Steve Hutton
Illustration by Steve Hutton ©

Earlier this year I read an interesting article about ‘ideas’ and where ‘creative people’ get their inspiration from. The article which appeared in Intelligent Life (http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/lifestyle/isabel-lloyd/hold-thought) asked thirteen designers what object(s) inspired them, their responses make excellent reading. Creativity, is, it appears, shrouded in mystery, and most people are keen to know what the magical formula is. Those not employed or engaged in the creative industry think there must be some elusive means to writing, designing, making, painting, inventing etc etc. that once discovered would bring about automatic success! Alas, if only it were that simple 🙂

Having recently completed the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University I’m still finding my writerly feet – having been cast out into the cold real world of the solitary writer. So using the above article as my ‘idea’ springboard – I thought it would be interesting to find out how other writers and illustrators of children’s literature manage to stay focused and get their work done, but also where they get their ideas from. Below is a selection of the responses I received from my tutors, recent graduates of the MA course (published, or in the process of having their first book published), and an illustrator/writer.

Steve Voake (author & tutor on the MA WYP) wrote, “Initial ideas can come from anywhere – the idea for my first book came as a result of being chased by a horsefly, but other book ideas have come from things as diverse as travelling across America, reading about NASA’s plans to build a new submarine, cycling past a travellers’ camp and listening to my daughter talk to her rabbit.” 

Any superstitious rituals, Steve?

“I don’t have any lucky charms, but I write best in the mornings so try and make sure I’m at my desk before nine o’clock. That way I can pretend it’s a proper job too…”

Find Steve on LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/steve-voake/54/861/b4b

Eugene Lambert (MA WYP graduate) whose book, The Sign of One is soon to be published, says he can’t really recall where the initial idea for his book came from, but he found himself, “thinking about a premise, namely why might identical twins be considered evil?” Why indeed? Eugene says a lot of daydreaming followed – which is where the “fleshing out” takes place. “I know I’m on the right track with my daydreams when one idea leads to another and another.” All this ‘daydreaming’ led to one possible answer – one twin is human, the other is not. And so the story ‘idea’ was born… “As soon as I get an idea for an opening scene, I start writing. Then repeat, with a kind of looping around of daydreams from premise to plot to characters, with each leading to more thoughts on the other…”

Ritual, Eugene?

“I do have a favourite writing fleece for the winter :-), but my main rituals revolve around discipline and technology. You can’t just write when you feel like it – you have to put the hours in, set targets and hit them. My daily goal is 1,000 words, because I do a lot of editing as I go along. Being a nerdy techy guy, I track my writing with a spreadsheet…” (ouch!) “…and that helps me stay on track. In terms of technology, I do like to write with a big-screen monitor attached to the laptop, as I can have multiple windows open, one with the manuscript, the other with my plot summary. That said, I think it is important not to be too attached to ritual to the extent that it becomes an excuse not to write if you don’t have exactly the right setup.”

Follow Eugene on Twitter: @eugene_lambert

Steve Hutton (illustrator & writer) is currently illustrating a new edition of Peter Pan (how exciting) and I’ve seen glimpses on his Facebook page, but Steve also writes and illustrates his own work – which can be found here… http://www.wildwoodwitches.co.uk (I’m a huge fan!)

Steve says his approach to book commissions is very different to his own work. “After deciding which parts of the story to illustrate I then think about how I can make them different to what’s gone before. This might be with lighting, point-of-view, colour scheme etc. With Pan, I always felt Neverland seemed like an ordinary jungle/forest. I wanted my Neverland to feel more mysterious, and to that end I’ve added fantastical ruins, creatures, landscapes, and fairytale trappings. I like to have fun with my drawings and incorporate playful little details or subtle relationships between the characters.”

And your own work?

“When not working on commissions, I like to expand my own fictional world: ‘Wildwood Witches’ (see above). Here I can write and draw what I wish, and I find the writing comes first, by which I mean the stories inspire the illustrations. Taking a bike ride is a great way for me to think, especially if I’m churning over a story plot. I almost always get my best ideas while pedalling and I take visual inspiration from the natural landscape around me…”

Any magical formula, Steve?

“My workspace is important, but having moved thirteen times in ten years I’ve learned not to be too precious about the setting. As long as I’ve got my trusty drawing board and lamp I’m ok. The only other thing I need is something to play my music or audio books on while working, and plenty of tea.”

So far the ‘magical formula’ is beginning to look like this…

Being open to ideas (surroundings) + discipline + asking profound ‘what if…’ questions + daydreaming + discipline + getting outdoors to think + being aware of natural landscape (senses) + lots of tea…

Can Elen Caldecott (author & tutor) add anything else to the creative cauldron?

“If I feel I need a creative kick up the bum, I do two things. The first is to look at beautiful or interesting pictures. I collect snapshots of people, I also love the film stills in something like Sight and Sound (http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine). The second thing is to walk my dog. There’s something about a regular rhythm, with the sky open above me, that generates ideas. I imagine you don’t need a dog for this to work, but why take the risk?”

Visit Elen’s website here: http://www.elencaldecott.com

I hope this insight into the way other people come up with ideas and then set about executing them is inspiring and encouraging. It would seem that there is no magic formula – just sheer determination to get the job done. Coming up with ideas – is merely the beginning…

As an aspiring writer of children’s fiction myself I often find myself making excuses for my own non-producvirginia-woolftivity – distraction of family & friends, household chores, work – we all have to earn a living! Writing this blog has helped me understand how other writers and illustrators manage to get their work completed. I realise that my biggest distraction is not having a “room of one’s own” in which to write. Virginia Woolf also mentioned money in that famous little book – but that’s not as romantic an issue as having a study, or ‘shed’, in which to work, preferably one with a view!

Well, at least I’m not short of ideas – it’s just sitting down and getting the words on to the page which is my problem… Which puts me in good company – as most writers find this the hardest thing to do too!

Oh, and Ernest Hemingway says ‘an unhappy childhood’ helps… Hmm, unfortunately that’s not something we can change!

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