We were lucky enough to sit down with Julia Patton to chat about Drat That Fat Cat!, her career trajectory, and the cat—and human—who inspired the story.
Q: How did you become a children’s book author and illustrator?
A: When I was very little my earliest memories were playing ‘Post Office’ underneath my Grandma’s kitchen table. I’d spend hours cutting and sticking making envelopes and stamps to post to my long suffering sister. I always knew my heart lay in being a creative so I followed this pathway through my undergraduate in Textile Design which was very fine art-based. I then spent many years creating greeting cards & wrap for international stores. My interest in children’s picture books was reignited when I began sourcing books for my own small boys. I fell in love with picture books and I knew it was time to go back to big school myself. I swiftly enrolled on the MA Illustration program at Edinburgh University and had my first picture book Unstoppable Max was published a year later.
Q: In Drat That Fat Cat! which came first: the text or the art?
A: Both are intrinsically linked, interwoven at every stage. When writing books I initially create the protagonist in my sketch book, secondly the other characters, and then I create a title, which just has to be a showstopper! Then the story arc grows from there. The funnier the better. I find humour and picture books perfect partners. I wrote Drat That Fat Cat! over five years ago and showed it to my editor and art director at The International Children’s Book Fair in Bologna last year. The silly end papers had us all howling with laughter. We worked together collaboratively to strengthen the story and its publication date is this October.
Q: Do you have a cat? What would you do if one was left on your doorstep?
A: I’ve had one very fat, stray cat arrive at my doorstep a few years ago, covered in fleas, wriggling with worms and creating the most horrid smells. We loved her. The idea of the highly contrasting Cornelius Van Ploof’s character in Drat That Fat Cat! comes from my beloved father. He loves order, with everything being very neat and tidy. I knew putting him and a flea-bitten, smelly cat together would drive him utterly bonkers! He’s yet to see the book. I may be in trouble!
Q: What is your favorite medium to work with?
A: With an undergraduate in textiles I’m instinctively drawn to creating beautiful aesthetics and tactile surfaces and with my new found love of illustration the two are now inseparable. I love collage and incorporate it into picture books whenever I can. I believe the multi-media approach to my illustrations make them easily identifiable from other’s work.
Q: What was the process of working with your editor and art director like?
A: Albert Whitman and I are on our third book together and Jordan Kost has been my art director on all of the projects. She is an incredibly talented creative to work with, professional, hard-working and we’ve developed a very close and hilarious friendship which moulds our books. She is the magical glue. I’d be lost without her encouragement, support and humour.
Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?
A: The routine is work, work, work. Seven days a week, lots of late nights, until it’s finally done. The best books happen when you listen carefully taking everyone’s advice from art directors, editors and publishers. Then take a breath and begin the next project.
This quote is exactly how I feel: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. —Confucius
Q: Are you working on any other projects?
A: I write continuously and have approximately 6-10 books in various states of completion that I visit and rework at different times. I have been very fortunate to have been commissioned three of my new titles recently that I’m going to be working on over the next year. It’s going to be a very busy but exciting time. I have also recently written a story called Charlie & Pip inspired by a non-verbal child we know as family friend. It’s a story about a child not engaging in the outside world or communicating with anyone, until she meets Pip. He becomes her voice, her emotional buffer, showing her how to interact with others. This is a book for anyone struggling to find their voice, whether it’s a language barrier, anxiety or self-confidence problems. I think it’s a special book with a story that needs to be told. I’m very proud of it.
I believe my responsibility and role as an author and illustrator is to illuminate words, suggest the magical and interpret the unspoken.
Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?
A: I was obsessed with any book by Richard Scarry because of all the funny details I could find, this was later replaced by Heath Robinson with his hypnotic contraptions and fabulous inventions. I adored, and still do, Dr. Seuss’s wonderful books. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? is a favourite of mine. Now I read every picture book I can get my hands on. I’m initially attracted to the artwork but love deconstructing the narrative. Some of my favourite illustrators include Quentin Blake, Barroux, Dan Santat, and Oliver Jeffers.
Q: Any last words?
A: I love my job.