Behind the Book : Helen Oswald and Zoe Waring’s ‘Cat and Dog’

This month, one of Bright’s long-standing authors Helen Oswald published her lovely new book, Cat and Dog. We asked Helen and the book’s illustrator, Zoe Waring, to give us some behind-the-scenes insight into the creation of their book.

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Helen Oswald

They say all stories must have a conflict at their core. I was walking in a favourite spot along the Brighton sea-front (a popular spot for dogs to take their daily walk too) and I found myself watching how the dogs interacted and made friends with each other – or didn’t! I started to wonder what would happen if cats were added to the mix as well… Soon I was back at my desk and Cat and Dog started to emerge.

The idea for Cat and Dog started out with a feeling that I wanted to produce a story that was strongly image-led. I wanted to use the opportunities offered by the physical book, the power of the page turn; of light and dark, day and night, having a sense that I wanted the characters’ identities to be rooted in those contrasts.

A little further beneath the story of the furry friends, or ‘frenemies’, are my brother Stephen and I – scrapping in the garden of our childhood home, one moment the best of friends, the next sworn enemies. Stephen was always climbing up trees and leaving me behind to lead his own secret boy’s life, a little like Cat, and I was often left behind feeling abandoned and a little bit hurt, quite like Dog.

So, the themes that interested me in writing the story were the push-pull of friendships: how we are attracted but also challenged by each others’ differences; how those differences can cause us to fall out and say hurtful things; how we regret those words the moment they are out of our mouths, and how hard we find it to say ‘sorry’.

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I also wanted the story to suggest that in healing our conflicts, actions often speak louder than words; but I wanted to acknowledge at the same time, that it’s this edginess in relationships that makes them fun and keeps us coming back for more of that happy scrapping.
The story came quite quickly once I found Cat and Dog’s voices: Cat, rather sure of himself and a little aloof; Dog more naive and open.

Of course, as a writer, handing your characters over to an illustrator perhaps feels similar to leaving your children at the nursery for the first time…! I needn’t have worried – Zoe Waring was an extremely safe pair of hands and, right from the first exciting glimpse, I adored the way she brought the two of them alive. It was a thrill to see all the extra quirky detail that she brought to different scenes – inside the house and in the garden.

Finally, the fabulous team at Top That Publishing ensured all ran smoothly and swiftly from design to bookshop shelf.

And me? I still can’t quite believe that Cat and Dog are all grown up, making their way in the world!

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Zoe Waring

When Helen Oswald approached me with her brilliant new children’s story, Cat and Dog, I was super excited. Being a big fan of cute animals and expressive and intriguing characters, I warmed to Helen’s right away.

After spotting some animal samples in my portfolio, my agent suggested I tried out this mixed media style on Cat and Dog. I found drawing inks and watercolour paint worked best for the base colours and then worked with pastel, watercolour and charcoal pencils, layering up the fur and really getting a feel for the cheeky characters and their surroundings. I tend to work almost completely digitally, so it was a lovely change to get my hands messy! 
The textured brush strokes and hand-drawn lines really helped retain the energy of the text too.

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The emotions experienced by the characters throughout the story allowed me to play with their faces and give them lots of personality. I use my own silly little expressions to help me visualise how best to draw them, usually accompanied by a little ‘meow’…!
It wasn’t long before I had the feeling that I’d known the characters forever. I was over the moon to hear Helen liked them too! It’s always hit and miss whether a character design is going to be what an author has envisaged for their baby, but Bright had great foresight in seeing that this was going to be a happy match.

I scanned my art and pieced it together digitally, which gave me a little room to experiment with the scenes. We soon had a few spreads and a cover design to present to publishers… and Top That snapped it up! Hooray! 
We worked together with the lovely Senior Designer Carrie Knights and soon I was delivering final art.
Then came the nail-biting year before publication. Lots of little details are finalised during this time, including printing, proofing, sales presentations, rights fairs, deals, decisions… all the bits that come together to bring you what you see today.
It’s been so exciting to see Cat and Dog on the shelves of bookshops and it all began with Helen’s wonderful story.

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Cat and Dog published this July with Top That Publishing, PURCHASE HERE