'How about we celebrate your publication day with tea at one of London's cat cafes?' my lovely editor Emily suggested during the lead-up to the launch of Oliver, the Cat Who Saved Christmas.
I frowned in puzzlement as I read her email. Tea sounded good - tea is one of the things that always sounds good to me! But what on earth was all this about a cat cafe? As a cat lover, and having so recently finished working on one of the most enjoyable stories I'd ever written, that sounded good too, but I couldn't quite envisage what it entailed. So of course, I promptly Googled it - and up came this link: www.ladydinahs.com
Of course, as soon as I saw the adorable pictures on the website, that was it. I emailed Emily back to say it was a great idea, and very appropriate for my publication day celebration!
'Good. I'll invite Juliet too,' she responded. 'Lady Dinah's is actually the one I had in mind.'
Juliet is my agent, and also fortunately a cat lover, and was just as surprised and excited by the idea of the Cat Emporium as I was. High Tea at the Cat Cafe. (Why does that sound so much like the title of a cowboy film?!)
And so the date and time were booked, marked in red in my diary, and I got back to the important task of the pre-publicity promotion for Oliver. As all authors know, this is an essential but time-consuming part of the job, and one which can't be skipped or skimmed these days, when every book has so many competing titles whose authors and publishers are busy doing the same thing. But the thought of the approaching publication date and High Tea at the Cat Cafe was keeping me going, the circled date in my diary urging me onward like a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel.
And then, four days before the date, I couldn't move. If that sounds a little dramatic, believe me, the words don't come anywhere near doing justice to the state I was in that morning. My back, which had been 'niggling' with pain on and off for a few weeks, had become much worse the previous evening and I'd spent nearly all night awake, trying to get into a position that was less painful. By morning I was almost climbing the walls, groaning and sweating in agony. Anyone who's ever had disc problems in their back will now be wincing in sympathy. The inflammation from the ruptured disc was sending shock waves of white hot pain down my sciatic nerve, from buttock to toe. What made it worse was that I'd been in this situation five years previously, and the pain in my leg had lasted for nearly a year, despite all manner of analgesic options. I was terrified that this would happen again - and I realise now that the fear was making my muscles seize up, intensifying the whole thing. It was so awful, my husband called our GP and asked her to come out.
I have to say right here - I have a wonderful GP. She not only turned up, knelt by my bedside and commiserated very sympathetically with my plight, she also told me quite firmly what I needed to be told, and wouldn't listen to from anyone else: whether I liked it or not, I had to take strong drugs. I don't like it, because they usually upset my stomach badly. But there was no alternative. As well as strong anti-inflammatory painkillers, she also prescribed Diazepam to relax the muscles which had gone into spasm. I must have been almost delirious at this point, because looking back I can't believe I was even thinking about it, but before she left, I asked her in a pathetic pitiful voice:
'But will I be able to go to the Cat Cafe?'!
How ridiculous. A woman in such pain she can't move from the bed, talking about a Cat Cafe! Most doctors would probably have dismissed it as the ramblings of a bedridden old fool. But my lovely GP put her head on one side, considering it carefully, counting the days till The Day, and nodded thoughtfully.
'If you take the drugs properly, I think you might be up and about by then.'
'Really?' It was more than I'd dared to hope for, and I couldn't quite believe it. But it gave me what I needed most at that point - a flicker of hope that this wasn't going to go on for a whole year again.
Two days later, the drugs were doing their work. I was up, moving around slowly and carefully, treating myself like a piece of delicate china. Should I call Emily and warn her that there was a possibility I might not make our date? No - that was negative thinking. I started planning my journey. My husband would drive me to the station. I'd allow myself loads of time to manoevre the steps, and make sure I got a seat on the train. I'd get a taxi at the other end rather than walking, and be careful to start heading back before the rush hour. By the day before publication, I'd made up my mind. I was going to make it. Cats, here I come!
Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium. If you didn't know it was there, and you passed it in the street, you'd be intrigued straight away, wouldn't you. It's on the main road in Shoreditch, East London, and don't even think about taking a chance on getting a table for High Tea if you haven't booked - it's so popular. As soon as you go into the reception area you know this is something special. All sorts of cat memorabilia is on sale for a start, and when you're shown through to the next room, you're asked to wash your hands and told a couple of house rules.
You mustn't wake me!
The cats mustn't be picked up - they can of course be petted, but not if they're asleep or eating. To any cat lover, this is pretty much common sense anyway unless you want your hand bitten!
Lady Dinah's is a very responsibly run cat cafe where the cats are allowed to behave naturally, not encouraged to interact with humans in an unnatural way or against their wishes, so for instance, nobody is allowed to feed them titbits from the table. If they don't want to play with you, you just have to watch them doing their own thing.
And so we were shown through into the cafe area, which has two floors, both strewn with cat beds, cat toys, tunnels, scratching posts, multi-tiered platforms - and if you're lucky, an assortment of up to a dozen beautiful cats awake and wandering around the tables. Of course, several were sound asleep for the whole of our visit - that's the chance you have to take, given that cats spend such a great proportion of their lives sleeping! And all the cats at Lady Dinah's are so used to strange humans coming into their territory every day, they aren't the least bit bothered by us. But a couple of them were kind enough to show us some interest - and this one (below) was a particularly discriminating cat who knew a good book when he saw one being advertised!
Hmm. Must add this title to my cat-alogue!
This one didn't show so much interest in the book ...........
... in fact I think we can surmise that fiction isn't his thing!
And then there was the tea! Well, that was amazing. First a glass of sparkling elderflower drink, and some nibbles as an appetiser - I loved the hummus - and then a cake stand with all three layers full of gorgeous tempting muffins, scones, carrot cake, cupcakes, brownies - what a selection. My mouth was watering so much it was hard to choose. But we needn't have worried; when we were too full to force down another crumb, the staff brought us boxes so that we could share out the remaining cakes to take home.
When I told our server what the occasion was (never being one to pass up a good PR opportunity!), she was very interested, and happy to take some of my promotional cards for Oliver to display at the cafe. It was a great opportunity for Emily, Juliet and I to have a chat about reactions to the book so far, and future plans. The time passed so quickly I was slightly alarmed to realise that if I needed to be back at Liverpool Street station before the trains started to fill up with rush hour commuters, I'd have to get a taxi quickly. It was such a shame to say goodbye to each other, and to the cats of course, in a bit of a rush - but we'd had a really good time and were three very happy cat loving book lovers.
Looking back, perhaps it was a risky thing to do so soon after such a severe problem with my back, but thank goodness, I didn't suffer any deterioration, and my progress since has been slow but steady. I won't be getting down on the floor to play with any cats (or grandchildren) any time soon, but I've been able to continue with my writing work and my promotional activities, including a radio broadcast, with a library event still to come this Saturday. So I'm feeling optimistic. And I know that however many more books I'm lucky enough to have published, I'll always look back on the publication day of Oliver, the Cat who Saved Christmas with a smile on my face. Thank you again, Emily, and Ebury Publishing, for our High Tea at the Cat Cafe!