Our chat with Catherine…
I think I always wrote but didn’t realise I was a writer! Looking back I vividly recall moments from primary school when I was buzzing with the thrill of a new story: the Martian book I wrote in Mrs Harrison’s reception class (where I spelled ‘said’ as ‘sed’), the giraffe tale that won me the Chester Zoo Writing competition in Year 4 (clearly a wish fulfilment tale from a girl who longed to be taller – and still does!). In secondary school I became a prolific diary writer, and whilst I mostly waffled on about my skin (spotty) my weight (too much) my boobs (too little!) and talked about boys using code names (Oughty, Kyle, Twiglet, Tims #1 and #2 … I could tell you who they were but then I’d have to kill you!) - it got me into the writing habit. I taught in Africa after university, where I found the diary form was inadequate and I turned to fiction. It felt daring and presumptuous – I wasn’t a real writer so what right did I have to attempt the third person? But it also felt like a need. I still feel like that – as if there are some stories I need to tell, and they won’t let me be till I’ve got them down on the page. I’m not sure I ever feel like a ‘real writer’ though – just a girl who writes!
I wrote an adult book which was published just after my son was born, but then I really lost my confidence. Having two babies within 20 months (and losing my father in the same period) left me feeling like I might never write again. At some point I had an epiphany when I realised that I really wanted to write for children - that was a real turning point. Then all the life-changing experiences I had been through in the ‘fallow’ years when I feared I might never write again, came pouring out and lent my writing a new urgency, a new richness and I think more compassion. So, even when life gets in the way of writing, or you can’t seem to find the emotional capacity to write, remember you are still ‘incubating’ ideas – just waiting for the right time to let them fly!
Today I got a tweet from a teacher in Liverpool which made me cry: ‘One of my Syrian girls has been reading No Ballet Shoes In Syria by @catherinebruton and described it as 'her favourite book ever'. I even gave her a pass from our lesson to go & read it outside our room instead. If that's not an endorsement I don't know what is.’ That reaction made me feel humbled and happy!
I simply adored Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, which I read over and over. I loved sharing it with my daughter and I still pick it up as an old favourite today. The title of No Ballet Shoes in Syria is definitely my humble homage to Streatfeild!
I am an English teacher, mum of two teenagers and children’s author …. so mostly I don’t juggle well at all - I feel as if balls are tumbling all around me! I’m pretty certain I don’t dust as much as I should (‘Dust if you Must …’ is one of my all-time favourite poems), and my children know that when Mum is on a writing-roll odd things can happen – like cold potatoes appearing in lunchboxes instead of sandwiches, or socks ending up in the freezer! But although juggling can be exhausting, my pupils never cease to inspire me with their energy, imagination, creative outlook - and my family are lovely and patient and put up with a lot – so I wouldn’t have it any other way! Also writing is the reason I can juggle all the rest – it’s my guilty pleasure, my source of happiness and equilibrium - not just another thing on my to-do list. After all, who wouldn’t rather be scribbling than ironing!!