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 author Jo Clarke.

Jo Clarke is the author of Libby and the Parisian Puzzle and Libby and the Highland Heist. She is also a school librarian, an award-winning book blogger and runs regular book groups and creative writing classes. She has been involved in judging the British Book Awards and Blue Peter Book Awards.  

Growing up, she enjoyed reading mystery and boarding school stories and her love of these books inspired her to write The Travelling School Mystery series, which is illustrated by Becka Moor and published by Firefly Press. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, two daughters and two cats.


Tell us about your creative space


I’m lucky to have my own office space, although my debut novel was written at the kitchen table during lockdown while home schooling my girls. It’s peaceful and overlooks the garden, which is needed with two teenagers in the house. It’s where I love to write because I get easily distracted, but when I close the door everyone leaves me to it. Although my cat Albus will fight to sit on my desk chair. It’s stuffed full of books: on shelves, on a trolley and in piles all over the floor. 


Jo in her creative space

What are your creative tools?


I always start with a notebook and have small ones that I can pop in my bag for when inspiration strikes out and about and an A4 notebook for plotting. I find it useful to have all my ideas in one place for the series because I often have to go back and double check details from previous books.

I use a manual timer to help my focus when I do writing sprints — it’s the best writing tool I’ve bought. When I’m drafting a book I write in 45 minute sprints followed by a 15 minute break.

I use Pinterest to create mood boards which I share with my illustrator Becka before she starts working on the book. I struggle to write descriptive scenes without some kind of visual prompt so these mood boards are essential. Because I am writing about real places, I need to have a map to hand so I can check for accuracy when plotting out the story. When all of this is in place, I switch to my laptop and use Word as I’m not very techie!


Jo's notebook and sweet treats 

Do you have a routine?


I work part-time in a school library, so my writing days are Tuesdays and Thursdays, although I’ll write all weekend when on deadline. I work best in short bursts so if I’m writing something new, I’ll only spend a few hours a day on it. If I’m editing, I can work all day as it uses a different part of my brain. I’m very mood driven when it comes to writing, so often know if I’m not going to have a productive day. So instead of forcing myself I just take the day off.


Any particular prompts to get started?


I always write to music, usually film soundtracks. It helps me focus when I need to switch between projects which I do a lot. I’m writing a series set in different countries and it reminds me where my characters are at. I’m currently listening to the soundtrack to Death on the Nile, (a small clue to the next location). In the winter I have a candle burning and a big fluffy cardigan as my room gets quite cold.


Albus the cat and writing companion

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


It’s important to have sound knowledge of current children’s books. You need to read as much in your genre/age group as you can. Go into bookshops and libraries and see what is on the shelves and what you like/dislike about them. Then go and read some more!


I haven’t been on any formal writing courses. I’ve developed my craft through reading other writers and learning what they do best.


Are you a planner or pantser or mixture of both?


I’m definitely a planner. I fill notebooks with ideas before I open my laptop. I then roughly plot the main story arc with the necessary elements for a mystery and once a structure is in place I’ll start writing. My stories often change along the way but when I get stuck, my outline gets me back on track.


Jo's book corner and creative space

What inspired you to first start writing?


Growing up, I never met a real life author and I didn’t think people like me could be writers so I stopped writing when I left school. After being made redundant at 38 I had more time on my hands to read and started a book blog at 40 to test the waters and find my voice again. This gave me the confidence to try my hand at writing a book. I was 46 when my debut novel was published so it was a bit of a journey along the way to get there.


Why for children?


As a school librarian, I often choose to read children’s books over those for grown-ups. They take me back to my childhood, on an adventure under the covers with a torchlight. I write the type of books I would have loved as a child. I was obsessed with Malory Towers, Nancy Drew and Tintin and to see children have the same experience with my book has been a real highlight.

*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo; 
all other images courtesy of Jo Clarke


You can find Jo here:

Twitter/X: @bookloverJo
Instagram: booklover_jo


Loretta Flockhart is the Creative Secrets editor for Words & Pictures. You can find her on Twitter/X: @lolajflo

Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at:

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