Big Cats in Books

In order to celebrate World Book Day, I’ve decided to put together a short list of my favourite characters and reads that centre on big cats. Some are heroes, some are villains, some aren’t so easily classified. Cats carry mystery with them – so no wonder they make such excellent characters and subjects for these great books.

Bagheera. Bagheera

Bagheera is the black leopard that offers his sage like wisdom to Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Born in captivity as part of a Rajah’s menagerie, he plans his escape into the jungle following the death of his mother. He is described as having the cunning of a mongoose, as bold as a buffalo and as reckless as a wounded elephant. Kipling describes him as having a voice like honey and skin softer than down. The Jungle Book is a real favourite that I return to again and again.

The Tiger – John Vaillant
The Tiger

This is the true story of a man-eating tiger on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East. To the horror of a team of hunters, it emerges that the attacks are not random; the tiger is engaged in a vendetta.

Injured and starving, it must be found before it strikes again, and the story becomes a battle of survival between two main characters: Yuri Trush, the lead tracker, and the tiger itself.

Coeurl

Coeurl

Coeurl is an alien cat-like creature that appears in A. E. Van Vogt’s short story ‘Black Destroyer’. It later became incorporated into his novel ‘Voyage of the Space Beagle’. Coeurl is unusual in appearance as a feline as his front legs are twice as long as his hind ones, and he has two tentacle-like appendages attached to his shoulders that possess suction cups. Coeurl feeds on the id of other beings – a potassium based organic compound.

When a human starship arrives on the planet, they find Coeurl but assume him to be an unintelligent animal, and even allow it to come on board. Coeurl realizes it can feed on humans but plays along in order to learn more about them and their ship. Eventually however, it gives in to hunger and kills and feeds on one of the ship’s crew. The crew suspects the Coeurl did it, and tries to prove it by feeding the creature organically-bound phosphorus similar to that in the victim’s bones, but Coeurl is smart enough to pass the test. I remember this book in particular because it was one of the first to ever put you inside the mind of the beast.

The Nature of the Beast – Janni Howker

Nature Beast

It started out as a game. A game that Billy and his friend Mick play to take their minds off the fact that the mill might be closing and everyone could lose their jobs. They’ll hunt down the Haverston Beast, that’s killing sheep and hens and maybe even men, and kill it. So what if the farmers say it’s just a dog – they know that it’s real and they’re out to prove it. But then Billy’s dad finds out that the mill might close for ever, and suddenly the game doesn’t seem so much fun any more – and the terrifying Beast might be closer to home than Billy imagined… An astonishing novel about the monster that is unemployment, and its devastating effects on a local community, The Nature of the Beast is as painfully truthful and relevant today as it was when it was first published, to critical acclaim, in 1985.

Elsa the Lioness

Elsa

Elsa is arguably the most famous lioness in the world after appearing in both Joy Adamson and George Adamson’s books, as well as the movie adaptations. Born Free was a book I used to love reading to escape to a world where man (or woman in this case) and beast walked side by side. Seen through the lens of history, it now appears Joy Adamson was much warmer towards animals than people and both her life and death are subject to controversy, but her stories offer tales of a time and place now gone and much changed.

The Beast in the Garden – David Baron

Garden Beast

When residents of Boulder, Colorado, suddenly begin to see mountain lions in their backyards, it becomes clear that the cats have returned after decades of bounty hunting drove them far from human settlement. In a riveting environmental tale that has received huge national attention, journalist David Baron traces the history of the mountain lion and chronicles one town’s tragic effort to coexist with its new neighbours. As thought-provoking as it is harrowing, The Beast in the Garden is a tale of nature corrupted, the clash between civilization and wildness, and the artificiality of the modern American landscape. It is, ultimately, a book about the future of our nation, where suburban sprawl and wildlife-protection laws are pushing people and wild animals into uncomfortable, sometimes deadly proximity.

Shere Khan

Shere Khan

There is of course, another big cat in Kipling’s Jungle Book. But in contrast to Bagheera’s role as teacher, Shere Khan is the undoubted villain. Despite being born with a crippled leg and scorned by his own mother (classic roots for a psychopath anyone?!), Khan is arrogant and regards himself as lord of the jungle. It is his hunt of humans that separates a certain man-cub from his parents in the first place.

Kipling portrays Khan in the way they were depicted at the time. Cowardly, injured animals that perhaps couldn’t hunt other prey. And although not necessarily true of other big cats, there does seem to be a grain of truth in this. Nearly all of the tigers that Jim Corbett, a famous hunter of man-eaters in India tracked and killed sported injures, just like Lungri – or ‘the lame one’ as Khan’s own mother called him.

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If this list of big cats in books hasn’t been quite enough to sink your teeth into, why not check out my novel Shadow Beast. You might just recognise some attributes from these famous felines! Shadow Beast is in Amazon’s Top 100 chart for British Horror. Read it now before the thrilling sequel, The Daughters of the Darkness hits the shelves.

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World Book Day 2015

It’s World Book Day! Children up and down the country went scurrying to school this morning dressed as their favourite literary character, or the character their parents could make a costume for easiest at least! Books should be championed for many reasons, and making school a bit more fun is definitely one of them.

