Erm…I’m not too sure about this. It’s my first time. Be gentle with me, NaNo. I’ve wanted to get to know you better for a long time, but…well…life got in the way before. Can we stop if I don’t like it? Will it hurt?
Those were my ponderings in early October, still buzzing with the prospect of no work commitments this autumn; no planning or marking, no Christmas play to create – just writing, writing writing. Or so I thought…
Within a week, we’d had a sudden death in the family meaning trips up north and lots of sadness and my beloved firstborn was in difficulties health-wise. Add to the mixture a close friend needing lots of help and poorly in laws, and things lurched from tricky to downright worrying. Was it unreasonable to try to carry on and do NaNoWriMo anyway, whatever else was happening?
I decided to plunge in and have a go. If nothing else, starting something brand new would be a distraction, and I’d be bound to get at least some words down on paper. But 50K? Hmmm. Maybe if I launched myself into a children’s book, I could get the whole thing finished by November 30th?
So Arthur Angel and the Nine Lives was born – the tale of a disgraced Guardian Angel forced to come down to earth to complete his missions in cat form.
To start with, the story seemed to tell itself. I went back into school and worked with my favourite class of nine year olds to get their junior NaNo going and to have feedback straight from the ones who count. The first chapters flooded out.
Then the first trip up to Northumberland knocked the ground from under my feet. I’d become seriously addicted to the little graph that appears on your personal NaNo dashboard, and I was flatlining! There was snow on them there hills, not just in Arthur’s story, my nose and toes were freezing and my brain absolutely refused to cooperate.
But better progress was just around the corner. Back home again, the tide turned in the right direction and although life is still very turbulent to say the least, the words are flowing again. By the end of today, I might be back on track, but even if not, I’m loving the challenge, and it’s very hard to bite your nails when you’re typing. I’m having to miss the RNA meetings and party this time but the writing…let’s hope it carries on, if only for distraction purposes.
Here’s the first chapter if you’re interested. Wish me luck. I’ll see you on the other side…
Arthur Angel and the Nine Lives
Chapter One: Getting In
Yuck. I hate snow. I pick my way along the track through the woods to the cottage and stop by the door to shake the worst of the slush off my fur. Disgusting stuff. It gets in your paws and sticks to your dangly underneath bits in lumps. And the trouble with being mostly white is that if you get lost in a snow storm, nobody can see you.
To be honest, getting lost in the snow comes a long way down the list of problems of being a cat. Number one’s got to be the D word. Why do dogs have to chase us? Why? Who tells them it’s a good idea?
The flea thing’s not great either. Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t ask them to come, okay? They just seem to like me. And don’t get me started on catching mice.
Someone’s just opening the door – that’s my first lucky break for years. Have you ever tried ringing a doorbell when you’re on four short legs? Now, watch and learn. This is one of the trickier bits. Here’s what you need to do if you ever need to find yourself a cushy fireside and a kipper.
1) Fluff up the fur
2) Put your head on one side
3) Open your eyes really wide.
4) Miaaaaaaaow in the most pathetic way you can manage.
5) Be ready to roll over on your back at the first sign of them cracking – that one never fails
Right, here goes. The door’s wide open and now someone’s shouting from inside about not letting the cold in. Pah! He should try being me. It’s a GirlKid on the step. They’re usually the easiest of all. Wish me luck.
‘Rosie? Is that you bellowing again? Are you going to shut that door or have I got to come and do it for you?’
Heavy footsteps…coming closer. Great, now I’m going to have two of the human creatures staring down at me. The shorter one – the GirlKid – is quite nice to look at, if you like that sort of thing. She’s got curly ginger hair, nearly as good a colour as the bits of me that aren’t white, and she’s smiling. That should help.
‘Look, Dad. There’s a cute little kitten on the step. I think he’s hungry. Can I let him in? It’s so cold out there tonight.’
Kitten? What’s all that about? I’m a fully qualified Guardian Angel, I’ll have you know, GirlKid, and I’m at least three hundred years old, give or take a few months. Is it my fault if I’ve been sent down here as a smallish white cat? No, it isn’t.
‘Let him in? Aren’t four mouths enough for us to feed? I thought you’d have learned your lesson after last time.’
The big one isn’t smiling. He starts to shut the door but she stops him.
‘No! We can’t leave him outside. Look at his little face. He’s so sad.’
I do my best poor little me expression and start to wash my whiskers with a paw. That usually goes down well. I tell you, after three times of being sent down here as a cat instead of a human-looking angel, I’m getting to know all the tricks.
‘Aaaaaw, look at him. Dad, he’s soooo sweet. And anyway…I bet Jake’d like him, wouldn’t he?’
They look at each other and I can tell she’s won the first round.
‘Oh, go on then. At least we can shut the door. Your Gran’s already under two blankets.’
Result! I’m in before they can say kippers, down the hallway and into the living room, and I’m heading for the old lady with the rugs over her knees. She must be the brains around here – fast asleep and snoring, right in front of a roaring log fire.
She wakes up with a jump and closes her mouth just in time to stop her teeth dropping out. I take a big gamble and leap straight up onto her knee. Have I got it right? Is she a cat lover or one of those loopy humans who flap their arms at us and make a big fuss.
The old one reaches out a wrinkly hand and starts stroking me even before I’ve settled down properly. ‘Oh, what a beauty,’ she wheezes, ‘Where did you come from, my fine fellow? You remind me of my Charlie. He was handsome just like you.’
Time for my best move. I roll over on her lap and stretch out, revealing a very fine furry tummy, if I say so myself. I start to purr deep in my throat to show her I’m a big fan of all this fuss.
The GirlKid’s on her knees next to the old lady’s chair now, looking up at the Dad person.
‘Look, he likes us already. Can we keep him? Please? You know Jake loves cats…well, he used to, anyway…’
As she says this, all three heads turn to look over to the far wall. My eyes swivel to follow them. I don’t want to stop all this attention, but there’s someone else there. It’s a BoyKid with the same curly red hair as the girl version, but he’s nothing like her in any other way. For one thing, he’s not making a sound. For another, he’s sitting in a chair with wheels on it. His face is much paler than hers and he’s all dressed in black, whereas she’s like a walking rainbow.
He’s not looking at me, or at any of the others. It’s as if he’s trying to pretend he’s somewhere else. The fur on the back of my neck stands up, just like it always does when I realise why I’m down here. This BoyKid needs the services of Arthur Angel.