Today's author spotlight is on Sarah Springham, the author of The Gozo Cat Detectives Trilogy. Her stories focus on a group of courageous and curious cats and the animal friends they meet throughout their adventures on the Island of Gozo as they spread happiness and understanding wherever they can.
Author profile section:
Country of residence: Gozo
Favourite hobbies: writing and painting. I write adult literature and poetry and have entered this year's Manchester Fiction Prize
Favourite song:Sympathy for the Devil. The Rolling Stones.
Favourite movie:Withnail and I
Favourite Colour: turquoise
A place you enjoyed visiting recently:The Azure Window (Editor: Before it fell)
A place you would like to visit one day: Patagonia (Bruce Chatwin is one of my heroes)
About your book:
What inspired you to become an author and how long have you been writing books?
I have been writing all my life I suppose, but this is the first time I have been published.
How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Animals have always played a big part in my life. I am an only child, and was subjected to severe and prolonged bullying at school, but I was fortunate to have a big garden with an orchard. I spent all my free time in that orchard, climbing trees and observing nature. Animals became my refuge and my friends. I feel more comfortable with animals than I do with people.
Madam was a true friend and a great companion. We went through a lot together, but never let each other down. When she headed off to Fortnum’s, which is my favourite shop (that’s why I like to think of her ordering tasty snacks from their wonderful selection), I was very lonely and sad. The sadness wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried, so I thought “I must turn this grief into something positive. I shall make Madam famous”.
Always an admirer of detective stories, but unable to write about people because of my childhood experiences, I decided to create The Gozo Cat Detectives. All the characters in it are people that I’ve met in my life, but turned into the animals I think they’d be if they weren’t human beings.
I hope that the stories are inspiring, amusing and helpful. There are many more to come.
What do you think readers will find most appealing about your books?
Most appealing: a tool for children from 9 - 99 trying to cope with modern life. Getting in touch with ethics and relating them to morals. How to cope with bullying, hatred and problems. How to be free to be yourself, be in control of your life and reach out to others who are less fortunate than you are. How to be happy.
Tell us about your main characters. How did you meet the Gozo Cat Detectives?
I first met Madam in a pet shop in Old Isleworth, Middlesex in the year 2000. She was very cross at being stuck in a cage with her siblings, and refused to be dislodged from my coat when I picked her up. She gave me a good talking too, and, hypnotised by her wonderful aquamarine eyes and her powers of persuasion, I felt compelled to purchase her for more money than I could afford. I lived just round the corner in what had once been a Georgian sweet shop. We were home in moments, never to be parted until a life of hedonism and the joys of Fortnum and Mason beckoned her. We had many adventures together, including a holiday on our narrow boat. She didn’t like the sound of the engine much, which is probably why we broke down on day one of the trip. She had mysterious powers when it came to getting her own way. Without forward momentum and noise, she settled into life on the waterways with remarkable ease. She made friends with the swans and passers by, sunbathed on the roof and never once fell into the river, which is more than can be said for me. Our greatest adventure was moving to Gozo in 2014. We were accompanied by Whistler and my husband Ian. I was in tears as I left her in a huge freight terminal at Gatwick, convinced that I would never see her again. A couple of hours later, there she was on the tarmac waiting to board alongside Whistler, giving him a good talking to. I waved at her and blew her a kiss. We all arrived safely, and she got to see the sea, something I’d always promised her. The vet who checked her in when we arrived in Malta said “She’s very talkative”. I had to agree. She loved life in Gozo, soaking up the sun, surrounded by love and new and interesting things to watch and sniff. I miss her every day, and hope to have conveyed something of her magic and humour in my stories. I still find her lucky fur clinging to the clothes I haven’t worn for a while. I hope she’s having fun wherever she is and I’m looking forward to catching up with her one day.
I first encountered Whistler on a council estate in Colliers Wood, London in 2008. It was approaching Christmas and his owners were anxious to get rid of inconvenient kittens before the festivities began. His father was a battered old ginger tom and his mother an elegant brown and white tabby. He had two brothers and a sister. I would have taken them all, but settled finally on the tiny mackerel tabby with the wonky white moustache. He had so much attitude, which was necessary if he was going to cope with Madam’s demands. We called him Whistler because he was An Arrangement in Black and Grey – a painting by the great James McNeill Whistler – and I therefore became Whistler’s Mother! After much hissing and hiding, he and Madam became firm friends. She taught him the art of wrestling, and he tried to teach her mousing, but she preferred observing nature rather than killing it, much to his chagrin. He’s an intrepid adventurer, and gets himself into scrapes as often as possible. He’s made friends with foxes, tried to eat crows, got stuck up trees and generally had a good time. There’s never a dull moment when he’s about, especially as he likes to take a nip out of your ankles or hands if you’re not careful! He probably weighs in as the heaviest cat in Gozo. The vet here was astonished, as he heaved Whistler on to the examination table (he had a slight cough) that a cat could weigh so much but still appear relatively slim. Whistler tells me he has heavy bones, and I believe him!
