Creative Folk: Joanna Harker Shaw

“When I get stuck with a character I’ll paint them”



Joanna Harker Shaw is a novelist, photographer, and artist.  In this interview they talk about the stubbornness needed to complete a novel, charity shop finds, and combining visual arts and writing. Their twitter is: and their website is:


What is your main creative practice? 

Mainly, it’s writing my novel, but I also take photographs and draw a lot. 


What drives you to do you do what you do?

There’s a simple inclination that has me always picking up a pen, stories that run round my head that I want to share – but actually finishing one novel is sheer stubbornness and determination. I have to rise early and work at it. At this point the drive is to have something to share. 


How do you edit or structure your creativity/projects? 

At the first rush of inspiration I drop whatever I’m doing and get that enthusiasm pinned down. Once I have the outline of whatever it is I then take some time just looking at it, trying to work out what it is, what the shape of it is, what the best way round it is. Then I break it up into tasks. Organise them with little (easily achievable) targets. Then go for it. 


Who influences your work or practice? 

I try to absorb a great amount of art and literature, free galleries, recommendations, an unknown book in a charity shop – sometimes I turn up gold (I’m into surrealist painters and novelists right now, starting with Dorothea Tanning and working out) and sometimes not, but even the things I don’t like help me to define my practice. On the daily, I’m encouraged and inspired by my wonderful colleagues at the university who keep me on whatever side of sane I’m on. 


What other art forms influence you? 

Combining visual art with verbal greatly aids my writing process. For one I make pinterest reference boards – for details like period clothing (my current novel is set in the 1820s), but also a general mood board for a character. When I get stuck with a character I’ll paint them; it’s a meditative act that allows me to just sit with the character, not asking direct questions, but coming to an emotional state through colour and shape. 


What other creative pursuit would you like to try? 

I do wish I had skill at musical composition. A few times people have set some of my writing to music and it’s wonderful to hear, but it’s an art I just don’t understand. It’s magical to me. 


How do you feel when you’re creating something?

Quite tense, but also gleeful. It’s the upbeat before the main theme. A difficult place to live sometimes. 


What do you do when you’re not being creative? 

Teaching professionally. For relaxing… walking my dog in the woods or watching quizzes on TV. 


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