Catherine Cooper always said she’d write when she retired from teaching. Little did she know that retirement would come early, leading to her bestselling series for children and the chance to be back in the school environment she loves.
Yes, today we celebrate as ‘The Golden Acorn,’ the first in the Jack Brenin Series, is recommended by The National Literacy Trust as a shared and guided reading resource for children aged 7-11 years old.
So what makes Catherine’s books so popular in schools? They're set in the depths of Shropshire and bursting with cross curricular links. Catherine goes on to explain,
‘All the historical facts are searchable… in book one, Viroconium is used. This was once the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, now called Wroxeter… The Raven’s Bowl is an ancient hill fort, part of a local legend on the summit of The Wrekin [known to Jack Brenin fans as Glasruhen Hill, meaning ancient green hill], and Falconrock is a real place called Hawkstone Park. Brion Ridge is an anagram of Ironbridge, and Newton Gill is an anagram of Wellington… I enjoy playing with words.’
Catherine, who describes the books as “for anyone who’s young at heart, enjoys a bit of magic in their life, and has a sense of humour,” could not be more delighted with the news.
So we asked her, where did it all begin?
Catherine was unfortunately forced to end a happy 29 year teaching career in 2006, when she found out the devastating news that she was suffering from a degenerative bone disease and six months later, aggressive breast cancer. Unable to return to the profession she loved, and unable to do much at all, Catherine occupied herself planning the Jack Brenin series.
Armed with a five year plan, Catherine self-published the first and second books in the series; ‘The Golden Acorn - The Adventures of Jack Brenin,’ (2009) and ‘Glasruhen Gate’ (2010) under her own publishing house Pengridion Books, selling an impressive 1000 copies of ‘The Golden Acorn’ in the first six months.
Self-publishing, sometimes referred to as ‘the kiss-of-death’ for authors, was a highly successful move for Catherine and in 2010 she won the Brit Writers Best Story for Children and the overall award of Brit Writer of the Year, which brought with it a £10,000 prize and a publishing contract. Books one and two were redesigned and re-published by Infinite Ideas, and books three, four and five in the series followed swiftly.
Catherine is also excited to confirm that she has signed a Hollywood contract for the movie rights to 'The Golden Acorn'. “I have been told, 'A film isn't a film until you're sat at the premiere,' but I'm keeping everything crossed in the hope that one day I'll get to see my book as a film on the big screen,” she says.
“Now I go back into schools as an author visitor. I'm in the environment I love and feel at home in. I'm in a position to encourage young people to read and hopefully inspire some of them to want to write books of their own. Writing the Jack Brenin books was a life saver for me, in more ways than one. My husband is now retired and co-illustrated some of my books. Our home is no longer our own as we share it with numerous characters, a mountain of props, costumes for school visits, and brown cardboard boxes in every room full of books to be sold at schools and other events. It's been quite a journey!”
The series as a whole, between the US and UK, has had over a thousand ratings on Amazon, with the Golden Acorn receiving more than 500 5* reviews. Reason to celebrate? Absolutely! So please raise a glass of your favourite tipple to celebrate recommended texts for schools, film rights to Hollywood and a best selling, life saving series for children! *terrific round of applause please*
To read more about Catherine, her books and her inspirational story you can visit her website. One of Catherine’s main characters (Camelin) has his own facebook page too. You can't miss him, he's the only raven on Facebook!
Clare Welsh joined SCBWI in Feburary 2013 after her marriage to her lovely husband James was under threat from constant chunterings, questions and reading aloud over the football. She is thoroughly enjoying all that SCBWI has to offer, including helping Tania celebrating SCBWI successes, and is pleased that her marriage is still firmly intact.