Smitten by kittens: how Paul Perry’s bedtime stories about his family pets became a book

Paul Perry on writing a children’s novel, The Cyclops with Two Eyes

Fionn (10), Leonora (9) and Blaithin (12) Perry

Fionn (10), Leonora (9) and Blaithin (12) Perry

 

My three children – Blaithin (12), Fionn (10), and Leonora (9) – are smitten by our kittens or what were our kittens. They are cats now. We found them first online at the DSPCA and raced up to claim them.

Mocha is a shaggy cat with a docked ear. He was once feral. He likes to sleep outside. Tiddles is a more refined feline – gentle, hesitant, and affectionate.

When last summer we imagined what their lives were like before they came to us, the stories we told one another grew taller and taller. For fun, I wrote a chapter as a bedtime story. There was much in-house fighting about which kitten each child was. I’m Mocha. No, I am, etc.

Mocha is a shaggy cat with a docked ear. He was once feral. He likes to sleep outside.
Mocha is a shaggy cat with a docked ear. He was once feral. He likes to sleep outside.

And then the questions came. What happens next? Once, when I came home from work, Leonora was standing in the porch to ask if I had finished it. I had been at work, therefore I had been writing. This was her logic. (If only it were the case, if only she knew. I am a writer, but I also spend a lot of time teaching, and at committee meetings!)

When the question kept coming: had I finished it, the story of the three little kittens – the two real kittens had grown into three imaginary ones to match my children – I made a promise to myself: finish it.

Every excuse under the sun came to stop me, but finally I did it. I finished The Cyclops with Two Eyes which leads with the words: “Never leave the Laurels.” It’s something Goblin the Crow tells the three kittens, Mocha, Jinx, and Tiny Panda. They live in The Big House far from anywhere. When the Goodoo arrives the three kittens are faced with a decision which will change their lives forever: do they stay and fight or do they flee? Even with the help of Francesca the Owl, Jacob the Centaur, and Kaplan, the Cyclops with Two Eyes, the kittens’ lives will never be the same again. That’s the gist of the story.

A story which turned into a 30,000-word novel. I choose this size after looking at what my kids were reading. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a similar length, as is David Almond’s Skellig. The kids loved both books as did I – 30k gives you a good amount of space to develop a story and include a good three-act structure. There is plenty of time for fun and games, in other words.

Writing a children’s novel was a lot of fun. Less pressure than the crime novels I wrote, and less po-faced than the poetry. Of course, kids can be your toughest critics. And when those kids are your own, they can be merciless. I found my 12-year-old licking her pencil one night underlining words which were too grown up for this book! So there. A budding editor in the making.

While there are more adventures in store for the kittens, my attention has been brought towards a Christmas story called Charlotte and the Shadows. Again, I’ve made a promise: there’s enough plastic, TV and downloads in my children’s lives, let this next book be their Christmas present.

The Cyclops With Two Eyes is published by Ragamuffin Books, and is available directly from Ragamuffin Books at €10 and from all good bookstores.

Paul Perry is a poet and fiction writer. He has co-authored four international bestselling novels as Karen Perry with Penguin Random House. His latest collection of poetry is The Ghosts of Barnacullia, published by the above/ground press, 2019. Paul directs the creative writing programme at UCD and lives in Dublin with his wife, and three children who insisted he write The Cyclops with Two Eyes, his first novel for younger readers (8-12)

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