Q&A WITH JULIA PATTON

Cornelius was not expecting a cat to be left on his doorstep in Drat That Fat Cat! by author-illustrator Julia Patton.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Q: Any last words?

A: I love my job.

Thanks, Julia! Fall in love with Cornelius and his fat cat, and check out the book on our website. Find out more about Julia on her website, and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter.

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Q&A WITH JULIA PATTON

5 ways to celebrate Halloween

Lori Houran boys Halloween
Indiana Jones and Mutt, pre-perspiration

I grew up in Maine, where trick-or-treating was often a frosty affair. My mom would insist that snow boots looked perfectly fine with Cinderella’s ballgown, and that Frankenstein was still totally scary beneath a puffy down coat. My kids are growing up in South Florida, where I wage the opposite battle. Every October, I pitch costume ideas that involve shorts. “How about a boxer? I can give you a fake black eye! Or a lifeguard. You can wear a whistle!” This never works. Our first year here, my boys dressed as Power Rangers, in full-length polyester suits. They got so hot on the walk home that they stripped down to their underwear. Another year, they were Indiana Jones (cargo pants, long-sleeved shirt) and his greaser son, Mutt (jeans, “leather” jacket). That was an especially sweaty Halloween. (Faux leather does not breathe. AT ALL). This year, the boys plan to be Batman and Robin. Come on….wouldn’t some nice cotton shorts look perfectly fine on the Dynamic Duo?

Lori Haskins Houran, author of How to Spy on A Shark and Next to You (publishing March 2016)


Ian and Sarah Hoffman
Sarah and Ian Hoffman

When Sam was three, “fairy” was the Halloween costume of choice. Many trick-or-treaters mistook Sam for royalty. “What a pretty princess!” they exclaimed. “I’m not a princess,” Sam snarled back. “I’m a fairy!”

The funny thing was, no one considered he might be a boy.

At six, Sam startled us by wanting to be Luke Skywalker. Given that we’d never seen him express interest in a masculine costume, we didn’t know what to think, except that Halloween is a time for experimenting, trying on new identities, or being things we are not.

Each year, pink boys wonder: If I wear the costume I want to, will the kids at school make fun of me? The parents of pink boys wonder: Is this safe? Can—should—we trick-or-treat somewhere where nobody knows us? Of course there’s no “right” answer; each family has to work out on their own what works for their child. If this is your family’s struggle, we recommend a video from The Onion, America’s favorite satirical news outlet: “How To Find A Masculine Halloween Costume For Your Effeminate Son.” It won’t answer your questions, but it will help you laugh about them.

Sarah and Ian Hoffman, authors of Jacob’s New Dress


 

Nancy Sanders Pirate
Nancy dressed up as a pirate.

Dressing up like pirates was always a fun costume choice when our two boys were small. From store-bought accessories to homemade ones, there were so many options. Eye patches, hats, bandanas and more! School parades and trick-or-treating were lots of fun…but the fun didn’t end on the last day of October for us.

Costumes and accessories were added to a laundry basket designated as “dress-up clothes.” Kept right next to all the gadgets and gizmos of childhood, the items in this basket were played with almost more than any other toy we owned. I loved the imaginative play it encouraged. Our kids loved it for all the exciting moments they had.

They’d play “dress-up” and re-enact favorite stories we’d read. They’d pretend to be a pirate or a dinosaur or an astronaut (Yes, we had a dinosaur and astronaut costume, too!) or “fly” around the house wearing a cape made from a large scrap of fabric. Many family memories were made—all from playing “dress-up” the whole year round.

Nancy I. Sanders, author of A Pirate’s Mother Goose


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Laura with her brother John dressed up to go trick-or-treating.

When I think of Halloween, I think of my right ankle. I broke it three times: in first, fourth, and sixth grades, each time right before Halloween, a holiday where ankles really come in handy for trick-or-treating.

The first time my brother John told the neighbors about my injury and they compassionately dispensed sympathy treats. The second time John was with his fifth-grade cronies and didn’t want to seem uncool, soliciting candy for his clumsy kid sister, though some of the neighbors kicked in an extra candy bar. But the third time we had just moved to a new neighborhood where no one knew us and John volunteered nothing, so no one knew of my candy-less plight.

That night John came home to me lying miserably on the sofa and the guilt kicked in. He gave me the candy he didn’t like, basically anything with peanuts. This brings me to my second, happier Halloween memory: Snickers. Years later, when I took my own kids trick-or-treating, I would relive my youth by coaxing them into sharing their Snickers bars, insisting I deserved something for walking with them for hours. I’m happy to report guilt worked, just like it did on John.

Laura Hurwitz, author of Disappear Home


Lori and Linda in costume
Linda & Lori, Linda’s best friend, dressed up to go trick-or-treating.

I turned 15 years old on Oct. 19th. This was the first year I started to feel a little old for Halloween — a favorite holiday for my best friend Lori and I since we shared October birthdays, too. I wrote in my diary at the time that John, a boy I crushed on, went trick-or-treating with us that year. Lori and I always had so much fun making costumes and walking out in our friendly neighborhood to collect candy. Afterwards, to avoid eating TOO much candy at once, we made a game of hiding our wrapped candy in our bedrooms. We’d usually forget where we hid it, making Halloween last a long time.

Linda Joy Singleton, author of The Curious Cat Spy Club series

5 ways to celebrate Halloween

Pirates arrr a comin’ this Halloween

by author Leslie Kimmelman

As a kid, I was obsessed with Halloween. I mean, free candy! Candy was rare in our house. On October 31 every year, I’d amass as much of it as possible, come back to the house for the sister swap (I had three sisters, we each had different preferences, and usually at least one of us had braces that made some candies taboo), and then put my final collection in a shoe box. Showing willpower that I only wish I still had today, I strictly rationed my stash so that it lasted as long as possible. My record was the year I stretched it until Valentine’s Day.

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It’s actually amazing that it’s taken me so long in my writing life to get to Halloween—but I’m happy with the result. The title of my picture book, Trick Arrr Treat, came first, and then I just went with it. Pirates were a big deal to my son when he was little. When we went to the beach, we’d bring along his pirate hat and a pirate flag, and we’d bury some kind of treasure for him to dig up.

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My two favorite Halloween picture books are That Terrible Halloween Night by the talented and hilarious James Stevenson, and A Halloween Mask for Monster by Virginia Mueller, ill. by Lynn Munsinger.

My books almost always end up with a dog or two in them—this time, the dog plot was one of several ideas my editor came up with, and it seemed like a natural fit. I especially had fun coming up with the characters’ names; I think everyone should have a pirate name! What’s yours?

Pirates arrr a comin’ this Halloween