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Books: Telling tales with Kate Fleet (and Monty the dapper mouse) from Heffers

First, the formalities: introduce us to Monty. . .

Monty is a brown-furred, pink-pawed and rather dapper mouse about town, who lives somewhere around the cobbled courtyard of the Museum of Cambridge. He never goes out without a hat.

What can you tell us about his first adventure?

This story sees him go into town in search of a half-decent lunch. He heads off down Bridge Street and visits various locations in the vicinity, encountering a mixed bag of characters, some more mouse-friendly than others. As in real, non-mouse life, we have to hope that kindness and generosity will prevail – and that Monty will go to bed replete!

monty mouse (13008336)
monty mouse (13008336)

Working in Heffers, we know you love books – but have you always wanted to write one?

Not always. I do love to write, and working with books and authors made me start to think perhaps I could get to it eventually – but I didn’t plan for a children’s story to come to mind the way this one did, or expect to now be holding an illustrated copy with its own ISBN in my hands!

And what drew you to writing a children’s book, in particular?

I started my time at Heffers as a children’s bookseller, surrounded by lovely books. That can lead you into a creative, world-conjuring headspace, even outside of the shop. And when customers asked for a picture book about Cambridge I wanted to be able to offer one that showed the town side as well as the gown; that would perhaps appeal to local people as well as visitors, and with beautiful, quite classical illustrations. That’s when the story started forming in my mind; the lines started to come to me and I thought ‘I’d better write this down’.

monty mouse (13008342)
monty mouse (13008342)

Where did you get the idea for Monty?

He once broke into my friends’ flat. We eventually caught him running about in the entrance hall and had to gently catch him and let him out at the end of the lane. I was very taken with him.

Your Heffers colleague, Angela Cogo, illustrated the book. How did the collaboration come about – and how did it feel to see Monty take physical shape?

We used to live together in a relic of a house behind the Museum of Cambridge and Kettle’s Yard. Angela was completing the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at ARU and I had some publisher interest in the story already and thought, ‘I wonder if she might illustrate it...’ Happily, she agreed.

I can’t draw for toffee but I made her a ‘dummy book’ (think biro stick-mouse quality) to try to get across the kinds of scenes I had in mind to go with the text, then waited to see what she came up with. She took some time to ‘get to know’ Monty and then there he was!

I couldn’t be more delighted with what Angela’s done with him, and her extra touches that have really helped bring the story to life. Before this, I actually hadn’t realised how much work goes into illustrating a book and I have been so impressed by her thoughtfulness and insight as well as her drawing talent. She even designed the font! Plus it’s really nice to have a book published with a friend; to see our names side by side on the cover.

monty mouse (13008339)
monty mouse (13008339)

What made you set the book in ‘Cambridge Town’?

I am of course aware that Cambridge is technically a city. But the ‘Town’ part isn’t to do with that. While living in the house where I wrote the book, I frequented the same streets Monty does most days. Where people work and shop and eat their lunch on benches while having no part of the famous university life and culture, which is all some people (understandably) might associate with Cambridge, and about which there are already lots of books. So Monty’s a Town mouse, not a Gown mouse. Plus I like the way it sounds, like with ‘London Town’ - a touch old-fashioned, a hint of the Dickensian.

Getting published can, we’re told, be a struggle, no matter how brilliant the book. How did you find the process?

It’s strange to be on this side of things; I’m used to working with editors and publicists, and speaking to authors about their own books and arranging events for them. Of course Angela and I are both delighted and Galileo publish books of excellent quality, so we knew they would do a great job with it.

What next for Monty? Are there more books in the pipeline?

There are certainly more tales to be told – so we shall see!

Monty Mouse of Cambridge Town by Kate Fleet and Angela Cogo comes out this month, published by Galileo and priced £7.99

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