CREATIVE SECRETS Emma Finlayson-Palmer


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 Emma Finlayson-Palmer.

Emma Finlayson-Palmer is the author of the chapter book series, Autumn Moonbeam and runs #ukteenchat, a writing themed chat on Twitter. She also edits, mentors and reads competition entries for #WriteMentor and reads flash fiction entries for Retreat West. Emma is one half of Word Witches, as a children’s fiction editor. She is a working class, autistic writer living in the West Midlands with her husband and a multitude of children, cats and chickens.  

Tell us about your creative spaces


I try to create little writing corners wherever I can. I often sit on the settee with my laptop on a cushion, but I also have a little table in the corner of the living room that’s my writing desk. When I write there it feels more like I’m ‘at work’ so that’s my official writing spot but in nice weather I use a picnic bench in the garden.

I also have a lovely old, charity shop writing desk in my bedroom, but it’s by the window so I spend a lot of time staring outside instead of writing, so I tend to do more drawing and crafts here these days.

During lockdown, my partner built up an old shed/summerhouse, adding extra windows and insulated the walls, so I’d have my own writing office. It’s great for summer months and one of my favourite places to write while listening to the birds or feeling cosy when it’s raining outside.


Emma at her writing desk

What are your creative tools?

Ideas start with a notebook, a range of pens and often collage items too. I’m a visual writer, so my notebooks end up as visual journals with snippets like perfume samples so I can build up a sensory bank of details for inspiration.

On my writing desk I have a range of notebooks, revision cards for planning, post-its to mark pages in books when I have found something I loved or was inspired by. I also use writing magazines, glue, collage pictures, a calendar, art, a witch hat fascinator and a couple of toys.

Another of Emma's 'carved out' creative spaces 

I feel like I try to keep everything I love around me, like the The Junk Lady in Labyrinth who carries everything on her back. Having these things, including little Funko Pop Horror characters, brings me joy and helps create a space that makes me creative.


Do you have a routine?

I have tried many times over the years to get into a set routine, but something always derails me. Now my children are older I’m finally reaching a stage where I do have more of a set time I can create. I tend to be at my desk 3 to 5 mornings a week from 8.30 to 11, then I get back to it in the evenings.

I also write in snatches of time around kid’s activities and life stuff that comes my way. I would love it if someone could do all the washing do for me, and remove the added distraction of no clean pants and socks for anyone in the Finlayson-Palmer household! My routine is not linear but has to fit around my family so we also have a table in the living room, so I can write surrounded by chaos!


Autumn Moonbeam, by Emma Finlayson-Palmer

Any prompts to get started?

I like to have a cup of tea when I start writing and a bottle of water too. I’m not one for working in silence as having a big family killed that idea. I love listening to film scores and creating my own soundtracks for my books (great procrastination) as this can be useful for getting my head in the right place for the genre or scene.

Sometimes, a piece of music gets me straight into the world of the protagonist. Film scores are especially good for this as there’s no lyrics, and the music is specifically constructed to evoke a feeling in you. Whatever genre you’re working on you can find a film score that would be good for romance, ramping up the tension, whatever you need.

Emma's writing shed


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

To remember why I started writing in the first place – basically, to find the joy in my writing and not overthink.


Any advice for writers trying to get established?

You’ve got to really love what you’re doing and not worry about what other people’s thoughts are on your work or what anyone else is doing. Everyone’s journey is different, so focus on yourself, be kind to yourself and enjoy what you are creating.


Where Emma shelters from rain and listens to birds

What was your favourite book as a child?

I have a few, and still have the original books, but the one that sticks out the most was The Ordinary Princess by MM Kaye, which I treasured as it was just mine and I loved the idea of a princess being given the gift of ordinariness.


What is your favourite ‘how to’ book about writing?

On Writing by Stephen King, it’s part memoir and I love hearing about how others writers create.


Does exercise help your creative process?

Walking helps unclog my brain at times and gives me space to mull things over.


Autumn Moonbeam chapter series 

Are you a planner or pantser or mixture of both?

I am an evolving pantser, so I’m maybe more a plantser these days.


What inspired you to first start writing?

I used to try and create stories by drawing characters or dressing up as a child and was obsessed with stories in general from an early age. I had my first thing published when I was about 8 on Ceefax.


Emma's writing shed as a work in progress

Why for children?

I’ve tried writing for all ages and genres over the years but I found that I especially loved writing for children because of the fun you can have with it. You can learn so much about the world and those around you in a story. 

I am passionate about inclusive stories and creating worlds that represent a wide range of people from different backgrounds or disabilities, but without that being the focal point of the story but just part of the world, as it is for us in real life.


At what stage of the creative process do you feel least inspired?

Weirdly, it’s often at the start as it takes me a while to properly get going but once I do, I become obsessive about my creations. I especially love the editing stage where I can shape and tweak the story.

*Header image: Shannon Ell

*All other images courtesy of Emma Finlayson-Palmer

You can find Emma here:

Twitter @FinlaysonPalmer

Twitter @WitchesWord

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

Twitter @lolajflo


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