HENRY WOWLER & THE MIRROR-CAT: A Whimsical Tail for Readers aged 9+ Years & Cat-Fans of All Ages
Author: Rae Andrew
Publisher: Herstory Writing/York Publishing Services, 2021, paperback, 62 pages, b & w illustrations, RRP £6.99
Available from: www.ypdbooks.com, www.amazon.co.uk, by order from any High Street or independent bookshop. UK Customers: Order signed 1st editions at £6.99 inclusive of P+P direct from the author on email@example.com
One of the perks of self-publishing is being able to review your own books, and this one will always be particularly special: my first children’s fiction, first collaboration with an artist, and, (alas), the first and only Wowler book to appear during the lifetime of its feline Muse.
Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat is a traditional tale set in a time and place like, and yet unlike, our own. It’s inspired by fantasies I loved as a child, including Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and the TV series Mr Benn, but the idea mainly came from watching our ginger-and-white tom, Henry Wowler, watching himself in the glass back of the electric fire while I fussed him on the fleecy hearthrug. What was he thinking, I wondered; what did he make of the Other Cat he only saw in certain places, like this one? And what would happen if he could go through and meet it? There’d have to be some inversion, something topsy-turvy about it… and it didn’t take long to come up with the first two chapters, self-contained adventures in which Henry learns to join his reflection – MC, the Mirror-Cat – on the Other Side of the glass.
Because no mirror ever shows the same reflection twice, Henry can never be sure exactly what he’s going to find there. On his first visit, he’s very keen to hunt lots of great big mice in the darkness behind the fire – but is shocked to discover quite how big the Other Side mice are, and after he and MC have a narrow escape from two school-mice planning to keep them in a cage as class pets, he’s very keen to get back to his own side!
In Chapter Two, Henry’s relieved to discover that the Other Side of the wardrobe mirror is much less dangerous. Cats there walk on two legs, and wear clothes, and have jobs just like people; MC goes to school, and runs errands to earn pocket-money to spend on his hobby of caring for the Bright family, three miniature Oomans he keeps in a big furnished hutch in his bedroom. Henry Wowler feels tempted to stay with MC and his parents for dinner, maybe even longer… but when he hears a faint echo of his Ooman calling him, he rushes back home to eat his own cat-food instead.
Chapters Three and Four introduce new characters and form a continuing story. The third mirror is the hardest to reach because it hangs high on the living room wall; but Henry manages to leap through to find a roomful of pedigree show-cats, all very famous and worth awful lots of money: Skin the Sphynx, Tammy the Scottish Fold, Dancy the Siamese, Bobby the Manx, and Stevie the Maine Coon, with their self-appointed leader Queenie, the white Persian. After enjoying their luxurious quarters, Henry gets the ladies so excited with his mouse-hunting tales that they start caterwauling – which brings their owners running, and once again Henry Wowler only just manages to avoid being trapped on the Other Side.
The fourth and final chapter begins with Stevie stuck half-way through the mirror, trying to follow Henry so they can go hunting together. The cats hatch a plan for her to return late that night, and they Go Out properly for the first time in Stevie’s life. She gets startled by a low-flying bat; briefly meets Ginger, Henry’s father, (probably); sees off a fox; argues with a grumpy owl in the woods; then to her great delight, catches a mouse on her very first try. Henry Wowler is disgusted when she refuses to kill and eat it, and the cats go back home – only to find that Henry’s Ooman has got up early, and is in the same room as the mirror Stevie needs to return through! She makes a mad dash for it while the Ooman is dozing, but it seems she was spotted… and though the Ooman thinks she must’ve dreamt seeing Stevie, Henry Wowler knows better!
All the chapters are brought to life by my dear friend Janet Flynn’s superb illustrations. Some are drawn from photographs of Henry in real settings, (above left, and the lovely watercolour on the front cover). Others, drawn from her fertile imagination, are full of such wonderful detail, down to the labels on the tins in Mrs Mewly’s corner shop, you can study them for hours – just as I used to with my favourite books as a child. We took care to include anything with a complex description, like the Bright’s hutch, or things which might be unfamiliar to young readers (an old-fashioned spring mousetrap, and all the types of animal featured), so hopefully it’s educational, too – and Janet’s portrait of the fox is a masterpiece. As to whether my text does them justice: that, dear Reader, you must judge for yourself.
HW&MC has been warmly received thus far by readers young and old; although unfortunately, any success it may enjoy will be posthumous for its hero. Henry Wowler, my beloved companion and constant inspiration for ten years, was struck down by a fatal blood clot on New Year’s Eve, 2021, within a month of his fictional alter-ego emerging in print. So the book will now be his legacy and, I hope, the first of many if it proves popular enough; and a tithe of any profits will be donated to Cats Protection and Syros Cats (a charity local to Janet’s home in Greece) in Henry’s name. So I do hope you’ll buy a copy and help me to help other cats in need like he once was, as a stray kitten lost in the woods – and here’s an extract to whet your appetite!
