Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Feature: Author Interview with Vickie Johnstone, author of Kiwi in Cat City

Happy Tuesday! I'm doing my feature early this week because in a couple days I'll be with family stuffing myself with turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole...  Mmmmm...  (Sorry about the drool).

But, today, my lovely guest is the author of Kiwi in Cat City, Vickie Johnstone.  You can see my review of Kiwi in Cat City (the first in the series) HERE.  Be on the lookout for reviews of the other two Kiwi books soon!

Author Interview
Kiwi in Cat City
Vickie Johnstone

GL:  Tell us a bit about yourself.

Vickie:  I’ve been working as a sub editor on business magazines since I left Uni. At the moment the mags are about mining, geodrilling and tunneling, but I’ve also worked on subjects like computers, pensions, finance, advertising, technology and insurance! I once worked on Sugar magazine for a week when freelancing, so that’s probably the lightest subject! I like art, galleries, beaches, the sea, forests, cats, animals in general as I have a fluffy addiction, movies, tarot cards, tea, Baileys, white chocolate, travelling, rock music, blues, dancing. Alaska is my favourite place that I’ve visited, followed by Venice. I’ve always loved books. I used to go through them like a locust when I was a kid. Back then I think my faves were Enid Blyton, Fantastic Mr Fox, Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm. I started writing stories when I was at primary school. I had a really good, inspiring English teacher in senior school too. I think I started writing poetry around 15 or something.

GL:  Now, tell us about your Kiwi books.

VJ:  I wrote Kiwi in Cat City in April 2002, with good old pen and paper. I had been made redundant so I had lots of free time. I’d always wanted to write a book – I had a habit of starting them and never finishing, and I was mainly writing poetry or short stories. I had this idea to write about my cat, who I had recently lost, and it began with her. I didn’t know where the book would go, but the other characters just kept popping up in my head. Then I thought of a plot, a mystery, how the characters would know each other, interact… and the story came from there. I wrote it in about six weeks. Later on, I sent it off to a publisher, a big one, just a synopsis and a few chapters. I remember the rejection letter said that they had been flooded with children’s books because of the Harry Potter phenomena. So my book sat in a drawer. Then this year, I heard about Amazon Kindle and then Smashwords.com, so I edited Kiwi and published in it March. No-one had read it and I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but it was exciting, and I’m really thrilled that it’s no longer just sitting in a drawer. Now it’s a living book.

This year, I wrote two follow-up books. I published Kiwi and the Missing Magic in June, and Kiwi and the Living Nightmare in October, in time for Halloween.

The books are about two children, Amy and her younger brother James. One night they follow their cat to see what she does and where she goes. They figure it might involve some mouse hunting, but they are shocked when Kiwi turns round and asks them why they are following her. Kiwi then takes them on an adventure to her other home, the blue-lit Cat City, where they meet her friends and discover a new world. But they do it cat-sized because Kiwi has some powerful magic that turns them into cats. There is a mystery to solve in Cat City and the children gain new confidence.

In Kiwi and the Missing Magic, readers learn more about Kiwi, her background and how she is able to turn her friends into cats. They also meet one of her parents. Again there is a mystery to solve and there are some new characters too. Cat City is at risk of invasion and they have to help Inspector Furrball save the day. James’ pet hamster, Hammy, also gets a piece of the action!

Kiwi and the Living Nightmare is the spookiest book. It is set on Halloween. The children and Kiwi dream the same dream of a three-legged cat who needs help. They head off to the local library to try to find out about the house in the dream. In the story they meet some squirrels and encounter a scary man who tries to trap them in his house – but why? Inspector Furrball and Cat Squaddie Siam also discover the human world, with some humorous consequences.

GL:  I can't wait to dive into the other two books!

GL:  Is Kiwi a real kitty?  What parts of the character are based on the real cat?

VJ:  Yep, Kiwi was a real kitty. I had her for six years until 2000. She was fluffy, a bit tubby, and she was really curious. She liked everybody. She wasn’t shy, like my current cat. She loved going up to everyone and she’d follow me down the street in the mornings, so I’d have to make sure she was inside before I left. She also had a trick of watching people eating, waiting until they stopped noticing her and then trying to flick their food off their plate with her paw. She also used to jump for moths and chase shadows, and she looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Cute as a button.

GL:  She sounds adorable.  I should have asked where you got her name...

GL:  Who was your favorite character to write?  Most difficult?

VJ:  Most difficult was probably Moggie. I didn’t want to make her too stern or bossy, although she sort of is.

My favourite character is Kiwi. When the first book began it was all about her and then the other characters emerged after. My second favourite is Furrball. I just find him funny. He’s intelligent and sort of old-fashioned but sometimes doesn’t get things. I think he’s funniest in the third book. Perhaps I take the mickey out of him a little too much. With Kiwi, I was trying not to make her Miss Know-it-all. I wanted to make her fun but not too crazy. And I had to give the good characters morals.

GL:  Was there anything that you really wanted in Kiwi in Cat City that didn’t make the cut?

VJ:  Not really. I just wrote it straight. I didn’t cut anything out. I was trying to be careful with the language. So no swearing, no violence, no innuendo really. It had to be alright for younger readers. There also had to be some morals in there. Good behaviour is rewarded, bad behaviour isn’t. In the second book, Kiwi learns that you can be overconfident. I think she’s very confident in Kiwi in Cat City! Hopefully not too cocky though!

