Hair of the dog wins it for Katie

22nd April 2011 at 01:00
Only 10, Katie McDougall is already a published author - winner of Collins' Big Cat competition. Julia Belgutay reports

At the unusual time of 1.30 on Friday afternoon, the whole of Hunter Primary in East Kilbride gathers in the hall for a special assembly. Deafening applause and cheers erupt as headteacher Douglas Thompson tells them why they are there: a pupil at the school has just had her first children's book published, and is about to be presented with a certificate and copies of her work by Collins, the publisher, to mark the occasion.

Katie McDougall, the author of Milo's Moustache, isn't a former pupil who left the school years ago. Katie is 10 years old and a Primary 6 pupil. She wrote Milo's Moustache as her contribution to the Collins Big Cat writing competition.

Now her book will sit next to the work of some of her literary heroes, such as former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen and national children's dramatist, David Wood, in schools and libraries across the country.

The Collins Big Cat competition invited children aged eight to 10 to submit short stories and poems aimed at the Collins Big Cat series for their own age group and for three to 11-year-old readers. Katie was one of the two winners, and the only one from Scotland.

Milo's Moustache tells the tale of Milo the dog, whose moustache is stolen by a bird. Following a desperate search, he finally acquires a new one, before once again encountering the thieving bird.

Katie told TESS her grandfather had been the inspiration for the story: "I have got a grandpa and he has a big, bushy moustache, and I also have a dog."

All 24 pupils in her class submitted entries after teacher Eileen Baddeley learnt about the competition online. She asked the pupils to research their readership and look at examples of books for young children.

Katie says she had understood that repetition was important in children's books, and that it was important to use "small words", so young readers could understand them.

Pupils then wrote poems and stories, and Ms Baddeley was impressed with the quality of their writing. Nevertheless, she was shocked when, at Easter last year, she received a call from Collins, telling her Katie had won.

"She is very imaginative, very talented. This has done wonders for her confidence. I knew I had a couple of really great stories in it, but you never know what is going to capture someone's imagination," she says.

Katie had forgotten all about the competition: "I was told in front of the whole school. I was just shocked," she says.

She has since visited every class in her school to read Milo's Moustache to them. Collins staff came to the school and she had the final say in choosing the illustrations to go with her stories.

"After I found out that I'd won we had a meeting, and I got to choose the dog and pick the colours," she says.

Her family was the first to receive copies and was proud of her achievement, she says: "My brothers thought it was really funny; they asked if it was inspired by grandpa."

Katie would now like to pursue a career in writing and aspires to the successes of Jacqueline Wilson and JK Rowling.

"Writing is quite fun," she says. "I didn't think I would win. I would quite like to be an author now."

Katie's classmates have been excited for her, says Ms Baddeley. The class have just submitted their entries for this year's competition, writing poems or stories on places or secrets, and are hoping to tread in Katie's footsteps. Holly, one of her classmates, says: "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, because look at what Katie has done."


The Collins Big Cat children's writing competition will go into its third year this autumn.

Anyone aged eight to 10 can submit a poem or story of 90-170 words on one of two broad themes. The winners are chosen by Collins Big Cat editor Cliff Moon and former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen.

The process is similar to the one professional authors go through when submitting a script to a publisher, to make the experience as realistic for the children as possible. The winners have their work published as part of the Collins Big Cat primary reading series and their schools receive pound;250-worth of free books.

Like adult authors, winners co-operate with illustrators and choose the images to accompany their story.

In the first year, two winners were announced, but a significant increase in submissions in the second year means Collins will crown four authors who will have their stories published.

Collins Big Cat publisher Sarah Loader says: "Their own published work is the ultimate incentive to raise writing standards in classrooms today and helps teachers to bridge the reading-writing divide.

"Reading and writing shouldn't be seen as two distinct, unconnected activities and skills; they need to be intrinsically linked. Children need to write like readers and read like writers."

Schools interested in taking part next year can find details on www.collinseducation.comPrimaryPagesCBCcompetition.aspx.

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