writing

Cats and their Writers

madkin

Feline “shelfie”

For centuries, writers and cats have gone hand-in-hand (or hand-in-paw): a mutually rewarding relationship of cosy, physical comfort and poetic inspiration. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the musical Cats (based on The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by Modernist poet T. S. Eliot) in which the secret nocturnal world of cats is brought to life, with a bewitching cast of feline characters who Eliot presents as magical, mystical, criminal, ancient and wise… Ernest Hemingway believed that cats had ‘absolute emotional honesty’; American poet Charles Bukowski wrote:

“I study these creatures
They are my teachers…”

A Writer’s Purrfect Companion…
I wrote my first book, and most of my second, when we had just one cat – Maddy. She is a small, tortoiseshell rescue cat, and she is afraid of everything (including plastic bags, sneezing, and her own tail). Maddy would sit beside me while I wrote (always beside, never upon; she is very much an adjacent sort of pet), curled up in a neat, furry roundel. I found it very easy to write with Maddy there; she helped things along – a little literary muse (or should that be meows…?).

I think a warm cat snuggled up with you is wonderfully settling, and discourages you from hopping up and procrastinating all the time… Maddy would purr softly and burrow her little brown face against my leg – telling me she loved me and that she thought everything I was doing was brilliant… She may occasionally have sat down on a pile of important paper, or tried to catch the cursor on my computer screen, but generally she just watched, and dozed and snuggled. Her gentle reassurance was very inspiring. I would find cats creeping about stealthily in the backgrounds of my scenes, adding a strange, fairy tale magic to my stories…

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My snuggly little witch’s cat

It has to be said, however, that not all cats provide this service; there’s a claws in the contract, so to speak…

The Twist in the Tail…
By the time it came to editing my book, a new cat was on the scene. We acquired a tiny, crazy, fluffy ginger kitten and we called him Axl.

axl

Axl on the day he came to live with us. Butter wouldn’t melt…

He grew very quickly, until he was approximately the same size as a Bengal tiger (with a frighteningly similar temperament). When he woke you up at three o’clock in the morning (because he was bored), by patting you on the nose with his huge, fluffy paw, there was always a moment of panic when you thought you were under attack from a giant cat-bear hybrid from outer space… To understand what it was like trying to edit my manuscript with Axl around, I would like you to imagine fiddling about with sentence structure in the middle of a ferocious whirlwind.

He settled down as he got older, but there were still moments (usually when I was right in the middle of something very important) when he wanted attention and kisses, and he wanted them IMMEDIATELY, so he would come and sit on the keyboard of my laptop and put his fat, furry face right up to my nose so I couldn’t see the screen.

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Axl thinks chin tickles are much more important that editing.

Or he would decide that he’d had enough of this sitting-around-quietly nonsense, and would quite deliberately push my glass of water over, and then do fifty laps of high-speed parkour around the sitting room to celebrate his own destructive genius… I loved that boy with all my heart, but he was clearly not a writer’s cat. He was a psychopath.

Having said that, there were so many times when I was feeling completely stuck and frustrated with a big edit, and Axl would chirrup at me and leap up onto my lap with his big, heavy paws. A minute spent tickling his chin, stroking his soft, ruffley chest fur and listening to his deep, throaty purr was enough to soothe my befuddled brain, allowing the jigsaw pieces of my plot to fall quietly into place.

snuggled

A blissful afternoon writing with these two furry twits cuddled up beside me.

Paws for thought…
Ideally, for the witchcraft that is writing, you are probably looking for a Familiar less like the Tasmanian Devil and more like Old Deuteronomy – a wise and mystical beast who will help the magic along. But, whether they are bonkers little kittens or sleepy old moggies, cats are capable of giving us so much inspiration, distraction, pleasure and affection. A cat has always been and always will be a writer’s best friend.

This post is dedicated to our beautiful, crazy little tiger Axl who died suddenly this week from a congenital bone marrow disease. He was only eighteen months old. We will never forget him or all the happiness he brought us, and he will live forever in our hearts and in the stories we write. axl smiling

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