What inspired you to write your book?
I didn’t set out to write animal stories for children – it just happened. The first book I ever finished was Kiwi in Cat City in 2002. I had been made redundant and suddenly had a lot of time on my hands.
The story was inspired by a little black, fluffy, golden-eyed, chubby cat that I used to have, called Kiwi. She was cheeky, intelligent, curious, and liked to follow me down the road on the way to work – I’d have to scoop her up, take her back and run off! I’m sure she’d have hopped on the train with me if she could. Kiwi liked to chase shadows on walls, munch Whiskers food, roll on her back with her paws in the air for strokes, and hunt birds (alas, she was very good, and it was the only thing we argued about). When she wasn’t trying to swipe the dinner off my plate when I wasn’t looking or jumping in the air to catch a moth in mid-flight, she’d be curled up on my bed or waiting to pouncing out at me. One day she followed me to the supermarket round the corner, waited patiently on a wall, and then came back home with me.
Kiwi was lovely, but I lost her in 2000, when she was six, which is no age really. I started to really hate cars!!
When Kiwi was still alive, I wrote a poem about her. In 2002, during this time between jobs, I reread it and started thinking about a world populated by cats. I’d lie in bed at night, imagining it. They ran their own lives and did their own thing. I named this world Cat City, where cats roamed free and happy, away from the dangers posed by cars and dogs, and where it was always summer. The star would be Kiwi. I would bring her back to life on paper and make her go on adventures. In Kiwi in Cat City, the cat heroine is four, and she is ‘owned’ by Amy and James, and their parents, in the human world. I ended up making Amy a bit like me, although I named her after my niece. James was just my favourite boy’s name.
Gradually, other characters started talking and a catnapping plot emerged. I had no idea where the book was going, but I was having a lot of fun. I wrote every day. Kiwi became magical and able to communicate with the kids, whom she turned into kittens and took on an adventure to her other home – the blue-lit Cat City. Soon other characters evolved – Siam, a computer whizz with bent whiskers, Inspector Furrball, a ginger tom with a very red waistcoat, and Kip, a good friend of Kiwi’s, among others. Plus there had to be a bad cat and a few red herrings.
Why animals? All my life I’ve always been crazy about them. They make me go “Ahhhhhh!” When I was a child I wanted to be able to talk to our pets. Our house was full of them – my mum ran a mini zoo and it was magical to me. One of my best-est buddies at the age of six or seven was our cat Mitzi, who I talked to and was sure she understood. My dad had an aviary full of birds and I thought I could communicate with them by winking. I’d go into the aviary, hold out my two little hands full of bird seed, and the budgies would land to feed. They’d also hop on my shoulder to do the winking thing. So, in Kiwi in Cat City, I made the kitty communicate with the two children – my wish from childhood.
Genre and Targeted Age Group
Middle grade fiction
About your Book:
One dark night, Amy cannot sleep. She looks out of the window into the garden to see her cat, Kiwi, transfixed by the moon, which is glowing brightly like a cat’s claw. Waking her brother, James, the girl suggests they follow Kiwi to see where she goes… whether it involves a hunt for mice or something else. Little do they know that, with a flick of her tail, Kiwi is going to magically change them into kittens and lead them on the adventure of their lives to a world inhabited by catizens. In the blue-lit world of Cat City, the budding detectives help Inspector Furrball to investigate a catnapping and find out what happened to Madame Purrfect.
This book is the first in the Kiwi Series, of which there are six books.
Chapter 1: Follow, follow
Amy awoke and saw her black cat sitting perched on the end of her bed, studying the gleaming moon. She rubbed her eyes and sat up just in time to see Kiwi leap out of the window and on to the ledge below. Amy crept out of bed and peered outside. The cat was standing perfectly balanced on the wooden garden fence, calm and still, her tail perked up. A dark silhouette staring up at the moon. I wonder where she’s going, thought Amy. She crept into her brother James’ room where he was sleeping soundly, and prodded his arm until he woke with a jump.
“What?” he gasped, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “I was dreaming. You really scared me.”
“Come and look.”
“Eh?” He stumbled out of bed and, like a zombie, followed his sister to the window. Gazing out, they could see the black cat still sitting on the fence.
“She has been sitting there for ages,” said Amy.
“Maybe she’s stretching,” he shrugged.
They watched, but Kiwi didn’t stretch. Instead she leapt off the fence and stood on the path, looking up at the moon.
