Saturday, 16 February 2019

Fictional Felines by Claire Fayers

Before I became a cat-owner, I had a fantasy. I would sit and write, and my cat would sleep in the cat bed nearby. Every so often I’d look up and say ‘All right, cat?’ My cat would reply ‘Mrowl,’ and we’d both go back to writing or sleeping.

The reality, of course, was somewhat different.

My first cat, Moosh, liked to sleep curled up behind me on my chair so I wrote with raging back ache. Then Penelope came along. Named after Penelope Pitstop and her constant cries of ‘Heyulp! Heyulp!’ she wouldn’t even come into my office but stood at the door and shouted at me. She grew in confidence as she got older, and would bring me gifts of dead flies which she deposited gently on my feet while I was writing.


...and Penelope

The least said about our third cat, Tallis, the better. He spends most of the day outside annoying the neighbours. He thinks my sole purpose in life is to open and shut the door for him.

I popped into the British Library this week to see their Cats on the Page exhibition. It’s on until the 17th March so there’s still time to catch it. I had an excellent time reacquainting myself with favourite fictional felines. Here are some of my own favourites.

Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams

I came across this book as a child – or rather, my sister did. She came home from school in tears, sobbing ‘It’s over! It’s over!’ It turned out her class had just finished reading this book. It’s the only time I saw my non-reading sister affected by a book, proving that there is a story out there for everyone. It also underlines the importance of reading aloud to children, whether at home or in class. 

Gobbolino is a sweet tale of a witch's cat who wants a normal life. It comes with a big thank you to all teachers who read to their classes.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

This book had me sobbing into the pages. Why do so many cat books make their readers cry? It’s the tale of an orphan girl and her cat Taggle, who, through a magician’s bargain, gains the power of speech. The dark and compelling story explores friendship, family, sacrifice and grief. If you haven’t read it, please do, but keep the tissues close by.

The Last Free Cat by Jon Blake

A happy cat book! Jon Blake imagines a future where a deadly cat flu has meant that cats are now registered and monitored, and only the super-rich can afford them. When Jade finds a cat without a collar, she’s determined to save it, and they go on the run together. An adventurous story, set in a dystopian Britain, it will appeal to teen readers.

Varjak Paw SF Said

I have to include the cat martial-artist Varjak Paw. I’m a big fan of the evil black cats. They are thoroughly creepy and yet I feel an odd pity for them.I do enjoy villains that gain the reader's sympathy. But the best part of the book, of course, is Varjak. He's a true hero – brave, tough and determined, he starts off as the underdog (undercat?) and proves himself over and over again.

To Be a Cat by Matt Haig

Who wouldn’t want to be a cat? Well, Barney Willow for a start, and so he’s not too happy when he swaps bodies with a cat. The fun story deals with some deeper themes of family break-up, friendship, and accepting yourself for who you are. And I love the villainous headmistress.

Storm Hound by Claire Fayers

It’s a bit of a cheek to sneak this one in, but Storm Hound is published next week and I'm a little bit excited. As a lifelong cat person, it was a surprise to find myself writing about a dog. Storm is a ferocious stormhound from the Wild Hunt. Crash-landed on Earth and transformed into a very cute little puppy he has to come to terms with life as a pet.

There is, of course, a cat. Nutmeg, Storm’s feline neighbour, is based on my Penelope. I made her a few years younger, but I kept her imperious tone, her unassailable belief in her own superiority, and her cautious attempts at assistance because she is the cat with the kindest heart.

Then of course, there are all TS Eliot’s cats; the Cat in the Hat; the Cheshire Cat; the Owl and the Pussycat; Puss in Boots; Dick Whittington’s cat, and all the other cats I don’t have space to mention. Which ones are your favourites?

This blog post was written in memory of Penelope who died last month, age 19 and a bit. She was the best cat.

Claire Fayers is the author of the Accidental Pirates series, Mirror Magic and Storm Hound. Website Twitter @clairefayers


Susan Price said...

Condolences on losing Penelope.
I used to wonder why my late cat, Biffo, used to sit on the landing outside my workroom and howl. Then I learned that he simply wanted me to get up, to find out what he wanted, so he could double back and get on to my chair. Then, of course, I would put him on my lap while I wrote -- which is what he'd been aiming at all along. He would then settle down, peacefully, to clean his face and ears while purring.

It took me a while to realise that in this -- and other ways -- he was training me. Cats are a lot brighter than they're usually given credit for.

Lovely blog -- and some reading tips! I especially like the sound of Plain Kate. (I've read Varjak Paw: it's great.)

Andrew Preston said...

The Owl and the Pussycat has long been one of my favourites.

Next up..., perhaps, would be Fritz the Cat (X) .from the cartoon strips of Robert Crumb.

I was never sad to leave any school I ever attended. And I never particularly enjoyed university either. In fact, just about the only feeling of achievement came about because
I'd done classics at school, Latin, Roman History. So this meant that I and about 20 other
would be engineers had to do an additional, crash course in Engineering Drawing. Zero to the equivalent of A Level in one year.., I felt quite chuffed about that. Even if I never enjoyed it one bit. So to relieve the unenjoyments and heavy workload, I'd take afternoons off to watch oddball films like Fritz; .

And currently, the neighbours cat. She waits for me to open the living room window,
and wiggles in. We give each other a little head bump greeting before she settles down on the couch, or my lap, or wanders across the keyboard.....

And finally, slightly out of chronological order...
the lyrics of a song from the '80's that I recall, in my years of grafting at computers...

".. I live in a flat, I like Manchester United
I live with my girlfriend and my cat, we're really happy
I like watching television, wearing duffle coat and moccasins
Eating crispy pancakes and having mundane haircuts - that's me... "

I expect Albert Camus, Mr Happy Sad, would have said a few things about that.

Penny Dolan said...

Ha! Cat Oliver here and I are definitely in training battles. He tries nipping my ankles to make me go to the empty food dish whenever he feels like a few nibbles. Meanwhile ignoring the meatblob containing his crushed steroid tablets. I do like this list of titles!