International Cat Day on 8 August sees us celebrating our feline friends. From Mark Twain and T.S. Eliot, to Patricia Highsmith, Ernest Hemingway and Sylvia Plath, cats have long been favoured by writers as muses, sounding boards and feet warmers. Here some of our authors tell us about their precious pets and how they’ve helped or hindered the writing process.
Tabitha Bird (Author, A Lifetime of Impossible Days)
It began with a fish. I should have foreseen that the fish would not live long (fish never seem to, do they?) but who could have foreseen the day I cried all over the Apple computer store worker? Katie the cat came into our lives when my middle son lost his beloved fish. Not being ‘cat people’ we were dubious. My son’s teary face convinced us and a tiny piece of fluff entered our lives. All seemed merry. Katie would sit on the desk beside me as I wrote while my son was at school until the day we shall refer to as ‘Katie is Lucky She’s Alive'. I watched in horror as Katie batted my tea cup all over my MacBook. The screen went black. The Apple store worker told me the computer was dead. RIP all of my computer files. I’m sure that worker hasn’t forgotten the tears and mess of one emotionally destroyed writer! And after the replacement of a MacBook, my bank account hasn’t forgotten how much Katie the cat really cost us either.
Image via @birdtabitha.
Sasha Wasley (Author, Love Song)
Until recently I had two cats, Villain and Josie. Villain was elderly, however, and she went over the rainbow bridge on the same day my book came out! She was my true desk kitty, always on or near me while I wrote. Funnily enough, since she passed on, Josie my black cat has really stepped up as desk kitty. She is always in the cat cave on my writing desk or if I'm writing in bed, she lies on my feet. Josie is great for the pause-and-think moments during the writing process, as she is always happy to get an ear scratch or chin rub while my fingers are idle. Josie was found in a cardboard box on the side of a highway as a kitten – by backpackers. They took her to the Cat Haven and we adopted her at 6 months old. She is a lovely little cat; cuddly and social with her family, if a little standoffish with strangers.
Josie says, ‘Sometimes my human needs help with her writing. If she's blocked, I wait for her to stand up in exasperation and go to pawcrastinate with that awful, loud washing machine. Then I walk across her keyboard and write some words of my own. This helps her get her fingers back into typing as she must delete my contribution as soon as she returns. It's a meowvellously simple technique, but effective.’
Image via Sasha Wasley.
Leah Kaminsky (Author, The Hollow Bones)
My children rescued Kotzy from the Lost Dogs’ Home. We went looking for a mutt and came home with a three-month-old tabby, whose left ear was torn. He turned fourteen this year and has always been my constant editor, staring at me from behind those green eyes, asking if that entire scene with the dog is really necessary. He sits beside me purring, sleeping, licking, until it’s time for both of us to eat, which, when I’m working on a book, is usually hourly. His editorial skills extend to walking across/sitting on/lying over my keyboard, expressing his inner feline thoughts as his feet or tummy types out zzzzzzzz, or more cryptic literary prose such as pooououiuiyuttsy. I discuss characters with him, whether third or first person POV is best and sometimes turn to him just for a cuddle when the words stubbornly refuse to spill out onto the page. I wonder what he’s thinking when he sits beside me for hours, looking deeply philosophical? He is wilful and stubborn, nutty and skittish – the perfect companion for an equally petulant writer.
Image via @leah_kam.
Fiona McIntosh (Author, The Pearl Thief)
Within a week of moving into a little farmlet two years ago, a litter of kittens were born in our roof – the most adventurous one at around five weeks fell down a cavity wall and pitifully mewed for a day and night while we tried to work out exactly where he was. And then in came the jigsaw and our renovated walls were hacked into. There was a presumption of the cats being feral but one look at their caring mother and her family and I knew this was a domesticated cat who had been left behind. We managed to rehome her and most of the gang and we kept two little boys – one was adventurous Alfie. I felt he was already ours having rescued him, and we kept his brother, Bingo, who had an injured eye and kept winking at me. I am a helpless cat lover but my three men are all allergic so it was astonishing that my husband let me keep them.
They are now fabulously healthy, beautiful adults who range for miles with bells designed for cows, I’m sure, dangling from their necks so birds can hear them coming. They run amongst the paddocks at speed, like cheetahs, chasing each other and our three dogs. Each morning and evening Alfie and Bingo come for a long walk with us; I’m sure we look ridiculous because the chooks also follow. And still I find it comforting that we’ve been blessed with all these slightly weird but wonderful creatures who are family to us. I know in my heart this emotional connection to nature nourishes my writing.
Our feline brothers cost us a small fortune in vet bills, forever hurting themselves on the local farmer’s barbed wire, but they give us so much affection and attention I can’t hold those fees against them. As kittens they trashed our new laundry trying to get out of the house and now as adults they scramble over every inch of the roof and around the verandah trying to break back in. They can’t quite get enough of us. We’ve taught them to be barn cats because of the instant allergic reaction they can create indoors, but they share every inch of our life nonetheless. Like a ghost, Alfie can slip into an unattended door and make himself comfy on the pillow beneath my desk so he can share my writing days. And I am careful not to leave my car door open for any reason because Alfie, for sure, will sneak in and make himself at home, often only announcing himself after a journey has begun. Bingo is our cuddly fellow – frightened of his own shadow and yet always up for a hug.
I secretly included them in The Pearl Thief, if I’m honest, although I deliberately made them Siamese to differentiate them from my pair. But, even so, I think I was channelling the expressions of disdain that Alfie and Bingo can achieve when we welcome visitors, move around the furniture, or feed them minutes later than 8am for breakfast or 5pm for dinner.
Image via Fiona McIntosh.
Paige Toon (Author, If You Could Go Anywhere)
It’s author Lindsey Kelk’s fault that I have a cat. We did some book events together in the UK a couple of years ago and Lindsey, who lives in LA, was missing her beloved kitties. Hearing her talk about them and watching some videos, I started to daydream about having a feline of my own.
Within weeks we had Heidi – a Russian Blue kitten. I was writing a book and knew I’d be rooted to my office desk for the next couple of months. As Heidi wasn’t allowed to leave the house at first, the timing seemed perfect.
Thank goodness we didn’t get a puppy… Heidi made it impossible for me to stay focused on my writing. She’d jump onto my keyboard, swat at my office blinds, clamber up my legs and demand to be petted. She certainly didn’t help the writing process, but as disruptions go, they were pretty joyful.
Image via @paigetoonauthor.