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Interview: Catherine Olver


Photo of a copy of Little Thoughts Press Issue 7: Fabulous Facts

A photograph of Little Thoughts Press Issue Seven: Fabulous Facts with a sneak peek of "The Drive to Outer Space" by Catherine Olver.

 

Catherine Olver is a writer and researcher with a PhD in children’s literature from the University of Cambridge. She is excited by the ways poetry can help children and adults participate in their environments with sensitivity and joy. Her poems for children have appeared in magazines like Tyger Tyger, Northern Gravy, and the Autumnatopoeia issue of Little Thoughts Press. Whether in real life or on social media, she’s always walking on the wild side in @the_wordwoods.

 

Little Thoughts Press: We’ve all had the misery of having a “violent cold,” to borrow a phrase from Jane Austen. However, your piece “Goblin Snot” is a rollicking good time to read. What inspired this story of funky clowns versus gunky goblins? 


Catherine Olver: I was surprised and inspired when my girlfriend, who is doctor, mentioned that cells producing mucus (including snot) are called "goblet cells"—weird! The word "goblet" usually means a fancy ruby-studded silver cup that knights or queens drink from in fantasy stories. Once I was imagining little goblets in our bodies, I started wondering: what other fantasy characters would come with them? The similar sounds of "goblet" and "goblin" led to my gunky goblin metaphor for viruses, and the homophone of "cilia" and "sillier" opened the door to my funky clowns.


Little Thoughts Press: You seem passionate about science and the serious issues that face our planet, yet you write with kid-friendly humor. Tell us a little bit about the secret behind how you make complex or challenging topics appealing and accessible to children.


Catherine Olver: When kids first do creative writing, they get taught to sprinkle metaphors and similes into their poems and stories like glitter, to add sparkle. But if you read more poetry, and fantasy and science fiction stories, metaphors and similes are so much more than a bit of added glitter: metaphorical comparisons are one of the main ways writing helps readers understand complicated topics. Whether I’m reimagining and explaining the confusing science of the immune system via funny goblins in "Goblin Snot" or sadly seeing the Earth’s pollution-damaged atmosphere “like a bruised blue apple-skin” in "The Drive to Outer Space," I hope my metaphors and similes will help you understand a challenging topic mentally and emotionally.


Little Thoughts Press:  In honor of Issue 7's theme, Fabulous Facts, tell us one fabulous fact about yourself.


Catherine Olver: You know how lots of people are afraid of heights? I LOVE heights! They make me feel wild and windswept and happy and free. I gave some of that love to the main character in "The Drive to Outer Space"—a journey I would definitely take if I could a) fly without polluting our atmosphere, and b) manipulate gravity…


Little Thoughts Press: How did you get started writing kid-lit and what do you find most challenging and rewarding about writing for kids?


Catherine Olver: I was always writing, as a child and a teen, for readers my age. It wasn’t until I was 21 and doing a Masters in Creative Writing, trying to find a voice as a poet “for adults”, that I realised I was more interested in keeping writing poems for children and teens. It’s challenging to write truthfully about vital topics like environmental crisis and LGBTQ+ experiences within the boundaries of what some other adults narrowly consider "hopeful enough" or "suitable" for children, but it’s very rewarding to be given permission by child readers to be as wildly imaginative as I’d like.



Little Thoughts Press: Which kid-lit authors and books were your favorites growing up?


Catherine Olver: As you may have guessed, I was an avid fantasy reader, so my favourite books for under-11s were by J.K. Rowling (obviously), by Diana Wynne Jones (especially The Lives of Christopher Chant), and by Philip Pullman (especially Northern Lights, though my librarian told me I was too young to read it when I was 9 so I saved up for my own copy…). 



Little Thoughts Press: And what about today? Any kid-lit writers you love and want to shout out?


Catherine Olver: More than I can name. Some recent favourites that can help us imagine a greener future are Greenwild: The World Beyond the Door by Pari Thomson, Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell (I am a dedicated fan of all her work), Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan and The Ice Children by M.G. Leonard. You can find my eco-reviews of them here, but read these reviews after the books to get you thinking about their themes, instead of before, because they include some big spoilers.



Little Thoughts Press: What advice would you give to young writers?


Catherine Olver: Metaphors and similes are more than glitter. Choose each one carefully to fit in with the setting and mood of your poem/story. If it’s a mysterious poem set on the moon, "as fast as a leopard" seems random and so comes across funny, ruining the mood. You could try something like "as fast as a meteor" or "as swift as the spin of the Earth" to communicate that speed and keep your readers picturing space as seen from the mysterious moon.



Little Thoughts Press: Is there anything else you wish I had asked? Any upcoming projects, publications, or other news you'd like to share?


Catherine Olver: I’m very excited about this summer’s PaperBound magazine on the theme of Elements, which will include an air-themed poem of mine called "when i need a calm space, i am one" and a not-at-all calm, fiery, dramatic ballad called ‘The Flame-Crossed Lovers."


The magazine can be downloaded for free here: https://paperboundmag.com/issues/ 


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