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Meet the winners: James and Lucy Catchpole

IBC Awards 2024

Central image of a white couple, James and Lucy Catphole, sitting in a garden. They are surrounded by a green background with a book cover on the left-hand side.

In our final 'Meet the winners', we talk to James Catchpole who co-authored, with partner Lucy, the winning picture book at the IBC Awards 2024, You’re So Amazing!.

James shares both his and Lucy’s experiences as disabled people, and how this fuelled ideas for the story. He also spills the beans on why he once went viral on Facebook!

Interestingly, James starts by explaining that he never intended to become an author: 'I really didn’t want to be a writer! As an editing agent, I sometimes write the odd word or line in other people’s books, but the blank page didn't hold any promise for me. And so, I never would have become an author if Karen hadn’t sent me a picture of a teddy bear with one leg. I couldn’t help wondering what story could be told about that bear — a story perhaps only I could tell. And Karen was good enough to let me tell it, and slowly, the bear became Joe, and the story became What Happened to You?'

As an amputee who gets around on crutches, I’ve often been told I’m ‘amazing'.

James then reveals how inspiration for You’re So Amazing! came from a discussion with his partner, co-author Lucy: '[It] grew out of a conversation Lucy and I had been having since our first date twenty years ago, about how the world responds to our respective disabilities. As an amputee who gets around on crutches, I’ve often been told I’m ‘amazing’. As a wheelchair and bed-user, this has not been Lucy’s experience! So she came up with the core of this book one day: ‘Joe was amazing. He knew he was amazing because everyone kept telling him, he was amazing.’ That’s my childhood. But it’s not something I could have seen so clearly had I not met Lucy. Sometimes, it takes a very different perspective to illuminate your own.'

We’ve only seen the inspirational or pity-disability narrative used to sell children’s books (and it has — millions of them). We’ve never seen a children’s book that actively questions it.

He continues, recalling a humorous character in the book: 'I remember us cackling in the garden when we came up with Annoying Dad. He’s not called that in the book — the parent with the messiah complex — but you’ll know him when you see him, for he hath made the lame walk! It was so fun seeing what Karen did with him. He’s not even a Bad Guy. I’d argue, he’s just high on the supply of his own narrative, as so many people are around disability.

As you can probably tell, the whole process was pretty cathartic for us. We’ve only seen the inspirational or pity-disability narrative used to sell children’s books (and it has — millions of them). We’ve never seen a children’s book that actively questions it.'

I’ve twice been the bridesmaid but never the bride until now!

On winning the first-ever Inclusive Books for Children’s Awards, James is incredibly modest, but delighted: 'Honestly, we were thrilled. The first book was shortlisted for a couple of awards, so I’ve twice been the bridesmaid but never the bride until now! And when we saw how strong the shortlist was, we felt humbled (but no less thrilled). IBC have done things properly in the way they’ve hired reviewers and judges with specialist experience and knowledge, so this feels properly meaningful.'

And how did James and Lucy celebrate when they heard they’d won? 'We told our girls, who are both in the book as background characters. They like the idea of our books winning shiny badges. (We’re far too old and wise to be concerned with such things, of course.)'

Disabled children are normal. And disability is normal, if we allow it to be.

James then reflects on what he hopes readers will take away from reading the book. 'I suppose a good few readers, by which I mean parents, librarians and teachers as much as children, may pick up the book and take its title at face value: disabled children are amazing! It wouldn’t be the only children’s book out there with this message. But if so, maybe those are the readers we need to reach. Because our message is the opposite: disabled children are normal. And disability is normal, if we allow it to be.

And how do James and Lucy spend their non-writing time as busy parents?

'Exclusively, looking after children or watching TV or sleeping. With one working leg between us, there’s no energy for anything else at the moment!'

And what’s next for the Catchpoles?

'I once made a viral football video. It had a couple of million views on Facebook. Lots of people told me I was amazing in lots of different languages. I wrote a Big Cat reading scheme book for 7 to 9s about the experience of making that football video. It’s called Going Viral. And Lucy has written a beautiful picture book called Mama Car, about our girls when they were very young, being the children of a wheelchair-using mother. The young children of disabled parents are so utterly free of the stigma of disability. Their parents are just their parents. A wheelchair is just a chair with wheels. And how cool is that?!'

Finally, we ask James for one thing he can’t live without, and he shares two rather vital items: 'I’m tempted to say my blood-thinners. But let’s keep it light: my crutches.'

You’re So Amazing! by James and Lucy Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George, is out now, and is published by Faber Children's.

You can read our IBC review of You’re So Amazing!, here.

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