Jaws has got a lot to answer for…
There was a time in the seventies and eighties when it seemed all a writer had to do to get into print (or onto celluloid) was to take an animal (shark/alligator/piranha/dog), take a special event of some sort (chemical spill/genetic experimentation/rabies), add a dash of helpless victims, and voila! You had a bestseller. I’m not talking about the classics, like Jaws (one of my favourite films of all time, although at best an average book). I’m not talking about the second stringers with their tongues planted firmly in cheek, like Alligator or Piranha. I’m not even talking about Grizzly, which while loaded with killer animals and helpless victims, at least had the good grace to choose a dangerous animal to do its dirty work. Nope, I’m talking about the works of people like the mighty Guy N. Smith, author of Night of the Crabs, Killer Crabs and the ultimate “does what it says on the tin” title, Crabs on the Rampage. I’m talking about Cliff Twemlow’s The Pike, a novel so wonderfully horrendous that it deserves, and will get, its own blog post. It’s impossible to hate The Pike. You just have to sit back and admire its absurdity, while wondering what the fact that two attempts have been made to film it says about the human condition.
One thing all these books and movies have in common, though, is that the creature is actually dangerous. Between them, they proved that with a bit of effort, a decent writer could make virtually any member of the animal kingdom sound like a lethal killing machine.
Back in the late nineties I wasn’t at my most prolific. Having written at every opportunity as a kid, I’d had a brief burst of productivity as a teen and pushed out a couple of short stories and a short novel at university. But I was stuck in a rut. There were so many other things I wanted to do with my time – mostly sports and beer, if we’re honest – and so many things I should be doing with my time – like finding a job – that I just wasn’t feeling it. I lacked inspiration. Until I re-read The Pike, chuckled to myself, and then found inspiration surging at me from the frigid grey waters of my lethargy like a 12-foot dreadful spindly killer fish from the depths of Lake Windermere.
What if you took a creature so patently unthreatening that you wanted to take it home and cuddle it, then gave it the mind of a stone-cold psycho? Thus was born Putting the Cat Out.
In Guy N. Smith’s hands, the cat would have killed a lot of people, ripping out throats, eviscerating stomachs, spreading terror through small rural communities before meeting an ambiguous end that left the door to a sequel firmly ajar. Guy, if you’re reading this, you should absolutely write that book. The rights are all yours for just 10% of your peak fan base. Here’s the problem, though. Cats have tiny claws, and very small teeth. They are completely and utterly useless when it comes to killing people. The question is, do cats know that? If a psychotic cat set out on a killing spree, what would be the result? What would be going through its furry little mind?
Check out Putting the Cat Out in the SHORT STORIES section. It’s over fifteen years old now, but it’s still one of my favourites. Remember that long period of not writing much? After finishing PTCO, I went on to write another dozen short stories and a full novel in two years, so let me leave you with two pieces of advice. Always keep writing, even if it’s just some silly story about a killer cat, because you never know when you’re going to trigger a burst of creative enthusiasm. And never, ever, go swimming in Lake Windermere.