If you’ve read any of my books you’ll know that animal characters feature somewhere in all of them. Sometimes they just hop in and hop out again, like the baby rabbit in The Silver Locket, or Astra, the small back cat with the white star on her forehead, who wanders in and out of Following the Green Rabbit. Others play a much more prominent role, like little Toti, the Professor’s small sidekick in Song of the Sea Goddess or these two, pictured above.
You can always rest assured that no animal in any book I write will ever come to any permanent harm. And, fellow authors, I’ll tell you, I become deeply distressed if you kill off one of your animal characters, never mind the fact your story might demand it! If an animal appears in a book I’m reading, I start to fear for its safety and I’ll frequently page though the book to find out whether it makes it to the end.
I write for my own pleasure and that, I hope, of my reader too. None of my novels are particularly serious. All are spattered with at least an element of fantasy, and a handful of quirky characters, especially clever animal characters, tend to come with the territory. Or at least they do in my writing. All my principal characters have a responsibility to contribute to the plot and to move the story forward; they have a duty to draw each other out and offer one another opportunities to demonstrate different facets of their personalities. The non-human players are no exception.
My animal characters frequently feature in my favourite scenes and I particularly enjoyed writing those which included Asmar and Fingers in my Liverpool-based book, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. These for me are the superstars of my pages, but from what part of my imagination did they spring?
Asmar the cat belongs to Cynthia, a charming and independent woman ‘of a certain age’. Her cat is the perfect match for her, an exotic Abyssinian, both beautiful and intelligent, with an instinct for tracking and a sense of adventure. The ‘real’ Asmar, both in name and appearance, was a cat that belonged to the chef-patron of a tiny restaurant in a village in northern France where we stayed on holiday, many years ago. With a gentle nature and an enigmatic bearing, he stepped delicately into the role.
Fingers is the naughty young monkey who accompanies Bob in his transit van, doing errands and striking slightly dodgy deals for his market-trader gran, with whom he stays. Both characters might well be referred to as ‘scallies’ in scouse (Liverpool) slang: ‘rascal or miscreant, scallywag.’ But these two aren’t malicious or wicked, they just do a bit of ‘dodging and weaving’ to get by. They represent many people of the time: the book is set in the 1980s, when the city was at its lowest and jobs were very hard to come by.
The excerpt below, is one of my favourite chase scenes. It also includes a potential cameo appearance for my husband, sitting in a battered red Ford Capri, which he used to drive back in the late 1980s – just in case the book is ever made into a movie😉.
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
Gary pounded down the road following the sound of Bob cursing. He soon caught up with him. Bob was clutching a lamp-post by the entrance to Princes Park. He was breathing heavily. Bob nodded to the road opposite. “He headed off up Princes Road there,” he gasped, “following that cat of Cynthia’s.” He caught his breath and shook his head, “I dunno what’s got into him.”
Gary scanned the road in front of them. A movement caught his eye. “There he is,” he pointed to a bench on the central area between the two carriageways which formed the once elegant boulevard. “The cat’s there too.”
The two animals perched on the graffitied bench, watched as Gary jogged towards them. Bob followed a little way behind. Gary slowed down as he neared the bench, then suddenly Asmar leapt down and scurried away further up the road. Fingers chattered excitedly and followed, loping after the cat.
“They’re off again,” Gary shouted over his shoulder to Bob who was already lagging behind him. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch the little blighter.”
“Right behind you,” Bob called out breathlessly.
Gary set off at a run this time. He’d been a good sprinter in school and was determined to catch up with the little monkey who would surely tire soon. Asmar, no doubt, could keep this up for a while, but then he could look after himself. As Gary narrowed the gap between them, Fingers changed direction and headed for the trees which lined the pavement on the left-hand side of the road. Swinging from branch to branch, he continued after Asmar, who’d also crossed the roadway and was hugging the low wall below the swaying branches.
