Q & A with Cathie Whitmore

Why did you decide to write your book?

Writing a children’s story had never entered my head, until I was asked by a friend’s daughter; a university student studying teaching, to write a children’s story for her to market as an assignment. Consequently, my fascination for pig ornaments, collected over many years, made a pig my obvious character choice for my very first children’s story. With a vague idea of a story plot, I began to type. Some hours later, Hammie goes to School was on paper. I have no idea where it came from; once I started, I just couldn’t stop. A whole new world had opened for me, as one by one the stories continued to emerge over the following eight weeks, until I had written ten stories about this adorable little piglet named Hammie. These stories became part of a series titled The Adventures of Hammie.

Who/what inspired you to write?

My friend’s daughter was responsible for me discovering that I could write for children, so I guess it was Gemma who gave me the inspiration initially. However, having five grandchildren at the time gave me the inspiration I needed to continue writing, not only for them, but for children everywhere to enjoy.

What was the most rewarding part of the writing process?

The most rewarding part of the writing process for me is the look on the faces of young children at school and library visits and the interesting and funny little questions they love to ask. The smiling gorgeous little animated faces of children eagerly holding up their hands, waiting to be chosen to ask the next question, just melts me. I have even had a cluster of five-year-olds swarm around my legs and cuddle me when I finished the reading. That is a really special feeling. Also, I have to admit, holding my book for the first time, my words staring back at me, surrounded by beautiful glossy illustrations, is a most surreal feeling, words cannot describe. My work left my hands as mere words on a compact disc and returned to me as an artwork for children I will cherish forever. Hammie Goes to School holds a special place in my heart, being my first story, awakening a passion within me I never knew existed.

What are your top tips for writing a book?

If writing is no effort and a pleasure rather than a chore, then I believe let your imagination do the rest and just let it happen. I never have trouble writing, it’s stopping that seems to be my problem. Once I have a story plot in my head, I am obsessed, thinking of nothing else until I have my story on paper. That normally takes about 3–4 hours for the initial draft and then of course, I go back and elaborate on my ideas over the next couple of weeks, as the ideas pop into my head. During this obsessive phase, I often jump out of bed in the middle of the night, creeping around so I don’t wake my husband, as I busily jot down ideas that are running rampant through my brain, preventing me from sleeping. In my waking hours, my brain works overtime, at times out of touch with reality, as I function in my own little world of rhyme and rhythm, making line after line of my story, come together. From here on in, it is out of my control, as I cannot stop until I have satisfied my most critical critic…ME and that nagging bitch in my head I call Goldilocks… the obsessive one who cannot relax until the story is just right.

Which books/authors have inspired you?

I love EB White (Charlotte’s Web) as this story changed my way of thinking on how, in my opinion, a story should be written. I originally wrote Hammie Goes to School in the third person, then after reading Charlotte’s Web I realised that letting the characters tell the story, as well as writing from the third person, gave it more depth and the reader more connection with each character, as they told the story in their own words.

Why did you decide to self publish?

As a children’s writer, with many a story to tell, I never really went down the road of sending manuscripts anywhere and everywhere, with a view to publication. A consultation with a very honest and reputable manuscript consultant a few years ago left me feeling proud of my work, but opened my eyes to the difficulties associated with finding a mainstream publisher. It was quoted to me, by a reliable source, that only one in 30,000 manuscripts is accepted by well-known publishing houses. Driven by passionate determination and the encouragement of friends, my husband Phil and I self published our first book Twinkle the Christmas Star in June 2009. Since then Twinkle has been sold in over 150 stores around the country. Atom Children’s Books released our second title Hammie Goes to School in July 2011 and the third title Long Legs Daddy in June 2012. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to place self-published titles in book stores, as even though books are taken on a consignment basis, with an option for sale or return, they take up valuable shelf space, which is mostly reserved for well-known authors and titles. On the other hand, I am continually encouraged by store owners and managers who will not dismiss the work of a self-published author and take the time to see what they have to offer. Thankfully, many of these people love my work and support me totally. Word of mouth is also a great selling tool and I thank all of you out there who are slowly making things happen for me.

What do you hope your readers get out of your book?

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I love to read Christmas stories to my grandchildren. My old childhood favourite has always been The Night Before Christmas. I will never forget the way that story made me feel as a child. All the wonder and magic of Christmas portrayed through this story left me feeling warm and fuzzy and filled with excitement as I counted down the days to Christmas. This wonderful story was my inspiration to write my own beautiful Christmas story, Twinkle the Christmas Star, as I wanted my grandchildren to share the joy I had experienced as a child. There are many Christmas stories on the market today, but until now, none in my eyes have come close to The Night Before Christmas. Twinkle the Christmas Star could be the book to change all that. It has been said, that Twinkle might very well be the modern day Night Before Christmas, bringing to children that old-fashioned magical feeling and anticipation of Christmas. Told by Ollie the Owl on Christmas Eve, Twinkle is a beautiful story, with gorgeous illustrations. Join Ollie and Twinkle in this magical Christmas journey, as Twinkle has Christmas dinner with Santa and Mrs Claus and of course those hard-working elves. Everyone does their bit to make this wonderful story come together and children will love to see the nine exhausted reindeer sleeping in the snow. What a great job they have done! This is a Christmas story to be enjoyed by the whole family and to be treasured for many years to come.

Would you consider writing another book?

I have written 17 stories to date and hope one day to be able to publish them all.

Do you have any other tips for new authors (i.e. book launch, research, marketing, etc.)?

I find self-publishing the easy part, but marketing is another story and I am yet to find a way to reach the masses with my work. I have had two book launches, one for Twinkle in November 2009 which I was privileged to be invited to share with international author Peter Watt and also another launch for Long Legs Daddy in June 2012. On both occasions, I received overwhelming support and encouragement from the public, but I find I still need to keep putting myself out there at markets and fairs, etc. in order to keep the ball rolling. Unless an author keeps the momentum going, people forget and I am told the only way is to keep at it through social media like Facebook and Twitter.