Quarto Kids | 1 March 2021Meet the Authors: Catherine Barr and Steve Williams Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, co-authors of the Story of… series, talk about choosing timely topics, researching a wide variety of information, and paring it all down for kids. What prompted you to write the Story of… series? Who did you write it for? And did you always envision it as a series? We wrote our first book after looking in vain for a science-based narrative (rather than a textbook) telling the story of evolution. This was prompted by Catherine’s primary aged children coming home from school talking about the story of Creation they had learned in class. At that time, much to our exasperation and that of many parents and scientists around the country, evolution was not included on the primary curriculum. It was finally included in 2014 after a national campaign supported by four organisations, including the British Science Association and the Association for Science Education, and 30 leading scientists including three Nobel prize winners, Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins. We had absolutely no idea the book would become a series and even spark a career change! But we really welcomed the challenge to use this narrative, timeline approach to tackle other big issues, from space to climate change in this series. How do you decide which topic to explore next? We suggest topics we are really interested in and eager to explore. We submit a range of ideas to our publisher Frances Lincoln Children’s Books focusing on big, relevant, global stories. In discussion with editors (who have been in discussion with sales and foreign rights teams…) we scope out and agree the next topic. How do you two divvy up the work? Do you find yourselves taking ownership of different aspects of creating the text? We work closely together to scope out and develop the content, and Catherine writes the copy. We meet regularly, drink lots of coffee, bringing research and ideas to the table. We are very mindful of telling a global story and ensuring that the science is accurate and well-referenced. As a science teacher, Steve brings invaluable expertise in making sure this is accessible to our target readers, in terms of language and phrases. We also think through our contacts, networks and research of relevant experts in the topic to consult as we develop our ideas. We think about the geological and historical timeline that runs through each of these books and very roughly divide content up across the 15 spreads, grouping information and ideas to then hone done into what always seems like an impossible word count! What is your research process like for each book? What challenges do you encounter while writing each new book? Our biggest challenge is what to include and what we sadly have to leave out to tell this story in a picture book format. We have to think carefully about the language we use – trying to avoid technical terms whilst introducing new words where needed. But it is a challenge we both enjoy. The particularly fascinating part of the process is working alongside experts to develop the scope and explore the content for these paired down global stories. This may be through meetings in cafes, visits to universities or online in fascinating email correspondences. Diving into detailed research involves (in non Covid-19 times) everything from visiting exhibitions, meeting experts, researching online, visiting libraries and reading a lot of books. What is your process like for paring down so much information into bite-sized pieces for young readers? Once we have clarified our big picture and the scope of our story over a specified timeline, we discuss how we will link these inevitable leaps in time with a narrative that flows across the 15 spreads. We also think about how information can be shared through Amy Husband’s amazing and joyful illustration as well as in the copy itself, so both work well together to tell the story and prompt conversation. We enjoy using scientific detail that parents may spot as interesting sparks for conversation and the humorous speech bubbles to draw children’s attention into the story. The ‘paring down’ involves lots of discussion and lots and lots more editing, finalised once we have seen Amy’s rough illustrations and look at the picture book as a whole. What advice would you give to aspiring authors? Write about topics you are passionate about and stories you really want to tell. Perseverance is everything! Gather a network of contacts, you never know when you might value people’s advice, shared knowledge and help… whether amateur enthusiasts or professional experts. Be flexible, open-minded and lateral thinking in pursuing and exploring an idea for publication… you may need to rethink it and reframe it for it to be a commercial proposition, which is an interesting process in itself. We have been lucky to work with some incredible editors in developing this series and have learnt so much that has inspired and informed the writing of many more books. About the authors: Catherine Barr worked at Greenpeace International for seven years as a wildlife and forestry campaigner and has a long-running interest in environmental issues. While working as an editor at the Natural History Museum, she researched and wrote two major summer exhibitions: Dinosaurs of the Gobi Desert and Myths and Monsters. She lives on a hill near Hay-on-Wye in Herefordshire with her partner and two daughters. Steve Williams is a biologist with a degree in Marine Biology and Applied Zoology from the University of Wales. His lifelong love of wildlife was further inspired by eight years at sea, after which he trained as a teacher, and now teaches science in a rural comprehensive school in Wales. He is a beekeeper and lives near Hay-on-Wye with his wife and two daughters. Story of Climate Change $19.99 Buy in US / Canada Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.