Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Meet the Author: Catriona Hoy

This is a new series of posts that will feature interviews with children's authors. Today we meet Catriona Hoy who will launch her latest 'George and Ghost' tomorrow.  You can read my interview with her later in the post about her writing and her life. This first post is also part of a blog tour that Catriona is conducting to coincide with the launch of the new book.  I review her new book as well as all her other books below.

About Catriona Hoy

Catriona was born in Dumbarton, which is between Loch Lomond and Glasgow in Scotland. Her family emigrated to Australia when she was 7 years old. She moved house seven times before she was twelve and she went to five different primary schools. She comments, "I got used to being the new kid on the block. I learnt to speak a new language...well sort of. I learnt to go shopping instead of do the messages; to do the vacuuming rather than the hoovering. But I quickly developed an Aussie accent so people would stop asking me to say things in the playground."

She loved reading very early and read anything that she could get her hands on. "I particularly loved myths and legends. I escaped to imaginary places because we moved around a lot and we'd left all of our extended family back in Scotland."

"I always loved reading and writing poetry. Funnily enough, in high school, I ended up doing science rather than English. I thought it would get me a better job. I started off as a lab technician but since I didn't get to talk to anyone all day, I started to worry that I might be a figment of my own imagination. So I became a teacher instead and now I get to talk to people all day."

Catriona is still a part-time secondary science teacher as well as a writer and lives with her husband, two daughters, a pet Labrador and sometimes her husband's other two children.

Her Books

Catriona has written six books since 2006, which is very impressive given that her writing has been very much part-time. Her picture books tell stories of significance that teach as well as share strong narratives. Her love of science shows through frequently in her books and leaves the reader wanting to know just a little more. Below I give a short description of all previous titles and a longer review of her latest book 'George and Ghost' to be released tomorrow.

1.  George and Ghost (2011) illustrated by Cassia Thomas

I love this simple and elegant story.  George and Ghost are friends, but George isn’t sure he believes in Ghost anymore and tells Ghost he needs to leave. Ghost sets out to prove logically to George that he is real? But this doesn't go that well as his logical proofs fail one by one - he weighs nothing, doesn't appear in their photo, can't displace water in a bucket and so on. Ghost leaves. But they miss one another and when Ghost comes back he tries a more philosophical approach to prove his existence.

This is a beautiful story of simple friendship, which 'asks' a number of questions of the reader. With a dash of science and a little philosophy, readers are challenged to ask what might be, not what can't be.

Just as in her last book 'Puggle' Catriona manages to weave scientific concepts into a delightfully simple and engaging narrative.  Cassia Thomas has done a wonderful job with the illustrations that support perfectly this whimsical but thought provoking tale. Children aged 3-6 will love this book.

Teaching activities and notes written by Catriona are available for teachers who might want to use the book (HERE)

2.  Puggle (2009), illustrated by Andrew Plant

This book was motivated by a visit to the home of some wildlife carers and an encounter with a real life orphan echidna.  The book tells the story of a baby echidna named Puggle who is taken to an animal refuge after his mother is hit by a car. The book traces Puggle's slow development from being helpless to being independent. It shows how it learns to suckle, how its body changes, and how it is released into the wild. While the book is in a narrative form it communicates factual information about echidnas and has additional factual information on the end papers.

Teaching activities and notes are available for teachers who might want to use the book (HERE)

3.  Mummies are Amazing (2009), illustrated by Annie White

What are mummies for? Everyone has an opinion, but the narrator concludes that Mummies can do amazing things. They can make a snake out of some stockings, they can make sore feet better with a kiss, and the parties they plan are something else! But while they can do amazing things, sometimes we need to help them feel amazing too.

Mummies are carers, nurturers, nurses, cooks, artists, listeners, clappers, finders of lost things and protectors from monsters in the night. This a wonderful book about the simple things that mummies do that no one else seems to be able to match. Annie White's illustrations do more than simply accompany the story, they add extra things to explore.   A wonderful book for early readers 5 to 7 or for reading aloud. The book is also a parallel story to Catriona's book 'Daddies' that she wrote first. 

Teaching activities and notes are available for teachers who might want to use the book (HERE)

4. Daddies (2008), illustrated by Mal Webster

Everyone has an opinion on what Daddies are for (even Mummies!). They're good at washing dishes, changing lights, playing crazy games and creating fun and mischief. Anything is possible from flying in spaceships, making you walk the plank, rumbling or cuddling. 

This funny little book tells the story of Daddies from a child's perspective.
Mal Webster's watercolour and pastel artwork capture the fun and energy of encounters with Daddy. 

