Pearl in a Whirl - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
Catherine Robertson | Issue 219

Catherine Robertson
Photo by Florence Charvin

Pearl in a Whirl by Madelaine Empson

During Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023, a ragdoll Persian cross named Pearl hid in her family’s home, frightened by the storm. Rising floodwaters meant her humans had to evacuate stat, and sadly, they couldn’t find her in time. The following day when the water subsided, their neighbours were able to get into the house and rescue the cat, who was choppered out and even made it onto the telly.

Author Catherine Robertson, whose novels have all been number-one New Zealand bestsellers, read Pearl’s story on her owner Amy Bowkett’s social media page.

“Amy is a very capable and funny writer herself so the story was immediately appealing, and such good news after so many tragedies”, Catherine says. “I know people who lost their pets in the floods, and it was so nice to know that Pearl was OK. But it also was a very serious story about a dramatic event that had a devastating impact on our community, the effects of which are still being felt and will be for years.”

After spotting a rogue comment on the post suggesting that the story would make a good children’s book, Catherine and Amy had a chat about whether it could be done and might help support the Hawke’s Bay Foundation – a community-focused charitable trust that Amy is the executive officer of – in the process.

Catherine approached Penguin Random House NZ, who had published her adult novels, just for advice. Instead, they jumped at the chance to publish the book. To Catherine’s delight, they got renowned illustrator Fifi Colston on board and Pearl in a Whirl was released in record time – less than four months, no less.

But that meant Catherine had to learn to write a children’s book in under three weeks! “They are hard,” she declares, “but I had a great team helping me out. The biggest workload by miles was Fifi’s, but she’s a pro and her brilliant illustrations really make the book.”

The hard work, as they say, paid off.

Pearl in a Whirl was the bestselling NZ-published children’s book of 2023 and the only NZ-published children’s book to make it into the overall top 10. All my royalties from the sales have gone to the Hawke’s Bay Foundation, as have a percentage of Fifi’s. Wardini Books have also donated half their income from sales in their shops in Napier and Havelock North.”

This Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival, Catherine will join Fifi – whom she describes as “magic in front of children” – to chat about the book and more at the Featherston Public Library on Sunday the 12th of May. “There is nothing more fun than reading and talking about children’s books”, she delights, adding the festival has “a great community feel to it”.

She’ll also join Lee Murray and Isa Pearl Ritchie in conversation with Lynn Freeman for The Write Stuff: Making Dreams Come True and is looking forward to avidly shopping the book stalls while she’s in town.

“Plus, I cannot go past the best burgers in the country at Vixen. So good.”

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« Issue 219, May 7, 2024