As a reader I never used to pay much attention to dedications in books. It was likely to be the author’s wife, husband, children…maybe just a name, maybe a few words of appreciation.
Now, that I’m seeing my work in print, I do give these more consideration. With my first three published novels, I followed the usual pattern…Book 1, my wife, Book 2, my mother, Book 3, my best friend. Book 4, however, was different. It’s dedicated to a cat. I haven’t run out of close relatives or friends but there is a reason for this departure from the norm.
The Circle Dance is a lesbian romance but there is one very important male character, Stevie. He’s a black cat and very much loved by the couple he owns, Jamie and Sasha. However, when they split up, Sasha gets everything…new girlfriend, new house, and Stevie. Jamie has nothing and is attempting to rebuild her life in a different town living in rented accommodation, low-paid job, riding a bicycle to work (Sasha took the car as well).
As one of the other characters notes, Jamie would probably have coped better with the whole breakup trauma if she’d been able to keep Stevie. (SPOILER ALERT: Jamie and Stevie are reunited during the story.)
Anyway, back to the story behind the dedication for this book. I was standing in line at the GCLS 2015 conference waiting for the registration desk to open and someone said “Hello”. When I turned around I was face to face with Sandra Moran. I’d never met her before, only via Facebook, but there she was… the tallness, the hair, the smile…in person. Amazingly, she recognised me as well. After exchanging comments about the weather (she must have had some British genes), I offered my condolences for her cat Spencer who had died only a few weeks earlier. She was quite moved that a virtual stranger would have remembered Spencer but, like many other people, I was a “friend” of Spencer’s on Facebook and enjoyed the banter Sandra created between them.
What came out of my mouth next was a surprise to me as I hadn’t planned to say it. I told her that my latest novel, due to be published in early 2016, featured a black cat and that Spencer had been the inspiration for him. I went on to say that if she didn’t mind I would like to dedicate the book to Spencer.
Now, I’d only just met this woman and already caused emotional upset. Luckily, in a good way. Not only was she delighted with this idea, but she offered to let me use one of Spencer’s poems in the dedication.
When I talked to my publisher about this, they said that was fine as long as I obtained Sandra’s written permission to use the poem.
To make a long story longer, when I got back from New Orleans, I emailed Sandra to check she was still okay with this idea. She replied right away and sent me three poems so I could choose the one that I thought most suitable.
During our email correspondence I mentioned that the couple in the story had named their cat after Stevie Nicks, thinking he was female when they picked him up from the cat rescue place. She then told me that the same thing had happened with Spencer who spent the first month of his life with them being called Annie. (Another amazing connection – one of the characters in the book is called Annie.)
Anyway, I selected a poem and she duly sent me permission to “reprint Spencer’s truly awful poetry”.
This exchange of emails was in August 2015. Neither of us knew then that Sandra’s life would come to an abrupt end just over two months later. Whatever fates led me to that moment in New Orleans, I’m grateful that I had the chance to make that connection with Sandra, albeit briefly. The dedication in the book is as much for her as for Spencer. (And also for black cats everywhere.)
In doing some research for another book I read that in Norse mythology, Asgard, the home of the gods, is accessed by crossing the rainbow bridge. I like to think that both Sandra and Spencer made that crossing and are enjoying each other’s company again. Sandra will have introduced Thor and all the gods and goddesses to the art of moraning and Spencer will be free to continue writing “truly awful poetry”.
Note: My wife and I don’t have any pets as we’re both highly allergic. However, we have at times enjoyed the company of cats who have visited. As Sandra demonstrated with her photos of Spencer, black cats are quite difficult to photograph well. When we lived in London our neighbour’s cat, Sooty, was a regular visitor and I delved into our old photo albums to find these only two pictures we have of him.
Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy (still available on Kindle Unlimited):