Illustrator and author Katie Stewart returns to her childhood, four decades later, to find inspiration for new picture book

Katie Stewart with her book What Colour Is The Sea?

A peripatetic childhood gave What Colour is the Sea? illustrator and author Katie Stewart the chance to see the world from many perspectives. Katie’s new book, her first with a traditional publisher, is about a koala who asks her Aussie animal mates what the true colour of the sea is. The answers vary, so when koala ambles down to the seaside to see for herself, she discovers her friends are both wrong and right in their perceptions.

Katie was born in the north of England, but has lived in Gosnells, Katanning, Albany, Northam and Pinjarra. Katie said the book began over four decades ago in Albany, where she lived as a teenager in a house on Mount Clarence with a view of Middleton Beach. She said, ‘The idea about the sea having so many colours and yet no colour came to me when I was about 14, staring out of the window at the sea. The idea rattled around my brain for years before I started forming a story around it.’

Though it’s the subject of her book, Katie admits she is in fact terrified of being in or on the sea, having almost drowned on her first venture into Australian waters at the age of nine: ‘I love a walk on the beach and I loved my teenage years in Albany watching the sea change, but that’s as close as I get.’

An excerpt from What Colour Is The Sea?

Katie, who now lives on a farm in the Wheatbelt, has seen the book come full circle, because it was Albany author Dianne Wolfer who encouraged her to bring the book to Fremantle Press. ‘What Colour is the Sea? is my first traditionally published book. I’ve previously self-published four novels and a children’s non-fiction book. Getting people to buy them is hard work and I wanted to see if I could become traditionally published … I was absolutely thrilled when the book was accepted.’

Fremantle Press Children’s Publisher Cate Sutherland said Katie would go down in history as the first author ever to invite a koala to her book launch. She said, ‘But the book is much more than just cute, cuddly koalas, beautiful blue wrens, gorgeously rendered snakes, wombats and kangaroos. What Colour is the Sea? is about listening to different viewpoints, considering them but then ultimately trusting your own perceptions and coming to your own conclusions.’

Katie said she was feeling a strange mix of happy excitement and absolute terror about being published. The former teacher said, ‘I love kids, especially small ones, so I’m really looking forward to meeting them and talking about the book with them. I’ve bought a set of puppets so they can do some role-playing along with the story. Of course, I’m also looking forward to the thrill of seeing my book in bookshops!’

An excerpt from What Colour Is The Sea?

Katie Stewart started her working life as an archaeologist and ethnohistorian, then went on to teaching and to being a mother. She later worked in a school library, but her lifelong dream was to be what she is now, an author and an illustrator. She is married to a farmer, has three children and lives north of Northam, where her love of animals means she has a lot of pets and takes lots of nature photos.

What Colour is the Sea? is available in all good bookstores and online.

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