“Now that’s weird. That’s what I’m talking about,” said Amy. “She’s thinking about something.”
“I wonder where she goes at night,” James mused.
“Hunting mice,” grinned Amy.
“Yuk, she wouldn’t. Would she?”
“Tell you what, I’m going to follow her and see…”
“You’re crazy,” gasped James. “It’s 1am and mum will kill you.”
“I want to see what she has for breakfast,” Amy laughed. “Don’t you?”
“Yuk! That’s grim,” said James, screwing up his face.
Amy wandered back to her room with her little brother following, half-asleep and a bit confused.
“So you’re coming then?” asked Amy, putting on her shoes and jacket.
“Errm,” he murmured as his sister crept out of the room on tiptoes. “Okay, but if she catches anything I’m not touching it…”
James slid on his trainers, jeans and jacket, and crept down the stairs after his sister, being careful not to make a sound. He could hear his dad snoring like a sleeping dragon. The sound echoed off of every wall. They tiptoed to the back door and slowly opened it on its creaky hinges. It was so loud. Ahh.
Kiwi was still sitting in the middle of the garden, staring up at the moon. Holding their breath they slowly closed the door without a sound. Turning around, they were just in time to see Kiwi plunge over the fence in a single bound. The two children looked at one another, raised eyebrows, and ran to the bottom of the garden to the gate. Out they went, giggling. It was a warm summer night without a breeze. In the field beyond the gate, trees soared up against the night sky, jagged and spectre-like. Without the shine of the moon it would have been completely dark. James shivered, but he had already decided that he was not going to look scared, even if he was.
“There she goes,” pointed Amy, as they bounded across the field towards the black tail that bobbed above the grass in the distance.
They chased and chased. The black cat ran and ran. They swerved between trees and the black cat just kept running. The children started to puff and pant. “Kiwi!” they yelled.
Suddenly, the cat’s ears pricked up and she stopped with a jump. Caught unawares, the little black cat turned around, her yellow eyes wide and enquiring. “Are you two following me?”
Amy and James stopped dead in their tracks. James sat down on the grass with a bump, his mouth wide open. Amy wanted to say something, but she couldn’t speak.
“Well, are you?” asked Kiwi, standing up straight and resting one paw on her hip. “It’s a bit late to be out playing you know.”
Kiwi grinned the biggest, widest grin and flicked her tail. She sat down and started washing, knowing that she had just given her two playmates the biggest shock of their lives. She carried on washing her paw, flicked out a claw, and waited for a reply. It was a long time coming.
The children were transfixed, rooted to the spot. Cold fingers of air travelled up their spines and made all of the hairs on their necks stand up. Amy gulped. Was she dreaming?
“What’s wrong?” laughed Kiwi. “Cat got your tongue?”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Amy sat down with a thump.
“Yooouuuu taaaallllkkkkk,” James stuttered.
“Well, what were you expecting? Sign language?” asked Kiwi matter-of-factly.
“But, we can understand you,” mumbled Amy, pinching her arm. Ouch. She wasn’t dreaming. Could this be real after all?
“Well, I know several languages,” explained Kiwi. “It comes in handy. So you WERE following me? Ha ha!”
“Sort of,” said James. “We were wondering what you ate for breakfast.”
“Like mice?” asked Kiwi, grinning.
Kiwi laughed. “I have more important things to do. And mice taste funny. Errr. Not good. And mice have feelings too. They’re very intelligent you know. I have several good friends who are mice…” Kiwi stopped talking as the two children sat open-mouthed in shock, blinking oddly.
“Ok, well, enough of that,” she carried on. Best to change the subject. “I was joking. I don’t have any mouse friends! Well, you see that moon up there? See how it’s really bright and glowing?”
The kids nodded.
“And see how it’s shaped like a cat’s claw?”
“I guess…” said James.
“Well, nights like these are not ordinary nights,” said the cat, looking straight at the boy.
James shivered. “Why?” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer. Was Kiwi going to eat them?
“Well,” said Kiwi slowly, “if you really want to know… why don’t you follow me some more?”
It was a challenge. The cat was grinning from ear to ear now. Amy was cold and scared. She could only stare awkwardly as though hypnotised while her brother chatted to the cat… the cat… THE CAT! She felt dizzy.
After a few more minutes, Kiwi gazed back at the moon. It seemed even brighter. She got up. “There is no more time to lose. I have to go now. Are you coming?” She flashed her big, yellow eyes.
