Welcome to this virtual landscape where debut authors get to take us along ancient streets, deserted beaches and dark forests, showing us what inspired them, pointing out the crossroads and obstacles and describing the next steps for their writing careers.


This month we are stepping out with author Catherine Ward whose debut, The Emerald Forest is out in February 2023.


Let’s begin our journey...


There’s nothing like a good walk to fuel creative ideas and give us inspiration in our writing. Where are you taking us on our walk today?


Between two houses on an ordinary suburban street in the village where I live, there’s an alleyway. If you weren’t looking for it, you might miss it. But at the other end of that alleyway is a place which feels like another world. Like you have entered Narnia.


In the woods the air is cooler. The breeze blows amongst the branches, rustling the leaves. Birds call. Choose a path and weave your way amongst the trees. Will you wander down to the stream today? Or clamber over logs, taking a less trodden route? Dappled sunlight kisses your cheeks as a buzzard sweeps by. Stand still and listen. Watch. Here you breathe more slowly, losing yourself in nature.


Plot holes are sorted. New ideas form. Word choices become clear. Characters take shape. Inspiration in the woods is everywhere!

What about the landscape you have created in your novel? How important is the setting to your plot and themes?


The Emerald Forest is set in the rainforests of Sumatra. As a narrative non-fiction picture book, it was important to capture the essence of this incredible place in the story, to give children a sense of how amazing rainforests and orangutans are. I also wanted children to understand how important it is that we save orangutans and what is left of the rainforests. Karin Littlewood’s illustrations are stunning. Her artwork blew me away from the very first time I saw it. She has created a real feast for the eyes and I feel so incredibly lucky to have been paired with her. I really hope children will turn the pages in this book and go ‘Wow!’

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one. Tell us about your inspiration for your novel.


The natural world features heavily in my writing. I’m always on the lookout for stories about nature which will help children learn about and grow to love the world we live in. I had known for a while that I wanted to write about orangutans and had been researching them. A lot of what I read made me feel so sad about their plight and the loss of their habitat. Then one day, I came across a wonderful, hopeful article about work being done by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and The Orangutan Project to try and save one of the last remaining swathes of rainforest in Sumatra. I knew this was the story to tell to give children hope for the future and to show them that there are amazing conservationists out there doing all they can to protect what is left of the natural world.


Now we have got into our stride, can you tell us what you loved most about writing this book?


It was the research. Learning about orangutan mothers and their dedication to raising their young. They are just the most incredible creatures! There is something so human about how they behave and the level of care they give their young. It’s impossible not to be moved by their relationship. Then, with pages and pages of notes at the ready, I loved the challenge of capturing their story in just a few words.


We seem to be lost in the woods now. Can you describe your most difficult moments when you were writing …, and how you got back onto the right path?


Writing a picture book about the plight of orangutans felt like quite a responsibility. I wanted to tell the story in the right way. To tell children the truth but to give them hope. My very first attempt was too bleak. And I knew it wasn’t working. It sat in my draw for around six months, while I subconsciously let my brain process all the information I had researched. And then one day, I came across the article about the project in Sumatra, and I sat down feeling I finally knew how to tell the story.


One of my writing friends, Emily Ann Davison, saw a very early draft, once I took it back out of the draw and rewrote it. When she sent me her comments, she gave me a real confidence boost that this was a story to pursue. And that was how I got on the right track with finishing the story. Feedback from critique partners that you trust is, for me, the bedrock of this writing journey. When you are lost with what to do with a story, their fresh eyes and different perspective are like gold dust!


As we reach the summit, can you tell us how it feels to be a first time author?


If someone asks me what I do, I say ‘I write for children’. I’ve still not quite learnt to say, ‘I’m an author’. I’ve always loved books and reading but never thought I’d become an author myself, not even when I studied English Literature as part of my A levels. During my years working in schools, I spent a lot of time reading with children and working in the library, but even then, it never occurred to me that I might one day have a book with my name on it. So the day my advance copy of The Emerald Forest arrived was joyful and yet somehow ‘out of body’, like it was happening to someone else. I will be forever grateful to Janetta Otter Barry at Otter Barry Books for seeing potential in me and for believing in this story. The team at Otter Barry Books have been amazing. I’d also particularly like to thank Tatti, who has been helping find ways for us to promote this book. She has been working so hard and finding some amazing opportunities for us to spread the word about The Emerald Forest.


We’ve finished our walk and now so I think we deserve to celebrate with tea in a cosy inn. As we warm our feet by the blazing fire, tell me where you think your writing will take you in the future?


I am always writing something. Often several things at the same time, which will be at different stages of development. Be that researching a new idea, trying a new style of writing or editing a story that I’ve been working on for a while. My agent is just about to send out some more texts on submission. So I will be back to trying not to hit ‘refresh’ on my emails every five minutes! And aside from writing, I am now enjoying the opportunity to talk to schools and libraries about doing author visits. I have my very first library visit coming up a couple of days after publication and I am looking forward to visiting a school in Leicester for World Book Day!

Finally, I have really enjoyed walking and talking with you today. Can you give us one take away tip for yet-to-be-published writers?


Gosh, I have learnt so much on this road to publication and I am still learning lots, with each new stage of the process. If I can only pick one tip, it would be to have patience. I wrote my very first draft for The Emerald Forest on 5th November 2018. And it publishes on 16th February 2023.


There is so much in this process that is beyond your own control but there are elements which you CAN control. So, be kind to yourself and have patience with yourself. Don’t rush the researching, idea gathering, writing and editing stages. Sometimes these happen quite quickly. Sometimes they can take a long time. Some stories really need that time for life to be breathed into them. Allow yourself the space to let that happen. And if the words aren’t flowing and panic is rising, remember this – it’s just a phase. It doesn’t mean you’ll never write again, I promise. Actually, that’s several tips all wrapped up in one.

*Header illustration by Imogen Foxell




Catherine Ward lives with her family in the Midlands. Most days she can be found writing in her study, surrounded by piles of picture books. In 2008, Catherine quit corporate life to work in primary schools, thriving in a classroom or assembly hall full of children, especially when given the opportunity to talk about books. Her inner child eventually shouted loud enough to see her start writing picture books and she joined the SCBWI in 2017. She graduated from The Golden Egg Academy in 2019, gaining representation with Lucy Irvine at PFD Literary Agency. Her debut picture book, The Emerald Forest, illustrated by Karin Littlewood, publishes with Otter Barry Books on 16th February this year.


Imogen Foxell is an illustrator with a particular interest in creating intricate imaginary worlds. She illustrates English literature revision cards for, and interesting words for Her website is Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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