Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Category: life stuff (Page 1 of 26)

Clowder of none

For the first time in more than 30 years, I have no cats. On Wednesday night, we had to take Tinkerbell to the vet for the final time, and now the house feels empty and wrong.

I grew up with a cat in the house. Uncharacteristically for a Siamese, he was a placid old gent who according to family legend appointed himself my guardian by lying down beside my carry-cot the day I came home from the hospital as a newborn. I have been a cat person ever since.

When I had grown up and moved out into a house of my own, within a month I had rescued two little kittens from a sad hutch facing a wall in the local pet shop. I named them Felix and Cleo and I was smitten.

Ginger tabby cat sticking her tongue out

Pepper being sassy

Six months later, two little ginger girls followed from the RSPCA. Though only vaguely related (they were from the same feral colony) they bonded like siblings. Pepper was a medical basket case from the get-go, but ten tons of personality packed into five pounds of cat. Her sort-of sister Sophie was pale, elegant, utterly gorgeous and destined always to push on doors marked ‘Pull’. *

Tabby cat with white cheeks and chin, dozing on a flat stone, shrubs behind him


In time, I met Rob and we moved in together, adding his cat Barney to the clowder. Barnes was a reserved sort, affectionate only on his own terms, and possessed of the loudest snore I’ve ever heard in a cat.

As the years passed, we had to say goodbye to all of them. Cleo was the last of the original crew to go, and it was tough on both of us. I’d had a particularly close bond with her; she always came to find me if I was sad, as I often was in the early stages of my illness, and she made sure to tell us to go to bed if we stayed up past 10pm.

After she was gone, we weren’t going to have any more pets. Dealing with Cleo’s tumour, two surgeries and ultimately kidney failure was so emotionally draining, we didn’t think we had it in us to do that again. I was sick, book two was running behind, and Rob had just lost his mum. It was not a good time.

But I was selfish. I was writing full-time by then, having given up my job earlier that year. I struggled to adjust to the new routine. The house felt cold and the days long; I was lonely, and probably more than a little depressed. Something was missing, and I decided what was missing was a cat.

Of course, after a visit to the shelter, that turned into two. Tigger and Tinkerbell, a seven-year-old brother and sister who’d been surrendered by their owner. Rob was dubious; I begged, and so home with us they came. The house felt complete again.

Fast forward. My two editorial assistants helped me shepherd three books into the world. They listened to me ramble, drove me to distraction and loved me when I couldn’t love myself. They asked for nothing but a warm lap, and I gave them my whole heart.

Tabby cat with white paws sits in a sunbeam on beige carpet, an oak chest of drawers behind her.

Tinkerbell in the sun. Sleep tight, sweetheart.

We lost Tigger to kidney disease two years ago, at the ripe old age of 18. Soon after, we learned that Tinkerbell too was showing early signs of kidney disease, and moved heaven and earth to get her on a supportive diet, ameliorate her arthritis, treat her hyperthyroidism. But this last month an aggressive bout of cystitis led to the words no-one wants to hear from the vet: “I can feel something in her abdomen.”

So here we are, at the end. Saying goodbye never gets any easier. Grief is the price we pay for the good times, for the funny photos, the littery footprints in the shower tray, the soft nudge of head against hand. Pets might only be with us for a short while, but for them it’s their whole lives. That’s a sacred trust, so while both Rob and I are broken-hearted right now, we know we did our damnedest to ensure all those lives were well lived, until they couldn’t be. And then we did right by them.

Knowing that doesn’t stop it hurting like hell, of course.

So I woke up yesterday morning to a new normal. It doesn’t fit, and everything is weird and uncomfortable, like wearing clothes in the wrong size. There’s a furry patch on the rug under my chair in the kitchen where Tinkerbell liked to sit, but no-one sitting in it. Her food is still in the cupboard, her blanket on the bed, but she’s not coming home. Although I’ve washed her bowls and put them away, I’m not ready to let go entirely just yet.

When I do, will I get another cat? I’ve said no, because it’s not fair on Rob, who feels these losses deeply. If the days get long and the house feels cold again, I will just have to find a way to deal with that. In the meantime, I have lots of memories to keep me warm.


* Seriously, she never got the hang of doors that opened towards her

All photos (c) Elspeth Cooper.

