We are delighted to welcome Kate Foster, author of middle grade novel, Paws, to Story Snug. Friendship, family, running rivalry, computer games, sketching and a love of dogs are intertwined as eleven year old Alex navigates his last days of elementary school. This heartwarming story, told by Alex, gives the reader an insight into the daily challenges faced by an autistic child within both school and family settings.
The Story: Alex lives with Mum and his older brother Ned – his Dad works away. Alex is counting down the days until the famous dog show PAWS comes to town, he wants to enter his cockapoo, Kevin.
Training Kevin for the dog show, getting to know new neighbours, communicating with classmates and trying out for a relay race are all intertwined with Alex’s attempts to find a friend who can help him when he goes to high school.
Finding friends is important to Alex and he tries to bond with classmates through the computer game, Orbsworld. But whilst Alex is trying hard to avoid bullies and stressful situations he doesn’t see that he has friends who encourage him and recognise his potential as an artist.
I really enjoyed PAWS and the way that Alex’s relationships with family and friends developed throughout the story. The bond between Alex and Kevin is heartwarming and I now feel that I have more of an understanding of the challenges faced by an autistic person, particularly in terms of their struggles to understand other’s facial expressions and body language and their sensitivity to noise and new situations. I loved the dog show scenes too but I won’t give away the ending…
Cover Illustration: Sarah Davis
Thank you so much for visiting Story Snug and answering our questions, Kate. We find it really interesting talking to writers about their writing process and the inspiration behind their story ideas.
It’s my pleasure! Thank you so much for inviting me!
How did you become a writer?
I don’t think I ever “became” a writer. Reading and writing are just things I’ve always done since I was teeny tiny. I guess I always had dreams of being an author, but they both started and ended at dreams. People like me didn’t become authors! It wasn’t until I had young children of my own, in my thirties and a little lost, that I thought maybe I could pursue my writing in some way. At the time, not as a career, but more as a side hustle. And, after MANY YEARS finding my voice and the stories I was meant to tell, and MANY REJECTIONS, here I am!
Paws is a really heartwarming story and we found it easy to empathise with your autistic main character, Alex, as he tries to cope with the challenges he faces in everyday situations. How and where did you get the inspiration for his story?
Thank you so much! PAWS was very much inspired by the relationship between my youngest son, who is autistic, and one of my dogs. Claude, my cockapoo, is a second-hand dog, and when we went to meet him for the first time, Claude made an immediate beeline for my son. Fast forward nine years and there continues to be one of the purest, most special bonds between boy and dog. Claude knows when my son needs extra support, when he’s feeling anxious or stressed or angry, and he sits beside or on him, kisses him, and just offers that much-needed emotional support. It’s remarkable to witness.
That sounds like such a wonderful relationship. Pets are completely non judgemental and can be such a comfort and support for a child.
Did you do a lot of research before you wrote the book?
If research includes living everyday life, then yes! I carried PAWS around in my head and heart for many years, adding new building blocks here and there. But, because it’s such an emotionally-led story based on real experiences, there was no research more valuable than navigating each new day as a mother, dog-lover, and as an autistic person myself. I did, however, use several sensitivity readers after writing to ensure I wasn’t using any language or coding that could cause upset or continue harmful stereotypes.
Is there a message from the story that you want to convey to readers?
That dogs are the best and we should all approach friendship in the same way they do! Other than this, I enjoy learning what readers have taken from PAWS, what messages they’ve absorbed, what the story has meant to them. Reading is such a personal experience.
We love the special relationship between Alex and his cockapoo, Kevin, and Alex’s determination to enter him into the dog show. Have you ever entered your dog into a show?
No, I haven’t! I’ve been to many dog shows over the years, and loved seeing people and dogs perform and parade, but never participated. There is only one contest I’d probably enter Claude and that’s the Longest Water Jump to retrieve his ball! I’ve only ever seen this particular contest once before and am pretty sure Claude could be a medal contender for his size group.
That sounds like an interesting contest!
Do you have a favourite location or environment to write in?
Home. On the sofa, in bed, in the garden. I love my creature comforts, my PJs, being safe and settled with my dogs around me. I get distracted quite easily by other people so always get my best writing done at home.
I’m the same. I’m far too easily distracted when I’m out and about!
Is there any advice that you would give to aspiring #kidlit writers?
The same advice I have always given and will probably continue to give for the rest of my life: ENJOY! So much of this industry removes control from the creator, there’s so much waiting, and, sadly, a lot of disappointment. You have to learn to enjoy the parts you do control and savour the successes, however small they might seem. That doesn’t mean to say all the stages we control are going to be easy but do all you can to find the joy in them.
Which authors have influenced your writing? Authors that you may have read as a child as well as current authors.
As a child I read a lot of Enid Blyton and CS Lewis, plus certain books over and over such as The Secret Garden, Moondial, and The Worst Witch series. I don’t know if I could say they’ve influenced my writing, but they certainly instilled an early love of the written word and the magic of a well-told story. More recently, authors such as Neal Shusterman, Patrick Ness, and David Almond have written books that have stuck with me and in turn encouraged me to write my own.
I loved The Worst Witch as a child too. I recently watched The Secret Garden, I enjoyed reading it as a child but I’d forgotten the story.
We’re always interested to know what authors enjoy reading. Which recent children’s books have you particularly enjoyed?
Oh wow, are you sure you want to ask me that? I mean, how much time do you have on your hands?!
The Secret Wild by Alex Evelyn, Leonora Bolt by Lucy Brandt, Autumn Moonbeam by Emma Finlayson-Palmer, Small! by Hannah Moffat, The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks by Emily Kenny, Diary of an Accidental Witch by Perdita and Honour Cargill, The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie, The Verdigris Pawn by Alysa Wishingrad, Alone by Megan E Freeman …
Plus books by Maisie Chan, Pip Harry, Kate Gordon, Samantha Wheeler, Jordan Kopy, Kirsty Applebaum, Bren MacDibble …
You see! You see what a horrible question that is! I’ve missed off so many recent reads, too, but I know I have to stop somewhere.
Are you able to tell us about any future titles or projects that you’re currently working on?
I think so! I have three books out next year here in Australia, which is ridiculously exciting! First up there’s my first chapter book, Harriet Hound, which is three mini adventures in one book. Harriet is an autistic superhero, her magical power being the dogs from her family rescue shelter. I then have two new middle grade stories that will follow. One about a group of autistic kids attending weekly socialisation classes who end up solving a mystery and setting out on a daring rescue mission. And the second a book I’ve co-authored with remarkable Australian legend, Kate Gordon, which is all about kindness. There are other bits of news that I’m not allowed to share yet, but let’s say I’m going to be VERY BUSY INDEED!
Enjoy your busy time. It sounds like all those years of work are finally paying off. We look forward to reading more of your books. Harriet Hound sounds fabulous
About Kate Foster
Kate Foster is a children’s author writing about friends, family, and dogs. Originally from a small town in the southeast of England, she now lives on the stunning Gold Coast in Australia with her family and second-hand dogs. She is passionate about encouraging and teaching a wider understanding of autism and mental illness via a positive approach and representation in both her books as well as her presentations and talks.
Thanks to Kate for sending a copy of PAWS. I couldn’t stop reading, I had to find out how Kevin (and Alex) did in the dog show