Elizabeth Gilbert’s top 10 tips for writers to stay inspired

Today, I’m sharing a post I read on Goodreads this week, and simply loved.

GilbertElizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray Love, which I loved in book and film form – but particularly the book – and also of one of my favourite talks, at an Oprah event, about living with failure, and juggling our difficult lives. It’s the story of being a woman in a society where women haven’t been powerful and autonomous before, and are still working it out. It’s a story of a missed flight, and a panic, and something we all recognise, and she tells it beautifully.


Since the phenomenal success of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth has been fascinated by what happens next when someone has, it seems, reached the peak of their creativity. What do you do after that? How to you go on? Her new book addresses the spark of creativity, and she’s been answering readers’ questions on Goodreads about the creative process.

Here are the top 10 tips and observations that Goodreads have put together, based on her answers. I think they’re great. If you’re writing, or not writing and want to, check them out …

Where I write … and my top 10 writers’ retreats

This post appeared originally on the Girls Heart Books blog, where I post once a month. You can check out posts by loads of great writers for girls here

23 October 2015

I’ve just launched my new website, and I hope it’s a colourful, comfortable place for readers to visit. A website feels like a home in some ways – somewhere that reflects your taste and interests, and where you invite people in to find out more about you.

Ideas 2015-10-20 It got me thinking about where I write. I have a wonderful shed in the garden, and the picture featured here is of my Danielle Scutt Barbie (my good luck charm when I wrote Threads) standing on my desk in front of my mood board. You can see more of the shed, inside and out, here.

I know that all a writer really needs is a tabletop, something to write on and with, and her own imagination. But a shed helps too! I’m not the only lucky writer to have one, or some sort of special retreat. Here are my top 10, and where to find out more about them …

10. JK Rowling’s first writing cafe in Edinburgh – The Elephant House

9. Dylan Thomas’s shed in Laugharne

8. Phillip Pullman’s garden shed in Oxford

7. Roald Dahl’s super-famous Writing Hut in Great Missenden

Dahl-GreatMissendenThere’s a lovely piece in The Guardian featuring these last 3, and more. Check out the pictures and stories here:

Five best writers’ sheds in pictures

And there’s more on Dahl and Thomas in another great piece, which also features some lovely quotes about George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain: Famous writers’ small writing sheds and off the grid huts

6. George Bernard Shaw’s shed at Shaw’s Corner, called ‘London’

This is my favourite description of it, via the BBC

The tiny structure of only 64 square feet (5.9 m2), was built on a central steel-pole frame with a circular track so that it could be rotated on its axis to follow the arc of the sun’s light during the day.[2] Shaw dubbed the hut “London“, so that unwanted visitors could be told he was away “visiting the capital“.[3]

5. Virginia Woolf

“She was always being distracted – by Leonard sorting the apples over her head in the loft, or the church bells at the bottom of the garden, or the noise of the children in the school next door, or the dog sitting next to her and scratching itself and leaving paw marks on her manuscript pages. In winter it was often so bitterly cold and damp that she couldn’t hold her pen and had to retreat indoors.” – from The Guardian

4. Mark Twain

“It is the loveliest study you ever saw…octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window…perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lighting flashes behind the hills beyond and the rain beats upon the roof over my head—imagine the luxury of it.” – Mark Twain, in a letter to William Dean Howells, 1874.

Finally, my favourite article on the subject, 7 Inspiring Writers’ Retreats, includes…

3. Lawrence of Arabia’s Cloud’s Hill cottage (best retreat name)

2. The bandstand TS Eliot borrowed in Margate to write bits of the Wasteland …


… and last but very not least …

  1. Vita Sackville-West’s tower at Sissinghurst

Sackville-sissinghurst-Oast House Archive and National TrustWho needs a shed when you have one of these …?

Which is your favourite? And where do you write?

Dragons and Detectives

In my last post, I recommended some great YA and young teen novels, and good places to look for recommendations for more.

dragonBut at home, I’ve been reading more books for slightly younger readers recently. My youngest has just finished Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon series, and Oh. My. Goodness. What a bang it went out with. The world practically ended. What started as a gentle, funny story about boys and their pet dragons ended up as a clash between species of epic proportions.

dragon2Still funny, still page-turning, but densely packed with illustrations now, and keen to address issues of slavery, courage and leadership in absolutely uncompromising terms. It’ll be a classic for decades to come.

And, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it includes my favourite female character at the moment – Camicazi (who sort of becomes Astrid in the film and TV series because, as Cressida admits, Camicazi is not the most internationally politically correct name). These are books for girls as much as boys. Camicazi spends a lot of time trying to rescue Hiccup, because ‘he’s only a boy’, and it’s lucky she does. He needs her, and she’s brilliant.

CamicaziSo … dragons. And detectives.

As a teenage reader myself, I was a big Nancy Drew fan, before I discovered Dorothy L Sayers, who’s still one of my favourite writers today. To my absolute delight, detective fiction is taking off for 9-12s. Robin Stevens has written the brilliant Murder Most Unladylike series, which is storming the charts with its Agatha Christie settings and fabulous graphic covers, and has recently been optioned for film and TV.

MMU-PAPERBKatherine Woodfine has joined her with the equally impressive Clockwork Sparrow – the first in a series of its own, which was nominated for the Carnegie medal yesterday. Add to those Patricia Elliott’s wonderful new Connie Carew mysteries – also historical detective fiction, set in the early 20th century, and you have a bit of a genre revival going on. Clever girls, solving crimes. Fantastic.


Back in the world of 9-12s, to my absolute delight, the Harry Potter series is being re-released with new illustrations by the super-talented Jim Kay. Like so many Potter fans, I am hugely protective of the characters and settings, and how they’re portrayed. There were times I felt the films didn’t do them justice, but I think Jim Kay is doing an extraordinary job. JK Rowling likes them too. If you’re interested in art, and making things, as I am, then check out the video of his studio at the end of the interview. It’s wonderful.

Happy reading!

sophia xxx

Children’s book recommendations

The Great British Bake-Off is over (Nadia: “I can. And I will.” An inspiration to women everywhere.) Strictly has begun. The nights are drawing in and bookshelves are groaning with books to be read in the long, dark evenings, and bought for friends and family as presents in the months to come.

But which books? How to choose?


The days of the long, printed colour supplement crammed with children’s book recommendations are over, and this is a shame. And a surprise. Children’s and YA books are leading the market. They’re the most successful sector. Why do the papers and the media hardly talk about them? However, there are lots of enthusiastic and well-read reviewers out there, and I’ve seen some great book recommendations on the web recently. One of them even includes a book of mine …

Here are my suggestions for where to look this October:

12 Teen Books About Refugees. Scottish Book Trust. OK, so first of all, I’m going to include the list that includes me. Because, obvs. We all have the refugees from Syria and elsewhere on our minds right now, and many books bring this issue to life for children in deep and surprising ways. Jo Cotterill’s Looking at the Stars has been nominated for a host of awards, and rightly so. Eoin Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame, has announced that he’ll be publishing a graphic novel with Andrew Donkin called Illegal about a refugee next year, and I can’t wait to see it. But meanwhile, the Scottish Book Trust has reminded me that my very first book was about a refugee too. I thought I was mad to combine a book about three teenage girls in the London fashion scene with a story I wanted to tell about child soldiers in Uganda, and the repercussions on their families. But that’s what I did. Crow Lamogi is still one of my favourite characters, and always will be. I very much doubt she came into this country entirely legally, but I am equally certain that she will do London, and her heritage, proud. Refugees and their children are often the lifeblood of a vibrant culture and economy. Let’s talk about them, and read about them, and be them for a bit, if only in a story. It will make us more compassionate, and this world needs all the compassion it can get right now.

The best young adult books of 2015 … Daily Telegraph. I don’t have a book out this year (my latest, due out in spring 2016, took ages to write), so I’m taking a great deal of pleasure in all my friends’ success. I’m lucky to have lots of writer friends, and they’ve written lots of great books recently. In fact, I’m off to a launch party for one of them this evening – When I Was Me, by Hilary Freeman, combining quantum physics, parallel universes and the very recognisable pain and promise of being a teenager. You can see Blamemybookshelf‘s review of it here.

