A Joint Blog with Author Dianne Hofmeyr and Illustrator Piet Grobler
MYTH, MAGIC AND MAYHEM – PARIS CAT by Dianne Hofmeyr
Story encompasses all three… so what a delight FCBG have chosen to celebrate National Share a Story Month under this banner. Every story ever written is part MYTH, part MAGIC, part MAYHEM. Modern stories are as mythic as those set in the far distance of traditional myth.
The MAGIC part is they drift into a writer’s psyche from some unknown past. Some stories come fully formed, others come bit by bit. But all arrive without being commanded.
And the MAYHEM part is the writer bringing together these myriad tiny jigsaw pieces of the imagination to form a convincing whole, which emerges as if nothing else was ever planned.
PARIS CAT is total MYTH. How can a cat become a dress-designer and take to the stage with Josephine Baker? Its total MAGIC and MAYHEM too. It came unbidden into my head from a number of things… my own attempt at dress-making, (when girls whipped out a metre of cloth and got busy on a sewing machine to make a dress for a date that night!) listening to Edith Piaf on vinyl, Paris being the second overseas city I’d ever visited when the entire family plus friends camped in a single tent in the Bois de Boulogne, and finally years later visiting my son’s partner’s Design Studio in the heart of Paris… all these chaotic jigsaw pieces coming together to create a story out of randomness.
There’s MAYHEM too in the story itself. A cat from the back alleys of Paris has aspirations. Quick as can be, she follows the hero’s journey of stumbling blocks, trying and failing and trying again until she becomes famous for her dancing.
But wait! Is this the life she wants? What about the friends and family she left behind in the alleyways. Voila! She starts her own night-club and along come the coolest of cats to dance the night away in outfits Madam Kitty herself has designed.
From Ben Harris in his blog A FEW TO READ…
“It’s a book that demands to be read out loud, with delicious phrases throughout that chime and charm the ear…
The scissors may ‘scrimp’ but the prose-poetry certainly doesn’t, leading children through the joyful abundance and sonic glory of language: atelier, claw-stitched, seamstress, dressed to the nines are just a few examples that appear.
Then, of course, there’s the delightful story itself: breathless in its exuberance, the tale of Kitty who leaps from one ‘life’ to the next – one minute a clothes designer, the next a stage performer and then…what next? – will encourage young children to follow their own dreams, to act on their passions and interests. The book will also appeal to the adult reader who may be sharing the book with a child or a class: there are cameos from Edith Piaf (who has to compete with a caterwauling intruder!) and Josephine Baker (who temporarily adopts Kitty into her stage show).
For my own part, Paris Cat would not be Paris Cat, if it were not for the incredible illustrations of Piet Grobler who captures Cat’s sheer exuberance and that distinctive Parisienne era with plenty of humour too. The endpapers give us a cat’s-view-map of Paris, where tourist hot-spots are noted only for their usefulness in pointing the way to the nearest poissonneries – just follow the red, walking tour lines!
For exuberant children, these two videos will provide some fun:
Make a Paris Cat and design your own paper and fabric dresses.
Construct a Shadow Puppet Theatre and stage your own show.
PARIS CAT is published by Tiny Owl Publishers and available through their website https://tinyowl.co.uk/ and all good bookshops.
Dianne Hofmeyr www.diannehofmeyr.com
GIVING PARIS CAT A FACE by Piet Grobler
I had to smile when I realised that National Share a Story Month’s theme indeed related so well to my own process of creating the illustrations for Paris Cat.
Mayhem? Certainly. We were doing a trial living in Portugal for six months, and the duplex we called home had only one dining table in a room without good daylight. But that was the ‘studio’ in which Paris Cat had to come alive. When leaving South Africa, I had only just decided on what technique and mediums I would use. Most illustrators change their minds early (sometimes later and sometimes often!) in the process. So, in addition to my usual watercolour, brushes and pencils, I also packed my print-making roller, gouache, acrylics, cutting mat, cutters, scalpels and charcoal pencils. I did stop short of packing paper. One can only fit so much into two suitcases. My intention was to mimic print techniques used in visual art and advertising in the Art Deco style. Paris in the era of Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker was the setting of Paris Cat, after all.
Myth? It is a myth that an illustrator cannot work without a visit from the mythical muse, and that all circumstances have to be ideal in order for the art to happen. Said dining table and room lacking in daylight is proof of that. Ultimately a picture book is also a commissioned, commercial object with a potential readership and an aspect of the market in mind. One cannot afford the fine art luxury of waiting around to be inspired to make art for its own sake. After all, there is a deadline! You just have to make it happen. Much of the inspiration is brought over by the author of course. Through reading Dianne’s text and by ‘hearing’ Cat speak, I had a fairly clear idea of who our main character needed to be and what she was to look like. Limited colour and stylisation would recreate Art Deco Paris and whimsical ink drawings would best capture Cat’s cheek and sassiness. I had to realise it visually, but the groundwork had been laid out by the writer. The publisher would also communicate their vision of the book with both of us. By determining the format and size and intended readership of the book-to-be, they add to the creative and contemplative process.
Once the illustrator has figured out the visual language, medium and technique most suitable for telling the story, and once he inhabits the studio like a mouse in his nest, the truly magical phase starts. Now the narrative really has a life of its own. Now comes hours, and weeks, and months of playing with ink, paint, crayons, scissors, roller and glue … often to the music of Piaf. In good time, my version of the alley ways and cafés of 1930s Paris started to materialise on paper. And so, before we had to leave Portugal again, my work was done.
The story of a street cat who re-invents herself, becoming a star adorned with tulle and taffeta, and sharing the stage with Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker, is truly the stuff that dreams and magic are made of. But the story is also more than make-believe. It is a little window to reality: sometimes women have to be strong, confident, inventive and resilient when life has dealt them a bad hand of cards.
But what a good hand I had been dealt. What an honour and what fun it was to have co-created this story with a team of strong women. Thank you, Dianne and the Tiny Owl team!