Children’s Author Briony Stewart: The Writer’s Studio

Children’s author / illustrator Briony Stewart seems to live an idyllic life, surrounded by stories, art, nature and animals. She says ‘All my creative work as a writer is done in short, excited bursts between making tea and pottering around in the garden.’ Briony is the author of the Kumiko books, the first of which won the 2007 Aurealis Award for Children’s Short Fiction. Here, she takes us inside her organic space and process.

Briony Stewart’s Writing Studio

Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
My last book was written mostly from my studio at home, but I also took it with me to a small bush cottage about 3 hours south of Perth. My writing space is important, but it doesn’t have to be constant. I can write in a lot of different places as long as I’m alone. I used to write on trains and busy public places, but I’ve trained myself to use my studio more, and when I am editing I like to be able to read aloud and not be overheard.

Briony Stewart’s art space.

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you ‘get into character’ at all?
I never change my studio space, I feel it is set up completely in a way that gives me ideas. It is full of books and toys, old photographs and old journals. It is crowded and cluttered, but I can rummage through things for ideas. I usually hang art which has been given to me by other artists and by children. I don’t hang my own work in there because its a space for new creation and I like to be surrounded by things that either remind me what its like to be a kid, or which inspire me to be a better artist. I can’t listen to music when I write, but I can when I’m painting and often I will put on music to suit the mood of illustrations I am working on. Often there will be a little side project of drawings going on even if I am writing a novel, so sometimes I will start the day drawing and listening to music to get me into the right frame of mind for writing.

Briony Stewart at work.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
The spaces haven’t changed, but the way I use them has. When you start getting publishing deadlines, you need to teach yourself how to work more on demand. Writing on trains is fun, but it’s a bit more like courting a whim, than actually getting down and doing some work. I still do both things, but having a studio or office does remind me that I am ‘at work’, not just entertaining myself on the way to town.

Do you keep regular writing hours?
I find it hard to keep regular writing hours, especially with a split writing/illustrating practice like mine, and I am not nearly as disciplined, as I’d like to be! I’m still learning how to manage my time as an artist, between the demands of general business things, festivals and all my diverse and changing projects. However… I have found that I am more of an after lunch person when it comes to writing. Afternoons and evenings seem to produce the best work. All my creative work as a writer is done in short, excited bursts between making tea and pottering around in the garden, but I can spend many hours editing and tweaking, without having to get up once. On an ideal day I will do business/admin and drawing in the morning, writing in the afternoon. I nearly always have a “reward” project I’m allowed to work on if I finish a good amount of writing. Either I can go back to my drawing or I can work on a fun story I’m not supposed to be working on. I have to be my own parent!

The latest Kumiko book, Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers

Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
Drawing settles me – it’s very meditative I think. Sometimes I tidy my studio. My space is always a direct indicator of what state I’m in. If it looks like a bomb’s hit it then I’ve been busy and frantic – I can’t control my mess making. Resetting the space back to being clear and tidy puts me in a clearer state of mind. Also, I have a pet rabbit called Winston who plays in the garden and naps in the doorway of my studio. I start most mornings with a cup of tea on the back doorstep, surveying the garden and giving Winston less pats than she’d like (she can never have enough). This always settles me too, and I find a lot of inspiration from nature and animals. I think they bring me back to a childlike state of wonder and amazement. I like to get in touch with this whenever I’m writing, not because I write for children, but because children see the world with fresh eyes everyday, and I think the best writing comes from this kind of openness and wonder.

Thanks Briony. In coming weeks, Felice Arena stars in the first video Writer’s Studio post, sharing his haunts at the State Library of Victoria.


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