James sprung to his feet. “I’m coming,” he announced.
“No,” called Amy as James started to follow the little black cat. “I’m scared. Don’t follow. This is too weird…”
But James didn’t listen and carried on walking. Amy pulled herself to her feet and looked behind her. The field was empty. It must be about 2am by now, if not later. Their parents would be getting up in a few hours for work. Morning was fast approaching. What should she do? She couldn’t let her brother go alone. What if he got lost? “Wait!” she shouted, and charged after her brother and her suddenly talking cat. Things were not how they were meant to be today.
Chapter 2: As easy as one, two, three
“Come on,” said Kiwi. “We’re nearly there.”
“Where?” asked James, glancing around at the big, open and completely empty field. All around the edges, the tall trees loomed, stretching up like a giant, natural wall.
“Here,” said Kiwi.
“But there’s nothing here,” said James, cold and slightly impatient. Not only could his pet cat talk, but she was also clearly crazy.
“There’s more than the eye can see,” said Kiwi, gazing up with her big, yellow saucer eyes. “Just follow what I do. And concentrate. It’s easy.”
The cat sat down and stared up at the moon. “One, two, three, a flick of the tail, a purr, a leap and away we go…”
Puff! She vanished. All that remained was a strange, glowing, purple mist.
“She disappeared!” cried Amy, turning round in a circle. “I can’t see her. Can you?”
“Your turn,” he said quietly.
“What? Are you crazy? She‘s just hiding in the grass,” said Amy.
“You go first, like she says…”
Amy looked annoyed. “You can’t be serious. You’re not suggesting…”
James nodded. “You’re the oldest.”
“No way!” she replied. “I haven’t got a tail to flick and I’m pretty sure I can’t purr…”
“I think you’re meant to imagine one…”
“You’re mad,” said Amy.
“Mmm I’m going to try,” sighed James, and he starting counting out loud.” One, two…”
“Okay, okay,” cried Amy, clenching her fists to her sides. “Now straight after this I’m taking you home. Okay?”
And so, Amy flicked her imaginary tail, which was pretty long in her mind, purred and leapt up into the air – into nothing, or something? She couldn’t make it out. She had this amazing feeling of pure weightlessness as if her body weighed nothing. It also felt smaller, and she seemed to be floating. All around, everything was purple…
“Wow, it worked,” shouted James, jumping up and down. And he collapsed into giggles. “Cool!”
In the spot where his sister had jumped, only a puff of purple mist was left. Now it’s my turn, he thought, and turning round with a one, two, three and a flick of his imaginary tail, a purr and a leap, away he went to who-knows-where. A feeling of sheer weightlessness gave him the impression that he was flying. Wild! But where was he flying to?
“Ahem, the landing can sometimes be a bit difficult until you get used to it,” grinned Kiwi, washing her nose with a paw as Amy found herself collapsed in a heap on the floor. “You’ll have to get used to being on four feet now!”
“Four?” Amy stuttered, bewildered.
“Sure, look down and see how many feet you’ve got.”
“Eeeeeek!” Kiwi was right. Not one, not two, not three, but four feet were attached to her new body – but they were not feet, they were paws!! Fluffy black and white paws! “No!” Amy jumped backwards and fell over. But the biggest shock of all was the big white fluffy tail that wiggled out like a worm behind her. “Oh no!” she cried, and then fell over again trying to chase round in a circle to check out the tail more clearly. “Ahhh”, she yelled, and then a small laugh bubbled up inside her, spilling over until she couldn’t stop. She rolled over on her back with her legs in the air. All four of them. “I have a tail! A tail!” she cried, and laughed some more.
Just at that moment, James fell through the sky and bounced on the ground with a little “ouch”.
Except that, of course, it wasn’t quite James. Well, it was and it wasn’t. James was now a little, tabby kitten with a very pink nose. He wobbled a bit on his new feet when he walked, with his tail stuck up like a radar.
“Where’s Amy?” he asked as he sat down, a bit dazed.
“Don’t you recognise her?” grinned Kiwi, nodding towards the little black-and-white cat, who sat bright-eyed and staring at him.
“No, really, where is she? Is she okay?”
“I can see this is going to take a while,” said Kiwi, taking charge. “Amy meet James, James meet Amy. No, you’re not dreaming. Yes you have a tail.”
“No, you’re joking…”
“I’m afraid she’s not,” purred Amy in her feline voice.
