Fans of the Doctor Who extended canon will likely recognize the name of Paul Magrs instantly. In addition to a large backlog of his own work, he’s written short stories, radio plays, and Big Finish adventures in the Whoniverse, as well as creating the lush adventuress Iris Wildthyme and her companion, Panda.
His upcoming book from Obverse Books, Welcome Home, Bernard Socks, is not of the Who variety, but it does contain some fanciful elements that might grab a Whovian’s interest: a wise old cat, a ghostly festival, some extreme battles with the elements, travel abroad, suspicious lakes, and a little miracle or two. And while much of it is fantastical, the bulk of the story lies in actual fact.
First, it should be noted that this book is a sequel to an earlier work of Magrs’s, The Story of Fester Cat. Largely autobiographical (though not through his own eyes), it traces the events surrounding himself and his partner Jeremy adopting — or perhaps being adopted by — a near-toothless old stray. Fester is critical but loving of his caretakers, retains some degree of contact with his fellow neighbourhood cats, and meows with a signature ‘Ungow!’ The reason for the book being written in the first place, however, becomes evident early on: it was penned in the wake of Fester’s death, and is in truth something of a eulogy. Fester’s story, as Magrs said, wanted to be told, and told it was.
But Fester had another book in him, it seems, when the two decided to adopt a new cat. Enter Bernard Socks: larger, louder, and speedier than his predecessor, and with many things to learn. Welcome Home, Bernard Socks is written once again from Fester’s point of view, as he attempts to coach Socks in how to look after the boys in his absence. There are some bumps along the way, of course — the new kid isn’t quite as inclined at first to sit still for belly rubs and costume dramas as his predecessor was — but he soon becomes an integral part of their home under the tutelage of Fester Cat.
As with The Story of Fester Cat, the book steps outside the autobiographical into the cats’ private lives. Where before we got a glimpse into the society of strays and semi-strays and house cats, we now join Fester for his first Midsummer Night on the other side… which is also quite a night out for Socks. One might fear that a book from this point of view could get a bit heavily Rainbow Bridge-y (something I as a long-time guinea pig owner weary of whenever I have to say good-bye). While there’s definitely solace and comfort to be found for pet owners, it never truly skirts the edge of twee or soppy. Fester’s afterlife is one of comfortable routine mixed with loving frustration, where he can watch and critique his boys with a keener eye. He is quick to remind the reader that he’s not off playing in Cat Heaven, he’s napping on his favourite plank or teaching Socks how to go about the household’s morning routine.
Make no mistake, though: neither this book nor the one before is anything like All Cats All the Time (though one would hardly mind that with this pair). Fester is also the lens through which we view the author and his partner, and quite candidly more often than not. We see their work worries, their quarrels, their stress. We see how they deal with anger at the world and at each other. But we also see the quiet days of reading and writing and Facebooking and holidaying. We learn about the author’s writing process from someone who isn’t entirely sure how this whole ‘writing’ thing works but enjoys seeing it happen. As wonderful and lovable as the quintessentially cat-ful passages are, there’s something especially engaging about the honesty of the genuinely autobiographical sections — perhaps, truly, a level of honesty that would only ever be permissible coming from our pets.
One doesn’t have to be a cat owner — perhaps not even a pet owner — to come away with something from this. Those of us who have pets, who have wondered about the odd little looks they give us and the levels of understanding they seem to possess, can easily see ourselves in the owners who, bless them, just don’t know what they need nearly as much as the family pet does. But there’s so much humanity to be witnessed, too, at its highest and lowest points. It’s a delight to have Fester back to walk us through it all.
Welcome Home, Bernard Socks is now available for preorder from Obverse Books, and will be published on 5 December 2015.(Re)Generation Who is a 3 day Doctor Who convention in Hunt Valley, MD this March 18-20, 2016.
Guests include 5th Doctor: Peter Davison, 6th Doctor: Colin Baker, Professor Albert Smithe (“Last Christmas”): Michael Troughton, 6th Doctor’s Companion Peri: Nicola Bryant, 2nd Doctor’s Companion Jamie: Frazer Hines, 7th Doctor Companion Ace: Sophie (Aldred) Henderson, Voice of Daleks, Cybermen, and More: Nick Briggs, Davros: Terry Molloy, 2nd Doctor’s Companion Victoria: Deborah Watling, and many more.
Tickets are $75 in advance and $85 at door for adults and $20 for children. Click here to get more info. This event is likely to sell out so you really should register now and book your room.