What was your inspiration behind the book?
Cats make me laugh, particularly when they are doing naughty things. So it seemed like a good idea to write about them. I love how they are not like most domestic animals. Obedient? You must be joking. Domestic? Not always.
What was the most rewarding part about writing the book?
The cat stories were what I liked most. So many people had told me about their cats and the outrageous ways they behaved. Now I could retell some of these stories that had made me laugh.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
Making sure that I had the science right. I had just finished a three-year honors degree in applied animal behavior and, while I loved the jokes, I wanted to make sure that there was solid, up-to-date science behind it. While writing the book, I downloaded and read more than 100 science papers about cat behavior. You don’t see the science in the book, but it is there, like the nine tenths of the iceberg below the water. I wanted the fun of cats to be yoked to proper knowledge.
What is your approach to understanding cat behavior?
It’s twofold — direct observation of cats and studying the latest research. I watch cats all the time wherever I go: I see them in the streets (most UK cats have cat flaps), I see them hunting in the fields, I see them looking out of windows. I used to volunteer for a local shelter where I would go once a week to stroke the cats in the pens. I also do some rescue work for a cat charity. And I do a little work as a practicing cat behaviorist — going out to clients who have troublesome cats. Then of course there are my own cats — and the cat next door and the cats I have fostered. So it is a mix of hands-on and study.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing on your free time?
Photographing cats, rabbits and hares is my hobby. Also listening to early music — pre Mozart. And my cat, George, writes a cat blog. George disappeared and was probably run over, but I have kept him alive online, where he blogs away. He studies human behavior and has very firm views on this (in his mind) inferior species that is Homo sapiens.
Do you have any pets? Tell us about them!
I have currently just one cat, Tilly. She was left unchosen in the shelter for 18 months because she was so ugly and frightened. So I took her on. She is now my closest friend. I don’t believe in having too many cats. It is stressful for them to have to live in a crowd. So I only have two at a time max, and often only one. It took Tilly a long time to trust me, so I haven’t gotten another cat yet.
What is one important lesson you’ve learned from a cat?
Cats look after their own interests. They may be curious about life around them, but they tend to watch rather than get stuck in. They don’t interfere with others. They don’t amass money or things. They don’t go on power trips. They don’t want to be top cat. They don’t join packs. They don’t care if humans are old or young, ugly or beautiful, black or white, disabled or athletic. They don’t want to “own” humans. They just get on with their own lives and try to be happy.
Your book features true cat tales. Which one is your favorite?
My favorite story is Henry, the cat who would unscrupulously drop in to sleep in neighboring houses (page 32). He found a loving home of his own choice but is not entirely reformed. I still see him in one of the local villages. He has grown very fat, but he still turns up in other people’s houses. A friend woke up to find a cat under her bed about three months ago. I said, “Was he white and black with a stumpy tail?” She said, “How did you know?” I said, “It had to be Henry.”
Are you planning on writing more books?
I have just finished a book titled Tilly the Ugliest Cat in the Shelter: How I rescued her and how she rescued me. It will come out in the UK this summer.
If you could tell your readers one thing, what would it be?
Cats are not as sociable as dogs are, so don’t treat cats as if they were dogs.