Love(s) in the time of coronavirus

It’s been a weird few weeks. And hoo boy, it’s been stressful, on a number of levels.

I’m one of those immunocompromised folks who need to be extra careful when there’s bugs going around, thanks to the medication I’m on for my MS. Spouse works in a job where he has to deal with the public, so with the pandemic he’s been terrified of bringing an infection home to me. When the country finally locked down, and he didn’t have to go out to work any more, it actually came as a relief – though the stress didn’t go away, it just shifted to different axes: food, money and OMG are we going to kill each other stuck together like this 24hrs a day.

Strangely, the one thing I haven’t been stressing about has been my writing.

A lot of fellow writers have been finding it hard to work lately. Anxiety, financial insecurity, disruption to routine can do that to someone whose working life, like mine, exists mostly inside their head. Many of them have been saying they seem to have less time now, rather than more, and their ability to work has suffered. (It’s amazing how the life of a storyteller goes like that. Rushed off your feet? Ideas all over the place. Finally have time to write? The Muse has wandered off somewhere sunny and isn’t taking my calls.)

Strangely, the one thing I haven’t been stressing about has been my writing.

I’ve been having the opposite experience. I’m actually Getting Shit Done, words-wise. I made a huge structural decision that I think has finally solved the Timeline From Hell. My rewrites are moving apace, and things are starting to fall into place with a pleasing little tinkly sound that is less like broken glass and more like bells. The script for The Dragon House is even starting to look . . . book-shaped.

And I love it again.

Not gonna lie, it’s been hard sometimes to stay enthused about a project I’ve been unable to get sustained traction on for so long. That’s not the book’s fault; it’s been all me. Me being ill, me not dealing very well with me being ill, me making me being ill be worse by not working around it, and making myself thoroughly miserable in the process. None of which is good for my creativity, it turns out.

But last year’s round of therapy has been good for me, I think. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself, to stop beating myself up for not changing the things that can’t be changed. I’ve learned to rest, and how to walk away and save my energy for fights I can win, instead of wasting it flailing at ones that I was always going to lose.

I guess you could say I’ve learned to love me, too.

Typewritten page repeating LOVE with one word highlighted in red

Free photo 4046832 © Tine Grebenc – Dreamstime.com

This didn’t all happen in some blinding revelatory insight, by the way. It’s been something I’ve gradually woken up to over the last few months. A growing realisation that I feel more at ease with myself now, and that has delivered the greatest boost to my creativity. I’ve had fits and starts of it before, but I probably went at them too hard and they burned out quickly.

This is feeling more sustained. I’ve only had a couple of bad days since mid-March, but instead of trying to push through I’ve acknowledged them as a sign that I need to take a rest, and they’ve passed without the usual trail of despair and exhaustion. Funny how it took someone else telling me something that should have been blatantly bloody obvious for it to stick.

Rushed off your feet? Ideas all over the place. Finally have time to write? The Muse has wandered off somewhere sunny and isn’t taking my calls.

Part of what has helped has been having Spouse at home these last few weeks. The reason for it (the lockdown) is all kinds of awful, but there’s been benefits too. Not just the endless supply of tea (although that is vitally important to the creative process) but for not being alone with all this . . . *gestures around* this. We’ve not got in each other’s way, meals have come to be about more than just shovelling fuel into the furnace and we’re both less tired and grouchy. We haven’t killed each other even a little bit.

I’m sure you can guess what I would say here if it wasn’t TMI 😉

So. The takeaways:

  • I’m writing, quite a lot and quite well
  • THE DRAGON HOUSE wordcount is up to 145k-ish so I’m making significant progress (believe me, just fixing the Timeline From Hell counts as significant with a capital S – it’s been casting a deep, dark shadow over this manuscript for a loooong time)
  • I’m feeling more productive than I have done in ages. I mean, I’ve even written a blog post!

Before y’all get overexcited, I want to sound a note of caution. Things are going well, yes, but this is still too new a development for me to feel confident putting a due date on The Dragon House. It’s only been in the last few days that I’ve felt able to say out loud that that day feels a lot closer than it did.

But I did, and it does, and I wanted to let you all know. More news as it happens.

Featured image: Free photo 9079661 © Timur Anikin – Dreamstime.com

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