Today the spotlight falls on author Tamsin Cooke, whose debut novel The Scarlet Files: Cat Burglar was published recently. Having read and loved Tamsin's book I was keen to chat about it with her. Being the lovely person she is, she agreed. However, before we begin the Q&A here's a little about Tamsin herself:
Having lived in several exotic places, Tamsin loves to travel, have adventures and see wild animals. She used to be a primary school teacher but now writes at every opportunity. She lives in Somerset with her adrenalin-junkie family. When she isn’t writing, she can be found tromping through the woods with her soppy dog, reading books or eating jellybeans.
Tamsin is represented by literary agent, Anne Clark. Check out Tamsin's website for more information on Tamsin and her books. You can also connect with Tamsin on Twitter. The Scarlet Files: Cat Burglar is published by Oxford University Press and is available from Hive, Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookstores.
Welcome to the blog, Tamsin, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Huge congratulations on the publication of The Scarlet Files: Cat Burglar. For those who have yet to read Cat Burglar (What are you waiting for, guys? It’s amazing.) could you briefly outline the story?
Aw- thank you so much for having me here and for your kind words. Cat Burglar is about 13 year old Scarlet McCall - a schoolgirl by day and cat burglar by night. She and her dad are on a mission to return stolen treasures to their rightful owners. But when they take an ancient Aztec bracelet, her world turns upside down. Dad goes missing, and mysterious powers erupt inside her. She's hunted by sinister people, who will stop at nothing to possess the bracelet. Searching for her dad, Scar must learn who to trust before it's all too late.
I read on your website that the book was inspired by a dream. Could you tell us a little more about that, please?
One night, I dreamt that a bracelet sucked into my bloodstream. When I woke up, I felt really unnerved… and a little bit sick. But then it got me thinking. What could happen if a bracelet disappeared inside of you? How would your life change? And soon a whole story was unravelling in my mind.
Wow, that's some dream! Next question now, I also read that you had early feedback on the manuscript from kids. How did you arrange this and how did their comments influence the final book?
Actually Cat Burglar was already finished before the kids got to see it. Oxford University Press thought it would be really nice to have some quotes about book one to go into book two. Because the two books are being released six months apart, there was limited time and so the kids got a preview. Their reactions didn’t influence my writing, but they helped enormously with my confidence. I was nervous putting Cat Burglar into the wild. But their feedback was so wonderful, it made the process easier.
How brilliant to get that validation from the kids. How long did it take you to write Cat Burglar, and how much research was involved in crafting it?
Cat Burglar took me about a year and a half to write. There were lots of different versions, as I was trying to get it just right. I did extensive research on cat burglaries, the Aztecs and wild animals. I looked on the Internet, went to the library and visited safari parks. I learnt about breaking and entering from my neighbour. I would like to add that he is a policeman not a burglar! But I think I put too much information in. When I met my agent for the first time, she said, ‘Do you think you can take out some of the details? We don’t want it to become a manual for burglars!’
Indeed! Did you always know that it would be the first book in a series?
In my mind Cat Burglar was always the first in a series because I have so many more adventures planned for Scar. But I didn’t know whether my publishers would agree. Thankfully they did and book 2 is all ready to go!
I can't wait to read it. Tell me, though, what are the challenges of writing a series? And the benefits?
For me, the biggest challenge was to make sure the books have the same style and flavour while simultaneously bringing in something completely fresh. Therefore the reader recognizes the familiarity of the series but feels as though he/she is getting a brand new book each time. I hope that makes sense! (It does!) But the benefits of writing a series are magical. You get to play with your characters even more, placing them in worsening perilous situations. (I’m so cruel to them!) Plus you get to see them develop and grow, as well as discover how they react to different circumstance. My characters often surprise me!
That sounds a lot of fun, Tamsin. Getting back to Cat Burglar, the book cover is fantastic. Who designed it and did you have any influence on the final design?
Lizzie Smart from Oxford University Press designed it and I think she did a fabulous job. There were a couple of other designs but this is the one OUP chose and I’m thrilled they did. It’s so shiny!!!! With the other designs I made a few suggestions. But I loved this one straight away.
