Kat: Welcome to my blog, Cat – and congratulations on the launch of your cute and colourful picture book, Puggle. You and I have a few things in common. Aside from the obvious Cat/Kat thingy there’s also the love of writing (picture books especially) and… that teaching role!
So, mother, writer, teacher, how do YOU do it? (I have my pen poised to take notes here. Needing all the tips I can get! )
Cat: I think I’m like any other working mum…staggering from one job to another and always feeling guilty that I’m neglecting something else. This year I decided not to feel so guilty about things but I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t succeeded in that, lol.
I’m lucky in that I work 0.6 as a teacher so I get one full day off a week and two half days. Which is when I try to fit in my other jobs. But somehow that day off gets filled up with kid’s school things, paying bills etc.
I try to have night times for my family. But I’m also trying to teach my family that if I close the study door and say I’m working I won’t answer them unless it’s an emergency. I remember a writer at a SCBWI conference in Bologna saying she shouts:
‘Is there blood?
‘Is anyone likely to die?’
It’s a constant battle to have the family respect that sometimes Mum isn’t at your constant beck and call. That being asked three times if this top goes with those shorts doesn’t constitute a family emergency!
Oh Kat, that was a doosy of a question. We could discuss this for hours over coffee!
Kat: Mmmm… Coffee and chatter for hours… Would love to!
Can you/do you take off one hat and replace it with another? Or do you find that you constantly wear all three hats… ummm… heads!
Cat: As a writer it’s sometimes useful having that teacher head in the background. These days the picture book market is very competitive and publishers are looking for something which will make your book sell. The educational market is large, therefore my teacher head will look for angles where a book could be used in the classroom. If a book is picked up by one of the companies which market to schools, the book is much more likely to be successful.
With Puggle, the educational market was always going to be one of the key targets, however, I had to be sure that my character was lovable in his own right. Andrew Plant has got the illustrations just right I think. You want to pick Puggle up and cuddle him, yet everything is anatomically accurate.
The Mum head is always in the background…have I fed my girls enough vegies, are they making friends at school? And when I’m talking to teachers and learning about writing I’m thinking… ‘I wonder if this would be a good book for my girls to read?’
So I think the answer is, I always wear three heads!! Makes me sound somewhat of a monster.
Kat: What inspires/drives you to write?
Cat: What drives me to write? To be honest, sometimes I’d like to walk away from it. A poor review, a couple of rejections in a row, questionable decisions from publishers…these can be hard to take. But when you first hold your new book in your hand is a special moment and there is a feeling of great satisfaction.
What inspires me to write is different. Usually it’s either something with my family/friends that touches me, or something that interests me intellectually. My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day was written about my father-in-law and meant a lot to our family. I think that’s why it resonates with so many people. Daddies on the other hand was written about the way my brother and my husband play with their children. In our family we have a game called ‘Punch Guts,’ where Keith sits on the floor with a pillow over his belly and the kids charge at him and bounce off. I keep saying ‘It’ll all end in tears!’
I wrote Puggle because I was inspired by the work of some volunteer wildlife carers who I visited a few years ago. This little baby echidna was so vulnerable and so cute and I really wanted to know whether he would survive or not. I also found the research fascinating and I learnt so much about echidnas.
(Are you ready for this?)
Kat: What is the scientific classification of an echidna?
Cat: There are two main type of echidna. The short beaked belongs to the genus Tachyglossus and the long beaked belongs to the genus Zaglossus. Sounds like a spell from Harry Potter doesn’t it? They are monotremes, which are an ancient type of mammal.
Kat: Do echidnas have fur?
Cat: Echidnas have fur in between their spines.
Kat: What is the baby echidna’s first food?
Cat: Echidnas are mammals, so they are fed milk by their mothers. The mothers don’t have teats however, like other mammals. Echidnas have milk ‘patches’ which Puggles lick.
