Julia Jarman on a picture book that reads and looks as if divinely inspired …
I fell in love with Mowzer the Cat, and Tom ‘her fisherman’, when I first read The Mousehole Cat ten years ago. It’s a classic tale of love and heroism, inspired by the legend of Tom Bawcock, a Cornish fisherman, said to have saved the harbour village of Mousehole – locals say Mowzel – by taking his boat out to sea in a terrifying storm.
Did Antonia Barber create Mowzer, who accompanied Tom, and that malevolent deity, the Great Storm Cat? I don’t know, but she has made Mowzer’s taming of the Storm Cat central to the legend, along with ‘morgy-broth, baked hake, ling and launces, fairmaids, soused scad and star-gazy pie’. It’s the way she tells it that fills me with admiration, in assured poetic prose, celebrating courage, community and good food deliciously cooked. There’s humour too, deriving from the cat’s view of things. This picture book has everything. I heard tell that the story ‘just came’ to the author complete, that she didn’t write and re-write as she usually does. No matter, it reads and looks as if divinely inspired. Nicola Bayley’s dramatic, powerful illustrations radiate love. There is only one word to sum up a story in which purring plays a vital part. Purrfect.
The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber, illustrated by Nicola Bayley, is published by Walker, 0 7445 0703 0, £9.99 hbk, 0 7445 8855 3, £9.99 hbk inc. CD, 0 7445 2353 2, £4.99 pbk.
Julia Jarman’s latest book is The Time-Travelling Cat and the Roman Eagle (Andersen Press, 0 86264 861 0, £9.99 hbk).