'Confessions of a Cat Man' - Interview with Tom Cox
I came across Tom Cox's book, Under the Paw, by accident in a book store last year. I bought it, read it and LOVED it all at the perfect time, because the sequel, Talk to the Tail was just about to be released. If you haven't read these books yet, you must! The fact that they're written by a cat loving man with a wicked sense of British humour, makes them stand out from your run of the mill cat books. You get to meet several savvy felines, including my personal favourite, Ralph (who has his own FB page by the way!) and learn just how on earth Tom ended up owning seven cats all at the one time! I spoke to Tom recently, and he agreed to answer some questions for my readers. And whats even cooler is that he sent us a photo of Ralph and himself, sporting one of our Cat Tees!
Ralph looking SO happy to be in the photo!
What made you decide to write Under the Paw, and then its sequel Talk to the Tail?
Going almost right back to the point where I was first earning enough money to live as a writer, cats had been sneaking into my work in lots of vastly inappropriate ways. In the book I wrote before Under The Paw, for example, which was called Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia, and all about my year as Britain’s most inept pro golfer, I think there were originally around nineteen cat references, which my editor (not a Cat Man) very reasonably asked me to edit down to seven. Around the time I began writing Under The Paw, in 2007, I was feeling very bullied by my cats, and, after years of resisting, decided it was time to give up and let them have the attention they’d clearly been asking for. Also, they’d been treating the house like a hotel for too long and it was about time they started to pull their weight in some small financial sense.
Can we expect a third book in the series?
I think you can, and I’ve already got lots of material for it, but it might be a little while in arriving. Talk To The Tail is only a “half” cat book, with 50% of it comprised of stories about other animals. I could have made it all cat-based but I a) had been itching to write about other subjects and b) didn’t want it to - no pun intended - feature any padding. My feeling on a third book in the trilogy is similar. I’d written in lots of different areas before I wrote Under The Paw (golf, TV, music, books, the countryside) but because it was my most successful book, I inevitably became known as “the person who writes about cats”. I knew that reputation was a possibility when I wrote the book and I’m okay with it, especially when I’m known like that by people who’ve read the books and know what kind of books they are. However, because my publishers have put soppy, misleading covers on the paperbacks that I don’t particularly like - I’ve never met the kittens on either book cover and the most positive way I can think of the kitten on the cover of Talk To The Tail is that it’s a Trojan Kitten, containing many other animals, as the book doesn’t even feature a kitten, but does feature some horses, a stuffed polar bear, a snow leopard, a tiger, and a spaniel - those who haven’t read the books will often mistake them for much more mawkish and limp books, and me for a different kind of writer. I often get people writing to me saying, “I bought one of your cat books after reading one of your articles, but if I hadn’t read anything and had just seen the cover I would NO WAY have bought it.” I mean, I’m not saying either book is exactly Julian Barnes, but because of all this, my desire to something else under my belt on a different subject has an extra urgency to it (a feeling of wanting to write something where the presentation, as well as the content, is a little more “me”). That desire would be there regardless, though, to some extent: I’ve always been quite restless as a writer.
What do you love most about cats?
I was once asked this during a talk I did at school during an English lesson and I said “they’re very decorative”. I said it because I panicked, and all I could think of was my mum using the word to describe our family cat Monty the previous week. I got lambasted for it, but it is kind of true: they do brighten the place up a bit, like a few very easily offended high end quilts might do. I additionally of course love the vast feline personality spectrum, the way they somehow manage to combine that strange mixture of dignity, cunning and idiocy, and the way they make every piece of affection they give you feel like such a hard-won victory.
Tom with Ralph, The Bear, Janet, Pablo, Shipley and Bootsy
What do you love most about being a writer?
I think I’m most in love with an idea of being a writer that has always just out of reach for me: that of actually spending most of the day writing, and the rest of it relaxing, rather than an average day being a chaotic jumble of sending invoices, getting too caught up in emails and Twitter, finding photos to go with pieces, negotiating with PRs and chasing editors, with bits of writing sandwiched in here and there. That said, on the good days I do feel like that idea is attainable, even in this current, miserable publishing industry climate, and that feeling keeps me going, when the going gets rough. Also, I like choosing my own hours, love being at home, and it’s way better than when I used to work in that factory where I had to stand in a skip while people threw stuff at me.
You've been toying with the thought of a dog for a while now - has it happened yet?
At the moment I’m still making do with borrowing Henry, a cocker spaniel up the road, who has been referred to as my “alter doggo”. He’s essentially me, but with paws, worse smells and a very slightly bigger penchant for jumping in large natural bodies of water. It’s nice every fortnight or so, but I already have to live with my own foolishness on a round-the-clock basis and I don’t want it doubled. My girlfriend and I would quite like a dog of our own, but I’ve been thinking that it might be quite nice to have a proper holiday for the first time in a decade, and canine ownership would be another barrier to add to the already existing barriers of my fear of flying, the on-call nature of freelance writing life and living with four small, whiskered versions of Mariah Carey.
What are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?
I have the same attitude to my bookshelves that I’ve had since I was a 20 year-old with no qualifications and first started reading in earnest, which can be summed up with the phrase “BLOODY HELL! I’VE GOT SOME CATCHING UP TO DO!”. If I can help it, I tend to only read books by people who are loads better at writing than me: usually funny Americans who write in widescreen or very historically knowledgeable British people. I’m really enjoying The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach at the moment: it’s filling a slight hole I’ve had in my reading life ever since I finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple was another fun recent read, and I’m really looking forward to the new John Irving, which I have downloaded rather ambitiously on the 46457 hour unabridged audiobook format.
Tell us about the new addition to your family, Roscoe the kitten. How do The Bear, Ralph and Shipley feel about her?
Roscoe is like a cat cartoon at the moment. I’m not quite sure she’s real. She looks like the kind of advertising executive’s slightly too-perfect idea of an everyday moggy that you might use very successfully to sell mechanically recovered meat. She sticks to household objects like velcro, shins up any tree she sees, drinks out of any glass left unattended for more than seven seconds, and eats approximately seventeen flies a day. One exception was one particularly resilient fly which kept coming back to life, even after being swallowed and spat out five times. The whole episode went on for about three hours, and the fly kept brushing itself down and standing up again, as if to say “I’m fine, honest!” You could probably make a small, highly successful action movie of it, and I have already copywrighted the title Fly Hard in case anyone is thinking of doing so. The Bear is entirely philosophical about Roscoe. I thought Ralph might get a bit offended, since Ralph’s self image is entirely built on being great-looking, and seeing how pristine Roscoe’s white bits are next to his kind of grey ones will have made him have to face up to the fact he’s probably past his best, but he seems to rather like her. Shipley is the only one who seems offended. It’s kind of like if you went up to Scrappy-Doo and said, “Hey, Scrappy! Here’s a younger, scrappier Scrappy-Doo, and she’s a girl. How do you feel about that?”
*Check out Tom's HUMOROUS 'Advice to Kitten Owners' blog post!
Why is life better with cats?
I always think a house without cats tends to lack a bit of soul. Obviously, that house will also often lack mud, twigs and hair as well, which is probably a plus. I suppose it’s that eternal dilemma: soul, mud and hair, or no soul, no mud and no hair? On bad days the latter seems quite appealing, but mostly I prefer the former. There’s also the bonus that if I get enough hair, I will eventually probably have enough raw material to construct an entirely new cat who is less of a dick than my cats.