It began a long time ago when I lived on a farm and the farm cat was killed, leaving her kittens orphaned. Small as hamsters, I begged the farmer to let me have them, begged him not to drown them in a bucket. Over sleepless nights, with the help of a good vet, I managed to get one through the dangerous early stages and raised the biggest white cat in the world. And in doing so I fell in love with all of catkind.
So, here are the cats that I have so far measured out the days of my life with. Comfrey, big, bold and white, then Arthur and Martha. Martha was a gentle soul, Arthur a great walker. Bird came to live with us one day having watched and waited, looking for a good place to live. From the first day he and Bella loved each other very much. Then Kiffer who walked with his head on one side, possibly the strangest creature I have ever met. Then Pixie and Maurice. All these are gone now, and at the moment only Elmo and Max live here. Max is in many of my books and has lived with us for 13 years. Elmo is just a bit naughty.
And today Elmo decided it was time I got on with making a page for the book and that he should help.
Most books don’t have a clear beginning. This one grew out of watching the cats sleeping and wondering about the dreams of animals and wanting to do a book with lots of big cats. The words came together over a few walks with the cats. They prowled through notebooks and then I began to doodle in my sketchbook. With books like this I try to use as few words as possible. The words are a catalyst to stories and dreaming.
Trying to work out how to make the book work was a little difficult. There are far more species of cat in the world than there are in the book. Some were obvious contenders. The Scottish Wildcat is so little known in Britain and there are so few left. There had to be cheetahs, and tiger and lion. At first there was a child at the end of the book, cuddling a cat, but I thought it would make it more inclusive somehow if there was just a cat, so the child reading the book could have this cat as their own. ( When I was a child I was hungry for a cat creature and not allowed to have one. So, I roamed in my imagination with Bagheera, with Carbonnel, and Gobolino, and the cat that walked by itself).
From the sketchbook I moved to a full sized dummy book. This is the way I usually work when making a picture book, drawing it all out so that I can see how it works as the pages turn. ( I always do dummies in black and white, though other illustrators I know make the most glorious dummy books in full colour. Just beautiful. And I have dummy books for Song of the Golden Hare, I am Cat, The Snow Leopard, Mariana and more. Hoping to send a few to Seven Stories for their archive soon) Sometimes the pictures stay the same from dummy to finished piece. Other times they change.
( Secret- I was watching A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger whilst doodling the lion spread. The sketch for the lion looks really rather too much like him. Funny how what we see influences the way we draw!)
Originally the book was called I am a Cat but in conversation with my friend Eva John she suggested that the title would be much stronger if I dropped the ‘a’. I have learnt a lot from Eva over the years, and this was a great suggestion. Amazing how much stronger a title can be with the removal of just one letter.
Once the dummy book was completed and I had talked through the book with my editors all that remained was to get on with working on the finished pieces and try to paint a striking and arresting cover that would fit in with other books in what is becoming a sort of series. I prefer the French edition with the close up of the cat face. It is also 25% larger than the UK and US version.
The Korean edition is so different.
The endpapers show a small cat walking in the moonlight. I have been lucky with cats. They have always come for walks with me, for miles on the Pembrokeshire coast path. Years ago I began a blog with the cats. They looked so beautiful in the wilds and the different seasons of Pembrokeshire. Pixie in particular would walk for miles with me, and now Elmo likes to come to the high rock above home where I go to write. The cat blog still lives, in cyberspace. Sadly Maurice and Pixie are gone. And now Elmo has a facebook page for I am Cat. All the images for the book can be seen at The House of Golden Dreams.
Below are some of the many hundreds of images from Wethreecats.
So, it was while out walking that I am Cat was born, but also it was watching cats sleep.
Watching cats sleep, hearing their dreams, and seeing them curled, ammonite tight, in curious places.
I am Cat by Jackie Morris is published by Janetta Otter-Barry books, Frances Lincoln in the UK and USA isbn 978-1-84780-135-7
It is dedicated to Marilyn Brocklehurst and her cats at the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, and also to all of the cats who have graced me with their company and all the cats yet to come in to my life.
Review for I am Cat from IBBY Notes: by Shirley Hobson
I Am Cat
Jackie Morris, London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, hb. 978 1 8478 0135 7, £11.99, 2012, 32pp.
This picture book will appeal to cat lovers of all ages.
It is a beautiful book to hold and look at with its luminous watercolour illustrations packed with hidden images. There is something different to see each time a page is revisited.
The story is simple. A domestic ginger cat is curled up, warm and contented in its bed and is dreaming. We enter the cat’s dream and together we go on a magical journey, visiting the various places inhabited by nine wild cats. We are enchanted by what we see and learn through the eyes of the familiar sleeping cat. It is with wonderment that we find out how these other cats live and try to survive in their environments. It is made clear how endangered they have all become, apart from our domestic cat.
Jackie Morris’ brilliant illustrations and carefully chosen words alluding to the often mysterious worlds these amazing creatures inhabit are easily understood. The way of life of big cats such as the Siberian Tiger, the Cheetah, the Lynx, the Puma, the Jaguar, the Snow Leopard, the Lion and the very rare Amur Leopard are all in the dreams of our ginger cat. However, it is not only about dreams of ‘big cats’ in exotic places. More unusually there is a lovely double-page spread where our cat dreams of being a ‘secret cat’ in the mountains of Scotland. We learn that this cat is ‘striped like a tiger, solitary and fierce, ancient, almost a memory’. This cat is also in danger of becoming extinct.
The text is sparse. The author doesn’t waste words and includes some quite difficult ones for small children, like ammonite, when describing the way our dreaming cat is curled up. The child will learn new words to memorise for use later on. There is also, after the story, a really good spread showing all the cats with a brief résumé relating to the animals in real life and the dangers they constantly face.
This unique celebration of cats is not only a beautiful work of art for young children to enjoy, it is also extremely well researched and very informative.”
Signed copies of this and all of my other books in print are available from Solva Woollen Mill.