Tell us a tiny bit about yourself and a whole lot about the mog(ies) that share your current and/or past life.
I’m a novelist, once upon a time a journalist. I’m currently working on my eighth novel, my fourth as Alex Marwood, supplier of murder to the reading public. This will be the third time my blue Burmese, Baloo, has had an acknowledgement as a muse, which, given that he’s five years old now, rather gives me the horrors at how unproductive I am.
Baloo’s a funny little chap: just like a real cat, only in miniature. I called him Baloo because his long and noble pedigree suggested that he would be a great big bear of a cat, like his Grand Champion half-brother, but a couple of days before he was due to come home with me, he developed an intussusception – a twisted gut – and had to have a pen’s length of it taken out, which, given that he was only about five inches long at the time, was a lot. As a result, he never really got his growth spurt and I can still fairly much fit him into a large pocket. On top of that he also has slightly malformed back feet; the vet thinks he was probably one of those kitts who was conceived as an afterthought (that weird, cool thing where a litter can contain foetuses from multiple matings a couple of weeks apart) and came out slightly undercooked. All of these imperfections just make me love him more, and feel proud for him of the splendid thing he has made of himself.
Have you always had cats or are you a late convert to the Church of Mog?
I grew up in the country, so we had a couple of classic tabby cats, initially to keep the vermin down in the outbuildings. My mother, who was a bit of a hypochondriac, liked to believe that she was terribly allergic, but it took less than three months for them to determinedly insert themselves through windows and take over the run of the house. A cat flap had been installed by the time they were six months old, and she wept and wept when they died.
I didn’t get a cat of my own until I was in my mid thirties; just didn’t think my living arrangements were stable enough. By then, I’d become a convert to the church of Burmese, when a friend went off on a world trip and left her blue boy with me for safekeeping. They are the most extraordinary cats. Otty simply marched into the house and took it over. Very politely, and with great charm, but very firmly. No hiding under the sofa for a Burmese. On the first night, he simply jumped onto the bed and tunnelled under the duvet, and that was that. They’re real party animals; just assume that any visitor has come to see them. If you have an actual party, they will place themselves on the drinks table, to make sure that they get their share of attention, and stay put all night. When Otty went home, I missed him terribly, and another friend decided to trick me into getting one of my own by taking me on a day trip “to collect his new kitten”. My Titus Andronicpuss marched up to me in a pen and literally jumped into my arms, and that was it. Love of my life.
How did your cat procure you?
When my second cat, Felice, died, I got onto a breeder immediately, because I was expecting there to be a waiting list. But she had little Baloo, and though he had a potential owner lined up, she didn’t like him much, particularly as he wanted to meet and collect on the same day. Burmese breeders are very fussy. You have to pass interviews. When I met Titus, we had to sneak in through the back, as the breeder was avoiding a couple who were pestering her. “They only want them to go with the décor,” she said. “I’m not having that”. And she was right, too. Though they are shockingly beautiful, their main breed characteristic is actually their intelligent, affectionate personalities, and if they don’t get enough love and attention – and they need a lot – they can act out. Anyway, as a result, I ended up with a poorly kitten at unseemly speed that I think rather shocked people. But I’m glad. You don’t actually mourn better by doing it alone – I’ve discovered that in life – and we were the right people for each other.
What features do you like most about your current cat(s) or cat(s) that accompanied you through your life?
Poor darling Titus died at the age of three from a heart condition, and it was the biggest heartbreak. The night he died, twenty people turned up unprompted with photos and stories of his scampdom and held a wake for him. God, even telling that memory makes me teary. I then inherited my lovely Felice, a lilac three-year-old, and she was amazing. The most affectionate creature on earth and a huge empath. She nursed me through some very hard times. The last words I said to her when she died at 16 were “thank you”.
None of Baloo’s physical issues have ever stopped him. He may be tiny, but he’s the butchest cat I’ve ever lived with: an athlete and an acrobat, a tireless and ferocious hunter, a swaggering piratical adventurer, covered in bulging muscles. He’s sprained my thumb several times while playing – his pounce is like getting hit by a cannonball. He’s also an accomplished, entitled and ruthless thief, and bright enough to tell the difference between packaging. If he gets past the locks and bars into the food supply, it’s always empty turkey or tuna Gourmet sachets that I find discarded provocatively on the hall floor in the morning. I could leave supermarket own-brand food out on the kitchen table all night and it would go untouched. It makes me beam with pride
But most of all, he’s enormously gentle and affectionate, and an absolute tart. He likes to pretend he’s indifferent, but he follows me around the house, chatting, and howls with joy and turns somersaults if I’ve been away and come home.
Do you have a special divert and distract method to keep your feline from bothering you while you’re writing? Or does your cat leave you alone while you are typing away?
I work in bed. That helps. I have a little table to which I keep the laptop velcro’d, and it’s wobbly enough that he no longer tries to climb onto it as it tips him straight off. Generally, he settles down against my shins and sleeps there all day, sucking out my body heat and awaiting attention. And at five o’clock precisely, just like both his predecessors, he will stand up and stare at me with big loving googoo eyes. Then he’ll start poking me with a paw, and then he’ll start nipping my arm. And then I’ll get up and give him his tea.
Have you ever featured one of your cats or a cat in general as a protagonist in one of your stories?
A cat has a really important role in The Killer Next Door, but he’s more based on a splendid gigantic black cat my father had in Scotland. And my friend Zoe’s Maine Coon, Beasley, is in a short story, Hello, Kitty, about a woman house-sitting in the country who keeps noticing that things about the place have moved, ever so subtly, when she comes down in the morning. My own just get acknowledgements, which has cause the odd sneer in the reviewing community. Mostly from men. Meh.
Most disgusting gift/surprise you ever received from your cat?
I learned to at least circulate the chairdrobe when I was rushing out to a meeting at the beginning of autumn and pulled on a devore coat I hadn’t worn since spring. Noticed as I was going down the stairs that there was a rotten sort of smell hanging about me, and discovered a mummified mouse adhering to the back. Titus had clearly generously left it for me to find, and instead I’d thrown another coat on top and never noticed it. I had also clearly sat on the whole thing at some point…
What’s the biggest catastrophe a mog has ever caused in your household?
There’s a saying that you have to swap one precious object in your house for every Burmese you’re privileged to host. Titus smashed a mirror, Felice smashed a brand new laptop (hence the Velcro!) and Baloo smashed a picture. It was a hideous picture, but still. It was one of those photographs that light up and move that you see on the walls of Indian restaurants. I do have something of a taste for kitsch. But why it mattered was that it had been a gift from a best friend, John, who’d found it in Pakistan and decided it had my name on it, and had brought it all the way home as hand baggage because he didn’t trust the hold. John died suddenly ten years ago of cerebral malaria, so the picture had suddenly become a far more precious thing. But you know – possessions are only experiences, in the end. I loved John, and I love Baloo, and the fact that Baloo is a clumsy oaf will never change either of those facts.