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Writing Animals: The Cat's Eye

Originally written in March 2015

It is with lovely delight that I can announce that my short story The Cat's Eye will be published later this year in the Boo Books 'augmentation' anthology WE CAN IMPROVE YOU. The anthology is described by Boo thusly:

We are all born with the potential to be great, through the wonders bestowed upon us by nature. But, as technology advances, why should we settle for those simple gifts we were born with? Why shouldn’t the future see humanity become more?

We Can Improve You explores the theme of augmentation, and what happens when science and technology combine with flesh and blood. Often surprising, sometimes startling, occasionally funny but always thought-provoking, We Can Improve You brings together a range of stories that might just become real some day…

This is the second time I will have been published by Boo Books. Last year they were good enough to take my Beckettian short Waiting for Google for their After the Fall anthology of post-technology fiction. In fact, you can read Waiting for Google for freesome as a samplo on this here link. It doesn't really work if you are unfamiliar with Godot but if you are IT TOTALLY ROCKS SOCKS MAN.

The Cat's Eye is the latest in my series of stories about animals following on from my dog story in The Alarmist, my rabbit story in The City Fox Magazine, and my fox story in the latest issue of Structo Magazine. I also have a horse story, but that remains unpublished festering in my 'redraft' folder. And I have an unwritten badger story currently doing the rounds in my lower subconscious. Also, something about a fish. That one's even vaguer.

For each animal tale I'm trying to do a little something to readdress the perceived notion of that particular animal's mythology, or the animal's wider place in society. The cat story took a while to come together. At first I laboured under the title 'Domesticat' and tried to work through ideas of domestication - particularly how a supposedly 'domesticated' animal is expected to behave considerably differently to its wild counterpart. There are of course significant differences between a domestic animal and a wild one, but there is a strange tendency among pet owners to try and strip away every single shred of the wild thing, to create something closer to ornamentation instead. Often our expectations of an animal do not meet with reality. Pet ownership is hard - it takes time, effort, patience, money. These are aspects too often forgotten or ignored in our throw-away society.

It is my belief that the vast majority of abandoned domestic animals in this country are exiled and neglected because of the uncomfortable fact that most animals just do not fit in with human lifestyle. Dogs are too needy, rabbits too fragile, horses live too long and are far too much effort. All need feeding, cleaning, exercising and are liable to break at any moment. For impulsive, consumerist human beings, all this inconvenience soon becomes too much.

Delphi and George - fully anthropomorphised

But we kid ourselves: we anthropomorphise our pets, give them human names and identify human characteristics in their habits: dopey, sneaky, cheeky, silly. I'm no better, I do it all the time with my rabbits. Cutesy names and exaggerated characters strengthen the love bond but obscure the reality: that animal is very much still a collection of instincts and needs and we humans should adjust our lives around their's as much as possible, rather than vice versa. That's part of the reason why I don't like the term 'pet', preferring the rather more cumbersome 'companion animal'.

So The Cat's Eye sprung initially from these thoughts on domestication. The curious thing about cats is that they are partially exempt from the domestic/wild dichotomy because they so effortlessly tread the line between the two - in a way which is so convenient for us they have fast become the nation's most popular companion animal. And the most abandoned. And yet cats seem to mystify us more than dogs and rabbits. They have an almost magical aura, an aloofness, strange nocturnal habits, an uncanny ability to go from adorable lap puss to vicious mouse hunter in the dilation of an iris. They disappear for hours and come back with small corpses, they our friends one moment, our fierce enemies the next. You just can't help but think of them as devious. Like they have some masterplan concocted in their heads and are just waiting for the right moment.

Of course, my love of the fantastical was instantaneously piqued as I explored our notion of the feline. But I quickly realised that this wasn't just me: everyone wants to get inside the head of a cat. So Horatio, the cat in my story, has had a tiny molecular camera surgically implanted into his eye as an experiment, so that we may see what he sees. Horatio trots out on his daily rounds from his quiet corner of suburbia and our giddy curiosity backfires. Transmitted in that eye, we see what the cat sees; things never dreamt of in our philosophies; something so massive it causes mankind to utterly rethink its position in relation to life, death and animals. It becomes a spiritual apocalypse, an Armageddon of physics, and turns everyone into vegetarians overnight. And then, a few years later, the cat comes back.

Read The Cat's Eye in the Boo Books anthology WE CAN IMPROVE YOU when it is released in July.

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