To celebrate, I thought I’d share what were, and still are, some of my favourite books from my childhood. Many have had a lasting and direct influence on me, shaping my stories as a writer and stirring my imagination even now. Here, in no particular order, are my top five.

1. The Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild

That said, The Call of the Wild is probably my all time favourite book! It’s my version of a literary security blanket. Whenever I’m feeling lost, down or unsure, I can pick up The Call of the Wild and be swept away to the harsh environment of the Yukon and the backdrop of the gold rush.

Journeying with Buck, the St. Bernard/German Shepherd cross, from his place at the feet of a country judge, through his kidnap and hardship as a sled dog, to his incredible feats and love for a man that leads to his savage transition to a pack leader of wild wolves is spellbinding throughout. I remember shouting for Buck as he breaks out the 1,000lb sled from the ice. He also defends his beloved Thornton with a roar, not a bark or growl!

I always identify with Buck’s longing to be amongst the woods, answering the call within that speaks to his spirit.

“But especially, he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as a man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called – called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.”

2. Danny the Champion of the World

As with many others, Roald Dahl books were an integral part Danny the Champion of the Worldof my childhood. Danny the Champion of the World is my absolute favourite though. I’m sure that a part of Danny’s dad is somewhere to be found in the character of Stubbs the poacher in my own book Shadow Beast.

This book is all about old school adventure, from the midnight drive to rescue his dad from a pit trap, to living in a gypsy caravan. Danny and his dad work on cars and share stories about the stars and the wildlife around them. Their relationship is wonderful, soul restoring and an example of how things should be. I also remember the wise words about people who don’t smile with their eyes not being genuine.

“I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.”

“When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all! What a child wants – and DESERVES – is a parent who is SPARKY!”

3. Lion Adventure

Lion AdventureThe Willard Price books have just been relaunched, with the son and daughter of respective brothers Hal and Roger Hunt taking up the ‘adventure’ business. The new spin is all about conservation and wildlife preservation, and is a welcome new update.

But before then, Hal and Roger as teenagers, roamed the globe for their father’s animal collection business and they had no shortage of close encounters with some of the world’s most dangerous, including man.

In Lion Adventure, the two brothers are up against a scheming tribal chief and a pride of man-eating lions. This is classic boy’s brigade stuff and I loved all of the animal based adventures. Again, there is probably a little bit of Hal Hunt in my own character of Thomas Walker, the former big game hunter turned conservationist.

“It seemed a wild thing to do – lie out in lion country waiting to be attacked by a man-eater. But Hal was not wild. He was a steady nineteen-year-old, six feet tall, with the strength and brains of a man. He had thought it over carefully. This had seemed the best way to go at it.”

4. The Hobbit

There are two characters that I was always drawn to in The Hobbit. The firstThe Hobbit was Beorn, the incredible bear-man and shapeshifter. I thought he was one of the fiercest and most interesting of the characters, preferring the company of animals and distrusting men and dwarves intensely. I was in awe of his strength and pure presence. In the writing he comes across as a mountain of a man, so I have to say I was more than a little disappointed with his downsized role in the films.

The other character was Smaug, the sharp tongued dragon himself! I’ve always liked dragons and the red fire-drake from the north was one of the best.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

“There are no safe parts in this part of the world. Remember you are over the edge of the wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”

I think again I could identify with the ‘Tookish’ part that awakened in Bilbo, that made him want to go on an adventure. I also have fond memories of this book because I wanted more than anything to take it with me on my first ever school camp away from home. I couldn’t get it in time and remember being driven to tears. The camp was in Cumbria, as was my grandfather at the time, and on my free day he came to collect me and we visited a bookshop so I could get the book I wanted so badly! I’ve also always wanted a writing retreat just like Bag End. I wonder if I’ll ever build it? One day!

5. The Siege of White Deer Park

Siege of White Deer ParkThe series of books following the adventures of the animals of Farthing Wood was one I read avidly as a child. Everything from death to friendship and sacrifice is explored through the bonds of the animals forced to flee their home, who find refuge in the nature reserve of White Deer Park.

When a mysterious creature arrives and begins to stalk and kill the park’s inhabitants, the band of friends must do all they can to protect one another from falling prey to it.

I loved wildlife and I loved monsters, so this book felt like it had been written just for me. And clearly, when the mysterious animal turned out to be a giant cat that has stalked the land without being discovered by humans, I was thrilled. It must have stayed with me is all I can say, with big cats now being a favourite subject and of course the creature at the centre of my own book, Shadow Beast.

“From what you say, Fox” Badger wheezed, “it sounds as if some animal or other is planning to use the Park as a sort of larder.”

It doesn’t seem fair to list my favourite books without mentioning my very own (what do you mean I already have?!). I love having my name on a book that sits on my shelf, and on the shelf of my local bookshop, and has now been read on at least three continents that I know of! It combines my love of adventure, the wild, and wildlife perfectly, and I love being able to share it with people. I look forward to exploring its world further too!

Writing and publishing my very own book was first put in motion by an excellent English teacher who told me I could write and that my stories were good. And that’s one of the reasons I support World Book Day, because the combination of an inspiring teacher and books is an unbeatable one!

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