Once upon a time, when Catherine Emmett was a lot littler than she is today, she grew up in Newcastle Upon Tyne and spent a LOT of time reading books. And now? Her very first picture book – King of the Swamp, illustrated by Ben Mantle – has sprung onto the shelves. How did she get here? Catherine shares her Journey to Publication with My Book Corner…
When I was little, I read a LOT of books. For days at a time I sat locked in my room, just reading.
And then I moved to London, took a job in finance and didn’t read very much at all. Life continued, until one day, a friend asked me to step in for her and give a careers talk to some school children – I had about five minutes notice and had no time to prepare. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I decided to tell the truth. I told them to find something they loved and to do it really well. And then I realised I should do the same and walked out – never to return.
Not really! I went back to my desk and got on with my work, but that speech did stay with me – it had started something. From then on, ideas plagued me. I wanted to write something, but I didn’t know what. Words started appearing in my head and wouldn’t leave. Then one night, when I was on maternity leave, so many words turned up that I had to write them down. I had the opening of my very first picture book – and apparently it wanted to be written at 1am in the morning….
Almost as soon as I started writing, I started applying to agents, because I was worried when I went back to work that my writing dreams would quickly disappear in the hustle and bustle of normal life. A number of polite form rejections quickly proved that I was nowhere near ready!
By now I had two children, was pregnant with my third and was working full time. I didn’t really have time for this to be just a hobby, I wanted it to go somewhere. So, I learned. I learned how to write in rhyme properly – I found a lovely lady who specialised in metre and who politely informed me that…er… I had none! I learned about the structure of picture books and realised that I didn’t really know anything at all! Most importantly I learned to come up with more original ideas.
But then ‘Authors for Grenfell’, a charity auction in response to the horrendous events at Grenfell Tower happened. I bid for a critique from Alice Sutherland Hawes and, as the highest bid, I won. I sent off three stories to Alice and she quite liked one of them, but felt it should have had a different setting.
As my Gran used to say, ‘shy bairns get nowt’ (‘shy children get nothing’), so I changed the story and sent it back to Alice. This time Alice liked it, but said she would need more stories to consider representing me. Now Alice specifically had said that she wasn’t looking for rhyming texts, but that was all I had left. I remember clearly thinking it was pointless to send the rhymers, but then figured I had nothing to lose, so hit send and hoped for the best. Alice replied saying thanks for the stories… and just when I expected a ‘but they aren’t what I am looking for’, she offered me representation instead – a twist that I definitely did NOT see coming!
I was invited to the Madeleine Milburn offices to sign the contract and met all of the lovely team. I had just taken redundancy from my job in finance at the time – a fact which caused a brief panic amongst the team when they thought I had quit my day job just because I now had an agent!
Once I teamed up with Alice, we were super lucky. We sent out a set of submissions at the end of 2017 and Macmillan showed interest in one text. A little later Simon and Schuster showed interest in a second. I had kept writing more stories and by that point, after over a year of mulling over 3 different ideas, I had combined them all and written King of the Swamp in a single sitting (something yet to be repeated!). We sent it to Simon and Schuster and happily they loved it!
Getting that call from Alice to confirm that we had sold our first books was so brilliant. I got to visit the Simon and Schuster offices to look at some illustration samples and meet the lovely team, and I spent most of the time trying not to feel like an imposter!
The best part of writing picture books for me is seeing the illustrations – when S&S confirmed that Ben Mantle was illustrating the text, I was super excited. I remember opening the first images and hoping so much that I liked it – then I realised that I had a huge grin on my face and that was all I needed to know! Ben had drawn McDarkly drinking a cup of tea – something that was never mentioned in the text, but something that perfectly reflected his character! The rest of Ben’s illustrations are so, so special. I can’t imagine the characters any other way now!
I have loved this journey so much – every day I look back and think how glad I am that I (eventually!) took my own advice and started to do something that I really love. I feel so privileged to be able to write books for children – next stop I’m off to a bookshop to make sure it’s all real!!
Thanks Catherine! Discover King of the Swamp here.
Discover more of our Journey to Publication series here.