Ziggy I met Ziggy in 2014 thanks to Gozo SPCA. He’d been discovered in a cardboard box along with his sister Dusty. We took them both in, but Dusty wasn’t really equipped for the rigours of life and sadly went ahead of Madam to the joys of hedonism and Fortnum’s. Ziggy (named after a David Bowie creation) was full of mischief and an obsessive desire for food from day one. If you didn’t watch out, he’d land in your dinner plate and eat the lot, and had on many an occasion to be barred from the kitchen, amidst dreadful cries or protest. .His manners have improved slightly, largely thanks to Madam giving him a piece of her mind. She took to him very well, and his arrival transformed Whistler into a proud, but somewhat confused, father. He and Ziggy are best friends, and love to engage in manly wrestling prior to dinner. If breakfast isn’t served on time, Ziggy’s the one who jumps on your head when you’re trying to get a lie-in. Fearful of further consequences you leap out of bed and obey orders. That’s cats.
Max I met Max in 2014 too, also thanks to Gozo SPCA. We thought Ziggy needed a companion as he seemed to miss Dusty a lot. Max had been found under a car bonnet and was almost completely bald, with just a whispy covering of black fur over his grey skin. He and Ziggy hit it off at once, and Whistler became even more of a proud father! Madam became a firm friend of his, and everyone settled down to a life in the sunshine. Max is quite the strangest cat I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. He keeps human hours, up all day and asleep at night. He makes toys for himself with bits of twig, which he weaves into the netting of the fly screens. He then tries to extricate them, so my fly screen bill is fairly steep. His most annoying habit is beheading hibiscus buds just as they’re on the point of flowering. He then plays football with them, with such skill that I sometimes wonder if he isn’t George Best reincarnated. He’s also a great ballet dancer and gives me hours of amusement as he twirls and pirouettes in the courtyard, uttering little songs of joy as he does so. He’s a great companion.
Missy I met Missy in 2015, as I needed a woman in my life after Madam’s departure. She’d been rescued by a friend of mine, and, with her magical colouring and feisty eyes, seemed the sort of girl to stand up to the lads. At that stage her fur appeared of normal length. Ziggy didn’t like her much to begin with, so we had a few days of hissing to cope with, but for Max, it was love at first sight. They became inseparable. Once Ziggy saw this, he relented, and harmony eventually prevailed. Then, almost overnight, Missy started to take on an almost yak-like appearance in the fur department. It grew and grew, though she remained as tiny as ever. It was as if all her energy was devoted to hairiness. She looked like a tiny puffball. After a couple of months she started to mature – first her tail took on an epic scale, then her body lengthened. Her head expanded, and now, finally, her legs are getting longer. She’s still petite but now at least she’s in proportion. She’s quite severe in her manner and tells you immediately in strident tones if you’re not meeting her rigorous expectations. I always imagine her dashing around with a clipboard and a stubby pencil, organising things and people. I half expect to see everything arranged in height order when I come downstairs in the morning. She’s certainly got the lads knocked into shape, and I’m tidier than I used to be. Which is no mean achievement! She’s a perfect addition to the family, and a vital member of The Gozo Cat Detectives.
What do you hope readers will learn from your book?
I am an old hippy. Love, peace, and working together and accepting faults, weaknesses and different fur colours are what it is all about for me.
Are you currently working on any other writing projects?
I have almost completed the next Gozo Cat Detectives Trilogy. I am working on a series of adult short stories dealing with childhood sexual abuse, drug addiction and mental health disorders. I am also working on a volume of poetry about mental health disorder.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
The book is also going to be featured in the next issue of "My Gozo".
Do you have any words of advice to parents who may have children who do not readily look to picking up a book to read?
My advice to parents would be to start reading to your children or start reading yourself. Lead by example.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and will make it a point to discover Sarah's wonderful work.
As I believe in the importance of healthy reading habits in both children and adults I will be running a free to enter competition where the prize will be a copy of Sarah's Gozo Cat Detectives Trilogy - there will be 5 copies up for grabs. Special thanks to both Sarah and Faraxa Publishing for making these copies available for this competition.
Click on the following link to enter this competition.