A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I was lucky to grow up in a house that valued imagination and creativity. My parents are zany (‘zany’ being a more palatable word for ‘weird’) people; they love jokes and pranks and adventures and stories (stories-as-in-the-lies-you-tell-your-children-when-you’re-tricking-them-into-going-to-summer-camp-for-three-weeks-by-saying-Louis-Walsh-will-be-there-scouting-for-a-new-girl-band-or-by-getting-them-to-leave-out-their-pocket-money-for-santa-claus-so-he-can-feel-‘appreciated’.)
When I was three, my dad read The Cat in the Hat to me every night before I fell asleep. It was at my continued insistence. I was very high maintenance. Sometimes I slept in a plastic crown. Anyway. After the eighteenth or so night in a row, he started to skip pages, because he had reached a point where he was unconsciously rhyming in his day job, and was, understandably, losing the will to live. I caught him every time, slapping at his fingers and scowling for Ireland as I pointed to the pages stuck together between his fingers: ‘Every word, Dad. I want to hear Every. Single. Word.’ He’d gulp and reluctantly comply, probably thinking something along the lines of, ‘I hate this book, oh, fiddly dee, if I don’t keep reading, my child will hate me.’
My mother read me every fairytale ever written. I became convinced that my life was also a fairytale. On my fifth birthday, I announced to my grandparents that after much consideration I had decided to become a ‘Fairy-Princess-Sparkling-Mermaid-Ballerina’. I was not so concerned with the logistics of being both a mermaid and a ballerina.
Then disaster struck.
After I read The Princess and The Pea, I slipped a frozen pea under my mattress and felt no mild discomfort. Nada. Nothing. I couldn’t feel a damn thing. In the blink of an eye my princess aspirations were scattered to the wind. What was I supposed to be now – just some lowly Fairy-Sparkling-Mermaid-Ballerina? Puh-lease.
I had to get more specific – thems the rules of manifestation, after all. I settled on becoming a Tooth Fairy. Sorry, The Tooth Fairy. I wrote to the ‘active’ Tooth Fairy countless times: ‘Hey, what’s up, I’m Catherine. Big fan of your work. Listen, can I come along with you tonight for work experience? I’m looking into becoming ‘a’ tooth fairy’. (I was thinking THE Tooth Fairy but I didn’t want her to feel threatened). One time, I knocked a tooth out just so I could send her a letter. She always wrote back, the sweetheart. ‘Dear Catherine, sorry I couldn’t wake you tonight. You looked so peaceful, I couldn’t bare it.’ Then I found out she doesn’t get paid, so I threw that idea away pretty swiftly. Those plastic crowns don’t buy themselves.
I discovered Artemis Fowl on a family holiday in France. I was sitting by the pool, devouring the first book, while my brothers took part in a diving competition ten feet away from me. Obnoxious splashing ensued. Then they started yelling at me. ‘Look what I can do, Catherine! Look, it’s a backflip! Look!’ I felt like shouting back, ‘Look what Artemis Fowl can do! He’s a freaking genius and he’s the same age as you! You pale in comparison!’ At some point, my brother botched his backflip, whacked his skull off the diving board and split his head open. With blood trailing down his back and my mother flapping around him like a headless chicken, he was hoisted onto a stretcher and carried away for medical attention. I went after him. But I finished my chapter first. I know, I know. Shame on me. But have you read Artemis Fowl? It’s very compelling.
As an unashamed Human-Sloth, getting up early for me has always been akin to flaying myself, but every summer I would set my alarm to 6am, force my eyes open, reach under my pillow and dive into Harry Potter. At 17, on my way back from a ten-day, end of school holiday in Tenerife (but, like, the dodgy, cockroach-invested part), I went in search of the latest Harry Potter book after trying to sleep on the airport floor all night. At 9am, when the airport bookshop opened, I stumbled inside, bleary-eyed and near penniless, and found The Book (cue: Handel’s Messiah). I spent the entire three-hour bus ride home to Galway oscillating between reading just.one.more.page and falling asleep on the shoulder of the stranger beside me. I kept screaming myself awake. Reading a paragraph. Falling asleep. Screaming myself awake. Reading a paragraph… aaaaand rinse and repeat. He did not love it.
Having come to the end of this piece, I can’t help but notice how all my main reading memories make me sound like a selfish, inconsiderate brat. Huh? Weird. To be fair, it’s only when books are involved. Probably. So, in that case, I am more than willing to hold my hand up and say I have always been, and probably still totally am, an unashamed Book Brat.