The creator of cat detective series No 2 Feline Detective Agency, Mandy Morton explores anthropomorphism in books and how it has served her well for 60 years
Suffolk born writer Mandy Morton fell in love with books aged 5, when she met Ratty and Mole on the riverbank in Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows. The story sparked a life long habit of using fiction as both a mechanism for safely exploring new territory in the wider world, but also as a retreat for when real life became too harsh.
Mandy had a difficult childhood - the youngest child of a father who was a "war hero on the outside, but disillusioned and quite frightening behind closed doors" and an unwell mother, and she was often lonely and alone. Mandy found solace from a dysfunctional set up in Kenneth Grahame’s idyllic riverbank – just as the author himself did. “I loved Ratty and Mole’s cosy homes and companionship,” said Mandy. “In my imagination, I became their friend and we went on the adventures together. With them, I felt brave enough to explore the “deep, wild woods” and meet the stoats and weasels. I was afraid but I knew we would always return to the comfort of the fireside. That’s the joy of a book for children. A neat, happy ending.” Later on whilst reading Animal Farm at school, Mandy came across a different kind of anthropomorphic story altogether, one that did not offer the same level of comfort. “Quite the opposite! I read Animal Farm at school and it had a big impact on me,” tells Mandy. “I was fourteen and had never paid any attention to politics or government prior to reading Orwell. But it really opened my eyes.” Mandy continues: “It was the first time I think I realised – look how quickly things can go wrong if bad people are left unchecked and unchallenged..and look at the effects that has reverberate through all levels of society. It shook me up, it opened my eyes. I thought Orwell was extremely clever for gifting us a terrifying utopian tale but dressing it up as a satirical story about animals. I realised then that an author could potentially take more risks with his readers if he explored issues indirectly, using animal characters to act things out and try things one might find harder to take from a human being.”
Mandy enjoyed a short yet successful career as a folk rock singer in the 1970s and recorded six albums and toured Europe extensively. During her time as a songwriter she became more confident exploring her feelings in her lyrics. But when punk brought an end to the melodic music scene, it was time for a new career in the arts. Mandy was a journalist for the BBC for many years before she turned her hand to writing fiction. But as a songwriter, she was pretty much done with exploring love and life from a man or woman’s point of view. “I had moved on,” Mandy tells. “I wanted to do something different and then my very beloved tabby cat Hettie died unexpectedly. My partner and I were devastated. What do people always tell you to do when you are grieving? Write it all out. So I did. As I was writing about her personality, her habits, her daily routine, I brought my happy, busy cat back to life again. That is how I wrote my first book. I was done writing about humans so I didn’t include a single one! It’s a humanless world.” Fellow cat lover and writer PD James called her books “Original and intriguing” and they were soon flying out of the bookshops.
Mandy has just written book six in the successful series No 2 Feline Detective Agency and had fun reminiscing about her pop star days in Magical Mystery Paws. But she smiles at the familiar protest she sometimes hears at author events. “People often ask: but cats don’t wear cardigans! What are you talking about? But the stories are really about gently exploring grief, religion, caring for elderly parents, leaving behind your youth, friendship, togetherness... its just cats not humans. Plus they leave you with a happy ending - snuggled up by the fire, with a full belly and a feline companion. What’s not to like?”
Mandy’s latest Hettie Bagshot adventure MAGICAL MYSTERY PAWS is published by Farrago and available to buy from Thursday 12 July 2018. Mandy is doing a series of talks and events across the UK this summer. Check out the dates and locations @icloudmandy @hettiebagshot