I recently spoke with popular UK author Cathy Cassidy when she was touring in Australia to promote two new titles Angel Cake and Shine On Daizy Star. Cathy writes books for pre-teen girls aged 9 – 13 years and the new Daizy Star series caters to slightly younger girls, aged 8 – 11.
Is this your first trip to Australia?
It is and it probably took me 10 minutes to fall in love with it. Everywhere I go everything is so different and wonderful, so I have to come back with my family and explore a bit more. There’s so much I haven’t seen yet and so much more to do.
It’s so exciting going to different places because it feeds your imagination all the time with new ideas all over the place. It’s simply brilliant – so many things going into your head and getting stored away secretly for later use.
How do you think that the books are able to connect with different readers in different countries and situations?
I think that although the situations in the stories are obviously going to be very different for readers in different places, it’s the same feelings and emotions that they are experiencing and the readers, wherever they are, seem to be able to connect quite strongly with those feelings and emotions.
When I was in New Zealand, for example, there was a big library event and a girl in the front row asked me one of the loveliest questions I’ve been asked. She said “My question is, how do you know? How do you know how it feels to be me?” I don’t really know the answer to it, but it’s the best compliment I’ve ever been given.
I think that’s what the readers are feeling – that somehow, somebody understands what it’s like to be them or to be in their situation. I think at that age, that’s something I always really wanted. I wanted a book that maybe reflected my experience or the way that I was feeling and those books didn’t seem to exist back then. But now, to write about feelings and emotions and have a look at some of the difficult issues that kids might have to face, it’s okay to do that and that’s kind of the thing that matters to me.
With the age group that you are writing for, do you consciously put limits on the themes you discuss or how far you take relationships in the story?
I do have a relationship or a boyfriend in most of the books now because I know that the readers really like that, but it’s always got to be very innocent and that’s important because for that age group that really the way it has to be. Nothing would ever go beyond a kiss. It’s quite an innocent age and I think that in that particular sense it’s important to keep that innocence because kids do grow up fast enough anyway. You really don’t want to make them feel pressured that they should be doing anything that might make them feel out of their depth.
But when it comes to other issues, maybe I wouldn’t be so strict I think. I think young people now are growing up in a very different society to the one that I grew up in and things are a lot tougher for them. Basically we have created a society that has a lot of challenges for young people. I think that it is quite important to look at some of those difficult things in the context of a story where it is safe and where you can explore it with hope and show that there can be happy outcomes.
I think that it is better to do that than to pretend that certain things don’t exist. Maybe you can look at things like bullying, for example, or a family split and show that it might not be the end of the world or in the instance of bullying that there are ways of getting around it and ways of dealing with it and ways of getting over the impact that it will have on their lives. I think those things need to be explored.
What message would you like readers to be taking away from your books?
There are lots of things, especially the importance of friendship and family.
The most important thing is probably to believe in yourself. It’s okay to be an individual or to be different and the important thing is to be true and stand up for the things that you believe in and just be who you really are. That is what matters.
You can’t build strong lasting friendships if you are pretending to be something else. If you are pretending to be one of the cool kids, it’s all an act, it’s not going to work in the long term. So, for kids to kind of have that basic self-confidence that comes from accepting themselves as they are, that is something that I would love readers to absorb that from the stories. It’s not a message as such, but it is something I believe in quite strongly that probably seeps its way into all of the books because it’s something that I feel quite deeply.
Your website seems to be very interactive with your readers.
It definitely is and I kind of had no idea what I was doing when I started off. Because I didn’t really know what I wanted it to be or how it would work (in the beginning), it kind of evolved to be exactly the way that the kids wanted it to be so that they can ask questions that I can answer and that has turned out to be one of the best things ever, because I get this fantastic 2-way communication with my readers which really wouldn’t have been possible before the age of the internet.
It has to be interactive and there is lots of stuff on the site that is there because the kids need it to be there. For example, the page with the writing competition runs all the time and is open to readers and writers all around the world. That’s because a lot of young people were writing in asking for tips and advice on how to improve their writing or how to be a writer. That’s all about them.
There is even a page for trying to troubleshoot the kind of basic problems that you might come across as you’re growing up and we include a link to a UK charity called ChildLine so that kids have a way to kind of way to connect with somewhere that can offer them ongoing support.
All of these are things that I think are important and they come from what the kids need or want.
What are your future writing plans?
I’m actually bringing out a non-fiction book later in the year called Letters to Cathy. It’s kind of a girls’ guide to growing up. It has lots of the basic problems with friendships and family and school and boys and all of that kind of thing.
The idea behind it is that it’s kind of the book I’ve always wanted to write as an agony aunt, to try to stop the problems from actually cropping up in the first place and again it links so much to all the friendship stuff from the website with advice or tips on the basic things that maybe help a friendship grow, based on how to celebrate friendship and kind of turning your back on the bullying thing because that is not acceptable and is something that I do feel quite strongly about.
- Angel Cake was released in Australia in May and will be available in the UK in early July.
- Letters to Cathy is scheduled for release in the UK in October 2009 and Australia in November 2009.
- Shine On Daizy Star is currently available in the UK and will be released in Australia in late June 2009.
Cathy Cassidy author website
Susan’s review of Angel Cake at Suite101