Chapter 1: Cat in the Hearth
Henry Wowler sat on the old sheepskin hearth rug, gazing into the fire. It wasn’t lit. It wasn’t even real. It was just a black metal grate, with shiny black glass at the back, and dull black plastic coals at the front. He wasn’t interested in the fire itself. No, he was watching the Other Cat, which he only ever saw at certain times and in certain places – like right here and now. With the same stripy ginger heads, long, stripy ginger tails, and ginger-splotched white bodies, they looked like identical twins – except that where Henry was soft, furry and warm, the Other was flat, hard and cold, with an odd, dusty smell quite unlike a cat. Today it was there as usual, wide eyes staring back through the glass, copying his every move as he squished the fleece rug with his forepaws. Henry wondered if it was purring too, but as usual, he couldn’t hear a sound. So imagine his surprise when the Other Cat suddenly spoke.
“What?” gasped Henry Wowler. “Um- I mean, good morning. I, er, didn’t realise you could talk.”
The Other blinked. “What gave you that idea? I can talk as well as you can.”
“Then why didn’t you say something sooner?” Henry asked.
“I did, every time you spoke to me,” it replied. “If you didn’t hear, it’s because you weren’t listening properly.”
Henry thought about this. “Well, I seem to be listening now. So tell me, please, who are you and what are you doing in my fireplace?”
The Other seemed to smile. “I could ask you the same question.”
Henry puffed out his white chest. “I’m the Wowler – Henry Wowler – at home in my Third Favourite Sleep-spot, getting ready for a nap.”
“Same here. And I’m the Mirror-cat. You can call me MC.”
“Alright. Pleased to meet you, MC.” Henry squinted through the glass. “Is it still night where you are? It looks pretty dark.”
The Mirror-cat nodded. “It’s always dark here.”
“Oh?” Henry’s ears pricked up. “That must make for good hunting. Do you get many mice on your side?”
“Oh yes, lots,” said MC, “great big ones! Why don’t you come through and have a look?”
“Me- how?” Standing on the coals, Henry touched noses with the Mirror-cat, then patted the glass with a paw. “I can’t, I’ve already tried.”
“But you haven’t tried in the right way. Trust your whiskers, close your eyes, and don’t open them again until I tell you.”
Henry Wowler didn’t like being told what to do. But he was so curious about the Other Side, and so keen to hunt lots of big mice in the dark, that he obeyed without making a fuss.
His whiskers quivered. For a moment, nothing happened. Then the
fire-back seemed to dissolve. A chilly space opened in front of him, filled with the scent of well-fed tomcat. Then his nose collided with another, not glassy and hard now, but warm and alive like his own.
“There! It’s easy when you know how.” No longer muffled by the glass, MC’s voice sounded loud and clear. “Now just follow me down – but remember to keep your eyes closed.”
Eyes shut tight, Henry followed the Mirror-cat’s nose through the fireplace, over the cold hearth tiles, and down onto a deep, fleecy rug.
“Well done!” said MC. “You can look now.”
Henry did, and immediately noticed three things. Firstly, the light on the Other Side was very strange – not the luminous darkness of true night, but dull, flat and grey as if seen through tinted glass. Secondly, it all smelt very strongly of Mouse. And thirdly-
“Wow!” he gasped. “Either I’ve shrunk, or everything through here is big.” He felt suddenly nervous. “Very big.” He glanced at the Mirror-cat, the exact same size as himself. “Except you.”
“Yes. But don’t worry,” said MC, “it’s safe enough. Are you hungry?”
Henry nodded. It wasn’t long since his breakfast, but he could always squeeze in a bit more.
“Right then,” said MC, “let’s go and eat!”
Henry slunk after him, past a skirting board that towered over their heads. He sniffed. Through the strong mousy scent, he could smell something else – something tasty. Then, tucked into the corner, he saw a strange object – a wooden board, longer and wider than he was, with metal bars at one end attached to a spring in the middle. Beside the spring was a round brown thing on a metal plate. It smelt like a cat-biscuit, the sort he ate every day by the handful – but this one was the size of his head and looked as if it could feed him for a week.
“Wow! That’s the biggest biscuit I’ve ever seen!” Licking his lips, Henry rushed eagerly forward.
“S-stop!” hissed MC, pulling him up by the tail. “It’s a trap. Stay back, I’ll show you.” Crouching low, he carefully stretched out a paw and gave the biscuit a poke.
Swish-WHACK! A bar whizzed over and smacked down hard on the board – just as it would’ve smacked down hard on Henry Wowler, if he’d been standing there.
“Ugh.” Henry shuddered. “I thought you said it was safe here!”
“It is… more or less. And this thing’s safe now. See?” MC crunched into the biscuit. “Yum! Come and tuck in.”
Very cautiously, Henry Wowler stepped aboard. Nothing nasty happened, so he crouched beside MC and started to munch.
“Mm-num-num-num,” he purred. “Very good.”
Extract from Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat @Rae Andrew and Janet Flynn, 2021