Julia Donaldson: Why I’m grateful to Catriona Scott

Julia Donaldson. Picture: Robert Perry
Julia Donaldson. Picture: Robert Perry
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AHEAD of Book Week Scotland on 23 November, Julia Donaldson continues a week-long series of reflections, Thank Books, on the power of literature and the people who deserve thanks for guiding them to it

My Thank Books would go to Catriona Scott. I hardly know where to begin to thank her – she has been my right-hand woman for over five years. Without her, my life as a writer, performer, deviser of shows and answerer of letters, would be so much less enjoyable.

I met Catriona early on in my writing career, round about the time that The Gruffalo was published in 1999. She was working for Waterstones in Edinburgh, and organised several events in which I took part – including one in which various other Scottish authors helped me perform Room On The Broom, obligingly acting the witch and her broomstick companions.

Catriona left Waterstones to help run the children’s events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and then went on to work at Scottish Book Trust, so our paths crossed regularly. Then she had her lovely twins, Eilidh and Mhairi, and after her maternity leave took the decision not to return to Scottish Book Trust. Their loss was my gain!

By this stage I was receiving more and more correspondence and was hard put to answer it all single-handed. My publisher asked if I needed a part-time assistant, and Catriona immediately sprang to mind. Initially she came to my house once every two or three weeks, but when I became the Children’s Laureate this was increased to once a week. What happy and companionable days they were! Catriona would arrive with a satchel full of letters and requests. Together we sat at the kitchen table, along with my cat Goblin, who liked to lie on the letters. Many of these were from schools – perhaps thirty batches a week, each batch consisting of thirty letters, and each letter containing three or more questions. Catriona would highlight the most interesting questions for me to answer, address all the envelopes and reply to the requests. And she would tell me all the funny things which the twins had said or done, as they progressed through nursery to primary school.

Catriona is incredibly well-read and knowledgeable about children’s books, so when I was the Laureate she would often help me with my various tasks; in particular she contributed to the website Picturebookplays.co.uk which I created in order to help classes act out stories. She would also help with my book festival events, often coming along to operate powerpoint or manage the signing queue. I can’t imagine anyone doing any of these things more cheerfully.

Although I moved to Sussex a year ago, I still return to Scotland regularly and have my letter-answering sessions with Catriona (but sadly not with Goblin, who stays behind). And as I write this, Catriona is working on the slides and lighting cues for the Bath Literature Festival. Where would I be without her?

• Book Week Scotland runs from 23-29 November, with hundreds of free events across the country. You can get involved online too by voting for your favourite quote from books at http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/reading/book-week-scotland/quote or thanking someone from the world of books for what they have brought to your life at http://scottishbooktrust.com/reading/thankbooks.