Growing up on the Welsh border, with castles nearby, and travelling to all sorts of historical and exotic places as a child, it’s a no-brainer as to where Cate Whittle gets some of her inspiration. With a childhood dream to be a writer, Cate simply wrote – and wrote – and never gave up. Six books and counting is the result. Her passion and determination continue today. As well as working on several new books concurrently, Cate loves to teach and share her experiences, and is listed with both Greenleaf Agency and Creative Kids Tales Speakers Agency. You might think it’s hard to let your mind wander and come up with new ideas when you haven’t been much further than the next town, but Cate Whittle assures us you can find magic and inspiration everywhere – you just need to look.
Don’t let your mind wander, however, while you’re reading Cate’s answers to our five questions below – you don’t want to miss a single nugget of her wisdom.
Where do you get your inspiration for your books?
Inspiration is a tricky thing, often popping up at the most awkward moments when you haven’t got a pen and paper handy, or you are a long way from a keyboard. A lot of the time, thoughts come to me while I’m out walking, or driving the car, and I have to wait until I get back to my desk. Many of my ideas grow from a little thought, a snippet of overheard conversation, or asking the question, What if…? Sometimes an idea comes to me from a picture of a person, a place, or even a name from the credits at the end of a movie!
A lot of the time, I just want to tell a good story, and my characters often drive what that story wants to be, but inside every story, there is often a purpose, some truth that wants to come out, maybe something to remind us all to have confidence in ourselves, or to persevere when things get tough, that we are not alone.
Do you have any tips for students who might be struggling with the blank page?
A blank page can be scary, and, even when you have written lots of things before, sometimes it can seem like an insurmountable object. There are different ways to work around this, and different things work better at different times. If you are trying to face down a blank page, you could try some of these:
- Stop and think, let your mind wander. Let yourself daydream. A famous author once said that writing was the only job where staring out the window in a trance was working!
- Get a scrap piece of paper and write down as many thoughts as possible, even silly ones – scribble down some little bits of dialogue, draw some pictures, write some amazing words – just fill the page! Afterwards, you can highlight the ones that you like and weave them into your story!
- Just start writing anything (even ‘I don’t know what to write’)! It might not be part of the story you eventually do write, but it breaks the spell of an empty page. Remember, you don’t have to keep every word you write!
- Do something else for a while – go outside, take a walk, draw a picture, bake some cupcakes. When you come back, you might feel more ready to tackle the page.
- Keep a journal where you can write ideas whenever they pop up and use it to spark a story starter whenever you need it.
- Have three jars: one filled with bits of paper with character types (a witch, a schoolgirl, a knight, a farmer); another with places (a city, a forest, a carpark, a dungeon); and the third with actions (dancing, jousting, swimming, studying). Pull out one at random from each jar and try to fit them together into a story.
- Find a picture of an interesting looking person and write a description of them – start with what they look like, then start to imagine their personality or something that has happened to them. OR describe a place (find a cool picture) and think about something that might happen there.
Oh, gosh, I could go on…of course, if you are at school and you have been given a specific task, you might not have time for some of those ideas, but you can still brainstorm on a spare piece paper, or just start by describing what you see (if your starter is a picture) or writing something delightfully outrageous if you have a story starter sentence!
Which of your books is your absolute favourite? Why?
That is like asking me which of my children I love most! Each one is unique and different, and special to me! No favourites, sorry. Building a story creates a strong bond that sticks with you even as the next one is being created. I will always have a soft spot for my first very own book, Trouble at Home, about a troublesome dragon and his feisty young friend, and Trouble and the New Kid, which was an honour book for CBCA Book of the Year, but I still love the other Trouble books, as well as Wyrd, about a girl who becomes a witch by accident, and my most recent book, Emergency Rescue Angel, which is about a boy, a rather unusual angel, and finding your way when you are feeling a bit lost in life.
Which of your characters is your favourite? Why?
My answer to this is the same as for the question about favourite books! While planning and writing a story, the characters become very real (in fact, my characters tend to end up telling me the story) and I become very attached to them. Like best friends, they might not always be around while I’m getting to know a new character, but they are always there when I need them.
I guess that I like my delightfully self-confident Georgia from the Trouble stories because I would have liked to be a bit more like her when I was at school, and I always wanted to make friends with a dragon! And, well, Trouble is a dragon, so…
Then there is Emma. And Pip. And Mitch and Max (how cool would it be to be friends with an angel who counts Joan of Arc as a role model?) Nope, no favourites!
When you think about children reading your books, how does this make you feel? What do you want their ‘take-aways’ to be?
I totally love it when a reader writes to me or tells me how much they have enjoyed my books.
Mostly, I want my stories to be a place where children can escape from the everyday and make new friends for a few moments. Our world is so busy. To sit down with a good book and let your mind wander – go somewhere else for a while, experience an adventure, or get to know a character – is time out to breathe. Hopefully, everyone can come away from my stories feeling refreshed, empowered, reassured, and, maybe, just a little bit enlightened.
When not writing stories, Cate enjoys walking in the bush around her home in rural NSW, taking photos, pottering in the garden, learning to draw, and reading. Oh, and searching for the wardrobe door into Narnia…
You can find more information about Cate and her books, the Trouble series (four so far), Wyrd and, brand new this year, Emergency Rescue Angel on her websites:
- Cate Whittle Writes where there’s all sorts of information about Cate’s childhood, growing up, her illustrator L plates and, of course, her books and school visits
- Cate Whittle Writes 2 which appears to have been taken over by Cate’s friend Georgia (from the Trouble series)
As a child, I remember our creative writing sessions with great fondness. It was the freedom to let your mind wander and write long, captivating (?) stories that started many of us on our writing journeys. Bringing back the joy of writing to our kids is what Just Right Words’ education arm is all about.