Teaching activities and notes written by Catriona are available for teachers who might want to use the book (HERE)

5. The Music Tree (2006), illustrated by Adele Jaunn

Liam loved to hit things in the garden with a stick. He hit the pot plants, he hit the barbeque, and he hit the garden shed. When he hits the window his mother decides to take action. She hangs an assortment of noisy items in their tree that Liam can hit to his heart’s content.

Then late one hot, sweltering night, the music tree calls to Liam…..

As with many of Catriona's books, this one asks questions of the reader. Might this just be possible? Is there still some magic in the world?

Teaching activities and notes written by Catriona are available for teachers who might want to use the book (HERE)

Award - Children's Book Council of Australia Notable Book in 2007 (Early Childhood).

6. My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day (2006), illustrated by Benjamin Johnson

'My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day' was written by Catriona based on her children's grandfather who fought with the British army in World War II. It tells the story of one family's involvement in this day, but at the same time it is a similar story to that of many families who wake up early on the 25th April each year to remember the fallen of war and to celebrate the mateship of those who survive.

This book is an ideal way to help very young children learn something about Anzac Day. It is a simple, thoughtful and touching tale told through the eyes of a little girl. It explains what happens on the day and its significance for a young child.

I sit on Daddy’s shoulders.
It’s a very long wait.
But my grandad will come.
My grandad marches on Anzac Day.

Sadly, this book is out of print. You may be able to obtain a copy HERE.

Teaching activities and notes are available for teachers and parents HERE

An Interview With Catriona Hoy

Hi Catriona, could you tell the readers of this blog why you wanted to be a writer of children’s books? Was there a special motivation or someone who inspired you to do it?

I've always loved reading and when I was younger, one of my ambitions was to be a writer. However, I ended up choosing science subjects towards the end of high school and sort of went off down that track. I started off as a lab technician, then got into teaching and found I loved it. It wasn't until I'd given birth to my second daughter that I had one of those, 'if you had your life over, what would you be...' conversations with a friend. I said that I'd always wanted to be a writer and she said she'd always wanted to be an artist. Many years later, that friend has completed a diploma in textile arts and I've morphed into a children's writer. It was that particular friend who encouraged me to send something in to a publisher and to stop listening to those voices in my head that said I couldn't do it.

Do you find the writing process difficult? Which aspects of your writing are most challenging?

Oh, it's the jargon, lol! Especially when I first started out, as I didn't have a background in English or writing. My first couple of books were written on gut instinct and I also wrote a lot of very bad stuff that I'm embarrassed to say I actually sent to publishers. I still find that in discussing books I lack confidence, although I'm getting better. I remember early on, someone giving me advice about POV (point of view) and not really being sure what they were talking about. I'm lucky though, that I have a good sense of grammar, which I think came more from studying French than English.

My big challenge to myself is to one day write a novel, although I have a lot of learning to do before I get there.

Your background in science has had an obvious influence on your writing, what other things have helped to shape your writing?

In terms of writing, it's important to write about what you know, to be authentic. So my books are either about my family or things which have interested me along the way.

What is the research process like for the writing of a book like 'Puggle'?

Picture books are so small, it would be easy to think that a lot of research wasn't required but that's not the case. I've always felt that I need absorb as much as I can to make sure that everything is factually correct. Sometimes I'll have a first draft and a skeleton, then I have to go over those initial ideas to see that they are correct. For  My Grandad, I read Les Carlyon's "Gallipoli" amongst other things, obviously at a much higher level than ever needed to be in a picture book. I loved researching Puggle, as it was so interesting. I kept in contact with the wildlife rescuers and was able to follow Puggle's journey as he grew up. At the same time, I also found out as much as I could about echidnas and had to develop a timeline to work out what happened, when.

For 'George and Ghost', I was able to draw on my own knowledge of science and my teaching background, so the actual research process wasn't so involved in that. Having said that, it's probably the one with the most science in it and the most challenging ideas.
Of your 6 books, which one was most satisfying for you and why?

Oh that's hard, it's like someone asking which of your children is your favourite! They are all satisfying in different ways. My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day was my first book but it was also about my father-in-law, who I was very fond of. It was a nice way to say 'we love you,' to him and it's especially poignant as he passed away before it actually came out in shops. It's our family's way of keeping his memory alive. I have another book, Our Gags coming out in April, which is my first 'chapter book. Again, I love that one because it's about my mum and how she helped out with my children. Again, it's a way of saying thanks for all those things she's always done.

'Puggle' was satisfying because Jane Covernton, the editor, made me work really hard on the dialogue and the flow of the story, so I feel I learnt a lot. Daddies was fun because it was about the wild things that Dad's do based on my brother and my own husband.

