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 Jenny Alexander.

Jenny Alexander has written scores books. Her non-fiction children’s books include funny self-help books on topics such as self-esteem, happiness, stress and kindness. Titles include Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends, No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School and How Can I Help the World? Her children’s fiction includes two series, Blue Peter Book Club choice, How to Get What You Want, by Peony Pinker and Red House Children's Book Awards Highly Commended, Car-Mad Jack

Her Young Adult novel about sibling suicide, Drift, is recommended by Cruse Bereavement Care. Jenny has written for adults on the art and craft of writing and her ‘Free-Range Writing’ column in Writing Magazine is now in its sixth year. She runs creative workshops both independently and for organisations large and small, from schools and local writing groups to the Society of Authors and the Arvon Foundation.

Jenny runs creative workshops with organisations ranging from schools and local writing groups to the Society of Authors and the Arvon Foundation.


A range of Jenny's books

Tell us about your creative space


I live in an old stone cottage on the edge of Bodmin moor and my study looks out over the garden, so I do enjoy working at my desk, but I also like to shake things up, writing in different rooms of the house or in cafes. Long breaks away from home are particularly fruitful for me, a month under canvas in the summer, or a few months in a winter let. 

It’s not that I have a lot of distractions at home, simply that being outside my normal life seems to spark my creativity.


Jenny in one of her creative spaces

What are your creative tools?


I used to take a notepad and pen everywhere but these days I prefer to make audio notes on my mobile as it saves me having to find my reading glasses every time I have an idea. I keep a creative journal, using hardback A4 notebooks, where I play around with thoughts and images, quotes, poems, all sorts of things — I think of it as the seedbed for all my writing projects. For books and articles, I go straight to the computer, starting with a skeleton plan and gradually building the text up around it.


Do you have a particular routine?


No routine! When I started, I had young children, so there were years of having to fit my writing around playgroup and school, and that was tough because I’m not a timetables kind of person. These days I have no regular patterns at all – my writing rhythm depends on what stage I’m at with the current work-in-progress, and whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. 

With fiction or memoir, I usually write for two or three hours, then go for a walk, thinking about what I’ve written and where I want to go with it, but I won’t go back to it until the next day. With non-fiction, I can dip in and out, an hour or half an hour here and there right through to the evening. It’s a different kind of focus.


Notebooks and pens for the creative process

Any particular prompts to get you going?


In the early days, I had an inspiration table for each project, with pictures and objects, but that soon simplified down to getting a new coffee mug with some kind of appropriate design for the writing of each new book. Even that’s gone out the window now. I just sit down wherever I am and write.


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


After my first book was accepted for publication I went into overdrive, bombarding my agent with new book proposals. She advised me to slow down and give my ideas time to ripen up. I put a reminder up on my study wall: ‘Impatience is a form of resistance.’ I gradually discovered that trying to rush the pondering stage only made the writing stage much slower and more difficult. Things flow freely when they’re fully ready.


Jenny walking & thinking on Bodmin Moor

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


Don’t take rejections to mean that your writing isn’t good enough. Your book might be original and well written, but marketability is the deciding factor with the big publishing houses. In thirty years of being an author, I’ve had lots of experiences of agents and editors loving a manuscript but not being able to get it through acquisitions. There's an interesting podcast on the Publishing Rodeo on this subject.


Why do you write for children?


When I first started, I sent both a children’s novel and an adult murder mystery to agents – I didn’t have any preference. Gina Pollinger liked the children’s novel, and her husband Murray thought the adult one had potential, so they called me in. They advised me to start with children’s books, not because they were easier – Gina was emphatic about that – but because being shorter they were quicker to write. 

In the time it would take me to write one adult book, I could write half a dozen for children and have lots more chances of landing a publishing deal. I still love writing for different age groups – the drive is the same in everything I write, to share ideas and stories I find exciting.


Jenny's books on writing. 

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


I used to dislike redrafting – it felt pointless to me because by the time I’d finished the first draft I already knew the story! But having to redraft, working with editors and agents, is how I developed my understanding of the craft, and now I thoroughly enjoy it.

*Header image: In-house collaboration between Ell Rose and Tita Berredo
*All other images courtesy of Jenny Alexander



You can find Jenny here:


Newsletter: Life, Writing, Workshops


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


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
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Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. She has a Master's degree in Children's Literature and Illustration from Goldsmiths UOL and a background in marketing and publicity.
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