This month’s RWW Series features Katherine Mann, co-developer of a children’s books series based on the adventures of two Cambridge cats, Fitz and Will.
RWW: Tell us a bit about yourself, Laura Robson Brown and Jia Han.
KM: Laura writes the stories, I oversee the business and marketing aspect and Jia is the illustrator. Fitz and Will, was co-developed by us in 2014. Laura’s writing and Jia’s beautiful illustrations, magically brings these adorable characters to life in our three books, The May Ball, The Graduation and the Christmas Adventure.
RWW: How did you three of you meet?
KM: It’s funny. Laura and I met years ago in Fulham, London and then we found out that both our husbands attended the same university. By coincidence we moved to Cambridge in same month and have now lived on the same road for about six or seven years.
Jia was a post-graduate student at Anglia Ruskin University studying a MA in Book Illustration. Once we had the idea for a book, we approached the University and amongst a selection of samples submitted by some very talented artists, Jia’s work stood out for us.
RWW: What led to the idea of writing a book for children?
KM: Laura used to work for a children’s books publisher in London and was keen to get back to work but couldn’t do it full time at the time because she had young children. One day, we found ourselves discussing the prospect of writing a book and it simply took off from there.
RWW: You have taken a different approach to publishing your books.
KM: Having a business idea and then weaving the creative around the concept was something we thought would work. We decided to set it in Cambridge and selected three Cambridge University Colleges to focus on – Trinity, St. John’s and King’s College. Our target market is Cambridge residents, alumni and tourists.
Fitz & Will at Fitzwilliam Museum
RWW: Sounds like you had made up your mind to self publish from the start.
KM: Since it had a local hook, we were convinced it would work. We took the plunge and risked the funds to self publish. We set up Little Cam Books as a partnership and took it from there. Interestingly enough, we have had lots of people contacting us for illustration work as well as writers who would like us to publish their books.
RWW: Would you say this approach has worked?
KM: Our first print run was a 1,500 copies and we set ourselves a realistic target of a couple of years to sell. We printed in May 2014 and had sold them all by August of the same year. We did another print run of 2,000 and have sold 1,500 so far. The second book, The Graduation Adventure was launched in April 2015 and we sold 500 in the first two weeks. So I would say it’s working for us.
Fitz & Will (Illustration by Jia Han)
RWW: What’s the next for Little Cam Books?
KM: Our next phase is to sell nationally. The third book, A Christmas Adventure, was launched in October this year and will be featured at King’s College Carol service this year.
RWW: Why cats and not dogs? 🙂
KM: The initial story was actually based on mice that lived at the Round Church. However, when we started to look into illustrating the story, mice were quite small to draw and from an illustration point of view didn’t project quite as well. Also there was no affinity with mice so we then considered cats or dogs and went with the former. Maybe the fact that we both have cats contributed to that.
RWW: My daughter can narrate the whole story without looking at the book. You seem to have created memorable characters. Are Fitz & Will based on any of you?
KM: No! They are based on our cats. (she laughs out loud)
Prince William reading The Graduation Adventure at St John’s College
RWW: How did you go from idea to print?
KM: Took a while. We had the idea a year before the first book was written. Then we procrastinated a bit but talked about it to a few people who we thought would be the target audience. Once we made up our mind, it took six months from choosing an illustrator to writing right through to print.
RWW: What would be your advice to anyone thinking of writing a children’s book?
KM: Hmmm …..
- Firstly, consider whether you are trying to fill a gap in the market or if your aim is to create the best children’s book
- Read other children’s books
- Dredge up old contacts who might be able to help
- Do your research
- Make sure your book is the right length for a bedtime read
- Have enough quirky details for a younger audience but not too basic for a broader age range
- Get the main protagonist lovable and create an affinity. Very important
- Be determined but give yourself the right amount of time and set realistic targets
- Be kind to yourself
RWW: How would you sum up your experience so far?
KM: Quite a good laugh. It has strengthened our friendship and we’ve learnt to appreciate our respective skills in ways we couldn’t have done before we started writing together. I love the idea of creating a legacy – something to treasure forever. It is super that people read the books and say they have it and love it. Receiving the appreciation is quite heart warming. And it’s a nice feeling to know that this Christmas, some children will be unwrapping our books as gifts. That’s special!
RWW: What has been your highlight to date?
KM: Opening the box of our first print.
RWW: What comes The May Ball Adventure?
KM: So we launched the Graduation Adventure at the Cambridge Literary Festival this summer and will formally launch the Christmas Adventure at the King’s College Christmas Carol Service as the book is set at King’s. The bookshop is keen to stock copies for the service as well so hopefully we will have some other merchandising ready for Christmas as well.
RWW: I presume you all have full time jobs. How have you been able to juggle family life, work and the book?
KM: I don’t know! My husband does think I might have taken on too much but I do enjoy a challenge.
RWW: My daughter had a question. Why were the lions grey and then at the end in colour?
KM: The come to life. 🙂
Love the funky boots & fashion sense by the way. Thanks Katherine.
The books are available in Cambridge at Waterstones, Jeffers, The Fitz William Museum and several independent shops in Cambridge. For a full list of stockist, visit http://www.litlecambooks.com
You can also get copies online at Little Cam Books