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Writers and Cats

Colette the French writer, the author of Gigi, very much liked cats. As she said, ‘There are no ordinary cats.’ And indeed there are not, and we may find as Colette did, that ‘My cat does not talk as respectfully to me as I do to her.’  One of her quotes about cats is this, ‘I went to collect the few personal belongings which…I held to be invaluable: my cat, my resolve to travel, and my solitude.

A writer certainly needs solitude when writing, but do they need a cat? If you look at all the quotes about writers and cats they seem to be essential. After Charles Dickens’ cat, Bob, died in 1862, he had Bob’s paw stuffed and attached to a letter opener, upon which, he had inscribed, C.D. In Memory of Bob 1862. A slightly macabre letter opener, that cat’s paw.

The British Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing wrote of her affection for cats many times, and she enjoyed a special relationship with her cat known as El Magnifico.

‘He was such a clever cat; we used to have sessions when we tried to be on each other’s level. He knew we were trying. When push came to shove, though, the communication was pretty limited.’

There is a lovely Irish poem from the 9th century, translated by Seamus Heaney. Here is the second verse.

 Pangur Bán

More than loud acclaim, I love

Books, silence, thought, my alcove.

Happy for me, Pangur Bán

Child-plays round some mouse’s den.

And a curious and eccentric poem by Stevie Smith which I used to quote to all the cats that have ever come into my garden in France.  ‘I am the cat that likes to gallop about.’

In my trilogy in the acknowledgements there is mention of my cat Plume as follows.

A reluctant thank you to the Plum Cat, whose idea of helping is to sit on the essential reference books or to sprawl across the keyboard

But the trilogy is finished, published and that time spent in great concentration in my study has drawn to a close. And at the beginning of April, this happened.

On the morning of April 2nd  Madame Plume, the Plum Cat, Mrs P, Plum Plum died, just a month away from her 19th birthday. She had become very frail indeed and the day before she stopped eating and drinking. In the week before, the exceptional spring warmth tempted her into the garden and she enjoyed everything that she had always enjoyed, sleeping under a rosemary bush, trying to catch a lizard, being carried around by me to admire the tulips. That early April morning she gave a little meow and I held her very comfortably for a while, she was so tired. She went to sleep in the kitchen, in a little niche she had decided on as a sleeping place, where she was safe and quiet but still with us for company. I went to make a rdv at the vet’s for the inevitable and she must have heard me because she died in that hour while I was away. She was so lovely and in her youth thought she was in the circus, climbing beams, and balancing high overhead in the double volume salon. And she could juggle walnuts! Many great memories of her and the way she batted everything off my desk as I wrote and added lines of nonsense to the trilogy. She is buried in the little garden and I have planted lily of the valley as her birthday was May the 1st, lily of the valley day in France. Not being gloomy about it because she had such a great long life. A perfect Mrs Plum Cat.

Several years ago I wrote this for her.

The cat on the mat

Is a cliché

Is an icon

Is sitting sphinx like,

A curled grey triangle

Watching me writing this,

Waiting to pounce on the pencil.

Colette author of Gigi

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