Bookbug Author Spotlight: Kate McLelland

Bookbug's Author Spotlight gives you the chance to learn more about the work of authors, illustrators, and publishers from the world of picture books. This month, we shine the spotlight on the wonderful Kate McLelland, author and illustrator of Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? which has just been published. Kate lives and works in Edinburgh.


What inspired you to start writing/illustrating for children?

For as long as I can remember I've been making up stories with pictures. During my youth these were very basic and often involved a little girl, who lived in the middle of nowhere and spent her days in the woods chatting to animals! It wasn't until I did a Masters Degree in Illustration that I realised I wanted to tell my own stories. Now my two biggest inspirations are my children.


What is your favourite memory from childhood?

One of my favourite childhood memories is listening to a blackbird mimicking a car alarm in an apple tree, as my sister and I lay on a picnic blanket in the back garden. It was a hot summer's day and we were using a large umbrella propped up to shade us. I think it was followed by Dad soaking us with a garden hose and we hid under the umbrella.

 I grew up on the moors so any book that starts with 'Once upon a time there was a dark, dark moor', was going to be a winner!  

Which books did you love as a child?

The first book I remember loving was Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar. This was followed by Beatrix Potter's books. I loved anything by Ruth Brown, especially A Dark, Dark Tale. I grew up on the moors so any book that starts with 'Once upon a time there was a dark, dark moor', was going to be a winner! I still read Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas every year, but it has to be the edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham.


Is there a picture book you wish you’d written or illustrated?

Well, once you read a good picture book, I think part of the magic is that you can't imagine anyone else illustrating or writing it. However, there are a few books that I love, but would also enjoy illustrating myself. One is Jez Alborough's Where's My Teddy? It is such a delight to read out loud and is set in a wood. I would also love a shot at Alison Uttley's Little Grey Rabbit's Storybook, another favourite from my childhood. More recently I have enjoyed all the Benji Davies titles, but I wouldn't want to have done them myself, I like reading them to my kids too much!


What do you think is the secret to a successful picture book?

I honestly don't think there is an answer. You can have a great story and a great artist and it isn't a success. Why? Sometimes it is good timing, a book comes out at just the right time and people take it to their hearts. I think you have to create books you are passionate about and have fun with and hope someone will feel the same. I like to think if there are children out there that have enjoyed a book I worked on then it is a success to me!

Scene from a Beatrix Potter story
Is there a book, an author or any other individual who inspired your love of books?

More than anyone else, Beatrix Potter. People seem to think of her animals in coats as being sweet but they should revisit the tales – there are some alarming moments in them! I think these moments set her apart. Children learn, through these reading experiences, that there is danger, sadness and turmoil in the world, but we can move past it. Potter was also an incredible conservationist - what a woman!


Tell us about the view from the office/studio where you work?

My studio is cramped and based at home at the moment. It is not ideal. I am so envious of fellow artists in studios with space to mess things up more! However, I have two children under 4 so I need to be close to home. I do believe you can make art just about anywhere - if you feel inspired and passionate the rest doesn't matter really.


What’s your top tip for budding authors or illustrators?

Try to set time aside every day to work in your sketchbook and to write. It's not easy, especially if you have commissions on or a family, but you really benefit from it. It is this year's main resolution for me!


What do you enjoy doing other than writing/illustrating children’s books?

Playing with the kids and then not playing with them when I get to meet up with adults for a nice meal! I also started running last year and love being outdoors on my own, it's great for thinking about stories! I love making lots of different things, sometimes a knitted creature, sometimes a cake, I have even tried a little furniture making. Oh, and we love movies in our house.

What’s your favourite thing about your local library?
My local library is East Calder and like most libraries in Scotland, it has a wonderful children's area where they are encouraged to read and explore the books. It actually has a row of seats in the style of a train – this was the main focus for my son when he first went. Fortunately he will now sit for a story too!


Find out more about Kate's work at


Read more Bookbug Spotlight posts here!