For a peek into how others are working, Loretta Flockhart invites writers and illustrators to reveal a few secrets about their creative spaces, process and tools.
This month, we hear from writer A M Howell.

Ann-Marie’s latest book, The Secret of the Treasure Keepers, was published in March 2022 and is listed on Waterstones blog as one of the best historical fiction books for children that year. Her middle grade historical mysteries have been published to widespread critical acclaim, with five-star ratings from The Telegraph and being awards the Times Children's Book of the Week slot, Blackwell's Children's Book of the Month and The East Anglian Book of the Year Award in 2020.

 The Garden of Lost Secrets
Tell us about your creative space

I always write at home in a quiet space, usually in the living room where I have a desk in the corner, or in my eldest son’s room now he’s away at university. The living room is north facing so can be quite chilly in the winter, but I’ve invested in a heated throw which is my new best friend and keeps me nice and cozy while working.

I’ve recently bought a new desk and side table which has given me more room to spread out when researching and has made the space feel like my own. The other room I work in is south facing so I often pop upstairs after lunch and write in the sunshine (when it’s out) to get a vitamin D boost! I think writing at home works best for me as now our children are older it’s a quiet and relaxing place to be and there’s the bonus of having the kettle and biscuit tin close at hand too.

Anne-Marie's creative space at home.

What are your creative tools?

I use a combination of tools, pens and pencils for mapping out scenes and plotting in my notebook, then my Macbook for the writing. I also keep an inspiration folder for each book I write which is a mixture of photos, newspaper cuttings and pictures, so paper and glue are used a lot too.

Do you have a routine?

I don’t have a specific writing routine. I don’t write every day as I work as a town planner for three days a week. When I’m writing the times vary depending on the priority. I’m better on first drafts and copy edits in the morning but with scene planning I’m more productive after lunch.

Do you need particular prompts to get started?

When I start a new project I have the books and articles I’ve used for research close to hand, as well as a collage of inspiring photos. When I wrote The House of One Hundred Clocks, a friend lent me his pocket watch which was ticking away beside me as I wrote and helped keep me in the zone!

I’ve tried writing with music in the background, but I get distracted and end up creating playlists or searching for artists, so writing in silence is best for me.


AM Howell's books  

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

To be a good writer you need to read, read, read, write, write, write, edit, edit, edit.

Does exercise help your creativity?

Swimming really helps me work through ideas or tricky plot points. I have been known to dash from the pool to my locker to make a voice memo so I don’t forget a eureka moment!

Any food or drink essential for the process?

Always tea! English Breakfast in the morning, and Earl Grey in the afternoons.

Planner or pantser?

When I first have an idea I start by mapping out the basic plot and begin to develop characters. I then graduate to a large piece of paper and post it notes which I use to capture the ideas I’ve gathered so far. I arrange these until I have a rough idea of the story’s beginning, mid-point and ending and work on filling in any gaps.

The creative process: planning

The final stage is translating all of the above into a scene-by-scene plan in a table. I enjoy this part as it sets out all the turning points and I can easily spot where the story needs tweaking. This process is still fairly new to me as I used to just dive in and write after producing a one-page synopsis, but I frequently found myself getting a bit stuck. Then I send my scene plans to my editor and get them signed off well in advance which helps give me the confidence to get started.

                                                                *Header Image: Pete Olczyk

*all other images credited to Anne-Marie Howell


See more of Pete Olczyk's work here. Follow him on Instagram and on Twitter.


Loretta Flockhart is the new Creative Secrets editor, and features editor, for Words & Pictures

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