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

Sophia’s debut picture book, Faruq and the Wiri Wiri, published in 2023 by Templar Publishing, won the WriteMentor Children’s Picture Book Award in 2020 which led to an  offer of representation by literary agent Alice Williams. Sophia has another picture book due in 2024 with Walker Books. Alongside these, Sophia has also written texts for Hodder Education, published in 2022 and 2023.

Tell us about your creative space

I don’t have a specific place to write, so I tend to write at our dining table or on the sofa, which isn’t great for my back! Since moving house last year, there’s more space and quieter writing time as my kids have their own rooms and attic space to work and play.

I find it impossible to write when there is background noise and chatter, which might explain why my best ideas come when I’m in the shower. It has become such a running joke in our house that my kids bought me a waterproof notepad and pencil for my birthday. It was the perfect gift.

Sophia writing at her dining table

What are your creative tools? 

Coming from an I.T. background, I gravitated to working with MS Word on my laptop, but more recently I have taken inspiration from Karl Newson and gone back to working with a notebook and pen. There is something very therapeutic about crossing out words and scribbling notes in every small space you can find on the paper, instead of simply deleting back to a blank page. I agree with Karl that it is much more freeing to work in this way, although it has taken a little training for me to accept that the notebook isn’t neat and perfect. Also, I have a double-jointed thumb, so my hand does tire easily and then my writing gets extremely messy. Sometimes even I can’t read my notes.


Sophia's books

Do you have a routine?

I don’t have a fixed routine, but I do my best work earlier in the day when the children are at school and no one will seek me out to ask questions or share the dining table. I juggle writing with household needs - grocery shop, prepare lunch and everything else - which can slow me down. If I start to feel hopeless about the pace, I remind myself that I wrote my first book typing with one hand while feeding our new-born. When a story NEEDS to be written, it will find a way to come out no matter what hurdles there are.

A ‘writing routine’ is almost an oxymoron for me. Some of my picture books start life as notes on my phone while I’m walking around the supermarket. I have definitely learned how to write anywhere and at any time.


Sophia's latest book: Faruq and the Wiri Wiri


Any particular prompts to get started? 

My surroundings are the last thing I think about when I am in that writing zone. It’s just me and the table. I do find it impossible to write when there is music or T.V. playing, which is why I hate to admit that my heart sinks a little if I’m busy writing away and the kids come and ask if they can watch their favourite show. This is when I really wish I had a shepherd’s hut or broom cupboard to retreat to! The hardest thing about being a writer and a mum is learning how to switch rapidly between the two. It is very tricky when something takes your attention away from work you need to focus on, but it isn’t impossible to come back to it. I’ve found it takes practice and patience.


What was your favourite book as a child? 

My all-time favourite book from my childhood has to be ‘Animalia’ by Graeme Base. It is essentially a wordless, A-Z of animals in different scenarios. The illustrations are very unique, and I would spend hours staring at them, searching for various things on the page. I would get excited when I thought of what I believed was a really random object beginning with that letter, and then even more excited when I spotted it on the page. It wasn’t long after that I discovered the ‘Where’s Wally’ books, but I would always go back to Animalia. That reminds me, I must go and find my copy!


Sophia writing in her notebook

Any food or drink you must have at hand to be able to create? 

Water, water, and more water. Sometimes I will be so focussed on my writing that I will be slow to top up my glass, but I’ll get a niggling pain in my head that will soon remind me. I have always been very sensitive to my intake of water, and I still can’t understand how my kids can go the entire day without even taking a sip.


What inspired you to first start writing?

I actually began writing as a form of therapy, writing my way through a very long battle with depression many years ago. Putting pen to paper was a way for me to turn what I was feeling – which was difficult, dark, and complicated – into something tangible and ‘real’.


Those jumbled-up thoughts on the page gave me comfort through understanding, and acted as reminders that my feelings were able to be expressed, even when everything seemed hopeless. More importantly, writing served as that first step to being able to understand and overcome depression. I look back on my writing from that time and it almost feels like a different person wrote those words.


Why for children?

It is from my journey with depression that I’ve come to understand how our childhood can shape us as adults. With this, I almost feel it is my duty to turn what I’ve learned about mental health into relatable stories that strengthen and nurture young minds. Being able to understand not just ourselves, but each other too, is so important in life. This is always at the heart of what I write, and what I hope to inspire in my children’s books. As my mantra goes, ‘be curious not judgmental.’

You can find Sophia here:

Instagram @sophiap_author

*Header image: Shannon Ell

*All other images courtesy of Sophia Payne

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

Twitter @lolajflo

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