An Interview With Expat Kathy Urban, Author of Children's Book 'Hop Lola Hop' |

An Interview With Expat Kathy Urban, Author of Children's Book 'Hop Lola Hop'

Meet expat author Kathy Urban, the creative mind behind the children's book series 'Hop Lola Hop'

Posted on

15 May 2023

Expat Interview with Kathy Urban, Author of Children's Book 'Hop Lola Hop'

Kathy Urban is a multilingual journalist and children’s book author who currently lives in Dubai with her husband and their three young children.

Originally from a small town near Frankfurt in Germany, Kathy spent much of her adult years living expat, studying, working, packing boxes and moving countries.

For most of her professional career, Kathy has been producing and reporting on news, entertainment and environmental stories for various TV and multimedia networks.

But after years of new beginnings, Kathy decided to swap a busy newsroom career for one that would allow her to write adventure stories for young children from the comfort of her writer’s desk she’d be able to set up anywhere in the world.

About Hop Lola Hop

Kathy’s first picture book, Hop Lola Hop, was published in 2022. It follows the adventures of a wandering toy bunny named Lola. A second book in the series has just been released, Hop Lola Hop: A Yummy Market Day Adventure.

The stories were inspired by Kathy’s own experiences as a mother and her eldest daughter’s beloved comfort toy.

Expat interview with Kathy Urban, author of children's books 'Hop Lola Hop'

Pictured: Kathy reading her book at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai.

After many years as an expat, where is home to you now? Is it still your home country or have you felt more “at home” in another place?

"Currently home is here in Dubai. Both my husband and I grew up in Germany, but none of our children did. They were all born abroad and only know their passport country from monthly-long summer vacations," answered Kathy.

"I think a lot of fellow expats will be able relate to when I say, ‘Home is where the Heart is.’ After living abroad for half of my teenage and almost my entire adult life, it’s difficult to associate home with only one place. I do enjoy going back to visit my family and catch up with childhood friends. We do have a laugh, as sometimes I get stuck in in the middle of a conversation, forgetting the simplest of words.

But I’ve been informed by so many places and experiences, and while expat life certainly comes with its own bag of emotions, it’s the family I experience it with that helps me make home anywhere.

If there was one place, I feel more closely connected, then it must be London. This was probably one of the trickiest moves for me personally.

After all, that’s where a lot of those all important firsts happened: graduating from high school, I went to uni there, my first job, it’s where my husband and I found our first apartment together and of course, it’s where about 10 years ago I first became a mum."

What motivated you to start writing Hop Lola Hop?

"Hop Lola Hop was inspired by my own experiences as a new mum and the stories I made up whenever my little girl’s favourite toy bunny went missing.

We never had a back-up toy to arrange for a cheeky swap – so the next best thing I could think of was to suggest that the bunny wasn’t lost, but likely having a little adventure on her own. Luckily to this day, our own Lola has always made it back.

It was actually my husband, who first suggested the idea to use these stories as the basis for a series of children’s books.

It took a couple of years before I found enough time to write them down. Publishing a children’s book is a lot of work, definitely more than I thought it would be. But it’s also a lot of fun and I love spending my mornings with Lola and Ella."

Expat interview with author Kathy Urban of 'Hop Lola Hop'

Pictured: Real Lola bunny stuffed toys, which belong to Kathy's three children.

What was the light bulb moment for the second installment?

"Whenever I first started working on Hop Lola Hop, I ended up with drafts for about five stories in total. I was trying to think of different settings that children are familiar with and which would work to send this little toy bunny on an adventure.

I also liked the idea of writing a story that was loosely based around the topic of food and healthy eating. We do have some very fussy eaters at home, and I wanted Lola to discover and fall in love with a type food you wouldn’t immediately associate a bunny eating. So carrots and lettuce were off the cards.

The idea to have Lola enjoy a ‘hungry caterpillar’ moment in the middle of a strawberry field came as I was sitting at my parents house snacking on a punnet of strawberries the kids and I had picked that very morning."

What has been your favourite comment or feedback about your books?

"It’s always heartwarming to receive feedback from parents, telling me how much their children enjoy the books and love Lola the bunny. There have been many sweet moments during school visits and at book events, where children come up to give me a hug or hand me a little thank you note, often sharing details about their favourite toys or aspirations as a writer.

My favourite memory, however, is a personal one. Whenever I received the very first print proof of Hop Lola Hop, I was so excited to read it to the kids. But the next morning the book was gone!

Turns out my daughter had brought it in to school to share the story with her teacher and class. When I finally had it back, I found it had a little note written inside. It said: ‘Mommy made this'."

Expat interview with author Kathy Urban of 'Hop Lola Hop'

What is your best writing advice for other expats who dream of writing a book?

