Today I have the fantastic Cathy Brett, illustrator and author extraordinaire, to answer a few questions. Her latest book, Everything is Fine (and other lies I tell myself) was published last month by Headline.
1. Do you write before you illustrate your novels, or the other way around? Why?
I do both at the same time. As I’ve been an artist/designer longer than I’ve been a writer, when I ‘see’ a new character or scene forming itself in my head it’s often easier to then draw it rather than put it in to words. The plot will then develop in both word and picture form in my sketchbooks. I’ve tried writing without illustrations but I’m so used to explaining myself with images in that it’s just too difficult. I suppose it’s like someone who waves their hands about a lot when they talk (me!) to stop doing it. You somehow wouldn’t feel able to express yourself fully.
2. I love how you disguise some darker and heavier themes in your novels. Is this something think is important in a YA novel?
I think that word ‘disguise’ is the perfect choice here as it’s absolutely the dilemma at the heart of the book. We all have dark and heavy things to deal with at some time in our lives, even teenagers, but pretending we are not experiencing them is too often our reaction. We disguise our inner turmoil, perhaps in an effort to protect ourselves and our friends and family. we are so good at it that it’s almost impossible to look at someone and say ‘they are grieving’ or ‘that person is depressed’. I put a lot of my own experience into Esther’s character. While I was writing the book I was in the process of recovering from a long bout of depression which I had disguised for 18 months. I’d been telling myself and others ‘Everything is Fine’ for far too long and it had made me very ill (Thank goodness for my mum, who saw through the disguise and pulled me out). There are lots of metaphors throughout the book (which you might have spotted) referring to disguise and misdirection – ships in a bottle (bottled-up feelings), torn wallpaper (layers hidden beneath the surface) and the sand dune labyrinth (getting lost in a place that’s familiar). You can probably think of others, Sophie.
3. What was it about WWI that lured you in enough to write about it?
I’ve always been interested in the period before and after the First World War. I think it started at school with a history project, then when I went to art school, I discovered the art (and design) and literature of that period was amazing too. It was a fascinating time for women too. I’ve been researching the Suffragettes for ages and waiting for a suitable story to pop into my head so I can put them in a novel of their own. They got up to all sorts of naughty and mind-blowing stuff. Perhaps it will be a comedy.
[Sophie: That sounds AMAZING! I hope you think of a story soon!]
4. Favourite biscuit/chocolate bar?
Jammy Dodgers, obviously! What other biscuit is there!
5. Current obsession?
Prosthetic limbs and 3D printers. Don’t ask! (You’ll have to wait for book 5)
6. What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading several books at once, dipping into them in a rather haphazard way. I have Phil Earle’s three books by my bed and am about half way through Heroic which is brilliant so far. I’ve also downloaded lots to my iPad in the last month so am making my way through those. It’s like a selection box, picking whatever books suit my mood: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey which is haunting and beautiful but about snow so I’m saving the last few chapters for a hot day; Toby’s Room by Pat Barke, part of my WWI reference reading; Krispy Whispers by Melvin Burgess (disturbing!); Are We Nearly There Yet? By Ben Hatch (a wonderful blend of laugh-out-loud funny and heart-breaking) and Eleanor & Park which was a recommendation but I’ve only read the first page.
Thanks for such brilliant answers, Cathy!
I’m a big fan of all Cathy’s novels and I highly recommend you check them out! They are: Ember Fury, Scarlett Dedd, Verity Fibbs and Everything is Fine (and other lies I tell myself).