Interview: Kat Merewether talks about Flit the Fantail and the Flying Flop
Flit's first flight is a flippy, floppy fail. But Flit's friends have a clever plan! Can they get him safely back to his nest? The first in a gorgeous new series! Kat Merewether talks to NZ Booklovers about her new children's book.
Tell us a little about Flit the Fantail and the Flying Flop
Flit is an adorable wee fantail chick who is a little too adventurous for his own good. He attempts his first flight, against the advice of his parents, and ends up on the forest floor. His friends lend a hand to help get him back to his nest before his parents get home, but it doesn’t go exactly to plan.
What inspired you to write and illustrate this book?
I had been working with Scholastic on the illustrations for the book Tāwhirimatea when they asked if I would like to write a series for them. I went for a bush walk on our local maunga and a playful fantail followed our little whānau as we were walking. I started to build the character in my mind. Fantails are one of my favourite birds. I had drawn a few of them for an exhibition of 365 tiny drawings that I had the year before, and I noticed that they were the favourite among many New Zealanders too. Such cheeky and friendly birds.
Was there any research involved?
As many bush walks and fantail spotting expeditions as I could squeeze in, he he.
For Flit, I wanted him to be almost fledgling age, so I researched photos that had been taken of chicks in the nest, and with their parents to work out size and the nest style. I talked to a colleague about the fantail’s place in Māori mythology, as a messenger bringing news of someone’s passing. I also discovered during my research, that fantails are one of the most common and widely distributed native birds in New Zealand.
What was your routine or process when writing and illustrating this book?
This was a project that came together in the most awesome and collaborative way. I typically work on the storyline and illustration plan simultaneously. While I am thinking of the plot, or writing it, the pictures start to form in my mind. After many discussions with Lynette from Scholastic around the overall feel of the book, I created a draft character plan, storyline and illustration storyboard to present to Scholastic. The Scholastic publishing team there are fantastic, and it is a truly a collective editorial effort. Once the storyline has been finalised, it gets to my favourite, but also the most time consuming part — the illustrations.
For this project, I developed a slightly different illustration style to what I have created in the past. For every new series I try to give it a look and feel all of its own. That way, when people see the cover they recognise it as my work, but it also fits nicely into its own family of work.
What did you enjoy the most about writing and illustrating this book?
My favourite part was the collaboration. I mostly write and illustrate books that I publish under my own imprint, so I really appreciate the expertise shared when working with a team. I also really enjoyed the character development, Flit is a lot like my youngest daughter Florence. Full of energy and wonderment, but cute and clumsy as!
What would you like readers to take away from reading this book?
It has a message about working together to get the job done/ many hands make light work… which is ironic, after talking about our collaborative effort to create the book. I had never noticed the parallel before now.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
My usual celebration consists of a block of chocolate and a much needed hand massage from the husband.
Can you tell us a little about your work with Kiwis for kiwi?
I teamed up with Kiwis for kiwi in 2014 to raise funds for kiwi conservation through the sale of my Kuwi the Kiwi series of books and merchandise. I donate 20 cents from every Kuwi the Kiwi book or product sold, and have raised over $25,000 for Kiwis for kiwi to date. As part of my mahi as an ambassador for Kiwis for kiwi, I travel to primary and pre-schools to share the kiwi conservation message with our younger generations. Through readings, illustration workshops and drawing demonstrations my aim is to inspire them to take an interest in our natural environment and to build within them the desire to protect it. Especially our awesomely unusual and vulnerable kiwi.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I am an illustration junkie, so my favourite has been The World of Moominvalley, about the life and works of Tove Jansson. She is a huge inspiration to me.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I am working on the second book in the Flit the Fantail series which with be released next year. I can’t give too much away about that yet though, except that I am really loving working on it. I am also adding finishing touches to the next Kuwi the Kiwi adventure, which will be released for Save Kiwi Month in October this year. I have recently been to Hong Kong to meet a couple of our manufacturers which was incredible. We are lucky to be working with some very innovative businesses over there. For future adventures, my book Kiwicorn has been picked up by a UK publisher, so I am planning a trip there next year to attend the London and Bologna book fairs. As well as writing and illustrating, I also run a small educational resource design company with two fantastic staff. Busy in the best ways.