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Ready, Steady, Alley Cat, Go: A Guest Piece by Ricky Trickartt

Ricky Trickartt is shortlisted for the 2022 Klaus Flugge Prize for Alley Cat Rally, published by Flying Eye Books. The Klaus Flugge Prize is awarded to the most promising and exciting newcomer to children’s picture book illustration. Alley Cat Rally tells the story of Asta, a ginger cat who reengineers the family washing machine into a racing car. The judges loved the fizz and fun of Asta’s world and the clever details and the skilful way Ricky controls the pace of the story. Ricky introduces the book here and explains how he developed the story.

I was in my attic, trying to get my head around some bizarre plumbing work. I grabbed my phone to try and shine a bit more light on my pipes when I got distracted by an email from Katie, the lady at Flying Eye Books who seems (from my perspective, anyway) to have the great job of emailing me good news. Forgetting about my pipes, I read on to learn that I was being selected for the shortlist of the 2022 Klaus Flugge Prize!

I totally didn’t believe it. I took stock of my situation and realised I was still sitting in a dusty attic, so I went downstairs and read the email again to confirm that it didn’t say the opposite of what I had thought, and that I hadn’t misunderstood it. If I hadn’t gone to the shortlist ceremony a couple of weeks later, I probably still wouldn’t believe that I had been shortlisted for the award - I'm definitely not used to people actually paying attention to my artwork! It’s a massive kindness that anyone would think a first-time writer like me would be worthy of any kind of recognition.

I’m not always in my loft puzzling over pipework - it’s only because I’ve recently moved house. I’m usually pretending to be busy in my home office, which is normally full of all kind of nonsense that inspires me. The Casio calculator that is also a terrible synth keyboard. A plush space shuttle complete with velcro-attached rocket boosters I made when the Shuttle program was being retired by Nasa. The paintings my brother did when he was at uni. Road signs both misappropriated and home-made. And of course, a very modest collection of little washing machines.

Half of this stuff is still waiting to be taken out of moving boxes at the moment, but it was in the more unpacked environment that I gradually worked on Alley Cat Rally. Like the rest of the nonsense in my office, I do find washing machines surprisingly interesting. They're like the most ubiquitous - and yet completely under-appreciated - robots in the western world, so they've been featuring in my artwork for a while. It was the washers in my artwork that led a chance encounter with a group on the internet, and it made me realise that it wasn't just one of the two cats I grew up with that sometimes liked to climb into the washing machine. Learning that Sybil the cat wasn't alone in her habit got me thinking about how to subvert what really is kind of an alarming situation for a pet-keeper. So trying to bring the cat from a place of vulnerability to one of power is the very short version of where Alley Cat Rally came from.

It's an incredible privilege to have the 'day job' of designing record covers. Most of my work comes from a sub-genre of electronic music that is known for being quite heavy, and like Asta's rethinking of her washing machine, I've always tried to subvert the conventions of the genre. Instead, I try to make artwork that is cheerful, silly and sometimes self-depreciating, and that outlook led to recurring suggestions over the course of my career that I would be good at making children's books.

It took me a long time to absorb this message and pluck up the self-confidence to try and write a book. Making the first few generations of the story was hard, but as an entirely self-taught artist with no connections in publishing (or the creative world outside of my niche in the music industry), getting it published was even harder. I guess I got lucky, as Flying Eye were kind enough to give me some quality feedback when I sent my first version of the book to their submission’s inbox. It took a second encounter with their parent company Nobrow, this time about something completely different, to get us to look again at Alley Cat Rally and get it into a publishable state.

Sam at Flying Eye in particular gave me loads of great feedback, and one of the biggest points I really appreciate being pushed on was to add more detail to my illustrations. He saw in my other work (such as my daily post-it drawings) how much I love adding little side-jokes, so with the visual storytelling somewhat in shape, he encouraged me to go to town with the details. 'Put in Easter eggs!', I was told, and so I kept adding details until I was worried they wouldn't even show up in print. I'm really glad I did, because I hope at least, that it gives the book good repeat reading value, and readers young and old will notice something else to make them smile every time they pick it up.

I'm not really sure what's next for Asta, or my storybook career, at the moment - my other Asta story ideas are still in very early development. Even after having Alley Cat Rally published though, it's easy to lose sight of this achievement and knot myself up in thoughts of 'well you haven't figured out what to do next'. So being considered one of the six most exciting illustrators to come to children's publishing this year by the judges of the Klaus Flugge Prize is exactly the motivator I need, to dig into and realise some of my other ideas. The pipework in the attic isn't leaking - it can wait!

The winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize will be announced on the evening of Wednesday 14 September. Find out more about the prize and this year’s shortlist on the website.


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