Monday, 6 April 2020

How to write through this? by Gareth P Jones

So, my original plan for my second Picture Den blog was to continue writing about my experience with the picture books scheduled for publication Egmont next year but then… well, you know what came next because the thing that happened to me, happened to you. It happened to all of us.

Our world collapsed and the very idea of normality shifted to such an extent that an action as simple and instinctive as the shake of hand is now as alien and strange as conversing in Klingon or doing that Vulcan greeting that Spock does. (OK, so maybe I have been binge watching Star Trek this week.)

So how do you keep writing through this? Should you keep writing through this? Maybe, like me, you currently have your son or daughter sitting next to you. Should you be spending your time helping them with their lesson rather than spending time on your own writing projects?

I’m afraid I don’t have any answers to these questions. (I would be very wary of anyone who claimed they did.) Instead, I’m going to tell you how I have coped (and not coped) in the hope you can relate.


We all have different starting points. Mine came a week before the schools closed. I was supposed to have four school visits but I woke up Monday feeling unusually ill (although not with the correct symptoms). I had to cancel the school visits (losing a fair whack of money) then, on Wednesday I learned that my 12-week TV contract (due to start the following week) was being cancelled. This was my lowest moment. Coupled with the news that my picture book publication date was being pushed back, it felt as though the ground had fallen away from beneath my feet.

I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t read or concentrate on anything. The only solace I could find was in music. I found playing or listening to music calmed me down in a way no other activity did. My only other distraction was my children, whose ability to cope with this rapidly changing world was both a comfort and a reassurance.


We had taken the kids out of school the previous week, but this was the week everyone in the country did the same. Suddenly, work appeared on their school websites and there was an expectation that we should be continuing their education on top of continuing our own work. And managing our family’s mental health.

A conversation with Jodie, my agent calmed me down about the impact this would have on publishing and I managed to concentrate enough to edit a picture book text. In this story (written a few weeks before) the narrator finds his carefully constructed narrative derailed by events that are out of his control. Suddenly, re-writing it felt cathartic. I found new relevance to my current situation.

My son also came up with his own act of self-healing. He was floored by a sudden painful realisation that he couldn’t do all the things he wanted to do (he is very sporty) so took himself to his room, drew a picture of how he was feeling then placed it under his pillow. In the picture a rhino is weeping while ramming his head against a tree trunk.
My five-year old daughter continued writing her own little books through this week as well. And, as so many children around the UK have done, they both drew pictures to stick in the window to cheer people up.

Both of my kids constantly remind me how we can all find solace, comfort and escape through creativity.


It would be misleading to say that everything is fine and dandy now and that our family has settled into a routine that works well for everyone. My son still has low moments and is continuing to use his own self-therapy technique.

The other day, I said to him that it was all going to be a roller-coaster, which was admittedly a rather tired metaphor until he rescued it by pointing out that the thing is about rollercoasters is that the ups are painfully slow but the downs can be unexpected and sudden.

I am extremely grateful to have found my own writing project to get my teeth into. This one is not a picture book and I don’t have a publisher for this one (yet) but, once again, it is an idea that has been floating around for a while. The basic premise is a world in which children have been born with a crippling debt incurred by their parents, which they must pay off rather than going to school. Suddenly, this imagined world felt much more less fantastical than when I first came up with the idea. And the fact that I have found relevance to our current situation means that, instead of having to block out upsetting or distracting news items, I can channel my emotional response to these events into my writing.

I have no idea if it will find a publisher (any publishers, by all means let me know if you're interested), but, whether or not it does, it is proving to be a useful a piece of self-therapy – just like my son’s sad rhino & wounded lion. Also, I've now developed a writing technique that includes my children. Usually, if I am stuck, I take a walk or hop on a bus. Now, I invite Herbie and Autumn to write or draw something, which I then incorporate into my story. 

The other thing I’ve found helps has been to spend time creating online resources. I know a lot of writers and illustrators are doing this at the moment but it does feel like one of the few positive things we can do at this uncertain stage in all of our lives. I spent the second week recording an 'guess-along' whodunit based on my Dragon Detective series. All four parts are now available to listen to here.  

So, take care of yourselves, everyone. Look after your physical health, your mental health and the creative child that keeps you going. I'll see you all on the other side.

Gareth P Jones is the author of 40 books for children of all ages. Both his picture books are published by Andersen and illustrated by Garry Parsons. His next picture books will be published by Egmont in 2021. His next non picture book to be published is both his 41st and his 1st, as Dragon Detective: Catnapped is a republished version of his first ever book The Dragon Detective: The Case of the Missing Cats. The first in the series of four books is published by Stripes, February 2020. You can find out more on Gareth's website, listen to the Dragon Detective theme tune here or follow him on Twitter @jonesgarethp.   

1 comment:

Meredith Vigh said...

Great post Gareth. I love your new inspiration prompt of getting your children to write or draw something! I too found it at first impossible to write or even think about anything else, but I had an idea last week which I’m currently collaborating with some illustrators to make into a resource for parents to use and that’s really helped with my state of mind x