A Chat With Andrea Ballance

We sat down with the author of Creature to ask about the inspiration behind the wonderful children’s picture book about a cat dreaming and playing in space! Find out more about how this book was written and even hear Andrea’s tips for young writers and poets.

Flying Eye Books: Hi Andrea! Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Could you tell us a bit about your book, Creature, and what inspired you to write it? 

Andrea Ballance: I would love to! 

My story is a fun and mind-expanding exploration of space through the imagination of a creative family cat. In her imagination, she is an epically proportioned space creature with magical world-creating powers.  She climbs nebulas and drinks from the Milkyway and it’s all just in a day’s work for this family cat. 

I was inspired to write Creature because I wanted to create a piece of art that takes you out of your normal life for a moment. A story that pulls you out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Kids worry about so much these days and there is so much to be worried about. A book that lifts you off this world and has you bounding around space with a huge space cat seemed like just what I needed to write.

FEB: What does a day in your life look like?

AB: Since my kids are on the spectrum, they have needed their mum to advocate for them in school and with the adults in their lives. So most of my normal everyday, daily life involves looking after my kids, homeschooling, advocating for them and learning as much as I can about being neurodivergent. But also, importantly, we have a dog called AJ, a cat called Amma, a snake called Loki and two guinea pigs, Reginald and Chicken Nugget. I spend a lot of time loving them too.

FEB: Do you have a cat? What made you want to write about them?  

AB: I have a cat called Amma. She is a rescue tabby cat with tiny paws and a big fluffy white tummy. She is very – it’s tempting to say rude, but I think it is more truthful to say that she is just very clear about what she needs and what she doesn’t. For example, she will only drink from clean glass bowls, filled with freshly run cold water sitting in the kitchen sink.

For a couple of years, she was our only pet and she liked to sleep flat out on my bed. One day I settled down to do some writing and when I looked up from my laptop, Amma was stretched out across my dark blue star-covered duvet. Her white fluffy tummy reminded me of the most amazing photos I have seen of the Milkyway across the night sky. Then I was off – imagining a big black cat with a body made of the universe.

FEB: Your prose includes so much beautiful language and has a slow, steady rhythm to it. Why did you choose to write in this style?  

AB: I am hoping the story feels like a slow revealing meditation. A small moment of absorption into another reality. I also like to write in rhyme but sometimes getting the rhyme can detract from the story. With this piece I wanted it to feel huge and open like space.

I was very keen to keep the prose full of real space terms. I believe learning should be fun and this is a fun way to learn language like Nebula, solar system, universe, comets etc. I like the play between the freedom of the creature bounding around space and being grounded in things we all know.

FEB: What do you hope children will get from reading Creature? 

AB: I hope children will be inspired to see their imagination as a landscape of possibilities. You might look like a little house cat on the outside but you could be an awesome inventor on the inside. Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. It’s with our imagination that we create the word. It’s our imagination that separates us from things like artificial intelligence too. Imagination is everything, the seed of everything. I hope while people are reading Creature they are fully absorbed into their imagination.  

FEB: What was the best part of working with illustrator Grasya Oliyko? 

AB: I have enjoyed everything about working with Grasya. I love the colours she picked for the book and the secret things she hides in her drawings. I love the way she made all the ordinary things, like the tables, chairs and cushions, feel space influenced. I was totally blown away by how she really understood the essence of the text – especially since she speaks Ukrainian as her first language. Grasya is incredibly talented.

FEB: What is your favourite spread from the book? 

AB: I can’t pick just one! I love the way Grasya caught the universe in the cat’s eyes. I love the one where Creature is stretching out playing with her kitten and a ball of wool. She is lying on a dark blue blanket covered in stars, just like Amma did when she inspired me. I love the one where Creature is weaving in and out of her owner’s legs. The owner has a very fetching pair of nebula trousers on. I love the one where Creature is about to burst out from the bushes and catch a comet. I also love the one where the cats are causing chaos running through the house and straight up the curtains… I just can’t pick!

FEB: Copies of Creature have been out in UK shops for a while now, and they’re now out in the US too! What has been your favourite part of the process? 

AB: I loved the collaboration side of the experience. My words, Flying Eye’s editor Emily’s input, then seeing how Grasya brought the story alive on the paper. How together, we created a colourful and yet epic story. It has been exciting to work with such talented people.  And of course, equally, I have loved getting the photos of children reading the book, and getting feedback from people on their experience of reading the book. I have had such inspiring and beautiful feedback and support from everyone. 

FEB: And finally – do you have any words of wisdom for young people who want to be authors? 

AB: If you live in a world where you do not know any writers or authors personally, don’t think for one second you can’t be a writer. You can still be a writer. I was told repeatedly that getting published was as likely as finding a very rare Pokemon or learning how to be a Water Bender in real life. If I can do it, you can do it.

The best advice I can give is to be passionate, read lots, write when you feel inspired and learn to love your own writing – your own ‘voice’. Use your own uniqueness and strangeness to colour your stories.

When you decide to get published, read about the people you are asking to publish your work. I love Flying Eye’s magic mixed with science. So I approached Flying Eye with my work because I was sure they would see the magic in my words. They did.

Creature is out in the US and Canada on 5 April!

Creature

Andrea Ballance & Grasya Oliyko

Open your eyes to beauty and wonder in galaxy-sized proportions with this magical, mystical picture book. Written in rhythmic prose with lively and bright illustrations, this calming and beautiful combination of the comfort of cats and the magic of space is the perfect bedtime read.

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