How we write – by Adam and Charlotte Guillain

Authors Adam and Charlotte Guillain talk about Molly’s Magic Wardrobe and how they work at keeping their days in the ‘office’ fun and fresh.

We love writing. Sometimes we even have to pinch ourselves just to check we’re not dreaming and this is actually our job. We live and work in a world of silliness and fun where there’s often someone in the house saying something like – “Hey Google – play the Muppets.” We have a little ‘office’ we call ‘Bernard’ at the bottom of the garden.


It’s called Bernard because our kids decided it was a much name than ‘The Writing Den’ which was our first pitch. We sing around the house as well as at our events. Don’t worry, we don’t sing all the time. We’re not totally insane.

But when it’s just the four of us, we sometimes take a tune and improvise a song in rhyming couplets to say whatever it is we want to say. You see, we write rhyming picture books. We’re inspired by amazing writers and our favourites are Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson. We know their texts inside out. They are part of us. Like the narratives of Shirley Hughes, they create the standard, the narrative shapes, rhythms and perfect rhymes we aspire to.

After breakfast, our days have always started with the walk to school. Even here, we might play a game of Would You Rather or I’m thinking of an animal with the kids. These games take our imaginations to unexpected places – exercising out minds for the day ahead.

These days our kids are old enough to take themselves to school but we still start the day with a walk. We talk about stories and explore new ideas. We find that when we’re walking and talking, it’s so much easier to think about our young readers and the ideas we hope they’ll love. So many of our books – School for Dads, Supermarket Gremlins, The First Egg Hunt – were all ‘written’ on a walk.

Then it’s back to Bernard to start writing things down. We might sit down together and draft a rough plan and then decide which one of us will work out a first draft while the other is working on another idea. After several breaks to hang out the washing, check in on the cat and make a cup of tea, we go for another walk. After a quick tweak of the first draft, we start batting the manuscripts back and forth between us.

It’s really as simple as that. People ask if it’s hard working with your partner. Well, it’s not all hunky-dory. Sometimes we don’t agree with the other’s suggestion. But the reality is that not agreeing is so often a good thing. We think writing together means that we create a third option, one that’s hopefully even better that the text we might have created on our own. We also feel that it’s time-effective, because collaborating offers an immediate check that something one us thought was funny or a well-crafted narrative surprise actually is before we spend too much time investing in the wrong choice.

When we REALLY don’t agree though, we have the perfect solution: our editor Alison. In truth, we’re like pupils in the presence of a great master in this scenario. Soaking up the wisdom and everything her immense talent has to offer us and the book we’re working on. When we don’t agree on a verse or idea we usually give Alison options, allowing her to make the choices we can’t. We also have our agent Penny, our publisher Melissa and the talented creative team at Egmont feeding thoughts and suggestions in, too.

Basically, you don’t get into writing picture books if you’re not totally comfortable with collaboration and a lot of redrafting! It’s only then, after all of that drafting and editing, that the texts are handed over to the wonderful illustrators we are lucky enough to be paired with so that they can start their part in the collaboration.

And so to Molly’s Magic Wardrobe. We’re very excited about this book. Garry Parsons has created a glorious world for Molly and her readers to explore. The idea came on a day we sat in the cafe next to the Egmont office.

Like all parents and professionals who spend a lot of time with very young children, we know how so many of them love dressing up and acting out their own stories in imaginary worlds. Over coffee that day, we came up with our character Molly, the title of the series, how the stories would work and a list of different scenarios we thought young children would be excited to explore.

The ideas that day flowed well and were spontaneous and fun to grab and write down and the Egmont team were able to respond very quickly, inspiring us to pursue the idea. Perhaps it was ‘easy’ for us that day because of all the other stuff: the singing and the walking-talking-drafting and having an office that isn’t called ‘the Office’ but ‘Bernard’. We work hard at making our work fun and fresh because playfulness and originality are at the heart of the creative process and the books we hope our audience will love.

About the Authors

Charlotte always wanted to be a writer and worked as a bookseller before training to teach English as a Foreign Language. This took her to the Czech Republic and Ukraine, before she headed to Zanzibar with Voluntary Services Overseas to teach English to student nurses. This was where she met Adam. After their adventure with VSO, Adam and Charlotte moved to Oxford where Charlotte started working in publishing and Adam became writer-in-residence at the Roald Dahl Museum before co-founding Storytelling Schools, an international organisation committed to inspiring children to read, write and learn through oral storytelling. You can find out more about Adam and Charlotte and their work on their website.

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