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

Photograph of Vivian French

Vivian French is the author of over 300 books… fiction, non-fiction, poetry and story plays. She’s also the co-founder of Picture Hooks, a mentoring project for emerging illustrators; Helen Stephens calls her "the fairy godmother of all illustrators" and it’s a title she’s very proud of. In 2016 Vivian was awarded an MBE for "literature, literacy, illustration and the arts" … an award she accepted on behalf of all the fabulous illustrators and writers that she’s worked with over the years.

Cover of The Most Wonderful Thing In The World, by Vivian French, illustrated by Angela Barrett

Cover of The Robe of Skulls, by Vivian French

Tell us about your creative space.

I work in many different places. I do have a workroom, but it’s incredibly cold in winter (must get those windows fixed) so then I move into the sitting room. I love working on trains… no phone calls, or interruptions!

Vivian in her workroom

Your creative tools – what are they and why?

Computer or iPad. I write on one of those, then print it off and correct the text in pencil or pen.

Vivian in her workroom, gazing out of the window

Do you have a routine?

No. I wish I did!

Do you need particular prompts to get started?

No. Just a contract, and a deadline.


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

Don’t overwrite. Keep it simple, and write from the heart. Always cut any sentences/paragraphs you think are rather splendid. They aren’t!


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

Don’t try and follow trends. Read read read… look look look. Spend time with books, and try and work out what works, and what doesn’t. You can often learn an awful lot more from a bad book than a good one!


What was your favourite book as a child?

That’s an impossible one! I loved so many… anything written by Hans Christian Andersen, BB (Denys Watkins Pitchford), Alison Uttley, John Masefield, Edward Lear. And I adored illustrated books. Vera Bock was – and still is – one of my all time favourite artists.

A Ring and a Riddle, by M. Ilin and E. Segal, illustrated by Vera Bock

What is your favourite ‘how to’ book about writing and/or illustrating?

I don’t think I read books about writing. Illustration… I’d always read anything by Martin Salisbury. He’s a genius.

Cover of Children's Picturebooks, by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles

Does exercise help the creative process?

I walk if I’m stuck on something like a plot point. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes I think I’ve solved the problem, and when I get back home I discover it was a completely mad idea…


What about food and drink – what must you have at hand in order to be able to create?

I don’t ever set anything up other than my computer or iPad. If someone brings me a cup of tea I’m excessively grateful, though… and even more so if they bring me toast!


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

I do like vultures. And earwigs.


What inspired you to first start writing/illustrating?

I was pushed into writing by the wonderful Diana Hendry. I was over forty, and had never imagined I could write stories, so I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude.


And why children?

I worked in children’s theatre for years, so it’s the audience I know best. And I love telling the kind of stories that children enjoy. Also you can cross genres, and not be defined by one style.

What do you like best about being a writer?

Meeting children, and telling them they’re already authors! And it doesn't matter a hoot about spelling or handwriting. And you do NOT need to know what a fronted adverbial is!


Which is your least favourite question?

Where do you get your inspiration from…

* Header illustration: John Shelley; Photo credits: Vivian French


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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