One series mentioned by the Telegraph that I’m particularly pleased about is Keris Stainton’s Reel Friends, for younger teens. Keris is an old friend of mine, and we met online because she has always, always championed YA books – since before that’s what they were called. And especially books for and about girls. (Even though she’s the mother of two boys, and has written successfully about them too.) The Reel Friends series subtly addresses issues of diversity that children’s fiction still doesn’t bring to life often enough. Sure, the wonderful Nadiya Begum won the Bake-Off final last night, but how often do you see a girl in a hijab on the cover of a book? Or a girl exploring her developing feelings for another girl? I do a lot of school visits as an author and I regularly meet girls who I don’t think see themselves represented in the fiction they read, and who would hug Keris’s books to their heart. I’m including a link to the review of Spotlight on Sunny by Teens on Moon Lanes – another blog bigging up children’s books right now (and linked to a local bookshop of mine), which I’m happy to see.

If you want more general reviews, suggestions, advice and the ability to buy, there’s always the fantastic Lovereading4kids. If I were to set up a website about children’s books – as Julia Eccleshare did a few years ago – it would be like this. Oh, and I notice that one of its recommendations is for One, by Sarah Crossan. Can a book about conjoined twins, written in poetry, be really, really good? Yes. Yes it can. (Sarah also throws really, really good launch parties. But the quality of her maccaroons in no way biases me. I’d read the book first and already found it wonderful.) CJ Skuse’s Monster is there too. If you feel like a bit of boarding school horror – and who doesn’t? – try this one. CJ never pulls her punches and the ending will leave you with a very uncomfortable feeling. As any good horror should.

More suggestions to come, for 9-12 readers. About dragons and detectives. Two of my favourite subjects.

But for now, happy reading. The right book is out there. You just have to find it …

sophia xxx

Meet friends and write books …

Today I’m not really here. The real me is in the shed. Seriously. Editing editing editing … and meanwhile the virtual me is on Writing for the Tub, with Caroline Green, talking to Carly Bennett about our new courses for aspiring children’s writers at City University London. Thank you for hosting us, Carly! Very kind.

If you want to find out more about how we chose our reading lists, what we find scary about writing, and what 3 things we’d put in our bag for a first evening on a writing course, then check us out here

And if you want to sign up for a series of fun Thursday evenings in Islington, talking about books and tweaking your writing, then it’s not too late! Details here.

Zoe drawings

What happens after The End?


Today I have been mostly blogging on Girls Heart Books …

Originally posted on Girls Heart Books:

Over a year it’s taken. Ages and ages and ages.

It became known as The Book That Wouldn’t Write Itself. And then, at the very last minute, it did – taking me rather by surprise. Scene after scene suddenly took shape. A bit with broken wood and snow, and a scattered records and a broken heart made me cry a little. My editor liked my ideas for how to finish it. Woooooo! And then …. this:

Girls Heart Books - 1See those last words? ‘THE END’.

Oh yeah. Crazy *this book finally wrote itself dance*

I sent it off to the (very patient) publisher. The publisher loved it. Woooooooooooo!

So – what next? What happens after THE END?

Well, obviously the next book. I’m slowly plotting it. And I’ve got some overflow characters who may well have to go in the one after. And I got a job! Woooooooo! As of next term, I’ll…

View original 164 more words

UKYA Easter Egg Hunt

Egg hunt

Welcome to the UKYA Easter Egg Hunt! One very lucky winner will win a huge grand prize of signed books by over thirty YA authors who write and live in the UK.

All you have to do is read this blog, count up how many UKYA branded Easter eggs you see here (not including the unbranded ones in the banner at the top), and follow the link at the end to the next blog. Keep going until you get back to the blog where you started, and add up how many eggs you’ve seen along the way.

Ta dah! Easy, huh?

Email your answer to: UKYA2015egghunt@gmail.com. A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries, and contacted by email.

This closes at noon (UK time) on Sunday, 5th April, and is open internationally.

A little bit about me

I write YA about girls who love, or hate, fashion, music and fame, and who somehow have to deal with the consequences. There’s also quite a bit about saving the world in there too.

My best-known series is Threads, which is about a secret genius teenage fashion designer and the friends who help her get discovered. I’ve also written The Look, You Don’t Know Me and The Castle.

I possibly spend too much time wondering what it’s like to be a designer, or a model, or a reality TV reject, or to accidentally stow away on a superyacht, end up on a billionaire’s private island and try to save a whole country from an evil dictator. Luckily, that’s my job.

So get finding those eggs! And some awesome UKYA authors and books along the way.

The next blog from here is Gillian Philip at www.verybadwolf.com.

Good luck! Get counting!