Saturday, 19 March 2011


I was at the pub after a run one evening, waiting for others to arrive, sipping my water and cranberry juice.  I mean to bring some sort of craft work for such times, but don't always remember.  So, I browsed the shelves of books available for trade and found a Reader's Digest condensed book that had a soppy story set in the French Revolution.  It passed the time and I found myself picking it up in subsequent weeks.  Finally, I remembered to take a book to trade and brought it home, only to find I wasn't really that interested in the story!  I enjoyed much more re-reading the shortened Decider, one of my favourite Dick Francis books, then a Rambo-like book, Point of Impact.  It was good enough I would read Stephen Hunter again, but it's not really my genre so I wouldn't track him down (a v. weak pun, there). 

What really excited me enough to tell you about was the last of the books, Blitzcat by Robert Westall.  His name was vaguely familiar, but I didn't think much of it until I got to the end where they tell  you about the author.  Turns out he's from my neck of the woods. 

Born in Tynemouth in 1929, Robert Westall experienced the Blitz as a boy on Tyneside.  He studied fine art at university in Durham and London, and during the 1950s he did his National Service in the Royal Corps of Signals. After twenty-eight years as a teacher and a stint as an antiques dealer, Westall became a full-time writer. He very soon established a reputation as a first-class children's author, many of whose books were enjoyed by adults.  Blitzcat, which won the Smarties Prize in 1989, is one of these.  Although Robert Westall had lived with at least three cats in his home for more than thirty years, and wanted to make a cat the hero of a novel, he was not at all sure if he would be able to do so.  But then he wrote a short story about a cat and an RAF night bomber, and that gave him the little bit of courage he needed to make a start on Blitzcat.  A key feature of the book as that cats have the power of 'psi-trailing' people over vast distances.  Robert Westall believed in this ability, and was glad to have it confirmed by Professor J.B. Rhine of Duke University, North Carolina, who had studied over three hundred cases of alleged psi-trailing and authenticated more than fifty.  Robert Westall died in 1993.  Blitzcat remains an enduring memorial.  It speaks eloquently of Britain's tenacity and endurance during the Second World War.  'Britain was a different nation,' wrote Robert Westall.  'Given the chance of it again, I would leave my television and videotape, the double glazing and central heating, exotic restaurants and foreign holidays, and go back to it like a shot.' 

I must admit that I'm not a fervent believer in para-normal psychology relating to either humans or animals.  I so enjoy Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project that I hope to dip more into children's literature - beyond Harry Potter - to see if it brings me as much pleasure as it does her.  Given some of the stories about adults in Blitzcat I wouldn't have classed it as a children's story and given what I know they left out of Decider I'd make a guess that the full book was even less child-oriented, but I will definitely be looking out for more of Westall's books, hopefully avoiding the science fiction selections. 

The world of pre-war Britain that Westall speaks about is what I'm hoping to find in his books and is of course the era which has fascinated me during the past few years.

1 comment:

Jo said...

I have read a couple of books featuring a cat who could trail the bad guy but they weren't by Westall. Had to go back and check when I read this, but couldn't figure out who the author was. Oh well.