By Marty Mulrooney
Earlier this year, AMO reviewed Cathy Brett’s illustrated teen novel Ember Fury, describing it as “an enjoyable, wonderfully illustrated light read.” We weren’t the only ones impressed either: Ember Fury was recently shortlisted for The Young Minds Book Award. Her latest novel, a darkly comic horror story about a teenage ghost called Scarlett Dedd, was released in September 2010. AMO recently caught up with Cathy to have a chat about both books and her plans for Halloween…
Hello Cathy, welcome to AMO! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself please?
I’m a red-haired, middle-aged emo who can’t seem to hold down a proper job, which means I’ve tried lots of different careers, most of which eventually bored me – theatre scenic artist, fashion designer, trend-spotter, window designer, creative director, packaging designer, uni lecturer – the perfect background for a writer, I guess!
Would you class yourself as an artist, a writer, or both?
My editor says I’m more a ‘creator’ and I’m happy with that description!
You combined writing and drawing last year with Ember Fury. Is it liberating to have such full creative control over all aspects of a personal project?
It was great to be able to treat what is essentially an ‘illustrated novel’ just like it was a child’s picture book. Instead of handing my manuscript over to a publisher and letting them do what they wanted, I was thrilled to be able to dictate how I wanted it to look, then hone it and tweak it, almost to the very last minute. I designed (created!) everything from the story to the illustrations to the experimental page layouts to the cover, which was amazing but exhausting.
Headline published Ember Fury last year. How did they end up publishing your work?
It was sheer luck that I decided to send my quirky debut novel to my agent when I did. At any other time it might have disappeared without a trace, misunderstood or seen as too off the wall, but she knew exactly where to take it, to Hannah Sheppard at Headline (Commissioning Editor) who was looking for something a bit different for her new teen list and decided to take a chance on Ember. Hannah ‘got’ Ember and was prepared to take on the enormous job of editing and producing my 230+ pages of extremely complicated text/image mash-up. She’s the coolest editor on the planet!!
How was the critical response for Ember Fury? Did you read the reviews?
It was awesome! Sorry, had to use that word because that’s basically how it felt. The most ‘awesome’ moment was ‘Ember’ being long-listed and then short-listed for the Young Minds Book Award. (Winner announced on 16th November, so cross your fingers!) To be considered for this award in particular has made me very proud. It’s a real validation of the authenticity of emotion I wanted the achieve with Ember, as she deals with being a lonely, abandoned 14 year-old pyromaniac, emo, daughter of a rock star!
I enjoyed the book even though I am an older male reader! Do you think your books have a specific target audience, i.e young teenage girls?
That’s really interesting, because I assumed that boys would be put off by a girl depicted on the cover, but lots of boys have enjoyed Ember, though they say they prefer the outrageous comedy horror of Scarlett Dedd. My books are definitely not ‘girly’ and there are loads of cool male characters. I hope I can continue to appeal to both.
How much writing had you done before this?
I have always written, but mostly copy for fashion publications or dull reports and lectures – I worked as a design consultant and forecaster for many years. I started writing fiction for fun once on holiday, began to edit my Gran’s memoirs, then was inspired to take fiction more seriously when I illustrated other people’s books.
What inspired Ember Fury? Does she share any of your own personality traits?
In some ways she is just like I was at 14 – self-conscious, awkward, moody, creative – but she’s also very different. I was certainly angry like her but NEVER considered setting fire to anything. I was painfully shy and wouldn’t dream of being as feisty and rude to adults as she is. I never stole a car or had an imaginary friend… oh, and my dad isn’t a rock star. But my hair IS orange!
Is it true that you are turning Ember Fury into a feature animation film script?
Actually, I started but had to put it aside to write books 2, 3 and 4. I’ve already story-boarded it all in my head and have begun the search for a collaborator, a studio or animator, someone who shares my passion for Ember and could bring my vision to the screen.
Are your illustrations all done by hand? Do you ever draw digitally?
I start very traditionally with pencil, paper, ink and a scratchy nib but then scan and Photoshop from then on. I sometimes draw directly with my stylus and tablet but prefer the line I get with my ink and nib. Even the super-sensitive stylus can’t mimic my lovely mapping pens. I get through about two a week when I’m finishing a book!
What is your new book Scarlett Dedd all about?
It’s about a group of quirky teenagers (based on real people) who make hilarious amateur horror movies. When one of them, Scarlett, has an embarrassing poisoning accident and kills herself and her family, the teens realise they now have an authentic ghost to feature in their films. Scarlett has other ideas!
How does it differ from Ember Fury?
It’s scarier, more gory and funnier, but the teen dilemmas and authenticity of relationships between the friends and the family have parallels with Ember. There are also loads of my usual emos, goths, artists and weird characters.
Halloween is approaching fast, making Scarlett Dedd’s release very timely! Are you a fan of Halloween?
This is going to sound dumb, but I’m really, really afraid of the dark and hate being surprised, so Halloween is a nightmare for me. I’ll probably spend the whole weekend hiding from Trick-or-Treaters!
I have heard you are already planning your next two books! Can you tell our readers anything about this or is it still top secret?
Book 3 is written and I’m about to re-write the ending and get stuck in to finishing the illustrations. I’m completely over-excited about it as it’s exploring a couple of themes that are big obsessions of mine – fashion and roleplay games. I’m a bit of a novice game-player but love the idea of players who become so involved that they can’t tell the difference between the game and reality. There’s a very cool supernatural element too. Book 4 is planned but still a secret. All I’ll say is it’s another new theme and I can’t wait!
What does the future hold for you?
I have no idea, but I like it that way – unpredictable.
Thank you for your time!