Behind the story of The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots

Editor Jo Hanks tells us about the discovery of the manuscript, hints at the return of our favourite Beatrix Potter characters and why she chose Quentin Blake to illustrate the new tale

How did you rediscover Kitty-in-Boots?

I was doing some background research into the world of Beatrix Potter, while working with Emma Thompson on ‘The Further Tales’ series, and stumbled across an out-of-print collection of her writings. In it, I found a reference to a letter from Beatrix to her publisher that referred to a story ‘about a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life’. As I read on, I discovered that Potter had written but never illustrated a tale for publication in 1914 called The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots.

A trip to the Warne archive at the V&A revealed three manuscripts, two handwritten in childrens’ school notebooks and one typeset and laid out in a dummy book; one rough colour sketch of Kitty-in-Boots and a pencil rough of our favourite arch-villain, Mr Tod. 

It’s obvious that Beatrix fully intended to publish this book. In each successive manuscript the plotting, characters and structure become more finessed and polished until we read the highly entertaining, unmissable story we are publishing this year. 

Why didn’t Potter publish the story during her lifetime?

Letters written by Beatrix Potter to her publisher, Warne, explain that she intended to finish the tale but ‘interruptions began’ – and continued; something always came up, from the start of the First World War, to marriage to sheep farming to colds and so Beatrix never went back to the story, 

Have you edited the story?

Potter hadn’t finished with the text and acknowledged that Warne would need to edit it before it was published. It was with no small amount of trepidation that I took out my blue marker pen; luckily Potter had done most of the hard work for me. Quentin and I agreed that we didn’t want to change anything significant about the story because it’s such an engaging read.

beatrix potter, cat

What is the story about?

Potter is the best person to answer this question:

‘It is about a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life, and goes out hunting with a little gun on moonlight nights, dressed up like Puss in Boots. As the gun is only a pop gun (which continually goes off), the bag is neither large nor painful. Miss Kitty ends in a trap, loses one of her boots and a claw, which cures her of poaching.’

The tale really is the best of Potter. It has double identities, several colourful villains and favourite characters from other tales – our treasured, mischievous Peter Rabbit makes an appearance, albeit older, slower and portlier. Mr. Tod, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Ribby and Tabitha Twitchit also make cameo appearances. It’s incredibly humorous.

Why did you decide to ask Quentin Blake to illustrate Kitty?

As soon as we began the conversation about finding an illustrator for The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, we knew it had to be Quentin Blake.

Quentin revels in rebellious characters and humorous stories with a spiky edge to them; he’s brought anarchic energy to the character of Kitty and embellished her already endearingly flawed character with his trademark wit and charm. Exactly what this fantastic book was calling out for!

How do you feel this new story fits in with the other twenty-three tales?

Very well, the story has all the hallmarks of Potter’s best works. Primarily a funny, relatable and very single-minded animal character whose ambitions are not matched by her talents!

kitty in boots, written form

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