For thousands of years it has been a secret: the Ancient Egyptian art of moving and sensing like a cat. Now, for the first time, the hidden world of Pashki is revealed.
The Cat Kin tells its story.
The Cat Kin tells its story.
I wasn’t sure that, as a dog lover, I was going to like Nick Green’s The Cat Kin, but The Cat Kin is a gripping story about children who learn to tap into their inner cat – their Mau power. It is a brilliant read for 9 – 12 year olds who’re looking for excitement, danger and adventure. In The Cat Kin, Nick Green has created a well-written and intriguing book that will hold your attention the whole way through – and asking if there’s to be a sequel.
Ben and Tiffany never expected their after-school gym class to be like this. For Mrs Powell teaches pashki, a lost art from an age when cats were worshipped as gods. But who is their eccentric old teacher? What does she really want with them? And why are they suddenly able to see in the dark? They are going to need all of their nine lives...
It’s my pleasure to interview Nick Green on Absolute Vanilla and learn more about The Cat Kin and writing.
Children's author, Nick Green and his cat, Red.
I heed no words nor walls
Through darkness I walk in day
And I do not fear the tyrant.
I heed no words nor walls
Through darkness I walk in day
And I do not fear the tyrant.
First off, Nick, the obvious question – why a book about cats and Pashki? Where did the inspiration come from, where did you learn about Pashki and, why Pashki in particular?
Well, I like cats, of course, except before 6am. Years ago I read something interesting. Domestic cats, even those that are kept indoors, rarely lose their extraordinary agility, no matter how sofa-bound they are. The theory is that all the stretching they do keeps them in shape – like a kind of natural yoga or Pilates. My wife’s into yoga, and I still have an old notebook with this note in it: ‘Cat yoga… what if humans did cat yoga? Would they become as agile as cats?’ Then asterisked: *A form of yoga that gives you cat-like powers.*
This idea languished for over a year in the notebook, because (perhaps absurdly) I couldn’t see where to take it. I didn’t want to write a ‘superhero’ story, I wanted to be a more literary author than that! Then, one evening, I was watching an overblown action movie on TV, and was forced to admit that I really liked this sort of stuff. I thought, ‘I should stop trying to be worthy, and write something like this.’ Then I remembered the old scribble in the notebook. Before long the ‘cat yoga’ had a name – pashki – and the story just caught fire.
Did you have to do much research in writing The Cat Kin and if so, in terms of which aspects of the story?
Pashki I decided would be Ancient Egyptian in origin (as cats were a sacred animal in that culture), so I did a fair bit of research there. The name takes ‘pash’ from the cat goddess Pasht or Bast and ‘ki’ from the word meaning ‘spiritual power’ or ‘life force’ in many cultures. In fact, in Ancient Egyptian this word is actually ‘ka’, but I presumed a certain evolution of the word over time. And pashki just sounded better.
I also read up a lot about cats, just trying to absorb any information that might help in developing pashki and the characters. I wanted pashki to seem as real as possible, and worked out complex systems for it, only a fraction of which make it into the first book (although more trickles out in the sequels). Research into real martial arts and also disciplines like yoga and tai chi helped to ground it in something that hopefully feels real.
Some other research was into muscular dystrophy (a disease which affects Tiffany’s brother in the book) and also into bear farming in China, a real-life atrocity on which I based something similar that features in the book. For obvious reasons I didn’t make it bears in my story, but this foul and pointless practice continues and makes me angry beyond belief.
You tie the Pashki theme into some fairly esoteric stuff – meditation, awareness, chakras, yoga, inner power – what is your view on alternative ways of being and experiencing the world?
Perhaps surprisingly, I’m a rationalist to the bone. I don’t have ‘spiritual’ beliefs myself, of any kind. However, I am fascinated by them. I think such things are our attempts to explore our own selves, the mystery of our own consciousness. I find it quite easy to reconcile a stunned awe and wonder at the world, with the underlying premise that it is rationally explicable. For example – I don’t believe that crystals are magical. But it fascinates me to ask why some people think they are! What is it about a transparent, angular mineral that fires our imaginations? What is going on there? Why is it beautiful? The questions that follow on from that are endless.
The adventure elements of the story notwithstanding, you actually tackle some pretty big issues, for example developers who literally get away with murder, animal abuse, domestic violence, divorce, chronic illness, shonky alternative medicine. Did you deliberately set out to cover so much or did the story just unfold like that?
‘Shonky’ – great word! And a new one on me. Let me see… I suppose it just turned out like that. I tend to plan my plots in advance, but since plot must be driven by character, this means I need the kind of characters who will deliver me that plot! But Ben and Tiffany aren’t heroic by nature, they’re just kids. So I had to throw a lot of problems and upheaval at them to make them get up and go. Why those problems in particular? I suppose they were things that either bothered or intrigued me. There are real landlords like John Stanford; animal cruelty like that really goes on. I suppose I was following one of the writer’s top tips: write everything you love, and everything you hate.
To what extent did your own personal life experiences inform the story?