“Ah,” shouted James and fell over. He noticed that Amy still had her flowery necklace on. “It can’t be true! Hey, what’s that? Hey, I’ve got a tail! Wow! And four paws. No way! This tail is really bushy…”
Amy started giggling. Kiwi raised an eyebrow. It was going to be a long night. Humans!
What formats are your books in
Both eBook and Print
How do you see writing a book in the Pet Genre as different from writing other genres of books?
I love writing about animals. I tried writing a book for older readers, a romance, but it turned into a comedy that starred a dog. My favourite character ended up being the pooch! And I enjoyed writing his sections more than the others. I also write poetry about creatures and nature, and insects. So I guess I’m always going to be writing about pets of some kind!
When writing for children, I think you’re imagination can just go wild. You can create anything. I think pets and magic go well together – we all wanted to know what it would be like to get inside the head of our pet or follow them to see what they get up to. I’d love a hidden camera to see what my kitty, Moggie, gets up to when I’m out! Or asleep!
I’ve had pets all my life. When writing, you can think of the pet you had, picture how they walk, act, sleep, stretch, talk, what sounds they make, how they wash, any crazy little things they do… all these things can go into your story. So, you can just describe all this and make up pet characters, who are connected to real life in that they act and seem like real animals. Then you can go a stage further and imagine what it would be like to be that pet, and try to act through them.
When I’m writing about the cats in my book, I make them do things that kitties do, like play with toys, bat something, fancy a wild snack, drink milk (but lactose free!!), jump high, have perfect balance, wash behind their ears, flick their tail, pick up sensations on their whiskers, have a scratch… all these things. Then you feel like you’ve got real animals as your characters and not just humans in furry suits! Although that would be cute…
Advice to someone that is thinking about or currently working on a pet book
Go for it! Just write what you enjoy and don’t give up. So many people love reading about animals – I’ve realised that I’m not alone! A lot of us were creature crazy as kids, and our love of them and of nature followed us as we grew up. I love watching the birds in my garden and I thought this might be embarrassing, but, no, so many people are home birdwatchers! So, find your own style and niche, and just enjoy yourself. Writing is such great fun. It’s total freedom. I think everyone has a good story in them and now is the best time to be a writer because things have opened up. It is very easy to publish a book, and there are many writers’ groups on Facebook who offer great advice and support. You’ll find a great community of indie authors online, all passionate about writing. Let your imagination be your guide.
How did you decide how to publish your book and where is it published through:
I wrote Kiwi in Cat City in 2002, but no one read it until 2011. It just sat in a draw, gathering dust. I sent three chapters and a synopsis to a big publisher shortly after writing it, but it was rejected. The publisher didn’t comment on the book and just said the company was not publishing any children’s books because they’d had a massive influx of them. I assumed the book was rubbish and I gave up. I went back to writing poems and short stories that I never finished!
In 2011, around January, my boyfriend read about self-publishing on Amazon Kindle. When he told me, a little light switched on in my brain. I wondered if I could finally publish Kiwi. I just wanted to see it in the public eye and get just a little feedback. No one had read it, so I had no idea if anyone would like it. I dug out the book, which was handwritten, typed it up, learnt how to format an ebook, found a cover, and published it. I then contacted two reviews on Amazon. To my shock, they liked it. I was flabberghasted and really happy. I remember crying over my first review!
Since then I’ve changed the cover, and after meeting a lot of authors who inspired and supported me, I wrote five more books in the series. Self-publishing fired up my writing. If my boyfriend hadn’t come across that article, I’d still only have one handwritten story, wilting in a drawer.
Vickie Johnstone lives in London, UK, where she works as a freelance sub-editor on magazines and an editor on indie books. She has a thing about fluffy cats and also loves reading, writing, films, the sea, rock music, art, nature, Milky Bar, Baileys and travelling.
Vickie has self-published the following books:
Kaleidoscope (poetry); Travelling Light (poetry); Life’s Rhythms (haiku); 3 Heads and a Tail (comedy romance); Kiwi in Cat City (magical cat series for middle grade readers); Kiwi and the Missing Magic; Kiwi and the Living Nightmare; Kiwi and the Serpent of the Isle; Kiwi in the Realm of Ra; Kiwi’s Christmas Tail; Day of the Living Pizza (comedy detective series for middle grade readers), and Day of the Pesky Shadow.
The Kiwi Series contains super illustrations by Nikki McBroom.