Thanks to Cathy Brett, UK debut author of Ember Fury, for answering all my questions!
Which came first for you: drawing or writing?
Drawing. I was an illustrator long before I even thought of writing, but illustrating other people's books gave me the incentive to try it myself. I started with picture books, but was rubbish at it. My agent would probably tell you about how she kept saying, 'yeah, I like the pics but the story/voice/age-group isn't quite right yet'. I went back to her over and over again (becoming quite a nuisance!), until I realised I should stick to what I know. Duh! I've been teaching design to teenagers for over a decade, so it was a no-brainer! When I eventually started to write 'Ember', I did sketches of all the characters and key events at the same time, so now it always happens together - words and pics.
What was your Ember Fury publication process like?
It was quite a rollercoaster ride! In the beginning everything happened quite suddenly. My agent sent it out to publishers and a month later I had a two-book deal with Headline! It was astonishing! Then there was a pause while the initial editing process took place and, once we had the structure of the story sorted, I had a huge amount of work to do getting it finished. Sometimes it seemed to go on for ever - mainly because my editor and I wanted it to be perfect and spent hours making sure it looked amazing. When I look back on it all now, I enjoyed every exhausting, stressful minute!
One of my favourite parts of the book were the scenes set in WWII. Is that a period in history that particularly interests you?
Yes. My grandparents were on opposite sides during the War and I've always found this fascinating. I've been working on my Grannie's Wartime Memoir for years (illustrated, of course) and have boxes and boxes of photographs to refer to, but at the moment I think it's too personal a story and I've put it in a drawer until I can decide how to write it.
I have to ask: was Ned's family's dinner scene based on a real event? (I really hope not!)
Yes, it was! Although it happened after the War had ended, when British families still had rationing and shortages. Thumper was one of the rabbits that my dad and his younger brother looked after. One day Thumper disappeared, the hutch door was open... Dad says he didn't make the connection between the disappearance and the contents of the pie until years later!
Will we be seeing Ember & Co. in future books, or is their story self-contained?
I couldn't possibly abandon her! You probably noticed that Em mentions wanting to go to Art College and I have an idea that she'd probably get up to all sort of mischief there... so watch out for a crazy arty sequel in the future. Some of the other characters are still jumping around in my brain, so perhaps the odd spin-off too?
How long did it take you to create the graphic portion of the book?
As I mentioned, I create the pics alongside the text, so I guess Ember took two years in total - three or four solid months of that on the images. But I don't work full-time on one project and will be starting on new books, illustrating other people's and teaching at the same time
Graphic novels don't seem to be hugely popular in the YA fiction world - did you have any trouble pitching the idea?
I suspected I might, but I think we (me, my agent and my editor) had a feeling that the time was right for this sort of book. Teenagers are much more visually sophisticated these days and, even if you don't like comics, we all respond to cartoons and funky illustrations in movies, on t-shirts, in advertising - why not in novels too? Even so, I guess Headline were taking a pretty big risk with 'Ember' and I will always be grateful that they did.
You have a very stylish design when it comes to your art work. Were you taught to draw this way, or did it just come naturally?
I was taught all the traditional drawing techniques, which was a fantastic starting point to be able to develop my own style. But, if anything, the funky, humourous style I wanted to develop was rather frowned upon when I was at college - too frivilous! When I started out in the Fashion Bizz, my illustrations were influenced by the latest trends and I had to be versatile, working in whatever style the client wanted. More recently, I've been able to draw the way I want to, reflecting my own personality.
Can you tell us anything about your next book, Scarlett Dedd?
Only that it's been terrific fun to write and even more fun to illustrate! Scarlett and her weird friends make me chuckle every day!
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors and artists?
It's true what they say - stick to what you know and write from the heart. Keep trying and don't be put off by rejection - grow a thick skin and try something slightly different next time. For artists - draw, draw, draw, all the time. Have a sketchbook (A4 is best) and draw in it every day. Fill a book a month if you can. It's like being an athlete, you have to keep fit and exercise!
UK publisher's site: The B-Word
My review: Ember Fury by Cathy Brett