Jenny Shelton speaks to authors Laura Robson Brown and Katherine Mann about their magical Christmas feline adventures
Two mischievous cats have lately appeared in Cambridge – one is black and loves eating, the other is grey and white, and wears pink boots with stars on. Their names are Fitz and Will, aka ‘The Cambridge Cats’, and they are the creation of Laura Robson Brown and Katherine Mann.
Both mums with media and publishing backgrounds, Laura and Katherine established their own publishing company, Little Cam Books, in 2013 with the aim of producing inspiring books for young readers which will be enjoyed by parents, too. They published their first Fitz and Will book, The May Ball Adventure, in 2014, and have since sold over 3,500 copies. The books are delightful and filled with rhyming prose and charming illustrations of Cambridge, where the lovable felines play out their adventures.
"We have a wonderful illustrator: her pictures bring the books to life"
Says Katherine: “I came up with the concept, feeling there was a gap in the market for an Angelina Ballerina-type book for Cambridge which would appeal to tourists and residents. We decided on cats because people love cats – we originally thought mice, but I don’t think people have as much love for mice!
“Will is the one who loves his food – and I’ve got a black cat of my own – while Fitz is more girly and loves shoes. The books always start and finish at the Fitzwilliam Museum, which is where they get their names. They live by the lions, which come to life and protect them.”
She continues: “Laura worked for a children’s publisher in London before she had children, so she writes the stories but we agree the concepts together. And we have a wonderful illustrator called Jia Han, from Korea, who we started working with while she was doing her MA in children’s book illustration at Anglia Ruskin. So she’s got that Cambridge background, too. Her pictures really bring the books to life.”
Katherine and Laura both studied at Cambridge, but it wasn’t until later that they met. “Laura was at New Hall and I was at Trinity – but we didn’t know each other then. Our husbands went to St John’s and knew each other but not well, then Laura and I ended up meeting in a café in Fulham. We have children the same age and we got chatting. Then, by complete coincidence, we both moved back to Cambridge at the same time.”
Now the pair live just 300 yards apart.
Asked why they chose to set their books in Cambridge, Laura answers: “Cambridge is such a special place to so many people. Its beauty stuns tourists and residents alike, whilst students develop nostalgic memories from formative years spent under its spell. This makes it an obvious, joyful setting in which to create children's stories. The town and gown aspects together offer a perfect backdrop for adventures which encompass everyday Cambridge life as well as some of the more traditional events of the university.
“Both Katherine and I felt that a children’s book set in Cambridge would be the perfect memento for visitors and students, whilst at the same time celebrating familiar corners of the town for young readers who live here.”
Unofficial Fitz and Will tours are already starting to spring up as parents and children seek out some of the cats’ favourite haunts.
Says Katherine: “We’ve included the market square, Fitzbillies, the Round Church… it gives a really good feel for Cambridge. When we launched the second book [The Graduation Adventure] at the Cambridge Literary Festival, we spoke to a lot of the children and found out that people had been doing their own Fitz and Will tours around town.”
Laura adds: “It’s just lovely to watch young children studying the illustrations and recognising places they pass on the way to school or out shopping on a Saturday. One little girl and her grandmother set off on a ‘Fitz and Will tour’ one afternoon, taking the book with them and following the path of the cats in the story. And we had a wonderful email from a parent who said that her little one was such a big fan of Fitz and Will that she had insisted their Halloween pumpkins were carved to look like them. The photograph was fantastic!”
The books also have a royal fan. On his visit to St John’s College in October, the Duke of Cambridge was handed a copy of The Graduation Adventure – and seemed to be impressed. “We were so lucky with that!” beams Katherine. “He said he’d make sure he read it to Prince George and Princess Charlotte. All the press picked up on it – I think we even had a mention in Hello magazine!
“We’ve had lots of great feedback from the university as well,” she continues.
"The Duke of Cambridge promised to read it to George and Charlotte"
“The master and his wife at St John’s love the books and take it when they go on ambassador trips. And we’ve been working with the bursar at King’s for the last book.”
The latest in the series sees the furry pair embark on a very Cambridge Christmas adventure. Katherine explains: “In the Christmas book, the cats go into town and end up beneath a big Christmas tree where Will, the naughty one, gets tangled up in it. Then they see a huge queue going into King’s College Chapel and wonder what it is. They go inside and knock over microphones and make a lot of noise then run away and fall asleep in a professor’s study. Father Christmas comes in and wakes them up and they have a look in his sack. Then they help Father Christmas deliver a few presents before going back to the Fitzwilliam Museum and falling asleep ready for Christmas morning.”
Do they have plans to take their concept to other cities?
“Many people have said we should write books on other cities and this is certainly on our radar for the future,” says Laura. “For now we are still focused on Cambridge, possibly a book with a royal twist on the horizon...”
The Christmas Adventure is available online and at Heffers, Waterstones Cambridge, Toppings Ely, the Fitzwilliam Museum Shop and many other local retailers