Artist of the Month September 2018 – Cat Weatherill
Our September Artist of the Month is storyteller and author Cat Weatherill. A hugely experienced storyteller, Cat has been with Authors Abroad for many years and is a regular favourite in both the UK and overseas.
Cat Weatherill is unusual. Not only is she a best-selling children’s novelist, she is also one of Europe’s leading performance storytellers. This is quite an achievement! Many people achieve one or the other, but only Cat has managed both. She plays for a living – with stories, images, dreams, hopes and ideas. She combines her love of language with a playful spirit and and makes Story Magic.
Cat studied Drama at Hull University, became an actress and a singer, moved into Theatre in Education then discovered storytelling in 1997. Since then she has entertained thousands of children in hundreds of schools, libraries, theatres and festivals.
Her first book Barkbelly was published by Puffin in 2005. This was followed by eight others and she is now published in twelve languages.
What a visit from Cat entails
There will be a special kind of magic in the air when Cat visits. Children remember her for years after the event – she’s hugely entertaining. But more than that, she loves the company of children and really listens to them, valuing their ideas and help with the books she is writing. Her latest book, Famous Me, credits the Year 5 boy who gave her the title. This kind of shared creativity is generous, thrilling and inspiring. Smiles and laughter are guaranteed, and she is fuelled almost entirely on tea and biscuits.
One of the best things about Cat is that she can comfortably work across the ages, from nursery to adult, so no one needs to miss out when she visits.
Make sure you check out Cat’s author page on the Authors Abroad website to see what she can offer for your desired age group.
What School’s Have Said About Cat
‘Thank you. It was just what we had hoped for and more – the kids are buzzing with it”
Lindsay Vincent, Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls
‘The feedback forms were unanimous in their praise. Thank you!’
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
‘Thank you for the boundless energy and enthusiasm you have given to each class. You have made our Writing Week exciting, fun and thought provoking’
Kington Primary School
‘The pupils were enthralled and captivated. Absolutely loved it. Met the needs of our kids. Rich language experience. Structure and content of session appropriate to age and abilities of pupils’
Teacher evaluation, Read a Million Words in Wales project
‘Cat arrived in Jeddah, during an impromptu sandstorm, but this did not alter her enthusiasm and passion for promoting reading and writing. From our very Early Years Learners to Year 6, she oozed enthusiasm during her workshops. The little ones, enjoyed interactive sessions, complete with props and music. Then as Cat was introduced to the older section of the school, the children were part of a learning experience which left them eager to become writers and also understand and appreciate the process of this wonderful craft. Thank you once again from all at BISJ!’
British International School Jeddah – Saudi Arabia
‘Cat Weatherill was engaging for a range of children ages 3-18. She is high energy. She is certainly flexible! She performed with noise and song for the early years and then switched to discuss visual thinking with our Grade 12 Film students.’
Branksome Hall Asia – South Korea
Interview with Cat Weatherill
How and when did you come to join Authors Abroad?
It was July 2013. Very late one night, I came across a You Tube clip, made by one of the AA authors, chronicling his latest trip. It showed the schools, the students and the welcome he was receiving … I was so excited, I mailed Trevor right then, even though it was long past midnight, asking if I could join the agency. His answer was waiting for me in the morning: YES!
How would you describe storytelling to those who feel it is simply reading aloud?
Oh, it is infinitely more dynamic! I never read from a book. Even when I am doing extracts from my own books, I perform them. I am very physical. Putting down the book frees my hands, so I can play musical instruments or use props while I am telling. I can adapt the story to suit the audience and the space – make it spookier or funnier, shorter or faster. Crucially, I am able to keep constant eye contact with the audience, and it’s the eye contact that enables me to spin the story web, wrapping everyone in the tale. It’s an immersive experience.
What first piqued your interest in storytelling?
I loved its portability. I had come from the theatre, where so much is required: lights, costumes, a set… I loved the fact that a story could be carried in your head and shared at any time, anywhere.
Do you prefer writing or storytelling?
I truly love both, and they feed each other. When I am travelling, I write every day, sometimes for hours, sitting in a cafe somewhere. Often I am writing simply for myself, with no intention of turning it into a story to be published. I like to reflect on what is happening in my life in that moment. Writing is how I make sense of my world, emotionally and physically.
Writing is a solitary, inward-looking process for me. Storytelling is the opposite! That is how I connect to the world, share and bring joy. Together, the two make a perfect creative balance.
Where do you find inspiration?