Gary raced on keeping both animals in sight. As the trees came to an end, Fingers dropped down onto the wall below. Asmar changed direction and headed down a side street on the left. Fingers was now on the other side of the wall and Gary lost sight of him, but he could see Asmar trotting along the pavement. The cat looked purposeful, as if he knew exactly where he was going, and there was no doubt in Gary’s mind that Fingers was following him. He would just have to do the same. He turned to see Bob some way behind, he waved and pointed where they were heading next.
The wall ended and Fingers emerged just behind Asmar who shot across the road. Gary heard the sound of an engine and turned to see a car coming around the corner. Fingers was loping across the road following the cat, totally unaware of the danger from the oncoming vehicle. Gary stepped off the pavement waving his arms in the air. The car driver slowed. Gary could see the driver was mouthing something at him. He glanced the other way to see Fingers safely across the road, then turned back to the driver who was shaking his head at him. Gary shrugged and mouthed ‘sorry’ at the driver. As the car drew level with Gary, the driver continued to shake his head, mouthing an obscenity before accelerating away.
Unfazed, Gary jogged across the road. Up ahead, Asmar had stopped and was sitting on the pavement licking a front paw. Fingers was nowhere in sight. Gary scanned around. Then he saw the little monkey perched on the bonnet of a tatty red Ford Capri which was parked at the kerbside. Fingers had his back to Gary and was peering at the driver through the windscreen. The man was hunched down in his seat as if trying to remain unobserved. Gary walked slowly towards the car, hoping to scoop Fingers up before he noticed his approach. He watched as the man in the Capri sank down even further behind the small steering wheel. Fingers had turned his attention to the car’s aerial and was prodding it curiously, watching as it sprang back and forth. Gary was level with the bonnet of the car; he sprang forward, grabbing Fingers around the middle with both hands. Fingers squeaked in surprise and wriggled furiously, but Gary had him firmly in his grip. Fingers clutched at the aerial trying to resist capture, all the time screeching in protest. Gary glanced at the driver who was furiously gesturing for them to get away from the car. Gary pulled, Fingers held onto the aerial. Suddenly it snapped and Fingers ricocheted into Gary’s chest, brandishing the broken aerial aloft. Gary looked at the driver. His hands were gripping the steering wheel and his head was resting between them. Gary sprinted off clutching Fingers to his chest and ducked into the first back alley he came to.
Gary leant against the rough brick wall. Fingers had quietened down and was sitting calmly in his arms, still brandishing the car aerial. Gary peered around the corner into the street but all was quiet. The driver was still in his car. He sank back onto the wall.
“Gaz! Gaz! Where are yer?” Gary heard Bob shouting as he hurried up the road. “Alright, mate,” he said cheerfully, knocking on the window of the Capri. “Have you seen a fella chasing a monkey? Must’ve come down ‘ere.”
“Come on, here’s Bob now,” said Gary to Fingers. “Over here,” he called to Bob, as he emerged from the alleyway. Gary watched Bob shrug his shoulders at the occupant of the Capri. “Suit yerself,” he muttered.
Seeing Bob, Fingers let out a loud chirrup. Gary set him down on the pavement as Bob held out his arms to the little monkey. No sooner had he done so, Asmar appeared from the other side of the road meowing loudly. Fingers turned towards the cat who immediately changed direction and dashed off up the road.
“Oh no you don’t mate,” said Bob reaching down to pick Fingers up, but the little monkey was too quick for him. Gary almost got a hand under him, but he bolted off after the cat, dropping the aerial in the road.
“Here we go again,” said Gary turning to follow.
“Hold on, Gaz, I don’t how or why, but look,” he nodded his head at the two animals who were now sitting on a low wall at the corner of the street. “They’re waiting for us to go after them. I’m sure of it.”
“So we just follow them?”
Bob shrugged. “Seems weird, but I guess so.”
Image credits: newworldencyclopedia.org, kidadl.com, classics.honestjohn.co.uk