Thursday, September 29, 2011

Marshmallow Skye: The Dreamy Cathy Cassidy

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a 'thing' for Cathy Cassidy (well, not that I'm fessing up to on the blog, anyway). But I do use the term 'dreamy' deliberately, because if there is one thing that Cathy does a lot of, it's daydream. She cites it as one of the best things about being a children's writer (see below), she claims it to be a crucial element of her writing success - and she advised all the children to do it at a buzzing author event held at King Alfred's in Wantage on Tuesday.


This was maybe not want the teachers wanted to hear. She imagined daydreaming being on the timetable, or a special daydreaming room where children would lounge around on sofas and beanbags, in surrounding of calm and plush carpets, with the teachers bringing smoothies and chocolate-chip cookies.


The response from the children was, overall, fairly positive.

Cathy came to Wantage as part of a staggering 2 or 3 event-per-day, 17-day tour as part of the launch of the second book in her Chocolate Box Girls series Marshmallow Skye. The hall was packed with nearly 300 students, and many had come dressed as their favourite character from one of Cathy's books.


Cathy took time to explain about her life as a writer (shed at bottom of garden, as well as a story 'teepee' which looked very cool) and how she came to write. The young Miss Cassidy bombarded the girl's magazine Jackie with 'hundreds' of short stories, so passionate did she want her stories to be published, and so it was perhaps natural that here was where she found herself in her first job.


(Cathy encouraged the children to publish their own school magazine. She also said, if there was already a school magazine, they could start up a rival. So there may be a media boom at King Alfred's over the next few weeks).

Having talked about her writing and her books, she read an extract from Marshmallow Skye. It is no surprise to us at Mostly Books why Cathy is so popular amongst her readers (which, for the Chocolate Box series, is broadly 9-13). The things she writes about are central to the life of her readers: friendships, feelings and quite simply the dilemmas of that simple-sounding phrase "fitting in".


Cathy warned children to 'never trust an author' as they were always on the lookout for shiny things to steal (in the form of story ideas), and then several of the bravest (and I thought this was *very* brave) children who had dressed up performed in a fashion show, across the stage, with the winners receiving some suitably fab chocolatey prizes...

 

There were some *very* big Cathy Cassidy fans in the audience, who were very excited to queue up afterwards to get books signed.


King Alfred's went to herculean efforts to put on a fabulously-organised event, and our thanks to Cathy for braving a schedule that saw her in Cardiff the day before, and Sheffield that evening!


Cathy also kindly offered to answer a few questions for the blog...so here goes:

Five questions with... Cathy Cassidy's Writing Life
1.    What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on the third book in the Chocolate Box series called "Summer's Dream". It's due out next June, and is about Skye's twin sister Summer.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Well, I try to share as many tips as I can in the 'Writing Workshop' section of my website, so definitely take a look at that. But I guess my best tip is to write about what you care about. It shows, it really does. I write about feelings, that's what matters to me. But it could be anything: dragons, vampires, fast cars, anything - as long as it's something you really care about. If you try to write for a gap in the market, children are so sharp, and they are so open and direct, they will realise pretty quickly. Also, if I didn't write what I cared about, I'd have got bored long ago. I wouldn't be able to sustain it over several books.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The very worst thing is deadlines, and keeping to them. I think as you become a more successful author, there is more of an expectation to have books published on a faster timescale. I often think I would like a parallel 'me' writing away, whilst the other 'me' is doing all the other things! I'm currently on a 17-day tour, with sometimes two or three events per day, and by the end of the day there is very little energy left to write. On the one day off I had though, I was writing!

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
I write in a little shed in my garden, and in there I am surrounded by lots of nice things, things that only mean something to me, but which no-one else would give houseroom to! But the main thing for me is my laptop. Just before this tour, my laptop died. It was the middle of the night, I had a dreadful cold, and I had to drive the two hours to Glasgow, put my laptop in the Apple repair shop, get a replacement and start the tour.

I always have a notebook with me though, so that if anything comes to me I can jot it down. I guess the most important thing is just my head, for daydreaming. And luckily I always have my head with me!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
Difficult to say if there was a 'breakthrough' as such, although as soon as the books started to do well, that was very important. But really, it was from making my living as a journalist. My first proper job after leaving art college was on Jackie magazine, and although I started at the very bottom as office assistant, within two years I was fiction editor. This allowed me to discover just what kids like to read about, and how to write stories: how to hook a reader, how to edit stories, how to structure and illustrate them. All that knowledge was incredible. Once I left, I started with short stories (I still love to write short stories BTW - I have one coming out at Christmas) but gradually grew to write books. I love the space the longer format gives you to tell a story.

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