St Peter’s CE Primary School have a new reading area. I sent them some posters and bits and pieces t decorate the walls. They have been working with I am Cat and wanting me to visit, but I have to stay home now and play with kittens, erm… I mean, get on with the hare book. So I suggested they send me some questions and I would answer. So, sitting in my studio with the kittens on a cushion beside me, making sure I answer properly, here are the questions, with some answers:
1) In most of your books you have animals. Why do you choose to write about them?
I have always loved animals, stories about animals, trying to imagine what it feels like to be inside their minds. The only animal I am not overly fond of is the human. And I love painting animals, the wilder the better.
2) What animal charities do you support and why?
The Snow Leopard Trust. They have cards with my images on and also sell The Snow Leopard book. They try to work with the people who live where the leopards live.
21st Century Tiger work in partnership with London Zoo to help conserve tiger habitat and also learn more to try and make sure that there continue to be tigers roaming wild in the world.
Also Kids Need to Read, a US charity. I support this because I think that reading is such an important thing to be able to do. If you can read you can learn things much easier, by being able to read all the things other people have learned about what you are interested in. And if you can write it helps you to organise the way you think, and to have a voice in the world and be heard. It’s not easy learning to read. Took me a long time. The other thing you can get from books is a great deal of pleasure reading an exciting story, and also escape. I often escape from myself into a book. I love the way it can help you get into the thoughts and lives of others. ( I put this here because some grown ups seem to think that children are a species of wildlife! )
3. What inspired you to write and illustrate about animals?
I suppose really the answer to this is the same as the answer to question 1.
4. What gave you the idea of giving your cats these particular names and why?
I struggle with names and the naming of things. The kittens don’t have names yet. Hannah, my daughter, named Elmo. Max was called Max because he had an M on his forehead. Maurice was named after The Amazing Maurice and his educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. Pixie was a Pixie. You knew that by looking at her. Bird, the black cat, used to sing. He had a wish for wings. And Baggage and Bundle as they are at the moment, well, they will find their own names.
A cat has 3 names. The one we call it, the one they call themselves, and a secret name.
5. How many cats have you got now? And in the past?
I have four now. Max is the oldest. He’s 13 and a bit. Elmo was the kitten. He is about six or seven. And sleeping beside me are two Snow bengals, or ‘posh cats’, twelve weeks old, and tired from running around in my studio.
6. How did you come up with the titles of your books?
As I said, I have trouble naming things. Books are easier. Although The Ice Bear was almost called The First Shaman. The Snow Leopard is kind of obvious. East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a place that the heroine has to travel to. I am Cat was originally I am A Cat. It sounds very different. Far more CAT! It’s amazing how changing one tiny word can completely change the way a title reads. Now I am struggling again. I am working on a book that started as The Boy Who Loved Music and Hares, then became The Song of the Golden Hare, then Song of the Golden Hare and may yet become The Running of the Hares.
7. What do your story titles mean?
Not sure I understand that question. Some I suppose are obvious. The Ice Bear lives in a world of ice. The Seal Children is about children who are also seals. Although Ffion in the story doesn’t chose to go into the sea with her mother and brother she could.
8. What equipment do you use in your painting and why?
I use drawing boards, watercolour paints, water, brushes ( sable) I like lovely porcelain palettes. I use sketchbooks and my imagination and years of drawing experience. I use the best paints that I can because then you get the best results. And I use time. Lots of time. Because it takes time. Sometimes I have to just sit and look at a picture to try and work out how it should go.
9. What inspired you to write stories and be an illustrator?
I have a different answer to this question when ever I am asked. I love stories. I love to paint. I started writing because there were stories that I wanted to tell that hadn’t been written yet. I pant because i love taking a blank piece of paper and making a story appear on it, stroking it with coloured water to make something happen.
How did you research I am Cat?
I read books, I looked on the internet, I decided which cats I wanted to paint. There are so many that I left out, like sand cats and Asian Leopard cat and marbled leopards and cervals and caracals. I wanted to put in the Scottish Wildcat because lots of people in Britain don’t know about it.
I was really lucky because I got to talk to one of the zoo keepers who looks after tigers in London Zoo and fed the tigers and walked in their enclosure, so I have put my hand into the impression left by a tiger’s paw print. I had already met snow leopards, sadly not in the wild. Teague, at the zoo, checked all my ‘cat facts’ for me. Then it was down to me just playing with words, trying to imagine a little cat dreaming of being one of these wild things.
How many books have you made in a year?
Usually I only do one a year. It takes a long time and I don’t always get it right first time. Also I do lots of other things, like painting for myself and playing with other things like wood engraving and lino printing.
Why do you love art so much?
I don’t know. Maybe because it fascinates me when people create beautiful things? Maybe because I like making something happen on a piece of paper, something that I control? Maybe because it makes me feel that I have a voice, that I can say something to other people and they will understand what I mean? Maybe so that I feel that in a small way I am heard, that I matter, just a bit? Maybe I just find paper easier to communicate with than people? Maybe I do it just because I can’t not do it, kind of like when you get into a rage about something and you want to smash something but instead I get into a frenzy and just HAVE to paint and get no peace of mind until I do. I am glad that my rage is around painting, rather than being destructive. I hope that what I do gives other people pleasure, helps other people to make sense of the world. And this I think is the bottom line for me. I paint, I write, in order to try and make sense of a mad mad world.