"The first bit of advice: just write and don’t worry so much what you write. You can always change it later. During the school visits and writing classes I offer, I always tell students the first step to writing is to get your ideas down on paper.

Many writers refer to this is their ‘word vomit’. It’s an important part of the writing process as you can only ever improve your story, once you’ve put something down on paper.

And then the next important step is to get feedback. Find beta readers and hire an editor! A good editor will offer a structural edit and an editorial assessment of your manuscript.

You will want to make sure that your story will become the best possible version of itself, and that won’t happen without some professional help. Writing takes time, it requires constructive criticism and the ability to take that feedback on board."

What were the challenges you experienced in the publishing process?

"I knew very little about what goes in to the making of a children’s book when I first started. I grew up listening to classics like the Paddington Bear, The Wind in the Willows and - as is custom for any good German girl - Pippi Longstocking.

There were a few more recently published books I used for reference, but other than that I really tried to trust the creative process. I had a little note stuck up above my desk that reminded me to ‘keep going down that rabbit hole’.

I really enjoyed the writing and editing process. I found a very good editor, whose feedback was brutal at times yet constructive, helping me move the manuscript forward with every edit.

Another important part of the process was finding the right illustrator. In order to retain creative control, I decided fairly early on to have the book independently published.

I found Siski, a wonderfully talented watercolour artist, after commissioning several illustrators to create a character sheet for me. It’s an amazing feeling to see the vision of your characters suddenly appear in front of you on a piece of paper."

Children's book author Kathy Urban of 'Hop Lola Hop'

Pictured: Kathy Urban with her first book, 'Hop Lola Hop'.

"Even though the entire collaboration took place online, I felt Siski and I immediately connected. She helped me plan, sketch and decide on a visual storyline. I love the attention to detail that she’s given to every single page.

Besides the creative process, I also had to figure out how to organize offset printing, warehousing and other logistical challenges. There is a wealth of information and services out there, but I struggled to see how I could effectively connect all the dots for what I was looking for without some help.

Half way through the illustrations process, Siski and I were joined by the Little Steps publishing team, a UK-based partnership publishing house with a catalogue of beautiful children’s books.

Hop Lola Hop remains independently published but I also realised for this story to get the best possible start in life, I needed help to tie all remaining loose ends together. And so far it’s working out brilliantly. I get to work with a lovely team on every Lola story.

We’ve just completed book number three and I hope this won’t be the last one."

What was the scariest part of the publishing process and the most rewarding?

"You have to make sure you put your big girl pants on whenever you’re ready to put yourself out there marketing your book.

Reading is very subjective and you will undoubtedly experience some rejection, especially when you’re only just starting out without an existing platform.

But there will be positive feedback too. Seeing your book displayed on shelves at local bookshops will be one of the most rewarding experiences for any new author.

I remember visiting some in London last summer and getting to chat with the lovely booksellers too. Like you, they do love stories."

Expat interview with children's book author Kathy Urban

Outside of work and family, what do you enjoy doing in your life as an expat?

"I do like my exercise in the early morning: running, cycling, swimming or going for a class with my friend.

I also play piano or paint if I want to relax. And even though I don’t make every meeting, I recently joined a book club (for adult books!), which is a lot of fun.

Last summer, I went away to Berlin for a few nights (just by myself). It was the first time I had done that since having kids, appreciating the fact that I could do things at my own pace and leisure. I ended up visiting a few art museums and for once was able to read the labels below the paintings – maybe a minor thing but it felt really satisfying.

And now that I know everyone was perfectly fine with mummy being away for a day or two, I will probably try and sneak in more of these mini trips."

Which is your favourite line from your books and why is it so?

Kathy said: "'Picking yummy fruits in the places they grow was going to be their new favourite game to play.’ – This is a quote from the second book, which I remember only adding at the end of the editing process."

"I have so many happy childhood memories of playing outside, doing things like helping my grandparents in their vegetable garden.

My kids grow up in a different world to the one I was brought up in. But even though they love the attractions places like Dubai offer, they also love wild unstructured play, taking pleasure in simple things, including visits to the local strawberry field during a summer holiday."

Expat interview with Kathy Urban, children's book author of 'Hop Lola Hop'

Is there a third book in the works for Hop Lola Hop?

"Yes there is! Hop Lola Hop – A Magical Christmas Adventure will release in September 2023 and it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon and Waterstones.

I am very excited for it. It's a bittersweet story where we see Lola and Ella’s friendship put to the test.

There’s a bit of a well up moment, which even made my husband feel a little teary after reading it (he’s my first reader for every story I write)."

Hop Lola Hop is available in Amazon UK, US, Australia and the UAE | Hop Lola Hop - A Yummy Market Day Adventure is available on Amazon UAE.