My head is full of the occupants of Pickax City, 400 miles north of everything in the United States. It is a small town, only 3000 people live there, one of the most popular people in the city is a billionaire, who is famed for pumping his own gas, walking about the shops – doing his own shopping, smiling genially at people he passes. When he inherited more money than he knew what to do with, or ever wanted, he established a foundation that supports the local area by buying up land so it isn’t developed on by people ‘Down Below’, who are looking to make their money stretch a little further by buying into a small town. He also supports local businesses and clubs, both by providing start up costs (on the basis of a good written request) and also helping to finance renovations or new buildings (in keeping with the area of course), staffing and other monetary needs. He lives in a converted apple barn with two Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum – and is called Jim Qwilleran. They get themselves into all sorts of problems, and Koko who has mysterious, almost psychic, abilities points Jim gently in the right direction showing him the way to figure the muddle out. They are sweet, gentle, funny, people, well written and as you might have guessed – Mr Qwilleran is a figment of someone’s imagination, Lilian Jackson Braun to be exact.
What started out with a book I found in the central library in Eastbourne, by accident over 10 years ago, and what’s more I can still remember the day I found it; because I flicked through it then couldn’t find any others (maddening), has turned into a wee obsession. I have been looking for the books in shops for years, new and second-hand, they are like gold dust, although having now panned for gold – it was a helluva lot easier to find that than these books. I have downloaded via a spoken word website some of the books, I used to listen to them in on the train to London, laughing out loud or walking along with furrowed brow as I tried to work out whodunit? In the past two weeks I have found them in the library in Malvern and Carnegie, while I am reading them hopelessly out of order, I still haven’t found the first three books in the series, I love being able to dip in and out of the chronicles of Moose County. I am reading a book a day at the moment, and will have major problems when I have exhausted the libraries supply of the series. I cannot buy them over here, no-one seems to stock them, so I will have to talk to Angus & Robertson in Chadstone, and ask them to order me them, one or two a month until I have them all. And no you won’t be able to borrow them; I don’t lend books any more. I will gladly give a book to you, but only when I have brought it for you, after trimming down my library at home to books I cannot live without any more, they are not going anywhere with anyone else, if I lose one – then it is mine to lose.
Over the past year or so I have deliberately steered myself away from crime books, mainly because of what I have been working so hard on and reading about has been all about living in the now, life: not something I can always articulate easily, but is shown by the colour green, green for spring, green for lush plants and what should be eaten as often as possible to ensure our health, green of trees against a sky, green fields swaying softly in the wind. But how can I live this life in the here and now, while I reading about murder for entertainment? That is not entertainment; that is voyeurism. I also know that it isn’t everyone’s choice, but it is mine. While not trying to justify myself ‘The Cat Who’ series are different in so far that genuine remorse is shown to anyone who has the sad misfortune to die in the books; even people that aren’t locals are venerated with respect and more often than not are buried with the local police chief playing bagpipes at their funeral, a speciality of his. You don’t ‘see’ the body, you don’t hear a stryker saw going through bones as the person’s body is picked over to see what happened, you don’t have any blood, guts, gore or anything other than a plot Agatha Christie would be proud of.
I do have problems with the amount of drink driving that there is in the books, but I have a problem with that anyway so it is a small price to pay. However, I love the cat descriptions, written only by someone who truly loves the animals can do. For those of you who have cats at home, you know when you want them to do their latest trick for a guest, so they either look cross-eyed at you or lick their butt? These are those sorts of cats. Koko has 30 pairs of whiskers to most other felines’ 24, which is how Jim tries to explain the cat’s extraordinary behaviour of being able to tell when the phone is going to ring, interrupt people he doesn’t think are important enough on the end of the phone with a ‘Yowl’ and by leaping and prancing around on and off objects that Jim needs to take notice of. Yum Yum is a dainty princess who has her master wrapped round her paw, and while is a lap cat if he is late with her meals, she lets him know.
I saw a brilliant birthday card that said ‘If cats could talk, they wouldn’t’ and it is so true. For all you dog lovers out there: being excited about being fed, going for a walk and a scratch behind the ear is so lame when you can watch birds in a window and chatter to them, glare at your human with one eye making them feel inferior and apologetic for leaving you alone, even if it was just to go shopping. But what I truly love about cats is that you never own them, they choose to live with you, if you don’t make the grade, they will find someone who does. But when they sit on your lap, chest, shoulder or whatever convenient area on you, but blinking slowly while purring like a tractor at you, nothing else matters. That is living in the moment.
So what am I to do, there are only a finite amount of Jim Qwilleran books, Polly Duncan, Arch Riker, Margaret Drabble Riker, Celia Johnson, Fran Brodie, Dr Diane are all locked inside someone else’s head, only brought to life by her writing. I found myself lying awake the other night wondering what Pickax looked like, would I recognise Jim’s enormous moustache if I saw him there if I travelled up on vacation? Would I stay at the newly refurbished Mackintosh Inn, should I eat there in the evening or go to Tipsy’s Tavern instead? You see; the problems you have when you immerse yourself in reading? I have the same problems with Hogwarts, the Lake District, the Norfolk Broads, Botswana, Elmwood Springs and of course, Tilling. (There is a prize for those who can name the books I am talking about there, except the first one!). I want to be there, I want to meet, chat and watch the characters’ lives unfold around me. That to me is the sign of a good author, when a character that you read on a page walks, fully formed into your head, and doesn’t walk back out again in a hurry.
I blogged not long ago about books that have meant a lot to me, and while out for my walk today, I was thinking about Pickax; wondering, still, about the stores on the three blocks of main street, what would I find if I went into the second-hand bookshop, or looked in Susan’s antique shop? I am living on the other side of the world, to a town that doesn’t exist, but in my mind it is so real, I can feel them. Either I need to carry on with my writing, or I need to get a job. One of the two…