Itty Bitty Kitty
by Maddy Mara, illustrated by Noémie Geonet Landry
Itty Bitty Kitty 1 & 2 is published by Affirm Press
Maddy Mara writes a Guest Author post for PaperbarkWords:
Maddy Mara on creative collaborations, and the Itty Bitty Kitty series
The first thing you should know about Maddy Mara is that ‘she’ is actually two people: Maddy Mara is the pen name of writing duo Hilary Rogers and Meredith Badger. We’ve been working together for a very long time – nearly twenty years – but initially our collaboration was the more standard publisher-author variety (Hilary was a publisher and Meredith was one of her authors). We worked on lots and lots of books together over the years – we’ve lost count of exactly how many. But this history meant that when Hilary decided to leave her publishing role to write, we already had a fantastic and productive creative relationship. It wasn’t a huge leap for us to reconfigure our way of working together. We now write together full time.
Writing with another person isn’t for everyone. Some people would hate sharing their ideas (and name on the cover), and some would find it unbearable or confusing to work with someone else, particularly in the early stages of a project (later on, most authors greatly appreciate an editor or publisher’s involvement). But we just love our partnership. We might even be in love with it. Whenever one of us is stuck or feeling overwhelmed, there’s always someone to swoop in with a fresh idea or the energy to fix whatever isn’t working. We find that having a writing partner who knows and cares about a book/series/plotline as much as you do is priceless.
Our partnership also means we can write a lot more books. Maddy Mara averages 10-12 books a year, and that’s after we make sure we have a big chunk of time off over the summer. We both have high expectations of Maddy Mara – after all, she needs to provide an income for two families! To earn a living from writing is a rare privilege, so we know how lucky we are. We are both very disciplined, organised, and seem to have endless ideas. This is necessary because we work with multiple publishers, across multiple series. This week, for example, we’ve had something due across four different series with three different publishers. It simply wouldn’t be possible to keep all those balls in the air without four hands. This is a terrible metaphor because neither of us have good ball skills.
The process we use to work on manuscripts is different for each series – we don’t have any one way of doing it. For Itty Bitty Kitty, we workshop the storylines together, chatting about what might happen in each story in person, over email, and across countless WhatsApp messages. Most of our ideas are based on observing our own cats (if pets were ever a tax deduction …). We then meld our kitten ideas with the experiences of young kids. Themes such as making new friends, dealing with change, struggling with jealousy, facing new and anxiety-inducing experiences all loom large in the Itty Bitty stories. These ideas might be explored through the eyes of a tiny but very brave kitten, but we make sure they’ll also resonate with children’s own lives.
Once we have plotlines that we think hit all the right notes, we write our first drafts separately. Then we swap, and each feedback and edit the other’s first draft. Often we find there’s overlap (for example, recently we both had Itty Bitty’s friend Ginger getting stuck in a story. This isn’t that surprising given how large and lazy Ginger is). When this happens, we decide which story needs this element the most, and the other cuts it out and comes up with something fresh for that manuscript. Sometimes we discover one opening better suits another story, so we rearrange them, and write a new opening. It’s all very organic, and by the time we’re submitting the Itty Bitty stories, we’ve both had our grubby mitts on every bit of it, and are invariably convinced that the other wrote all the best bits. Because we’ve both worked as editors as well as writers, our ‘first drafts’ are secretly third or even fourth drafts. We know what it’s like to be sent an ill-formed manuscript, riddled with errors and sections that don’t work. We always try to spare our editors that horror.
Itty Bitty Kitty started out as a manual-style series idea – a ‘how to train your owner’ type project. But that approach wasn’t quite working. It was only when we found Itty’s voice – defiant, brave, almost an act of feline ventriloquism – that the series really fell into place. We both adore the characters and world we’ve created in this series, and we’re obsessed with the genius contributions of illustrator Noemie Gionet Landry. Itty Bitty isn’t Maddy Mara’s highest selling series (yet!) but it remains one of our proudest achievements.