In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month she talks to Pauline Mackay.

Pauline was a bookseller specialising in bilingual books for children when she took the plunge in 2007 and set up Ablekids Press to self-publish her own picture books. In 2017 she opened a shop in Inverness where she also sells bilingual versions of her Wee MacNessie series, book-related merchandise, and Scottish Gaelic children’s books from other publishers. Her latest picture book, The Colourful Moo, realises a long-term dream to publish a rhyming story.



Pauline set up Ablekids Press to publish her own picture books

Tell us about your creative space.

My shop doubles as an office so in quiet spells I can do some basic research, mull over design ideas and deal with queries that go back and forth from illustrators and translators. I’ve made a huge effort to make this a welcoming space for customers but also a comfortable and positive area from which to run the publishing side of my business. Most of my creative writing happens at home. My favourite spot is a corner of a small front room converted from a porch a few years ago. It’s warm and bright in summer and cosy in winter, when the curtains are drawn on three sets of windows. I’ve survived some hair-raising publishing moments in this spot which makes it feel like a haven. No matter how much pressure I’m under to complete a piece of work, tucked away in this corner, it gets done!


Pauline's shop and office in Inverness

Your creative tools - what are they?

I always have little piles of scrap paper lying around as I love scribbling down a quick thought or idea for later. Despite my best intentions, I haven’t been able to wean myself totally off writing on sheets of A4 paper. I find something very comforting about having these big, familiar pages in front of me with a pen in hand. I have numerous colourful folders with works in progress and it’s interesting to look back at different drafts and follow changes. I use graphics software to create the dummy pages of my books once I receive illustrations. The design of books which are going to be bilingual is a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Translators like to see illustrations to help them decide on the best translation. But until I have the translations, I don’t know exactly how much text space the illustrator has to factor in! Some languages will use a dozen words to translate half that amount in English. It’s a challenge!


Do you have a routine?

Being able to work on projects every day is important as over the past decade the additional demands of caring duties for elderly relatives have meant it’s been difficult to keep to a writing routine. I’m at my best in the morning or in the evening when everything has usually quietened down, but my favourite day is Sunday when I know I can ignore emails and the phone with impunity and disappear into my own worlds.


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

More and more I value the simple advice that every word in a picture book counts and has to drive the story forward with no room for waffle.


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

Every now and again give yourself the title ‘Inconsistency Detective’- pin a badge on if it makes it seem more official - and check your story for these villains that can sneak in with alarming ease, even to the shortest of stories. We get so engrossed in what we are doing, so excited by our ideas, we can sometimes completely miss that our original thread has disappeared, or that elements of the story have been switched right under our nose.


Favourite ‘how to’ book about writing and why?

I laughed at this question because for one of my Wee MacNessie picture books I briefed the illustrator to include a pile of self-help books and gave them humorous titles on the theme of hibernation which ends up going spectacularly wrong for the character. On the whole I prefer to dip into articles, blogs and videos about writing rather than read entire books on the subject, but I liked Jules Horne’s Dramatic Techniques for Creative Writers: Turbo-charge Your Writing and I’d thoroughly recommend watching Kurt Vonneguts Shape of Stories talk on YouTube.


Does exercise help the creative process?

I’m fortunate to live close to the beautiful Ness Islands in Inverness. Writing issues have a habit of untangling when meandering under towering firs, cypress, oaks and lime trees, with the River Ness fleeting by on either side and the promise of a glimpse of the resident heron.

Pauline lives close to the Ness Islands

Walking helps Pauline to untangle writing problems

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

I would love to write about the heron I often see either in my walks around Ness Islands. It is such a graceful, intriguing creature and my spirits lift every time I see it.


Planner or pantser?

A mixture of both. It does make life easier to know what I’m aiming for and have some specific developments in place, but it’s also nice sometimes to see where a story goes without planning.


What inspired you to first start writing/illustrating?

I’ve always loved writing. I remember sitting at my granny’s table scribbling away and my mum said even my first primary teacher commented on how much I liked writing. When my granny gave me a guitar I decided I wanted to be a singer and spent many a happy hour composing songs. Now I’m back to stories so I feel I’ve gone full circle.


And why children?

I utterly adore children, especially the very young. Stories and little songs for them seem to flow more naturally than anything else and entertaining them in storytelling sessions is a joy.


What question do you most like being asked about your work?

I like being asked where ideas come from as it’s great to be able to tell people that there’s no big secret, no special environment you have to be in, no barriers to finding wonderful things to explore in stories. Ideas are everywhere, in every situation, waiting to be recognised.


Which is your least favourite question? 

My least favourite question is people asking me if I’ve translated all my bilingual books myself and used Google translate!


Find more about Pauline's books here.


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 and at

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