My own parents did divorce, but the situation was nothing like Ben’s. I was at pains to point this out to my own mum, who on reading the book said to me, ‘You’ve made me really awful!’ There was one line, I think, which echoes a real-life incident in our lives! Everything else was entirely made up. But people will see themselves in books. Especially parents. I’m sure my own experiences do colour the story throughout, but in such tiny bits and pieces that no-one but me would ever notice.
Of the two main characters, Ben and Tiffany, who do you prefer more, which one resonates more for you and which one was easier to write – and why?
It’s hard to say. I’m writing book 3 now and I still don’t know. When I’m writing Tiffany I think, ‘She’s so much easier than Ben,’ and when I’m writing Ben I think, ‘He’s so much easier than Tiffany.’ They’re like different hemispheres of my brain. Tiffany shares my love of cats and is more middle-class, like me. Whereas Ben has something of my hot-headedness about him, and of course he’s a boy which might make it easier. But I must say I like writing girl parts – you can say more and be more open, and you don’t have to always mask emotions! That can be really tiring; boys don’t reveal as much, they tend to imply more.
You’ve created some spectacular villains in The Cat Kin – what was it like to create and write such ultimate baddies?
Glad you like them! I used a tip from Roald Dahl there. He once wrote that the trick to a good story is to have really detestable villains. John Stanford is the less evil of the two; once or twice he almost shows flickers of conscience. But I pulled out all the stops with Philip Cobb, to make him truly diabolic. He could be exhausting to write; trying to imagine what it’s like to be that person, with no empathy or morality at all. Sometimes you feel like you need a shower after being around him.
Mrs Powell, the Pashki teacher, is an elusive and mysterious character – quite catlike, one might say. Was her characterization a deliberate attempt to make her seem more cat than human?
Absolutely. She’s done pashki for so long that it’s fundamental to who she is. Also, without giving too much away, it might be all she has left now. By nature she is a very alone person, and it strikes me probably very lonely too; but she’s made her choices in life and has the courage to live with them.
Although he’s a secondary character, you create strong characterization in Tiffany’s brother, Stuart, a child with Muscular Dystrophy. Were you inspired by anyone in the creation of Stuart and what prompted you to choose MD as his illness?
I was approached recently by a muscular dystrophy charity, who assumed from my book that I had personal experience of the disease. I don’t, touch wood. I just researched it, like everything else. Reading about some young sufferers, I was struck by their courage at living with this debilitating condition, and how in their own way, they were heroes. If you have severe MD, picking up a book can feel like lifting a bookcase. MD seemed a poignant contrast to what happens to Ben and Tiffany, who develop superhuman physical prowess. Stuart is the flip side of Tiffany – his muscles are wasting away, but in many respects he’s every bit as heroic as her. I like him a lot; he has more to do in subsequent books, as he becomes the only non-Cat Kin person to learn Tiffany’s secret.
The Cat Kin is a brilliant adventure, is it the sort of book you would have read as a child? And what sort of books did you enjoy when you were younger, and did they, or any book in particular, inspire you to write for children?
The authors I read most as a child were Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, Nicholas Fisk, Robert Westall, Tolkien, C. S. Lewis… I don’t know if any of them are remotely similar. Perhaps Fisk. It could be that I’ve filled in a gap in my own reading, by writing the book I would have liked to discover back then. Who knows! I’m not sure why I chose to write for children. Maybe it was that I remembered my childhood reading so fondly. The books you read as a child can stay with you for life. That doesn’t seem to happen so much as an adult. There are books I read now and adore; but they don’t become part of me. I’ve lost that ability that children have to take something absolutely to heart.
The Cat Kin is your debut novel – what did it feel like when it was accepted for publication? And what has been the best and worst thing about being a published author?
The big ‘hooray’ moment was getting an agent. That felt like my big break. Then I waited a year with no news at all, officially ‘gave up’ and self-published. The self-published book caught the attention of Faber, but before long it became clear that they didn’t want to do the full trilogy, so I had to get the rights back in order to publish the sequels somewhere else. I’m now with Strident, who are great, so it’s now my ‘second debut’ if you will. I’m too wised-up now to feel more than cautious optimism. I just get my head down and write.
Finally – what next for Nick Green?
The rest of the Cat Kin trilogy will be out in due course. Book 2 (Cat’s Paw) was briefly available in self-published form, but the Strident version will be much better produced. Book 3 I’m halfway to finishing now. I also have two new, unrelated books currently looking for a publisher. I’m really pleased with them, but it’s now harder than ever to get publishers interested. But they’ll be out there sooner or later. Just you wait.
'Pashki awakens the part of yourself that is like a cat. For cats have much to teach us. They are proud spirits yet calm. They live in the present, without worries beyond it. Cats are pools of serenity that may surge up in storms. They are weightless clouds that can quicken to lightning.'
To find out more about the books, Nick and Pashki, visit Nick Green’s website .
To order a copy of The Cat Kin go to Amazon.co.uk or order directly from Strident Publishers.