Book brings to life the street cats of Cyprus

This is a kids’ book that falls into the same category as Harry Potter, The Twits, and The Just So Stories: written for children but appealing to all ages… Vibrant watercolours leap from the page. The flowing prose is sprinkled with wondrous words. Put the two together, and what you’ve got is possibly the most delicious storybook ever to come out of Cyprus: a captivating set of tales, entitled The Amazing Adventures of the Malekidi Moggies.

The idea for the book came, initially, from its illustrator Katie Sabry, who lives on Malekidi Street in Limassol with her four titular cats. “I had this story in my head – a story about my own cats finding a magic carpet and travelling round Cyprus. But I’m an artist,” she smiles, “not a writer…”

Enter Valerie Knight, writer and copy editor, whose imagination brought the stories to life. “A little over four years ago,” she explains, “Katie asked whether I might like to write a few short pieces about her four cats to encourage her grandson” – who lives in Britain, but loves visiting Katie and her cats – “to read. I readily agreed and knocked out a few introductory pages.”

Having rented a room from Katie on her arrival in Cyprus, Valerie was already familiar with the four felines. “It just so happened that my very first meeting with Katie coincided, to the day, with the arrival in her life of a tiny but very determined little kitten who quickly took over the household. In those first weeks, he would sleep on my pillow in the guest room…”

That little kitten grew up to become Winnie, the most adventurous and reckless of the Malekidi Moggies who, according to the story, “thought the whole world had been created just for his personal amusement.” The catalyst for the cats’ literary escapades, it’s Winnie who discovers the magic carpet and leads his three feline friends (Loulou, “a wise and dignified gentleman with green eyes that looked deep into your heart and understood all your secrets and worries”; Hissie, “anxious and nervous about everything, from loud noises to dust on her pearl-grey coat”; and Sylvester, “extremely courageous and eager to Have A Go”) on all sorts of adventures…

Originally, of course, it was just a few stories. But as the ideas flowed, an entire book was the natural progression. “In fact,” says Valerie, “it was the cats themselves who made that decision! By the time I’d completed the first couple of mini-stories, the characters had taken over. They started doing extraordinary things, many of which took me completely by surprise, and I realised they were demanding to be part of a Proper Book. I simply surrendered to their will and allowed the story to unfold.”

With Katie working on a set of illustrations, Valerie set about describing the cats’ many adventures, exploits which see the four moggies outwitting kidnappers, rescuing turtles, befriending dragons, fighting alongside Richard the Lionheart, and meeting Queen Berengaria…

And what we get is the storybook you always dreamt of as a child: talking pets, enchanting adventures, and – most importantly – the joy of reading about places you actually know! We visit Molos, Limassol Castle, and Curium. We head up the hills to Lania (“with its little cobbled lanes where lots of artists paint beautiful paintings”) and Kakopetria (“the perfect place for a relaxing lunch with its apple, pear, plum and peach trees”). We cross the Mesaoria Plain (the mesas, it transpires, are actually sleeping dragons) and explore the abandoned International Airport, “a ghost town of old rusting aeroplanes and crumbling runways.”

We find out why Lady’s Mile is so-called; learn about the Monastery of St Nicholas of the Cats, and spend Christmas at sea with fishermen Panos, Yianos, and Phanos – and a big bottle of Cyprus brandy! And en route we play Miaow Jong, and meet a cast of charismatic characters: Minnie the Mouser, Plug the sea cat, and Mog Dahl (who talks of Himalayan cat gods with three head and dozens of arms, and eventually disappears up a coil of rope). Even Valerie’s own, real-life cat, the one-eyed Chloe Cuddlebucket, makes an appearance – kidnapped by the Cattiosi!

“I’ve always had a close affinity with animals, especially cats,” the author reveals. “Wherever I’ve lived and whatever I have been doing, there have always been cats close at hand; we just seem to gravitate towards each other! Everything – and I do mean Everything – feels better when there is a cat around the place.”

Felines are certainly a common theme in Valerie’s books: she’s already published a light-hearted but useful self-help manual narrated by straight-talking moggy Cyclopea, entitled The Art of Purrsistence and Other Life Lessons I Learnt From My Cat, as well as a book of Be-Catitudes for adults. And there’s a children’s book, The Cat For All Seasons, The Cat For All Reasons, on its way. But, for the moment, it’s the tales of the Malekidi Moggies which is taking centre stage. “And, judging from the responses of both children and adults who have read the book, it has a wide appeal,” Valerie acknowledges with a smile.

Designed for any good reader from the age of nine, and an excellent read-aloud for younger children, The Amazing Adventures of the Malekidi Moggies is ideal for young families. Or even better, as a treat for yourself; you certainly don’t have to be a cat-lover to appreciate the vivid illustrations and gentle humour – this is a gem of a book, a Cyprus classic in the making, and perfect for all!

The Amazing Adventures of the Malekidi Moggies by Valerie Knight, illustrated by Katie Sabry, is available at Kyriakou Bookshops, the Moufflon Bookshop, and directly from the authors (call 99 571139 or email katiecolours@yahoo.com). Copies can be personally dedicated at no extra cost

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