But of course 'George and Ghost' is my newest baby. I'm so pleased overall with the visual aspects of Cassia's gorgeous illustrations and the overall quality of the finished product. To get the text to hang together was really tricky, as there were some really complex ideas going on there and I didn't want to give kids the wrong idea. 'George and Ghost' is all about the scientific method, the nature of matter and energy, even a bit of philosophy. In fact a minister recently said that it was exactly like trying to prove that God exists...How's that for complex! So I'm hoping this is a book that will be the start of some open-ended conversations about life, the universe and everything...or maybe just how friendship is the most important thing of all.

What has been the most memorable experience in your writing career so far?

Getting invited to the Christmas party for Hodder Books in London...and being too scared at first to talk to anyone! A couple of champagnes helped though. I spent a fortune buying a new red coat that I thought made me look quite dashing and writerly, rather than a suburban mum. Then I had to check it in downstairs at the cloakroom anyway and no-one got to see it!

It was also pretty great being invited up to Townsville because veterans had banded together to buy 'My Grandad' for all the primary schools in the area. It might sound glamorous but a lot of writing is hard work, disappointment and dealing with a new rejection. You have to develop a thick skin and celebrate the successes...and I like celebrating...

What are you reading at the moment?

Well, I've just finished the Tomorrow Series, by John Marsden and now I've moved on to the Ellie Chronicles. I'm fighting my daughter for them...she's in year 8. For my bookclub we're reading Fly Away Peter by David Malouf and The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I've usually got two or three books on the go at once.

Were you taught creative writing in school? Did it help?

I didn't take creative writing although II was exposed to it as part of the English curriculum. I loved writing poetry from an early age and remember a teacher in grade three giving me a special book to write poems in. I wrote particularly bad poetry as all teenagers do and had good and bad experiences with English teachers. I do wish I'd listened a little more on essay structure as I feel I only learnt that when I did Dep Ed. What I have learnt about writing has been self taught, in particular learning the form of a picture book and being able to structure ideas. However, I've also had a great group of writing friends in my on-line writer's group who have helped me to grow as a writer and given lots of moral support.

What advice would you impart to aspiring writers?

Oh the usual...write about what you know, show don't tell. In particular, if you want to write picture books, make sure that you can see clearly at least 16 different images in your head. Sometimes people think they have a picture book, when it is essentially a conversation, which doesn't translate into pictures.

Network and learn as much as you can about the industry. It's also important to be able to take criticism ....your family and friends will always love it but ultimately you need to have a critical 'friend' who you trust...even if you have to pay them.

What has been your favourite response to any of your books?

I love hearing from people who have read my books, it's a great feeling to think, wow, someone other than my friends and family actually like my books! I think the loveliest emails were from people who read 'My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day,' as it seemed to touch so many people. I've had people email me to say that it brought them to tears, so it's nice to know that something that meant a lot to me meant a lot to them too.

Other Links

Catriona Hoy's blog (HERE)

Blog Tour Details

Monday March 7
Claire Saxby:  Let’s Have Words
Topic: Art vs Science

Tuesday March 8
Rebecca Newman: Alphabet Soup Magazine’s Soup Blog
Topic: Does a picture book need editing?

Wednesday March 9
Trevor Cairney : Literacy, Families and Learning
Topic: The Writing Journey

Thursday March 10 (Official Release Day!)
Robyn Opie: Writing Children’s Books With Robyn Opie
Topic: Writing George and Ghost

Friday March 11
Dee White: Kid’s Book Capers : Boomerang Books
Topic: Ghosts…Do You Believe? And…a review!

Saturday March 12
Chris Bell: From Hook To Book
Topic: Picture books: Here and Overseas.

Monday March 14
Lorraine Marwood: Words into Writing
Topic: What’s real anyway?


Catriona Hoy said...

Hi Trevor, what a big job! Thanks for reviewing not only George and Ghost but my other titles as well. I'm glad you liked George and little Ghostie, I'm quite fond of them myself. Just a note...The Music Tree is out of print but there are still some copies available from overseas...I think however, that Daddies is stillin print in paperback.
Many thanks again, Catriona

Karen Tyrrell said...

Congrats Cat and Trevor for this fabulous interview and in depth review of Cat's books
Cat, good luck with your new book.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this great indepth interview, Catriona and Trevor. Lots of keen insights into being a picture book writer and what goes into writing one. Good luck with your gorgeous new book "George and Ghost", Catriona.

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Yes, an excellent interview, Trevor and Cat. Interesting and insightful. All the best for your new book, Cat. :)

Anonymous said...

Great interview and I really enjoyed the reviews of all Catriona's books. Its always interesting to hear how other authors read and write.

Dee White

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for your comments on the post and the book. It's great to be able to profile Catriona's book and work in this way.