Tigger: Memoirs of a Cosmopolitan CatWhat gave you the idea for this story?

We moved around so much when our children were young and made many friends all over the world. As a way of staying in touch with them all, we began writing an annual Christmas Newsletter. The children each wrote (or in the early days dictated to us) their own news, and one year we decided Tigger should also have his own column. So, he began to write about all the things that had mattered to him during the year, and his column ended up being the most popular, so much so that some people began to address their Christmas cards to him personally! A few years down the track, I decided he probably had enough material to fill a book, and so we began to write…

Tigger’s Memoirs are written in first person singular, from the cat’s point of view. People might say you can’t possibly know what a cat thinks. How would you answer them?

I would say to some extent they’re right, but at the same time they’re missing the point.

Of course, I can’t read cats’ minds, and in any case I’m sure their ‘thinking’ works quite differently from ours, probably on a much more instinctual level that helps them achieve the tasks that matter to them. Nevertheless, if we know our cats, observe them and interact with them, we have a pretty good idea of their personalities, and we know how they will most likely react in any given situation. By putting human thought into Tigger’s head, based on my knowledge of his personality, far from trying to make him human I’m acting as a kind of interpreter between species. Many people think cats, and animals generally, exist on an inferior level to us humans and don’t experience emotions. My quest is to shrink this number, because so much inadvertent cruelty results from that misconception. Two friends of mine who never used to have time for cats changed their tune completely after reading Tigger’s story and now are happily settled with several cats. They are just the ones I know about; I’m sure there are others, and if that’s the case, then my ‘translations’ have achieved their objective.

TiggerBut it’s about more than that: when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a while – or ‘paws’ in this case –, when you walk at their level, try to see the world through their eyes and consider what matters to them, and then look back at the world of humans from the animal’s perspective, you suddenly realize how strange some of our behaviours must seem to them. Think about the concept of daily baths or showers, an absolute nightmare to cats, or how we need clocks to tell the time, when any cat is able to pinpoint to the minute when it’s dinner-time, without the need for any artificial device. It teaches us tolerance and a bit of humility, I think. We realize that our normality is not absolute; it’s just one way of living life, out of many other possible ways. And often animals do it so much better than we. So, in letting Tigger show us his world, albeit in my words, I’m also shining a light on the world of humans and maybe dismantle some of their would-be superiority.

Tigger travelled around the world with you and seemed to settle down easily in each new place. The general opinion is that cats are creatures of habit and should not be moved. Do you think people underestimate a cat’s ability to adapt to new conditions?

The idea that ‘cats’ don’t like change is just as wide off the mark as the idea that ‘humans’ like it. Each cat has his or her own personality, just like every human is different. Tigger happened to be extremely adaptable, courageous and confident. He took four intercontinental moves in his stride. No other cat we’ve had could have done that. Bilbo, one of our current cats, is severely traumatised by a 15-minute car journey. No way would he get on an aeroplane and stay sane. It was just very fortunate that Tigger was incredibly flexible, and that he, and not Bilbo came into our lives when we had to go through so many changes. In fact, he became our change manager, who showed us how it was done without fuss, without self-pity and by looking forward to the next big adventure. He taught our children resilience and put us to shame on more than one occasion.

So, I suppose my answer is: know your cat!

Tigger’s Memoirs are essentially also your family story. How did your family react to appearing in a book?

Tigger and his human familyThey took it with very good grace! Actually, I don’t think any of us thought about how the story would open our private lives up to the public eye. It was only when strangers started asking questions about things they couldn’t possibly know that I realized our family secrets were out there. The question we’re asked most often is whether my husband really reversed our car out of the garage through closed doors, and the sad answer is yes! All in all though, my family is pleased the story of our turbulent lives together has been written down, particularly now that the children have grown up and moved on to have lives of their own. I hope Tigger’s book will become a family heirloom for future generations!

How is Tigger’s story different from other cat stories?

In several respects, I think. For one thing, it is an entirely true story, give or take a few embellishments courtesy of artistic licence. There’s nothing in there that didn’t happen.

Then there is the fact that it is a memoir, which means it’s not an adventure story with one story arch and an ongoing plot – although of course it contains many mini adventures and each chapter follows on from the next. But it is structured as a series of vignettes, of scenes which seemed particularly memorable to us, and you could dip into the book here or there without losing the plot. This makes it a useful book to have handy when you just have a few minutes to spare (tuck it in your bag for a visit to the dentist!), or for reading to a child. Parents have told me Tigger’s story has provided great entertainment as a bedtime story, although I have to stress it is not specifically a children’s book.

Tigger on his deckFinally, this book strives to stick rigidly to the cat’s perspective and to the cat’s voice. Tigger behaves in the way cats do, and he has no knowledge of things outside his experience – which actually makes for some of the humour in the book: he interprets things strictly in line with a cat’s logic. When he makes a fresh kill, he expects his humans to have it for lunch and be grateful. There is no direct speech, because cats don’t have verbal communication in the same way we have. Communication is by body language and by the subtle sensing of moods that cats have, and I’ve been at pains also to stay at the visual level of the cat. So, when Tigger walks through the long grass, what he sees is the green jungle all around him, not the view of the whole field that a human would have at greater height. That fact was actually picked up by a couple of reviewers, who suspected I’d been down on my hands and knees following Tigger through the undergrowth on his quests. Perhaps I have…

Will you write another cat book?

Tigger and MumI haven’t considered it. Tigger’s Memoirs are his story, written down with him. He always sat on the armrest of my chair while I typed it into my laptop, as though he knew I’d never do it without his help. I could not imagine writing another cat story without him. We still have Tammy, the love of Tigger’s life, now well over 18 years old and getting very frail, and I love her to bits, but she is a very different character, and the story of her life would be a lot less exciting than Tigger’s. Much more sleeping and cuddling, less action!

I have written other books, but there are no cats in any of them. One is a woman’s story, a kind of ‘Top of the Lake’ meets ‘The Dry’, set in the temperate rain forests of South-Eastern Australia, where we used to live. There’s a dog in that one. I am still thinking about how to publish it. And as a historian with a particular focus on the 1920s to 1940s, I’ve also embarked on a World War 2 novel loosely based on my father’s experiences as an Austrian soldier in the Third Reich. So, you could say I’m still trying to find my groove! But Tigger’s story was my first love, of that there is no doubt.

Tammy and Tigger

My thanks to Susanne for her time in answering these questions and we, here at the Daily Mews, would like to wish her huge success with her other writing ventures.

You can read my review of Tigger: Memoirs of a Cosmopolitan Cat here

In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

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