PAWS was chosen as our book of the month for August so we couldn't wait to catch up with Kate Foster to talk all things dogs and writing.
Although Kate grew up in a small town in the south-east of England, she now lives on the gorgeous Gold Coast in Australia with her family and two dogs. (Jealous? Me? Yes.) Like us, Kate has a deep love of dogs which has influenced her first two stories (and many more to come, we hope!)
She is also passionate about mental health and autism, themes evident throughout her writing in her stories of friends, family and dogs.
Kate is represented by Darley Anderson children's book agency and is published in Australia by Walker Books Australia and in the UK by Walker Books. PAWS has also been picked up for publication in North America and Turkey.
We were lucky enough to put our questions to Kate to find out more about her and her writing.
BG: How did you come up with the initial idea for PAWS?
KF: PAWS is very much based on a bunch of real-life experiences I gathered over several years. From things I personally went through, that I went through with my son, and that we went through as a family. Of course, there are plenty of fictional scenes and additions to ensure it worked as an entertaining story and for the characters and setting, but on the whole, this is definitely a book based on the advice to “write what you know”!
BG: Alex was an incredibly relatable character. As a neurotypical reader, I took so much from the book and Alex helped me understand so much about autism. How important do you think Alex will be for autistic children?
KF: Ah, thank you so much! I think super important for many. Autistic kids are all different – not only in their autistic traits but also in their personalities – so I know Alex’s experiences and thoughts and his response to the world he lives in won’t match that for every autistic reader.
But, the power of knowing there’s a kid in a book you’ve read who has the same label or disability as you (depending on how you view it and what you call it) is a powerful and validating thing. Suddenly you’re “normal” too, you’re a hero, the centre of a happy, positive story; you’ve succeeded and are accepted and loved.
At least, that’s what I hope autistic children take from my stories.
BG: You are clearly a lover of dogs – as are we – and animals give readers a fantastic sense of attachment and familiarity with a story. Kevin is such a great animal character. Will dogs – or animals – feature in all your books?
KF: He he, maybe … I don’t know. For now, I can confidently say yes, but who knows what’s to come. If I can, I will always try to slip an animal into my books, even if they don’t play a prominent role!
BG: If you could be any character from children’s literature – past or present – who would you be and why?
KF: I love this question! I would be Mildred Hubble from The Worst Witch series. As a child I was Mildred, I saw myself as Mildred, and I connected with Mildred. And though she had disasters left, right, and centre, I wanted to experience the same excitement and magic and adventures as her.
BG: Who is your current favourite children’s author and why?
KF: I just don’t think this question is fair actually! How can I pick one?!!! So, I will talk about one of my favourite authors, but please know I have many favourites and for many different reasons!
I adore Neal Shusterman’s young adult work. His ability to bring seemingly outrageous and unthinkable realities to his books that, as you read, begin to feel like maybe they aren’t so farfetched and could be our future is utter genius. He writes in a way that is so ridiculously clever but also accessible, and he balances weird, warped and dark with a raw truth and tension and so much heart. He is the person I would choose to sit next to on a long-haul flight!
BG: At Inky Frog we often work with writers at the very start of their journey. What top three pieces of advice could you give to beginning writers?
KF: Enjoy the process. Learn patience. Believe in yourself.
BG: Thinking about your own writing process, do you have particular habits that help you write, such as a certain place you like to write or at a particular time of day?
KF: Not really. But my brain can be quite unkind to me, so I do need to be settled and my mind empty of the everyday stuff before I can sit down and write – this often means walking the dogs, tidying the house, sorting out my kids, answering emails, etc, first. That way I can quieten that irritating voice telling me I have more important things to do!
BG: When you start writing a new book, what comes to you first, the character or the plot?
KF: More often than not it will be the character, and the plot then builds around their personality, conflicts, and goals. However, I do sometimes imagine a single moment or scene or interaction in my mind which I think is quite cool, and then I’ll expand it, adding in a character or two and other scenes to find out if it has guts and potential. But for me characters are the heart of every story so I get them right first.
BG: We see you are working with Kate Gordon on a new middle grade novel with Walker Books. How did that collaboration come about?
KF: Oh my goodness I know! How lucky am I?! Kate is an extraordinary writer and person. I’m so honoured to call her a friend. Interestingly, Kate and I were discussing doing something together which encouraged kindness and compassion in kids, like an event or organised day or similar, and writing a book together only came after a few weeks of chatting back and forth! Ha! Seems silly looking back now – we’re both authors so you’d think a book was the most obvious thing we’d collaborate on.
BG: It is clear from your acknowledgements how important the team at Walker Books have been for you. What are the best bits of the author/publisher relationship?
KF: I adore being part of the Walker family – because they really are a family. From the office manager to the contracts department, to marketing and publicity, to design and to the editors, I am truly the luckiest author.
There are so many best bits, to be honest. I might sound odd, but I love revising and editing my work so getting feedback and ideas to brainstorm with my editor is a buzz, but of course, seeing a cover come to life is an extraordinary and emotional moment.
And then there are the small moments, like getting a hug after a presentation or event from my publicist who tells me they’re proud of me – it’s all pretty incredible and I savour every single bit.
Kate, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. We can't wait to see what comes next!