“George and Ghost” Catriona Hoy talks Picture Books: Here and Overseas
Today, I’m thrilled to have delightful author Catriona Hoy stop by on her blog tour and tell us all about her brand new picture book George and Ghost.
Catriona has published several picture books including: My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day, The Music Tree, both the Daddies and Mummies are Amazing titles and the gorgeous Puggle.
Lucky UK readers have been able to purchase George and Ghost since its UK launch in November. So we’re thrilled to see it here in Australia, and to have Catriona back with us after over two years living in the United Kingdom. She’s both a talented author and secondary school science teacher, the ideal author to write this blend of story, science and philosophy.
Publisher: Hodder (UK) Hachette (Aust) Illustrator: Cassia Thomas
Welcome, Catriona. Thank you for popping in to visit. I’m honoured to have you as my very first blog guest.
Hi Chris, thanks so much for taking part in my blog tour.
George and Ghost is a delightful new picture book focusing on friendship, and also incorporating aspects of science and philosophy. A big call in a picture book with few words. How do you introduce science and philosophy concepts simply to such young readers?
I would never have attempted it if I didn’t have a science background. At times I’ve felt I’ve bitten off more than I could chew as I really didn’t want someone to point at the book and say, ‘what a goose, she’s got that wrong.’ I didn’t set out to do the philosophy bit but quickly realised that I’d opened a real can of worms. I’ve tried to leave that can of worms open. It all comes down to ‘what is real anyway…’ And I’m going to tackle that in the last day of the blog tour. Ha Ha, Descartes I am not. It’ll be the suburban mum’s guide to reality, school lunch making and embarrassing your children.
I believe you wrote the story while you were living in England, Catriona. Do you think it would have been a different story if it was written in Australia?
My ideas for stories are usually a reflection of what’s happening in my life. I wrote my first book, The Music Tree, (which came out after my second book, lol) about a friend and her son. My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day, was about my father-in-law and came about because I wanted to show my pre-school aged daughter what Anzac Day was about…and I couldn’t find a book on the shelves to do so.
So, if I wasn’t living in England, surrounded by ghosties and ghoulies and visiting great places like Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh and New Grange in Ireland, the story might never have popped in to my head. It’s not so much the being in a foreign country as influencing the book as it being my inspiration.
Was there much difference in the publication process between the two countries?
I was really keen to get a contract with a UK publisher…overseas markets seem to be the catch cry in Australia. I expected that with a higher population and market, that its print runs etc would be larger. However, they seem to be pretty much the same. Over there I was a new author, with a small print run. So for me, publishing in the UK was like starting over again. I think we still have a relatively healthy picture book market in Australia compared to some other countries, especially if books appeal to the school market.
Are there any taboos for the English picture book market compared to Australia?
I don’t really have enough experience of the English picture book market to make that kind of comment. I’m much more conscious of taboos for the US market. It depends more on what an individual publisher is looking for. Sometimes an Australian author can have an edgier voice.
Do you consciously have an audience in mind when writing your picture books?
I generally start with an idea and begin writing. However, at the back of my mind is always the market…has this been done before, can I sell the idea to a publisher, can I see it being used in schools? The story writes itself but as it comes along, that other analytical part of my brain is looking at it from the outside in, whereas I write it from the inside out, if that makes sense?
The gorgeous illustrations by Cassia Thomas feature many details not mentioned in the text. These give lots of extra opportunities for discussion. How do you write a picture book text and leave scope for the illustrator?
I guess it’s the old adage, ‘show don’t tell.’ That’s one of the mistakes that people make when attempting to write a picture book. The illustrations tell their own story too. When I write a picture book, I make sure that I have at least 16 different images in my head. When I’m looking at first roughs of illustrations, I’m looking to see whether the character looks right and whether it has the right ‘feel.’
After that, I’m looking for that extra dimension that an illustrator can add. A couple of times I’ve had to say no, usually because there wasn’t the right ‘fit.’ A picture book is a real partnership and it’s wonderful when a good illustrator does bring in that added dimension and surprise me. It’s not so much a case of me making room, but the illustrator being a co-creator in their own right and making their own contribution to the finished product.
With older primary age children, girls tend to read both boy and girl characters, while boys tend to only read boy characters. Do think that the gender of characters influences reading enjoyment in younger picture book age children? Should it influence the parent or book buyer when choosing a book for younger children?
Ooh, that’s a hard one. Both The Music Tree and George and Ghost had male characters. I don’t think it should influence the book buyer, I think you should be looking for a good story. Having said that, some are more obviously targeted towards one or the other. My girls loved A Proper Little Lady, by Nette Hilton. I wouldn’t buy that book for a boy though! My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day, has a little girl as the main character (my oldest daughter) but I’ve never thought of that as a particularly girly book. I guess my answer would be …just choose a good book!
Ghosts and the supernatural can be quite controversial subjects. Why did you choose Ghost as the best non-human character to befriend George?
Yes, I didn’t realise that it would be controversial in that way! I was more worried being inaccurate rather than offending religious sensibilities. As to choosing the character to befriend George, it didn’t happen that way. It was me wondering, as a kid in my head, how much a ghost would weigh. So it couldn’t have been George and Ghost without….Ghost!
Thanks for having me over to visit Chris, it’s been lovely talking to you.
Thank you so much for visiting, Cat, and for sharing about the writing and publishing of your stunning new book. I’m sure George and Ghost will captivate children as much through the delightful story of friendship, as the scientific experiments. Best wishes for the rest of your blog tour.
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?