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Interview: Kathryn van Beek talks about Bruce Finds a Home

Kathryn van Beek has completed a Master’s degree at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters and the Fiction Writing Course at The Creative Hub. Her short stories have appeared in Headland, Hue and Cry, Pot Roast and Aerodrome, and she won the 2015 Headland Prize for her short story Frangipani. She has also published several zines, and won 'Best of the Fest' at Auckland Zinefest 2015 for a zine that featured her original artwork. Kathryn's articles and essays have appeared in The Spinoff and The Sunday Star Times. She is also an award-winning playwright. She talks to NZ Booklovers about Bruce Finds a Home.

Tell us a little about Bruce Finds a Home.

It’s an illustrated children’s book about a little girl who discovers a new-born kitten on her way home from school. The nemesis in the story is the family cat, Liquorice Twist.

What inspired you to write this book?

I found a very mouse-like cat on the ground one day. I took him home, bottle-fed him around the clock to keep him alive and documented his story on Facebook … where he now has 38,000 followers. I’m primarily a short story writer, but it seemed to me that Bruce’s followers might enjoy his story in children’s book form. And so I began a very interesting experiment!

What was your routine or process when writing and illustrating this book?

Everything took longer than I thought it would, but the illustrations took the longest. My routine was to draw, draw, draw in evenings and weekends for several months. When I write I work in silence, so I appreciated being able to listen to music and podcasts while I drew. I listened to every This American Life podcast episode while I illustrated the book.

What do you hope children will take from the book when they read it?

There’s a page at the back of the book with a photo of Bruce when he was a kitten and an overview of his survival story. Between the picture book and Bruce’s true story, I hope children will learn that hope can triumph over adversity, that animals are worth caring for … and that you never know what you might find on the ground!

What did you enjoy the most about writing this delightful picture book?

I developed a special relationship with Port Chalmers School. At the beginning of last year I took the story in and read it to the new entrants. At that stage it was just a few sketches on some scraps of paper. At the end of the year I returned and read the finished book to them. It was a surprisingly emotional experience, and I had to get the kids to pretend to ‘hiss’ like cats really loudly to make me laugh so I didn’t cry.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I ran the crowdfunding campaign and finished the illustrations at around the same time. When that was over I binge-watched Ru Paul’s Drag Race for a weekend while I recovered! I think the real celebrations will be at the book launch events in Auckland in Dunedin, where I hope to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

What do you imagine the real life Bruce the cat thinks of the book?

Bruce is in his teenage years now, so he probably wishes it was a little more YA.

What is the favourite book you have read recently and why?

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, The Witch in the Cherry Tree, Little Beauty and the Tiger who Came to Tea have all provided illustration inspiration.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’d love to write another children’s book sometime. But in the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting back to short stories again.


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