Absolutely everywhere! I have just been commissioned to write ten short stories for the BBC, and so far I have found inspiration in my jungle-themed shower curtains, a silver watch, a thrush smashing open a snail shell and a pub sign for a swan. I very much agree with Roald Dahl, who said that magic is all around us – we simply have to believe in it and watch the world with ‘glittering eyes.’
Why is it so important to share stories?
Because that is how we connect as human beings: through sharing a story. We are hard-wired to find narratives irresistible. Someone simply has to say: “You’ll never guess what I have just seen,’ and we are hooked! I love that intimacy. One person tells, the other one listens, and the story dances in the space between them.
Do you have a favourite tale to tell?
The Three Little Pigs. I have told it for twenty years, sometimes up to six times in one day, and I never, ever grow tired of it. And that is so important – the energy the teller brings to the tale. The energy I put out is reflected back at me from the audience. We bring the story alive together.
Are people ever too old to listen to a story?
No. As I said before, a good tale, well-told, is irresistible. But when it comes to schools, it is really important to have age-appropriate stories. It is possible to hold 150 Year 9s spellbound for fifty minutes, but not with nursery tales! This is where experience really helps.
Have you ever forgotten a key part of a story or frozen on stage?
I am a real trooper, and always manage to keep going, no matter what is happening inside my head. The audience never realises when I leave out a key part, because I weave it back into the story at a later point. This is one of the great things about storytelling – its flexibility!
The other thing about storytelling is, it’s very human. You are not a machine, and you are doing a difficult job, holding the attention of an audience and performing and remembering the story and fighting against the noise coming from the school kitchen, all at the same time! So slip-ups are inevitable, and I often acknowledge them. Teachers and parents are very understanding. We all know what it’s like to be tired and pressured!
What has been your most memorable school visit?
I have had countless special days, but I especially remember a school where the children had really studied my books before my visit and created a huge wall display in the hall entitled ‘How to Write Like Cat Weatherill.’ There were examples of similes and alliteration, rhyme and onomatopeia… A perfect analysis of my style. I was completely blown away by it.
It makes a huge difference when the children have studied your books before the visit. Not only are they more excited, but the standard of the questions leaps up from ‘How old are you?’ to ‘Why do you favour nature images when it comes to similes?’
What’s your favourite overseas trip you have done with Authors Abroad?
Oh… I have had so many fabulous experiences! One of the best things is getting to spend out-of-school time with the teacher or librarian who organised the trip. In the UK, one day visits are the norm, but abroad, I can be there for a week, and so I’m frequently taken to see special things and share meals out. Real friendships are made which (thanks to Facebook!) continue for years after the visit.
Lagos and Bangkok were both hugely memorable, but I think I would choose Jeju as my favourite. Jeju is a little island, 60km off the coast of South Korea. Seriously long-haul but absolutely worth it!
How do you find the energy and the motivation to get up and perform if you are tired or under the weather?
With a cup of tea in my hand, anything is possible. And cake really helps on days like that!
Proudest career moment so far?
As an author: everything connected with my first novel, Barkbelly. Signing to Puffin Books, holding the finished book in my hand for the first time, reading the amazing reviews in The Observer, the Times, The Independent… Seeing it short-listed in the final five for the Branford-Boase Award.
As a storyteller: performing a two-hour solo show for adults on the main stage at The Barbican.
What are your future ambitions?
To produce a book of short stories for adults, written during my travels in India.
What do you do to relax?
Sit in a coffee shop and write my journal. Travel. Visit friends. A bit of gardening. Read, read, read!
Why are libraries so important?
I think it’s a brilliant notion, that books and learning should be freely available to all. They are also a haven for children who have uncomfortable home lives, and for elderly people who have little social interaction in their world. I have always loved doing community shows and school sessions in libraries. The librarians really care about books and people, and do a great job.
You are one of the performers at our debut literature festival – The Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival. Are you looking forward to it? What can people who attend your performance expect?
I am very much looking forward to it. It looks a wonderful setting, and what an extraordinary line-up of authors! It will be brilliant to hear them all speak.
What can people expect from me? Energy, laughter, magical stories – and the chance to chat with me when I come off stage! I love meeting my readers.
Luxury cruise or backpacking? Backpacking
Would you rather be able to time travel or fly? Fly
Cats or dogs? Dogs
Summer or winter? Summer
Who is best – Paddington Bear or Winnie the Pooh?
Neither. Iorek Byrnison, the polar bear from Northern Lights, is the best literary bear ever.
If you were Prime Minister for a day what law would you introduce?
I would end Brexit! I have worked in thirteen European countries so far and love being part of the community.
Arrange for Cat to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Cat Weatherill, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at email@example.com