuck or working on a book and given up for the day and am not trying to think about it!


What image are you dying to use, but haven’t yet found room for?

I have a little boy playing high up in a tree in mind, but I don’t have any time to write his story!


Planner or pantser?

I am a plotantser—I like to plot but it's not so detailed that I know exactly what will happen. I need to know my main characters and have an opening, middle and an ending, and perhaps some vivid scenes in between, but everything else develops as I go along, via critiques and more reading around my themed subject. I was stumped when I plotted a full novel in detail, chapter by chapter. I got to chapter 8 and couldn’t write anymore. With Fight Back, I wrote the first draft pretty quickly unplanned, because I knew what I wanted to say. However, it took a long time and a lot of determination to rewrite it and add layers that would make Aaliyah’s story compelling and I did wish I’d planned it to save myself from having to rewrite/edit so much of it.


What inspired you to first start writing?

I loved writing but had forgotten how much after I left college. I wrote poems and short stories in my free time but didn’t really think about getting them published. I thought it would be too hard (I wasn’t wrong there!) And it was eight years ago, when a friend asked me to write a little for his website, that I was reminded of how much I enjoyed writing for an audience. I started off by blogging in 2014 but first started writing for children in 2015. I wrote a picture book which was inspired by my son’s school friend; I started looking into publishing it and realised that I had finally found the job I loved.

Photos courtesy of A. M. Dassu


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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