For this month’s Debut Journeys Mario Ambrosi talks to Kate Abernethy whose The Great Highland Games Chase was published in February 2024 by Floris Books.


Where are you now and where did you write your book?

I live in the New Forest where I moved to a couple of years ago. The last five years or so have felt very transient, relocating from London, trying to find a place to settle. So I haven’t really had that one writing space until recently. This book was written wherever my laptop landed at the time, which was a combination of coffee shops, the kitchen table of my rental and my parents’ study!

What’s it all about? (Your book, that is!)

The Great Highland Games Chase is a picture book which follows the adventures of a puppy – a Scottie dog – who is at her first ever Highland Games, (a traditional summer event held in the Highlands of Scotland). She steals a hat and is chased by an ever-increasing number of grumpy characters whose events at the Games have been disrupted by the dog. It’s full of rhyming, counting and mayhem! There is a lot of action to capture but I was lucky enough to be paired with illustrator Laura Darling, whose drawings bring so much joy and energy to the text.

I am Scottish and as a child I often attended Highland Games in the summertime. It is such a wonderful celebration of many of the unique traditions that give Scotland its distinctive character. The story gives a whirlwind tour of a Highland Games showcasing some of the fun events you will find there. It also has a light message about good manners. 

I’m delighted that my first book is set in Scotland – it means so much to me and I’m proud to shout about it!

Tell us about your route to publication

I have been writing with intent for almost 10 years now, although it doesn’t feel that long! At least half of that time was spent really learning the craft – doing courses, workshops, reading as much as I could, working with fellow writers in critique groups and practising a lot! I knew I was getting somewhere when I won third place in the Winchester Writers’ Festival for a picture book text. Not long after that I met my agent, Clare Wallace of Darley Anderson Children’s Agency, at a 1-2-1 at the SCBWI annual conference. I signed with Clare in 2020 – and Covid came along… 

Needless to say it’s been a tough market and I had a few texts on submission that went nowhere but finally, in 2022, I signed a contract with Floris Books for The Great Highland Games Chase

Summarising the journey like this makes it feel very simple and straightforward but it wasn’t. It required a huge dose resilience, very thick skin and a strong support network of family and fellow writers. If this is what you really want to do, don’t give up!

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I am normally staring at a spreadsheet in my role as an accountant – very different from children’s writing! One of my biggest challenges is permitting myself the time to sit down and write when it doesn’t exactly pay the bills and there are so many other tasks demanding to be done. But I think of it as an investment in my future and I try to treat writing like another day at the office – I put the time in my diary and everything else must wait. Easier said than done but on a good week it works! Living in a national park I also like to go jogging in the forest – it’s great for clearing the head and thinking up new ideas!

What was the biggest bump in the road when it came to getting your book out into the world and how did you overcome it?

With this text the word count was the biggest challenge. Every spread repeats the list of characters chasing the dog – similar to The Elephant and the Bad Baby – and it grows longer and longer as there is a counting element involved:

‘One hat-loving lady,

Two pipers with puff,

Three grandads in pinnies,

Four strong folk so tough…’ etc etc

As well as this prescribed list I had to fit a story among it all. So my first draft only counted up to 8 and had 821 words! Somewhat predictably my agent advised me to make it count up to 10 and to keep it under 750 words. 

That was a tricky challenge but in situations like this it is helpful to try and detach yourself emotionally from the text and accept that some of your most brilliant lines may never see the light of day. I became ruthless. Where a scene was described in four lines it became two. If a refrain was indulgent and didn’t drive the story forward it was cut. In the end I was left with a more streamlined version of the same story.

Any tips for budding writers hoping to follow in your footsteps?

In this tough market, especially picture books, having an agent is invaluable. Agents are absolutely overwhelmed with submissions so I never sent submissions into agencies. Instead I kept attending 1-2-1 events. It may cost a little to do that but in return you get guaranteed feedback on your text on or by a known date and you make a connection, which you can follow up on at a later date, either because the agent has asked to see more of your work or you’ve taken their advice on board and revised / improved your text. I think the latter exercise demonstrates to an agent that you can take feedback on board and can revise your work. These are important qualities that an agent will be looking for in a writer.

What’s next for you?

This year will see some publicity work around The Great Highland Games Chase – some book festivals and school visits, which I’m really looking forward to. Meanwhile I do have another picture book in production but I can’t say much about that at the moment… And of course I’m constantly working on new texts, so fingers crossed there is more fun to come!

*Header image: Shannon Ell & Tita Berredo


Kate Abernethy is a Scottish children's author. She has an MA in English Literature but spent a number of years working as an accountant before following her dream of writing for children. Kate loves the challenge of making every word count and, when not wrestling words into shape, you may find her strolling through the woodlands or tinkering at a spreadsheet. The Great Highland Games Chase is Kate's debut picture book. She lives in the New Forest, Hampshire with her family.


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
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Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures.

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If you would like to feature in a future Debut Journeys, please email Mario Ambrosi at or find him on X: @marioambrosi


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