To discover how others are working, Loretta Flockhart speaks to writers and illustrators 
about their creative spaces, inspirations, routines and tools. 
This month, we hear from writer Andy Shepherd.

Andy Shepherd is the author of the best-selling The Boy Who Grew Dragons series, described by The Guardian as ‘a modern classic’. Her books have been translated into twenty-four languages and are being developed for television by Adastra Development in partnership with Lime Pictures. The first book in the series was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Sheffield Book Award and long listed for the Blue Peter Book Award.


The Boy Who Grew Dragons series by Andy Shepherd

What’s your ideal creative space?


I used to work at the kitchen table but when we moved house we got a spare room and that doubles up as my office. It’s full of dragons and books and little mementos made by my boys. The shelves are full of picture books and I’ve invested in some original artwork by a few of my favourite illustrators. It looks out on a lovely green space and I get to wave at all the dog walkers. Although they probably think I’m bonkers as I write sitting on a big purple ball so I’m usually bouncing as I write!


Andy in her creative space on purple bounce ball

When do you do your best work?


It’s usually 3pm in the afternoon when the words flow. Probably because I know I have to get something done before the kids get home. I can procrastinate all day and stare at the screen, then, about ten to three, I’ll suddenly start writing. I can’t write in a busy environment like a café or even a library. I spend too much time people watching!


Where do your ideas come from?


Mostly from observing. I describe my character Tomas in The Boy Who Grew Dragons as keeping his eyes wide open, but I think this is how most writers exist in the world. I love taking everyday things and sprinkling magic on them. I often get inspired by settings or buildings I visit. So really my ideas tend to come from quite ordinary places. And asking that brilliant question, ‘What if?’


What are your favourite tools for writing?


I brainstorm in big cheap scrapbooks. I like to be messy and not precious about what I’m doing in the early stages, it puts too much pressure on those initial musings. I’d love to be someone who has beautiful notebooks that could one day go on display, but I’m not. It’s scrappy Post-its and incomprehensible scribble in the kind of books my kids used in primary school. Once the idea has legs, I’ll start working on the computer. I tried Scrivener but found it overwhelming, and so I just use Word.

Andy's bookshelves

What encourages or hinders your work?


I like to have time to grow a story at my own pace rather than having to produce something to someone else’s time frame, although editing I can do better to deadline. I don’t like noise when writing and I’ve never had a playlist for any of my books. Time, space and fun help me work. And breadsticks dipped in Nutella when I’m particularly stuck!


Does exercising support your creative process?


I try and go for a walk every day as that’s the best way to clear my head, think through plot points and get a break. I also swim outside if I can, and cold water has definitely helped my mental health.


What’s your one essential piece of advice?

I have two. 

The first is always read your work aloud.


The second is to remember that if you love to write, you’re a writer. It’s wonderful to see your book published but it’s a fickle business. Sometimes people can write brilliantly and still not find a home for their story. It’s important to separate writing from the business of being published. Write because you want to and don’t be shy about telling people you are a writer.


Andy with her books

What's the best creative advice you’ve been given?


Write what you want to write – not what you think the market wants. Publishing is a slow process and trends move on. I didn’t write The Boy Who Grew Dragons with publishing in mind, it was the story to get me back into loving writing after a lot of rejections. But I think it found a home because it came from the heart and I wasn’t thinking about the market.


Of course, be aware of what is being published and keep your audience in mind, but at the end of the day, so much goes into writing a book, that you have to love it yourself to keep going through all the tough bits.


Andy's shelves of inspirations

Why do you write children’s books?


I fell in love with books at about seven years old. I've never forgotten that feeling of being transported to somewhere else through these scribbles on a page. It absolutely felt like magic to me. If I can write something that gives a child that same experience I’ll be delighted. The books I write are officially for 6-9 year olds, but I hope that they can be enjoyed by anyone. I’m a huge believer in the importance of shared story-time, so I work hard on making the stories appealing to readers big and small.


What was your favourite book as a child?


I had two absolute favourites, the first was I Am David by Ann Holm. My Year 6 teacher read this to us and if I close my eyes, I can be sitting back on that carpet, feeling completely spell-bound. The other is Bottersnikes and Gumbles by S A Wakefield. I loved this story and read it over and over, I think the illustrations by Desmond Digby were a huge part of the appeal too. I have my copies of both of these on the shelf by my desk. 

*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo

**All other images courtesy of Andy Shepherd


You can find Andy on Twitter @andyjshepherd and Instagram @andyshepherdwriter. Andy's website is – which has lots of free resources for teachers, parents and librarians.


Loretta Flockhart is the Creative Secrets editor for Words & PicturesYou can find her on Twitter @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:

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.