Join me for a story in my clubhouse!

Hi friends! Alex Digger here.

We’re back for another book club meeting in my virtual clubhouse. I hope you’ll pull up a bean bag chair, grab a bowl of snacks (maybe a parent or two!), and settle in because this month’s guest is one of my favorites!

This is a text-based recap of our virtual story time.

Special Storytime Guest: Ella Shine

Our storytime guest is Ella Shine…who doesn’t even exist! How’s that for a neat trick?

Actually, we have two guests who work together to make up the author Ella Shine. Their real names are Penny Reeve and Cecily Paterson. They’re here to tell us about their cranky, talking cat Gus and his books!

Let’s chat with Penny and Cecily!

Where did the inspiration for using a pen name come from?

Cecily: We decided it would be too difficult to fit both our names on the cover! So we came up with “Ella Shine” as a way to keep things simple.

Tell us about the series. What types of adventures do the Lena and Cassie go on? What kind of kid were you thinking about as you wrote?

Penny: We asked ourselves what things do kids really enjoy. We came up with “friendship, animals, and magic.” So we put all three of them into the series! The girls really want a pet, but they’re not able to have one, so they end up pet sitting a cat who can talk named Gus.

Cecily: Gus wasn’t the cat they were expecting. They were expecting a cat who was furry, cuddly, and cute. But Gus is actually quite cranky. And whiny! He’s also a run-away. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with the girls at first. Eventually, the girls realize they can hear someone talking when the cat is around. The closer they get to Gus, the more they realize…the talking comes from him! He becomes the pet they never knew they wanted–even if he is a grump.

That’s delightful. So, is Gus the only talking animal in the book, or might we expect to hear from more?

Cecily: He’s the only talking animal–

Penny: So far!

Cecily: But he’s not the only magical animal. We’ve had a guinea pig who can turn invisible. There’s a pony who grows wings and flies–but doesn’t fly very well, I’m afraid. And also a bearded dragon who is unfortunately allergic to cats, and when she sneezes, gold glitter goes everywhere.

Penny: Those poor girls. They have all these new pet sitting jobs, and they just want to do their best. But then every single time, Gus causes all this chaos. And then he finds a way to help save the day.

You both have written quite a few books separately. How has the collaborative writing experience been for you?

Cecily: It was actually so much fun! These are silly books, quite different from what we both write regularly. It was a huge outlet for us to have fun. And it was neat to see that these books don’t sound like either of us; they have our combined voice.

Penny: We get together and brainstorm our possible ideas. (Most of that time is spent giggling!) We’ve got a list of ideas for future books in the series. And then it was time to start writing. I might write chapter one, then email it to Cecily. She’d read it, have a bit of a giggle, then write chapter two and send it back to me.

Cecily: At the same time, I’d also re-write her chapter one. So by the time we got to the end, each chapter has probably been re-written three or four times by both of us. So the Penny-isms and the Cecily-isms disappear and we’re left with a cohesive voice.

Penny: My writing tends to be quite flowerly and expressive. I like lots of adjectives. Cecily’s writing tends to be more, “This is the point and this is what you need to know.” By the time we meld it all together, we have a happy medium and Ella Shine has a real author voice.

Do both of you like to plan your stories ahead of time? Are either of you a spontaneous pantser?

Cecily: I’m not sure how Penny works in general. I’m a planner. And these books are only 5,000 words, so the structure must be exact so that the beats fall right on time.

Penny: We did occasionally go off-script if we felt something from our original plan wasn’t working, but then we would return.

Cecily: We did a lot of planning from the beginning about how to set up each story. It always starts a certain way, always ends a certain way. There’s a problem, escalation, escalation, solution. And all that happens at certain times.

Penny: It helped us work together because we both knew what was going to happen next. We knew what we had to set up next in order to be ready for the next chapter.

Can you tell us about the other people involved in bringing the books to life?

Penny: Our illustrator is a really talented lady named Lisa Franklin. She also lives in Australia. She had worked on some other books that we knew about. We really liked her style and thought she could draw Cassie, Lena, and Gus very well. It’s been amazing working with her.

Cecily: She also has five daughters, and one of them was the right age for the books. She would look on and say, ‘Mum, Cassie’s supposed to be wearing bangles, there.’

Cecily: And then our narrator actually ended up being the sister of my cousin’s husband. We didn’t know that at the time, so small world!

Jenny: She’s so versatile! She can do all sorts of different voices.

What age are the books for?

Cecily: About ages 5-8.

Penny: We made sure to write them such that if there is an adult reading the book, they’ll also find it enjoyable. 

Where can people go to learn more?

Cecily: The books are anywhere you can buy books online, as well as the audiobooks and ebooks.

Penny: We’ve got some free things on the website: coloring pages, story starters, and a teacher kit for classroom activities.

Thanks, Penny and Cecily!

I really enjoyed learning how these two authors worked together to create the Pet Sitters. I hope you did too!

If you’re looking for a good book to read on a lazy afternoon, I encourage you to try Gus Makes a Fuss (affiliate). I really think it’ll make you laugh–I sure did!

Want more book club?

Keep an eye out for my next book club meeting here! Hope to see you there.