Kat: When is the baby echidna evicted from the mother’s pouch? (Pointed Q )
Cat: When it starts developing spines…for obvious reasons! Ouch.
Kat: Do you find scientific themes coming out in your writing?
Cat: The science themes tend to come out in my non fiction writing. I have written a lot of articles for Pearson’s magazines; Explore and Challenge. A couple of years ago I interviewed a Dr Stephanie Lacour in Cambridge who was developing electronic skin to go over artificial limbs so people could ‘feel’; then there was Lesley Kool, who catalogues dinosaur bones. The interview with her led me to write a story called The Little Dinosaur. I’ve just signed a contract with WTP for this and it will be illustrated by Andrew Plant, who illustrated Puggle. One thing leads to another and I’m always on the lookout for ideas.
I have another book coming out in the UK in November. To me it was a book about Matter, Energy and the meaning of life. To the publisher it was a book about friendship! It’s called George and Ghost. Basically George tells Ghost to go away because he doesn’t believe in him any more. He shows ghost that since he doesn’t weigh anything, or take up space (matter) he can’t be real. Ghost then comes back with some ideas of his own. The friendship angle was what turns it from a science story into something about a very special friendship and Cassia Thomas’ illustrations are so lovable.
Kat: Bob Graham has a range of simple science books for the very young – do you ever see yourself doing something similar, melding your two areas of expertise?
Cat: That’s something I’d love to do and I’m hoping George and Ghost leads to some further developments in that area.
Kat: Have you ever used a picture book in a high school science/chemistry class? If yes – what was the book – and what concept did it convey?
Cat: I’m afraid at the moment I’m teaching senior chemistry and there isn’t a lot of scope there but I’m always up for suggestions!
Kat: Do you have a favourite picture book that touches on scientific concepts? (Not necessarily for educational purposes.)
Cat: Pamela Allen’s Who Sank The Boat? - I once wrote an article on this, looking at floating and sinking. It’s a great introduction to make kids think.
Kat: You have just returned from teaching in the UK. Did you see any hedgehogs during your travels? If yes, from your observations, how are hedgehogs and echidnas similar/different?
Cat: We didn’t see any hedgehogs I’m afraid. But hedgegogs are similar in that they have spines for defence from predators. What makes echidnas different is that they are monotremes, which are egg laying mammals. They don’t have a permanent pouch, just a small fold which develops when the eggs are laid. So they are even different from marsupials.
Kat: My boys are both mad-keen scientists. What is it that you love about science and chemistry?
Cat: I’m always fascinated about how the world is put together. With the advances in physics these days we seem to be posing more questions than we are answering. And string theory…well my brain just can’t get around that one! Where every point in our universe is actually the end of a string and there are all these other dimensions. Hey shouldn’t that be science fiction!!!!
Kat: Do you have a favourite experiment that kids can safely do at home?
Cat: If you are up for it, making slime is always a good one. You can make it from Borax and wood glue and there are lots of recipes on the internet. Making rockets out of coke bottles with a cork and a bicycle pump is good too for a bit of physics. My kids got sick of making slime when they had to do it five times in a row, smiling all the time, while I took photos for an article I was writing. There are only so many times you can look fascinated spontaneously!
Kat: Kids and photoshoots… yes – I think I know what you’re talking about there, Cat. My boys have been my models for my Pearson magazine shoots too – and it is a sad truth that the novelty wears off sooner than necessity!
Cat, it has been a pleasure to have you visit my blog. We really DO have a lot in common! Enjoy the rest of your blog tour – and I wish you every success for your cute, sometimes cuddly, but more often prickly – Puggle.
You can follow the rest of Catriona’s tour at the following blogs:
April 12 http://scribblygum.wordpress.com/
April 14 http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com/
April 16 http://orangedale.livejournal.com/
April 17 http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/
April 18 http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/
April 19 http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/
April 20 http://belka37.blogspot.com/
April 21 http://angelasunde.blogspot.com/