Welcome to Justin’s Debut-Dance Ball, a virtual party to celebrate SCBWI-BI members’ debut publications. This month, Justin welcomes Catherine Pickles to his ball, and invites her to take a turn on the dance floor, whilst he asks the questions only a newly-published children’s writer can answer!

Photo credit: Jamie Morgan – Hound Dog Photography
Catherine, welcome to the party. I’m glad to see your dog Worzel could make it too. There’s a bowl of water for him by the bar, and here’s some champagne for you!

Thank you! We’re celebrating! Creating this book has been fantastic and feels like a real achievement.

I hear the band tuning up. Is there a piece of music you like to dance to, or perhaps a song that gets you in the mood for writing? (and if you don’t say “Who Let the Dogs Out?” I’ll be very disappointed).

Please no! Anybody who has lived with children and dogs has said that more than once and then had it sung back at them endlessly. So, it’s not really one of my favourites! Do you know “did you remember to shut the gate?” Or “who let that dog leap on my bed soaking wet with muddy feet?” They’re both huge hits in my family! In general I don’t listen to music when I’m writing because it distracts me from the rhythms I’m making with the words but if this debut-dance ball goes well, perhaps we can take a turn around the floor to Puppy Love by Donny Osmond?

Many congratulations on your debut book for children, Worzel Says Hello! Will You Be My Friend? How excited are you to see your first children’s book?

Squeakingly excited! Getting to this stage hasn’t been easy though. I didn’t want to lose everything of the Worzel style from the adult books, but at the same time I knew his style wouldn’t work for children. I needed a connection to draw them together. Then Worzel started ‘having a go at poem-doing’ and the solution presented itself. Once that happened, this book fell out of me.

You’ve published books for adults before. Did you still celebrate this one?

Oh yes! Although I’m told older children absolutely love reading Worzel’s diaries and I know of many who have been read them as bedtime stories, this is the beginning of a whole new Worzel journey, a new audience and... have you seen the pictures? Who could avoid celebrating Chantal’s beautiful work!

Tell us about your upcoming book launch? Will there be cake?

I hope so! I shall start dropping some very unsubtle hints quite soon. The launch is at Southwold Library on Monday 23rd October at 1pm. Southwold Library is where the whole Worzel journey began so it’s very special to me. When I first started writing as Worzel, I sent the first two chapters to Charlotte Clark, the librarian there. She was the only person I really knew who had a professional interest in books so I asked her to tell me what she thought. Her response: “love it, keep going” is the reason that the first adult book was completed.

Ten seconds to describe Worzel Says Hello! Go!

Worzel says Hello is a simple story with a catchy rhyme that teaches children how to greet dogs safely and make friends. It shows accurate dog body language and has a positive, gentle message about how dogs and children can be friends. The rhyme is a little like the green cross code: something children could say to themselves every time they meet a new dog.

Worzel says hello! will you be my friend? published by Hubble and Hattie 2017

How did this book come about Catherine? Did you always want to write a book about dogs for children?

Worzel has always promoted safe, positive interactions with people in his adult books but I became increasingly aware just how little children are taught about how to interact with dogs nowadays. It seems that parents draw their children away from dogs, avoiding all interaction. Not only does this mean children are missing out but also that they are ill-prepared when they do meet a new dog. With rescue dogs it is even more important for them to be greeted with care and consideration. It’s something I’m really passionate about.

Spread from 'Worzel say hello! will you be my friend?' illustrated by Chantal Bourgonje

Did you approach this project differently from your previous adult titles?

Yes! I worried about it far more! I felt a huge responsibility to produce something that was safe, accurate and clear. The book has been checked by three eminent dog behaviour specialists and of course, working with another person was a new experience for me as well.

The book is illustrated by
Chantal Bourgonje. Tell us a bit about how you collaborated on Worzel Says Hello!

Chantal is amazing and patient and calm and quiet and just about everything I’m not! We spent ages getting illustrated Worzel to look like the real Worzel and discussing how to match the demands of accurate dog body language without destroying the story. Creating something beautiful and accurate was a real challenge. I didn’t want diagrams so it wasn’t easy. I think Chantal has succeeded! Personally, I think it’s a small miracle she didn’t hurl things at me...

Dogs are clearly your passion. Any plans to stretch your wings – or paws – and turn your talent to a different topic?

Yes, very much so. I didn’t really mean to write about Worzel: things were tough at home in 2014 and writing about him was a way of escaping. I couldn’t use my very anxious and tired voice to write so I pretended to be him. I think I’ll always write “funny stuff.” In real life I’m not a natural comedian but on paper it seems to flow. It’s quite annoying though – I never have the punch lines or the witty remark ready in real life.

Thank you, Catherine for joining me at the Debut-Dance Ball. I’m sorry the band ate Worzel’s biscuits.

It’s ok! He can be a bit sniffy about these things anyway. He probably would have turned his nose up at them. He really, really loves cheese so if you have any of that, he’ll be your friend forever.

Worzel Says Hello! Will You Be My Friend? is out now, published by Hubble and Hattie (Veloce)

Follow Catherine: https://www.facebook.com/CatherinePicklesAuthor/ - but she’s not nearly as funny as https://www.facebook.com/pg/WorzeltheLurcher

*'Justin's Debut-Dance Ball' illustration credit: Louisa Glancy

Justin Nevil Davies leads two distinct lives. In one, he flies around the world as cabin crew. In the other, he writes middle grade novels with the aim to make kids laugh. Sometimes, his lives converge. Justin is part of SCBWI South East Scotland.
Follow Justin on Twitter, Instagram, Blog

Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures. Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org Twitter: @Louisa Glancy

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