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Moonlit feline frolic which put puss in books

By Toby Neal | Features | Published:

Years ago, while living in the shadow of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, Marilyn Crowther saw a group of feral kittens frolicking by moonlight in her garden.

She adopted them and went on to become involved in cat rescue. It was to change her life.

Back in Britain, she was to build up a collection of cat-related ephemera and antiquarian books which have proven the groundwork for her new book – "Poor Puss – A Social History of English Cats."

It charts the progress of the English cat from medieval persecuted pariah to beloved modern pet. A donation from each sale is going to Cats Protection.

The book also has an extra personal dimension for the widowed Marilyn.

"My husband, whose initial suggestion it was for a collaboration on a first social history ever to be written about cats, left me a legacy – the book and all that goes with it that changed my life," she says.

It was during her five years living in Jamaica that she got to know and love cats through her cat rescue activities and, as a spin-off, became interested in cat history.

She and husband Kenneth returned to the Dudley area and both had jobs in communications. In retirement she began to write freelance articles for leading cat magazines.

"Together we began to research and collect every kind of cat memorabilia. So the book ‘Poor Puss’ was begun."

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It became a pleasurable hobby, with Marilyn researching early newspapers and magazines at the Birmingham reference library, while Kenneth did hands-on research through museums and university archives.

Sadly her husband died in 2005. She completed the book, but was unable to find a trade house publisher.

"My agent Caroline Davidson urged me to rewrite it for a popular audience, so I finally gave 'Poor Puss' a new ‘voice’ and I continued over the years to research, write in extra material and collect images.

"I felt I had a loving duty to my husband to see it through to the end because I had promised him I would. And I did, with the professional support and generous help of my publishers YouCaxton who designed and produced a beautiful book for me."

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Marilyn, who has lived at her current Dudley address for nearly 50 years, said: "I now have only one cat, Pippin, a moggy rescue from a local shelter. I have had other rescues such as Muffin who led the way high-stepping along the Close most evenings with husband following, gin and tonic in right hand, cigarette in left hand. They made an eccentric pair."

Her maiden name is Williams, and her father was an officer in the Great War serving on submarines, who returned to settle the family at Holly Hall, near Dudley, where he ran a haulage and motor engineering business.

Young Marilyn attended Dudley High School for Girls and then did a foundation course in art at what was then Dudley School of Art.

"Poor Puss" is published by Shropshire-based publishers YouCaxton and costs £18.50 paperback, £27.50 hardback. It is available from www.youcaxton.co.uk/poorpuss and through Amazon.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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