Well, it took a while, but Cat Tales, the anthology of 21 of the best stories submitted to the first Book a Break short story competition is now available. And there’s no better way for me to present it than by giving you the preface:
Smith was a highly irascible cat – he would snarl at this and snap at that;
The rest of the time he was prone to hiss, whether it be at that or at this.
Smith had a reputation to keep, a cat unable to whimper or weep,
A neighbourhood legend, magnificent myth, the toughest tabby in Taunton was Smith.
The reason for this? He hated his name, for which his owners, the Smiths, were to blame.
Too common, he thought, not noble enough, and so with reluctance he chose to be tough.
Many a fight he had fought in the street, many a foe he had brought to defeat;
Gnashers and claws he was wont to flaunt on the roofs and walls and gutters of Taunton.
But one should not judge a cat by its looks – Smith found his greatest enjoyment in books.
And so it was that he was delighted to be the very first cat invited
To write in words (excuse the tautology) a preface for this feline anthology.
A wonderful book with the title Cat Tales, without a doubt it delights and regales,
And so with great pleasure I hand you to Smith, who’ll introduce this collection forthwith.
Illustration: Russi Dordi
Well, by my whiskers! I’ve never written a preface in all my nine lives. Never written anything, come to that. I’m a prowler, not a writer. But yes, Curtis is right, I love a good story – always got my muzzle in a book. The classics mostly. Of Mice and Men, The Great Catsby… I go back to them again and again. Not to mention Dante’s Purrcatorio, which I practically know by heart. At present I’m reading I, Clawdius – fascinating! And now, I’m delighted to say, we have another to add to the canon: Cat Tales.
But I think the job of a preface is to say what it’s all about. Or maybe not, because if I told you, there’d be no point in reading it. So instead, I’ll tell you how it came about.
Back in February, Curtis ran the first Book a Break Short Story Competition, which – far beyond his expectations – attracted 75 entries. And it struck him, as he read them, that many of the stories were too good to languish in obscurity. So he set about compiling an anthology.
The competition prompt was this:
A long time ago, when life was tolerable, almost good, he had two cats that kept him company. How old was he? Seven? Eight? Before his father began to question the worth of his existence. Back then, presumably, he was cute, almost as cute as the tabbies. He never knew what happened to them but they disappeared, both of them, all of a sudden, and he was left only with an inconsolable sadness.
That’s a strange prompt, you’ll say (and between you and me, I quite agree). But the thing is, Curtis had written a novel, One Green Bottle, in which those lines appear. Fair enough. A writer writes what he wants to. But what happened to the cats? Nobody knows!
Now, obviously, mystery can lie at the heart of great literature. What, for example, was the crime committed by K in Kafka’s The Trial? The reader is never told. But even Curtis recognised that to leave the cats’ fate unknown was inadmissible. Hence the competition and the prompt.
The first thing he had to do was find a judge, so he asked Atthys Gage. I must admit I was dubious at first. Atthys writes very well, to be sure, but having read his novels, I was most disappointed: the stories are entertaining, certainly, but in his first, Spark, there’s not a single mention of a cat, and in the second, Flight of the Wren, the word occurs just three times. Progress, yes, but how long will it be before he writes a novel about a cat? We are waiting!
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. He was all that one could hope for – helpful, conscientious and discerning. And after much deliberation, he settled on a winner, Ingrid Jendrzejewski , a runner-up, Aimée White, and several others he commended. To these were added a selection of stories Curtis and I both agreed were worthy of inclusion in the anthology.
In keeping with the prompt, some of the stories here are quite dark. But that’s fine by me. Life isn’t always a bowl of cream. I’m not the cutest of cats myself and neither do I aspire to be. When I’m not reading, I like nothing more than to terrorise Taunton. So here you’ll read about unpleasant fathers and cats that disappear. But you’ll also come across powerful cats, mysterious cats and helpful cats. Too many cats, in fact, to cite them all here in this preface. All in all, the collection here does what a good anthology should – you may be appawled at times, but also, I hope, amewsed.
Smith, Terror of Taunton.
Alternatively, you can donate directly to one or other of the two charities supported by the anthology, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. Transfer their thank you email to me (curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com) and I will send you the PDF file straightaway.