IN THE SHOES OF… Matt Killeen


What's it like to be in someone else's shoes? In this series, Deputy Editor Fran Price invites an author or illustrator to describe a typical creative day. This month, we share footwear with Matt Killeen, author of Orphan Monster Spy.

I am, just, making a living as a writer. As such, I’m incredibly spoiled.


Hopefully 10am, anyway. I am not a morning person. I used to be a night owl, but age has just made me generally sleepy. The thing is, the average person needs nine hours sleep – the idea that most people can get away with seven hours is dangerous nonsense – and clearly I’m on the other side of the bell curve. After years of fighting it, unsuccessfully, I’ve given in and have now incorporated that need into my day. 

I have just given up beating myself up about it. It is what it is. This has made my life more manageable by a factor of about a million. So, I have a deal with my wife, one of those morning people, that she does the earlies with our 7yo, and I do the nights. In theory, my hours allow for me to work when the mood takes me, or, more usually, I have a deadline that I’ve ignored.

I stumble to the kitchen and make coffee. I love coffee. It is the fuel that drives me, with as much sugar-free hazelnut syrup as it takes

I stumble to the kitchen and make coffee. I love coffee. It is the fuel that drives me, with as much sugar-free hazelnut syrup as it takes. That’s one of my vices and I have it shipped in wholesale quantities.

I’m fortunate enough to have an office, which is full of inspiring colourful things – guitars, toys, LEGO bricks, books, artwork – that make me feel deeply content. It’s usually messy. There are post-it notes everywhere. I am always about to tidy it. Mañana.

I check emails, reply to things and plan my time for the day.

Orphan, Monster Spy was Matt's debut novel


There are good writing days, and bad ones. If I start on social media at this point it might go badly…this is one of the reasons I’ve been on a Twitter hiatus for a while. Well, I write fiction, so we’ll call this typical day a good one.

I like to have a wordcount target. That’s when I get the most done. It keeps me in my seat. There are complicating factors, however. As a historical novelist, everything has to be researched and checked during the writing process. Some beg to differ – and prattle on ignoring the chronological details – but it’s a definite part of my process, as it throws up interesting ideas as I go along.

I’ve learned to let myself go down rabbit holes too. Always risky because it’s easy to let it become procrastination, but most of my work has relied on the fascinations of my past. You never know what will be useful or when. That’s a leap of faith.

Writing outside my usual area is good for my creativity, and having deadlines is just a good thing

Occasionally, I’m playing a video game for a review or Diary piece for PC Gamer, which sounds fun, but if you’re having to put 40 hours into something you’ve already decided you hate, it isn’t. It’s the danger of turning your hobby into a side-hustle. Also, if you work out the per-hour rate for this, it’s not good, so I try not to think about it. 

However, writing outside my usual area is good for my creativity, and having deadlines is just a good thing. There are weeks where I’ve little to show for my endeavours, so seeing something I did in print is very affirming.

Otherwise, not turning on the PC or Xbox is pretty much essential. I do use it like a reward though. If I hit my goals, I can play FIFA for a bit.

Matt was on the Costa Book Awards shortlist for Orphan Monster Spy


I always tell prospective writers to get a dog. The walks are mandated, rain or shine. You have to go, every day, and at least one big one. It’s not just the exercise, it’s the thinking time.

So, I take my floofball Coco to the woods – again I’m spoiled – and I listen to research, or fiction, or something ambient when I want to think through something. There has been no major plot issue I haven’t solved in the trees with some new classical in the headphones.

'I take my floofball Coco to the woods'

Also, she’s a real source of oxytocin. No one will ever be as happy to see you as your dog. There have been times when that’s kept me going.


I have breakfast cereal. Because I’m an adult and I make the rules now.


Something happens about this time. I become fiercely, violently productive. Unfortunately, it’s also about the last hour before I pick up our 7yo. I don’t know if I become productive because my time is running out or whether it’s because the universe is messing with me.

The sequel to Orphan, Monster, Spy


Off to pick up the boy. It’s only round the corner. I said I was spoiled.

Playing, cooking, eating, bathing and reading. Storytime means that most of what I read these days is in the 8-12 years bracket, pushing up to middle grade. I’m also consuming a lot of graphic novels and comics.


The child sleeps. Ha, who am I kidding.


Okay, now he’s asleep.

I can return to work if I’m up against it, but maybe I get some Netflix if I’m lucky.


Bed. I listen to books on a little Bluetooth earpiece that I can fall asleep in and roll over wearing. Usually it’s something research-y, that isn’t too interesting, though lately the stupidity of the history of the world has been grating on me and interfering with the process of nodding off. You would not believe the monstrous idiocy of privileged white men in every single event of the last 150 years. Then…zzzzzzz.

*Header image by Alex Crump; all other images courtesy of Matt Killeen


Matt Killeen has worked as an advertising copywriter, and music and sports journalist. He became a writer for the LEGO® company in 2010 and continues to write for the 2269 project and PC Gamer. He lives near London with his soulmate, children, dog and musical instruments. His first novel Orphan Monster Spy was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the Branford Boase Award, and won the 2019 SCBWI Crystal Kite. The sequel, Devil Darling Spy, was published in spring 2020.


Alex Crump is an illustrator based in Wiltshire, with past careers as both a teacher and a zookeeper, as well as other current side lines of storyteller and charity/museum educator.
Instagram: @alexcrumpillustration

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