The adventures in Catherine Jacob's new series, Puppy Club, were inspired by her family's new puppy.
Catherine is a writer, award-winning television correspondent and Mum to three small children. She was previously a news correspondent at ITN's Channel Five News, and was a finalist in the Royal Television Society's Young Journalist of the Year. She has also worked as an Environment Correspondent for Sky News, travelling to far flung places like the Amazon and the Arctic Circle to report on this pressing issue.
She is now freelance so she can devote more time to her children and her writing, and lives in York.
Puppy Club (Little Tiger Press)
Author and journalist Catherine Jacob tells us how her family's new puppy helped inspire the stories in the Puppy Club series for younger readers, in which a group of children form a 'Puppy Club' to help them learn more about their own puppies - and to support each other in the adventures that follow!
Q&A with Catherine Jacob
1. What got you started as a children's writer?
The answer to this is my own children! When my eldest daughter who is now 13 was a toddler we read a lot of picture books and she loved stories. I've always loved telling stories too so I used to make lots up for her. She loves anything spooky and anything to do with nature so that is how Betsy bug love came about. The character is based on her. TROLL ON MY TOILET was written for her to as she absolutely loves Halloween-still does.
2. Can you tell us about your new series, Puppy Club, and what happens in each book?
Puppy Club has two central themes: animals and friendship. It's the story of six children, four girls and two boys who are all obsessed with dogs and puppies! In fact there's nothing they don't know about them. So when the opportunity comes up to own a puppy of their own they set about trying to convince their parents that they'd all be responsible dog owners.
There are three more books already written and more on the way! Each book is centred around a particular character and their dog. Each time, the characters face a different dilemma and their friends in Puppy Club are always there to help and advise and see them through it. It's been a joy to write, and I hope readers enjoy reading them as much as I have coming up with a story.
3. What makes these good stories for children who are starting on chapter books?
The Puppy Club books really are a lovely, cosy experience for any young reader. They're brilliant first chapter book because they're not too long and the language is relatively simple and very accessible, but I hope there's a lot in them. The characters are very recognisable and the storylines are, hopefully, exciting. They are about 12,000 words long and split into 10 to 12 chapters so are absolutely perfect for new readers in year one, two and three, but I've had great feedback from children in years four and five too, who have really enjoyed them.
4. What gave you the idea for a 'Puppy Club' - and how does it work?
We got a new puppy as a family during lockdown. He is a Labradoodle called Pluto. At around the same time I heard I had been chosen to write a Puppy Club book, so it was the perfect opportunity to write all about the mischievous things Pluto and his various puppy pals in our village got up to.
My daughters were around the same age as the members of the Puppy Club at the time I started writing, so it's a world that is very familiar indeed to me. The dialogue comes very easily as it's basically like listening to my daughters and their friends chatting! Lots of the antics of the various puppies in the books are based on things that have happened either in our house or to my friends' puppies where we live. We are about to potentially get puppy number two, so they'll be more stories to tell from that too soon!
5. Each of the puppies in your stories has a very different personality - are any of them based on puppies you have 'settled in' to your own home?
Yes they are. Our own Labradoodle is now nearly three but he was just eight weeks old when he came to live with us. There is a storyline in books one and two of a Labradoodle who lives next door to one of the members of a Puppy Club who is always escaping under the hedge. That's exactly what Pluto used to do the whole time when he first arrived. Whatever we tried, we couldn't work out how he was getting through no matter how many holes we blocked up!
We have lots of experience with settling in puppies and all the training socialising and toilet training it brings, so writing about it in Puppy Club was very easy indeed. And if we are going to get a new puppy in a few months time - watch this space - they'll be even more tales to write about.
6. What kinds of challenges do the children face as part of the Puppy Club?
The key message of each book is that puppies are a big responsibility. Yes, they're wonderful and great fun, but there is a lot of hard work that goes into training a puppy. And that's not just for adults, it's for the children too.
Book one (Puppy Club: Lulu's Big Surprise) is all about whether the children's families are ready to be puppy owners. There is a lot to consider, for example in Jaya's house, her parents are very busy with the four children and work, so it's touch and go as to whether this is the right time to have a puppy, even though she really, really wants one.
In book two (Puppy Club: Coco Settles In), which focuses on Elsa and her puppy Coco, it's all about the fact that they already have two cats in their house who aren't particularly thrilled when Coco comes along. Also, Elsa worries a lot about whether Coco is settling in like her friends' puppies and it takes a lot of hard work to make it work, not just from Elsa but from her mum and brother too.
In book 3 (not yet published), Dash is full of fun but for the first few months he is truly awful on the lead, pulling and tugging the whole time. Arlo's challenge is to train Dash properly, so eventually he'll be able to let him off the lead where it's safe. There is the added pressure of a charity dog walk that the members of Puppy club want to take part in. Will Arlo manage to train Dash in time? You'll have to read the book to find out.
7. Do the characters in your books, drawn by Rachael Saunders, look how you imagined them?
Rachel Saunders' illustrations are just wonderful! I'm very lucky that she was chosen to bring the stories to life. Some of the characters do look as I imagined, others are different, but it's safe to say the end result is brilliant. She's captured them perfectly. There's a lot to pour over on every page, from the chapter headings to the detailed illustrations and depictions of each scene. Some are full of drama some are heartwarming they're all just brilliant. Dive in and have a look!
8. What have you got planned next for Puppy Club?
I am currently writing book four which is in its very early stages and book three is on the way soon, so there is plenty to look forward to. As I said earlier, each book focuses on a different pair and after that, there are plenty more adventures to be had as the puppies grow and different challenges emerge.
9. How can children use pets or animals they know to inspire their writing?
Animals are just absolutely full of story writing potential. There is a reason so many picture books and books for younger readers as well as older ones feature animal characters. Take puppies for example, they're always up to mischief. As I've said, much of the antics in Puppy Club are based on dogs I know.
Perhaps an aspiring young writer could keep a diary of the funny things that pets do. Pets also inspire lots of love and affection, so it might be worth trying to write a poem or write down how you feel about your pet. Emotion always inspires good writing.
If you haven't got a pet yourself, why not choose an animal you really love. Perhaps it's an Orangutan or tiger or hippo. What are the characteristics you love about them? Describe how you think they would speak, if they could speak! Perhaps you take them on an adventure. Animals are a brilliant inspiration for writing and exploring new places in your imagination.
10. Are there any other great stories about animals that you'd like to recommend to our readers?
There are so many wonderful stories about animals. Holly Webb's books are brilliant and the way she brings the actual animals themselves to life is fantastic. There's a wonderful series for slightly older readers written by Nizrana Farook, which begins with The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, taking you on an adventure to Sri Lanka. For younger readers, Clare Helen Welsh has written so many great animal picture books. Some of my favourites are the Poo is that You!? series that combine laugh out loud humour with interesting animal facts. All well worth a look.
Away from your desk - which would you choose:
1. Dogs or cats? Dogs
2. Country walks or City life? Always country walks, but I do love a trip to the city too. As long as I can come home to the countryside at the end of the day!
3. Reading about adventures or having adventures? Both! Usually going on adventures inspires writing about them. And reading about them inspires going on them! It's an adventurous circle!