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Interview: Susannah Whaley and Hayley Elliott-Kernot talk about Tatty Catty

Susannah Whaley and Hayley Elliott-Kernot talk to NZ Booklovers about their debut children's picture book, Tatty Catty.


What inspired you to write Tatty Catty?

My cat Turtle inspired me to write Tatty Catty. She died a couple of years ago. Tatty Catty's mix of tattiness and elegance (her full name is Tatiana like the Russian princess) comes from her.

Turtle came from a rather ‘tatty’ background – abandoned in the park behind our house, but she was very dainty. So Turtle inspired me to create Tatty Catty – a cat who goes on a wonderful adventure and has this ‘other’ life, but who at the end of the day returns home to be safe and warm. The crooked tail was borrowed from my old flatmate’s cat.

What research was involved?

Not a lot, to be honest, but I did spend time looking at other children’s book characters to see what made them special.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

It was a totally new experience for me to see the pictures in my head come to life on the page – and Hayley made them a million times better than my imagination. It made me come back to the story and revise here and there. I realised there were things that I could leave unsaid because the pictures said them really well – because of this, we dropped a few verses as we went on.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

I really love rhyming. I used to get told off for rhyming when I wrote things at school because it was seen as boring and traditional. Most children’s book blogs also advise against it – it’s too cliché and you are likely to do it wrong. But rhyme is a guilty pleasure I keep coming back to. The best thing though was getting to work with Hayley, my best friend whose drawings and paintings I really admire.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I love fairy tales and I am really enjoying reading Angela Carter’s Fairy Tales which I found at the secondhand store where I work. But I am a big re-reader and loved rereading VM Jones’s The Serpents of Arakesh and Margaret Mahy’s A Lion in the Meadow (children and young adult books are my favourite).

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Lots of smiles all round, but the celebration is not over yet… I am still planning on making a very scrummy cake.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Hayley and I are planning another project together. I’m excited to discover and learn more about how to be a good writer.

Will we see Tatty Catty in another book?

I hope so!


What inspired you to illustrate this book?

During lockdown, Susannah sent me a story she had written. She had originally sent it to entertain me as I had no TV and limited internet access; however, I loved Tatty Catty so much that I asked if I could illustrate it.

What research was involved?

I am fairly new to digital illustration so I learnt a great deal about Photoshop during the process. Every picture also required research and reference photos as I needed to draw pirate ships, octopus, baboons etc – all things I had never drawn before. It certainly challenged me and forced me to work on subjects beyond my comfort zone.

How did you collaborate with Susannah on this book?

It was wonderful collaborating with Susannah. We have a very equal working relationship which I appreciate. We offer suggestions, ideas and changes but we also allow each other a great deal of freedom to let our creativity flow in its own natural way. I work rather scatteredly whereas Susuannah pays attention to detail which fits well together.

What was your routine or process when illustrating this book?

I constantly change my routine when working on illustrations or a body of work. This is the only way I can keep focused. Sometimes I would sketch on paper first and at other times I would sketch digitally, or I would do several illustrations at the same time and then change my process to complete an entire illustration before I moved onto the next. I also change my hours. Some days I would get up in the early morning to work and others I would stay up late at night.

What did you enjoy the most about illustrating Tatty Catty?

I loved being able to focus just on the illustrations, not the editing, not the planning, just solely on the artwork and layout. It enabled me to concentrate on one area rather than many and missing important details. I also got to draw mermaids and cats, two wonderful things.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I began thinking about the next book!

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Nordic Tales, published by Chronicle Books - I love folklore and mythology and the book has been illustrated by a Scandinavian artist, Ulla Thynell, who creates magical illustrations.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Susannah and I are in the planning stages of another book. I'm excited to work together again.


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