Award-winning career for Leighton author after redundancy

Leighton children's author and illustrator Kate Milner at Thornton's Prep School
Leighton children's author and illustrator Kate Milner at Thornton's Prep School

If Leighton mum Kate Milner hadn’t been made redundant from her job at the library, it’s unlikely she’d be where she is today – an award-winning children’s author with the prestigious 2016 V&A Student of the Year Illustration Award under her belt.

Kate, of Beaudesert, said: “I was replaced by a machine, which prompted me to go to Anglia Ruskin to do a Masters in children’s book illustration.”
She describes it as a a wonderful experience, which led to the coveted V&A prize for her first book, My Name is not Refugee, due for release in May.

She recalled sitting down with husband Garry Layden – a senior lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire – after the redundancy and saying she would love to do the Anglia Ruskin course and perhaps now was the time.

“If the job hadn’t disappeared, I wouldn’t have had that push,” she said.

“Then just before the course ended, in December 2015, there was so much on the radio about the refugee crisis. According to some of the media, there was an army of zombies coming to destroy us all.

“So I decided to do a book explaining refugees to children in as unpolitical a way as possible.

“I wanted it to be in a version they could understand, so started with a mother explaining to her child: ‘We’re going to have to leave here.’”

The book omits much of the more distressing detail but Kate wanted young readers to know that refugees were children just like them, who liked to play and do normal things. “Encouraging a little bit of empathy,” she explained.

Kate wasn’t sure it would be viable commerically but was encouraged by her tutor Pam Sky and fellow student Saskia Hamilton. And it was three spreadsheets from the book that won her the V&A award.

The mother-of-three graduated from Aberystwyth with a degree in fine arts in and always found ways of doing something arty while raising her children. She taught art and graphic design part time, illustrated city magazines and designed pub signs – and once worked as a nanny for one of the families on Radio 4’s popular series The Archers.

But now she’s delighted to be doing what she really loves and has several projects in the pipeline, including illustrating poet Joseph Coelho’s latest book. “It was good fun,” she smiled.