Moving on, could you describe your publication journey for us?
I’d been trying to get published for 12 years!!!!
I wrote lots of different books and received many, many rejection letters. Then when I started writing Cat Burglar I felt that something was different. There was a shift in my writing, and in people's attitudes to what I’d written. One amazing day, I got an email from Anne Clark (Anne Clark Literary Agency) asking if I’d like to meet in London. Flooding, the plague, not even locusts would have kept me away. Anne was so lovely and I felt like we clicked straight away. She sent Cat Burglar off to a few publishers and Oxford University Press got in contact. I met the wonderful Clare Whitston who was just as passionate about Scar McCall as I was. She became my editor along with the fabulous Gil Sore. And the night I signed, I think the whole of the South West heard my squeals of delight and every shop ran out of Prosecco!!!
How wonderful to celebrate all that hard work in such style! Talking about work, what’s your actual writing process?
When in the flow of a story, I’m definitely an early bird, not a night owl! I wake up at 4 in the morning and write for a few hours. Then I get the kids to school, walk my dog and write some more. If I need a break, I dance around the kitchen with my blinds down so no one can see! I write on and off until about three. After that, my brain refuses to be creative. In fact after five, I’m not sure my brain works at all…
What a great work ethic, Tamsin. So, what are you working on now?
I’ve just started the first book of a new series, but at the moment I’m keeping quiet about it. Do I look interesting and mysterious now??? ; )
Definitely! Let's talk now about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). What prompted you to join this organization and how has been a member influenced your writing?
I didn’t become a member until after I got published. OUP recommended the organization and I’m so glad I joined. I wish I’d known about it earlier. I‘ve met so many wonderful people who are incredibly supportive and generous with their knowledge. It’s great to be able to meet up with other authors who share your passions and know what it feels like when the writing is torturous. In fact I met you on my first ever SCWBI conference. You took me under your wing and made the whole experience so much fun. I really appreciate that. So thank you. : )
Aw, Tamsin, that's so lovely of you - thank you (although you've made me blush)! I agree with you about SCBWI, it's a fantastic organization. Changing the subject, but still book-related, could you tell the readers what a Nahualli is, and what's yours?
A Nahualli is your spirit animal. According to the Aztecs, everyone had a spiritual animal twin. You’re born at the same time and share each other’s characteristics. In times of need, your Nahualli will come to you in dreams or in the shadows of the real world. I’d like to think mine is a wolf or a jaguar, but my friends say it’s a Labradoodle. Admittedly I do like to play, eat and nap. I created a quiz to find out what your Nahualli is. If you’re interested, you can try it out on my website.
I did the quiz on your website; it was great fun. My nahualli is an owl.
Finally, to round off the interview, let’s have a bit of fun:
Which would you rather be – a mermaid or a synchronized swimmer?
A mermaid – she could synchronize swim in her spare time!
Tiger or lion?
Lioness – they’re more sociable.
Jellybeans or a massive bar of luxury chocolate?
Always always jellybeans!
Hawaii or Florida?
Ooh that’s a hard one. They both have amazing beaches, people, cities, scenery, snorkeling (Although Hawaii is better for that) But I’ll have to go with Florida. It has the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
Cat burglar or cat wrangler?
You made me snort out loud. I think I might get scratched too much as a cat wrangler. Plus I think being a cat burglar is a bit more glamorous!
Savour or scoff in one?
Scoff in one. And then go out and get some more…
Pilates or Zumba?
Zumba. I like to move a lot when exercising. Plus I can pretend I’m Shakira!! ; )
Lazy day on the beach or a day’s hillwalking?
Again this is a hard one. Because I love the beach but I’m not lazy on it. I like to go snorkeling or play bat and ball. But then I do like a good walk. Oh no the pressure – which one should I pick??? You know what – we’ve had so much rain recently - I’m going to say the beach. It makes me think of the sun. In case any of you have forgotten – the sun is a mythical golden orb occasionally spotted in the sky…
Fab answers - go to the top of the class! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions, Tamsin. I wish you lots of success with Cat Burglar and with all your books in the future.
A huge thank you to you too. I love the questions! : )