GL:  Would you like to transform into a cat and visit Cat City?  What would be your first stop when you got there?

VJ:  Oh yes! My first stop would be Cat Crime. I want to see that building and discover its hidden talents (which emerge in book 2). Then I’d head to the Catema and watch ‘For a few Kitties More’. I imagined the Clint Eastwood film starring lots of cats, of course. And then I’d head over to the Meow Market to get a bite to eat… but no way would I be eating any of Mrs Ebenry’s famous  delicacies… I’m a veggie!

GL:  Do you use blue light bulbs in your home? J

VJ:  Haha, no, but a friend at university did! I think they would be the coolest colour. Blue is my favourite colour. It’s the colour of the sky and the sea. Blue and purple are my faves so they are all over Cat City. My friend, Mark Wass, who designed the cover for Kiwi in Cat City got the colours spot on.

GL:  It is a great cover!

GL:  Have you written anything other than the Kiwi series?

VJ:  I’ve written a book of poetry called Kaleidoscope. I’ve been writing poems since I was a teenager. This book is a collection of 119 of them. The earliest one, Moonlight Remonstrance, I wrote when I was 16. And then there are some from last year, and all of the years in between. I like writing poetry, although it’s more like flash poetry, and based on images or pictures of things, or a glimpse of someone’s life.

I also wrote some stories in a flash fiction anthology, called A Flash of Inspiration, with some of the writers in the Book Junkies group on Facebook. It’s a brilliant group. Very supportive and inspiring!

Then I have a free book of a handful of poems called Travelling Light. And I’m doing NanoWrimo, although I’ve no idea where the story is going!

GL:  What prompted you to write children’s books?  Do you think you’ll stick with that genre or maybe mix things up a bit?

VJ:  I’m not sure. My brother had recently had a daughter at the time, called Amy, and so I put her in the book along with my cat. The other characters emerged from there. I really enjoy writing the Kiwi books. The characters are really fun and you can make the plot do anything. When I was young I really loved books that took you on an adventure somewhere different with some fun and energy – a trip somewhere magical, make-believe but sort of believeable. So I wanted to create a magical world where you could go and just escape to. I grew up with a lot of animals when I was small – my dad was always bringing in wounded birds and my mum ended up with a lot of stray animals that she took in, and we had our own pets – so I was surrounded by fluffies. I used to think I could talk to my pets, especially my black cat, called Mitsy, just like a lot of kids do, so I guess there’s a lot of that in the book – imagining what it would be like to communicate with your pets and go on an adventure with them.

GL:  Well, you did a fantastic job!  And, how special for your niece... 

GL:  Do you listen to music while you write? 

VJ: No, I need silence, although I sometimes listen to music when I’m writing poetry. I like Kate Bush or Pearl Jam or something like that.

GL:  What is your number one distraction?

VJ:  People! Wanting to go out and do something new. My cat trying to jump across my laptop to grab my attention.

GL:  What is your favorite type of weather?

VJ:  Summer sunshine – beside the sea hopefully, watching the sunlight dancing on the waves.

GL:  If you could have a movie date with anyone – real or fictional, dead or alive – who would it be, and what movie would you watch?

VJ:  Top Cat and we’d watch Top Cat reruns!! Or Elvis and we’d go and watch something silly. Or maybe one of the Clangers!

GL:  What is your favorite color?

VJ:  Sky blue.

GL:  Favorite time of day?  Why?

VJ:  Relaxing time! Either when I get home from work and can just flop in peace after the Tube, or Saturday mornings when you wake up and realise you can go back to sleep, or the shower – Iove the shower. It’s the only way I wake up and I do a lot of thinking in there!

GL:  What are you working on now?  What do we have to look forward to?

VJ:  I’m doing NanoWrimo and I’ve written about 28,000 words, so I still got a way to go. It’s fiction, but not for children. It’s for adults. It’s about three people who share a house, their friends and the pet dog. There had to be an animal in it somewhere!!!

I also started writing a fantasy for teenage girls/adults. The main character is a girl aged about 20. I haven’t written much of it so I’m not sure where it’s going. But there is a mysterious old woman in it who gives the girl something precious, which changes her life and leads her in curious directions. I think the sea is going to be important in this one. I may have to put some dolphins in there.

GL:  You're way ahead of me in Nano!  I have too many of those distractions to meet my daily writing goal.  At this point, I'm not even sure I can catch up in time!  

I'm looking forward to ready the other Kiwi books and all your other work!  Thanks so much for being my guest.  You're welcome back anytime :-)...

Vickie's Links:

Kiwi in Cat City

Kiwi and the Missing Magic

Kiwi and the Living Nightmare

Travelling Light - a free preview book of poems

A Flash of Inspiration - A collection of very short stories by indie authors (anthology)

My books are also available at the Breakthrough Bookstore - supporting small bookstores

Vickie is very generously offering up a copy of each of her Kiwi books to one lucky winner! All you have to do to win is answer the following question in a comment.  Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you if you win!

If you could change into any animal for one night, what would it be?

Share the giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, etc. and paste the url in a comment for extra entries!!

Good luck!