Kathleen McLaren’s first book, Kitty McSporran Saves the Animals with the help of her magic cape, was published this year  with the support of Humane Research Australia (HRA). HRA published 3,000 copies of the book in recognition of World Week for Animals in Laboratories (18–24 April).
The colourful picture book tells the story of Kitty McSporran, a young scientist working in a laboratory who is troubled by the way scientific experiments are undertaken on various animal species.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
An artist friend was looking at some of my pictures and suggested I put them in a book to sell. He didn’t mean a children’s picture book but that’s what I thought might work. Because I have strong views on using animals as testing tools I thought having a book on the topic would encourage people to question the practice.
How did you go about applying for a grant?
I spent a fair bit of time asking around to find an organisation or individual to help finance the printing of the book. I was told about Voiceless, the Fund for Animals. I discovered that Voiceless offered grants for projects it thought would improve animal lives. I went through the application process.
Had you applied for grants from other sources or submitted your book to other publishers?
I hadn’t considered grants prior to being told about Voiceless. I had submitted the book to a couple of publishers. Neither company wanted to publish it. I didn’t really expect the book to be a commercial success, so the grant idea offered more hope. Voiceless gave me an “in-kind grant”, which meant the organisation would help me to get the book published.
Voiceless found an excellent editor who kindly volunteered her services. After a while I contacted Helen Marston from HRA to discuss the possibility of HRA funding the printing of Kitty McSporran. She read the manuscript and saw the illustrations and HRA said yes to funding.
What was your involvement in the production and editing process?
The editing was done by Lian Tanner, a published writer. She suggested a few changes and I could see it was very good advice! I decided on the front cover, layout, size of the book and so on based on practicality and looks. The printer was very helpful and experienced so we worked together on some parts of the process.
Kitty McSporran is a pretty unusual name. Is there something behind that?
I saw a farmer interviewed on the news one evening. His name was something-or-other McSporran. I found it highly amusing. (Apologies to Mr McSporran for my juvenile sense of humour.) The name Kitty McSporran appealed to me. In the story, Kitty McSporran is a superhero who puts things right for animals, so obviously it’s my expression of the wish that things were OK for animals.
Have you always wanted to illustrate and write books?
No. My father said that I announced that was what I wanted to do at a young age, but I don’t recall that. I’ve always enjoyed painting and art activities.
What’s your day job?
I am a primary school relief teacher. The work I give students is usually based around encouraging them to consider other animals as sentient and intelligent beings in their own right.
How is the book being marketed?
I’m not selling the book. It’s being donated to public libraries and school libraries around the country. Some copies have gone overseas. It has been promoted through PETA’s book alert plus the HRA newsletter. If someone with book-selling nous reckons it could be a commercial success I’d give it a try!
Are you planning any more books?
Yes. I am illustrating one at the moment for someone else’s story about kangaroos.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from the process of creating Kitty McSporran?
The main thing I’ve learned is that it’s a very enjoyable experience. I’ve always loved making art but pairing it with a story is really good.
Do you have any tips for illustrators or those who want to publish picture books?
Illustrating is the easy, fun part. Getting it published will most likely entail a lot of perseverance and work.
The original version of this article was published as ‘Writer at Work: Kathleen McLaren’ in The Australian Writer issue 373 (September–November 2011).