Saturday 15 June 2024

The Writing of Varjak Paw

This piece was written for the British Library's Discovering Children's Books website, and will hopefully be viewable there again soon.  

I started writing Varjak Paw in January 1997, inspired by watching my own cat's adventures as he went out into the world for the first time.  Every time I begin a new book, I make a deal with myself: no-one else will ever see my first draft.  That way, I can be completely unselfconscious, safe in the knowledge that however bad it is, only I will ever know!  This is a vital part of my working process, so the earliest document I can share is the 2nd draft of Varjak Paw.  

2nd Draft

This is the first page of the 2nd draft, written in February 1997.  I always write by hand on early drafts, as I find it flows better that way.  At this stage, I imagined an opening in which Varjak climbs a curtain at home.  The only thing that remains from this scene in the published book is a reference on page 35: "even Varjak, who could sometimes make it half way up a curtain before Mother or Father shouted him down."  But some of the description found its way into the scene of Varjak climbing the wall in Chapter Five, which is the pivotal scene of the book.  So although this opening was deleted, the work wasn't wasted; it was all part of the process.  

8th Draft

As other parts of the book developed, the opening remained focused on curtain-climbing until the 8th draft, which was the first one I sent to publishers and agents.  This is the first page of that draft, which dates from late 1997.  By this stage, I was writing the book on my computer as a Word document, which I would then read through and edit on printouts.  

9th Draft

Varjak Paw was rejected by every publisher and agent I sent it to.  However, an agent gave me some very useful feedback on the 8th draft, as a result of which I rethought it, and went back to hand-writing the 9th draft as if it was the first draft all over again, to free myself to reconceive it.  This is the first page of that draft, written in March 1998.  It's a total mess, but this is the first version where you can glimpse the outlines of the opening as it ended up in the published book, so it was a crucial draft.

11th Draft

After three drafts of rebuilding the book from the ground up, I felt confident enough to send it out again.  This is the first page of the 11th draft, which dates from Autumn 1998.  It was another crucial one, because this was the draft that was read by my agent, Celia Catchpole, who took it on and showed it to my publisher and editor, David Fickling.  It was on the basis of this draft that he offered to publish Varjak Paw, while making it clear that he thought it could be improved.  Of course, he was right!

15th Draft

This is the opening of the 15th draft, written in July 2001.  David Fickling believes that you should keep working on a book for as long as it takes to make it as good as you possibly can.  So we had worked very hard on it, and it was getting closer to its final shape, now opening with Varjak's desire to go Outside.  But big things were still changing; it's interesting to see my note to myself to change 'Mum' and 'Dad' to 'Mother' and 'Father', establishing the tone of Varjak's life at home.  

16th Draft

Finally, in October 2001, I wrote a draft that opened with the Elder Paw telling a Jalal tale, as the published book does.  It had been a long, hard process of trial and error, and many things would still change on the 17th draft – but when I wrote the words "The Elder Paw was telling a story," I think I knew it would be hard for me to find a better opening for my book.  


I continued to work on Varjak Paw until October 2002, bringing the total time I spent on it to almost 5 years.  The 17th draft was the last official draft, but it continued to change even after that, as it went through galleys and proofs, and as Dave McKean worked his magic on the text, transforming my Word document into the beautifully-illustrated book that was finally published in January 2003.  Everything had changed, yet the spark at the heart of the book remained the same: the adventures of a cat going out into the world for the first time.

Friday 8 March 2024

World Book Day 2024

Every year, I am blown away by all the amazing things that people do to celebrate books on World Book Day! I love it - it really is an incredible thing for a writer to see their books being celebrated in that way.  So here are some of the highlights I've seen this year...

Thursday 22 February 2024

Author Visits: Children's Bookfest & Rose Green Junior School

I'd like to say a huge THANK YOU to Karen Ison and all the students and staff I met at Rose Green Junior School when I had the pleasure of visiting them last week – and to Georgina Lippiett, Jen Rogers and everyone at Children's Bookfest for making this visit possible!

Children's Bookfest is an amazing organisation that brings authors into schools.  The authors do events, and then every child is given a copy of a book, which the author signs and dedicates for them.  I was delighted to do an event for them in Chichester last year, and was excited to do another one in Bognor Regis at Rose Green, organised by the brilliant teacher Karen Ison.

We had a fantastic assembly where we talked about reading and writing and books, and it was clear that there were many brilliant readers in this school.  Some of them had come across all my books before, from Varjak Paw onwards.  But the book that everyone was currently reading was my new book Tyger, which Children's Bookfest had given to everyone in Years 5 and 6.  

I saw some fantastic creative writing and artwork that Year 6 had done with Tyger last year.  And this year's Year 6 were already getting started on it – a wonderful thing for an author to see!

It's an incredible thing to feel the buzz around reading and books that this kind of visit creates.  There's something so inclusive and inspiring about giving a book to every child on a visit, and I've loved working with Children's Bookfest.  So thanks again to everyone who was part of this brilliant day!  And thanks to Karen Ison for the fantastic photos!

Monday 4 September 2023

Tyger is Book of the Month in Waterstones & Foyles!

Some amazing news!  The Tyger paperback has just been published – and it's been picked as Children's Book of the Month in both Waterstones and Foyles!

I love bookshops, they've always been my favourite places, so this means more than I can say.  It's been absolutely amazing to see some brilliant Tyger bookshop displays on Twitter and Instagram, and I'd love to see more – please send me pictures if you see any!

Wednesday 9 August 2023


I'm so excited to be able to share the TYGER paperback with you – and it's just as beautiful as the hardback!  I think Dave McKean's cover is one of the most amazing covers I've ever seen – just look at the way it comes to life when you open it out!

It's published on August 31st by David Fickling Books, but is available for pre-order now – here are some links:

Wednesday 28 June 2023


I'm running a competition with BookTrust!  We want young people to create pieces of writing and artwork inspired by animals - just as I was inspired to write Varjak Paw and Tyger.  There are lots of prizes to be won, including sets of books and signed artwork, and the first 1,000 entries will all receive a free poster!  There are lots of free resources to help you, too - all the information is on this page on the BookTrust website!  And here's a video to get you started:

Tuesday 23 May 2023

Tyger wins Children's Book Of The Year at the British Book Awards!

Incredible news - my new book Tyger has just won the Children's Fiction Book Of The Year at the British Book Awards!  

You can read all about it in this wonderful piece on The Bookseller site.

And here's a video of the whole evening - you can see me receiving the award from Davina McCall from around 1:33!

Thursday 2 March 2023

World Book Day 2023

Happy World Book Day 2023!  This year, I made a World Book Day video of me reading aloud from Tyger, and it's been amazing to see people watching it in classrooms, libraries and homes around the world. And I absolutely love seeing all the different ways people celebrate their favourite books, so here are some of the incredible pictures I've seen this year - including the very first ever World Book Day TYGER costumes!  Huge and heartfelt thanks to everyone!