Nat Blog

(It’s the Way that You Do It!)

The Idea Develops

The Idea Gets Some Interest

The Idea Takes on a New Direction

The Story Emerges

A Commitment From a Publisher

Checking the Text

Finding the Characters

Finding the Characters

Getting the Paints Out

All About Line Drawing

Finding the Painting Style

A Happy Accident

Choosing The Colours

4 - A Smile from a Stranger
The Idea Takes on a New Direction

February 2010


When I open up my ideas file and look at the work I’ve done on Nat the Cat I’m confronted with the dead end that I’ve reached with the project. A good character with some funny rhymes is not enough to make a picture book; something is missing and now it’s clear what that is: it needs a good story to hang it all on. At this point, for some reason,  I remember a poem I’ve written a long time ago called ‘The Smile’. Before I show you that, let me tell you the story of where the inspiration for it came from.


Back in the late eighties I’m renting a studio a short walk away from where I live in London’s Covent Garden. One morning as I stroll towards my workplace I turn a corner and I’m taken aback by a stranger’s radiant smile. I’ve no idea why this woman beams at me in this way (it’s not something you come to expect on the busy streets of London in the rush hour). Perhaps she’s received some good news; maybe she’s just woken up that morning in a good mood. Anyway, as the woman disappears into the crowds behind me and I ponder this, I suddenly become aware that I am now smiling too. Something magical has happened - this happy stranger has passed her smile on to me. I am now carrying that smile down the street and who knows, maybe in turn I may pass it on to someone else. When I get into my studio and I grab some paper and write this poem:




Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu
When someone smiled at me today
I started smiling too.


I passed around the corner
and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realised
I’d passed it on to him.


I thought about my smile and then
I realised its worth.
A single smile like mine could travel
right around the earth.


If you feel a smile begin
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick
And get the world infected.


This poem is published in Shake Before Opening (1991), one of my collections of children’s poetry. Of all the poems in that book the one that receives the most requests for inclusion in anthologies is The Smile. There’s something about its positive message and universality which seems to touch a nerve. Some ideas are big enough to be used in different formats and I began to think maybe this is one of them. Perhaps this little interchange could be the basis for a story, and if so, maybe it's  the story that Nat the Cat was looking for…

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