What do you get when you mix an author, 300 children and some cat books?

Here’s what happened when Heidi spent a few days at ACS International, Doha

What an amazing few days with some super intelligent and engaging children and teachers at ACS International School in Doha, Qatar…

Sunday morning 8am, the alarm goes off and I’m off to school to run a series of workshops with Years 2 and 5 at ACS International School. It’s quite a difference in the weather compared to the freezing cold of the UK, at 9am it’s already 30 degrees and as you can expect wall-to-wall sunshine. As you would expect children of all nationalities studying together – which makes for a really diverse environment and the children are super friendly and engaging. Monday morning was a much earlier start at the school and I spent the day with Grades 1, 3 and 4. We watched short videos that you can find on Youtube, we learnt some French and Spanish (teaching the children how to order ice creams in Spanish went down a treat!!) and then of course the obligatory photo sessions. 

After spending a few minutes introducing myself and talking about how I became an author came a series of quick fire questions from the children that they had prepared before my arrival. Here’s what they wanted to know…

Q: What inspired you to write the Catnap storybooks? What did you learn when writing the book?

Q: Did you ever consider writing under a PEN NAME?

A: I did think about using a pen name, but was dissuaded against it by my friends and family and actually because I went down the self-publishing route, I think it would have made my job harder to promote it. I also thought about changing all the characters names in the books but decided against that to.

Q: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

A: Being a relatively new author, I have just two friends who are authors who are relatively unknown too. I would like to meet and become friends with David Walliams though as I think it would be a lot of fun to hang out with.

Q: What is your


 childhood book? If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

A: My favourite book was The Lonely House by Sally Sherringham. 

If I could tell my ‘younger writing self’ something, it would be ‘work hard, dream big and never give up’

Q: As a writer, what would you choose as your second mascot/avatar/spirit animal in addition to a CAT?

A: I’ve been told that my spirit animal is the Fox.

The fox is often associated with the figure of the trickster, but as a spirit animal, it can also turn into a teacher providing guidance on swiftly finding your way around obstacles. 

I see the synergies with a fox in many aspects of my life. The fox needs to develop quick thinking and be highly adaptable to situations. The fox has to be responsive and sometimes cunning; this power animal is a great guide when you are facing tricky situations.

I’ve read that the fox symbolises:

  • Physical or mental responsiveness, increased awareness

  • Cunning; seeing through deception; call to be discerning

  • Ability to find your way around, to be swift in tricky situations

  • Affinity with dream work

So, this feels like a natural connection with me.

Q: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? How many published books do you have?

A: I don’t have any half-finished books, when I start something, I can’t rest until it’s finished. I do have another 10 (at least) ideas for books in my head to do with amazing places that I’ve been to; London, Sao Paolo, Japan, Australia, Qatar, Italy, New York, Israel, Egypt etc

I have 4 individual titles published: The Adventures of Vince the Cat – Vince Goes to Paris, The Adventures of Vince the Cat- Vince Discovers the Golden Triangle, The Adventures of Vince the Cat – Vince Discovers the Wonder of Seville and another adult non-fiction book called ‘Living in Another World’ (Vivir en Otro Mundo). I translated this book that was written by another author– so it’s not one that I’ve written per se. But I had a really large influence in the writing and translation and also designed and published the book in both English and Spanish.

Q: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

A: I carry out research in the country that I write about, visiting the places that are included in the book and learning about the history, culture and stories that give a place its uniqueness. How long I spend researching varies from book to book and I don’t think I’ve ever really calculated how much time I spend on any particular aspect of the book. I’m a really multi-tasker as well, so I carry out several aspects at any given point in time; briefing the illustrator, writing, research, design etc.

This week I’m going to experience what Doha has to offer!!

Q. How do you select the names of your characters?

A: The majority of the names of characters are based on real people and real cats. Jon in the India book is actually based on my best friend. We’ve been friends since I was 16 years old. One name that is fictional is the cat in the book – Vince Discovers the Golden Triangle. Her name is Anoushka – I started studying names in India and their meaning and I wanted a name that was inspirational. So, after much deliberation and talking with my illustrator who is based in India, I chose Anoushka means ‘one who fulfils dreams and aspirations’.

Q. What was your hardest scene to write?

A: I think actually writing the entire first book The adventures of Vince the Cat – Vince Goes to Paris was the hardest thing to do. As it was my first book, I wanted it to be right and to have the right tone of voice and balance of French and English words without it becoming a boring educational book. I rewrote may parts of that book over and over again. Going back to the Paris book now, I would probably have written it slightly differently.

Q: Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? What is your advice to aspiring authors?

A: That’s quite a tough question, I’m quite an emotional person and I found that writing was both tough, but rewarding and it allowed me to express creativity I thought I had but wasn’t quite sure if anyone else would appreciate. I think if you believe in something, want people to know something, have a message that you think others would benefit from – then you should try it out. They say everyone has a book inside them. Many people don’t write a book as they either don’t know how to get the book out there or they aren’t convinced that their idea is a good one. 

My advice to aspiring authors is to write something, test it with friends and family and then test it with someone impartial who isn’t emotionally attached to you for their real thoughts, however critical they might be. 

Q: What does literary success look like to you? Librarian’s Question

A: I’m quite ambitious and maybe a little unrealistic in what success looks like. But my feeling is if you shoot for the sky and you reach the moon then you’ve over achieved and I don’t stop when I reach somewhere, I want to go further. So, success to me, will be when my books are sold globally on a regular basis and I can spend my days travelling and then writing about everywhere I’ve been. How amazing it would be to visit every country in the world? I would also like to be able to donate more of the proceeds of the books to my chosen charity with is Plan International UK. A charity that supports children all over the world to help educate and protect them.

Q: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones? Librarian’s Question

A: Yes, I read my book reviews. It’s always great to get good reviews of course. Bad reviews are important to, but I think it’s important that with those ones you try to not take them personally and see if there are ways you can improve your writing from them.

Such an amazing few days, thanks to my wonderful friend for introducing me to the school, for the very welcoming hospitality from Miss Maribeth and for the lively debate and engagement from the children at ACS. I hope to see you all again very soon…