The Making of Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea

How did Valerie Martin (my aunt) and I make it happen?  Here's the story ... 


Val and Lisa

Val and Lisa

T. J. and Albert

T. J. and Albert

Jack

Jack

The brothers

The brothers

A very early watercolor by Valerie of the cat brothers.

A very early watercolor by Valerie of the cat brothers.

I like to write children's poetry (and even have a little poem published in Ladybug magazine), and Valerie has written more than a dozen novels for adults.  So we decided to collaborate on a book for young people, and when deciding what to write about, we of course thought about our favorite things.  We both had cats (Albert and T.J. for me, Jack for her), and we considered cats to be clever, independent and interesting.  My sons at the time were 8 and 10 years old, competitive but friendly the way brothers are.  So there we were with the idea of cat brothers.

Capt. Metcalf (Gramps to me)

Capt. Metcalf (Gramps to me)

When we thought about what the cat brothers should do, we were probably influenced by my grandfather (Valerie's father), Captain John Metcalf, who spent his life piloting enormous freight liners all over the world.  He had told us lots of stories about those times, and Valerie remembers a huge atlas where her mother would plot his travels when he was away.  We loved the idea of cats at sea, and what better time to have them at sea than during the heyday of the great sailing ships, or "tall ships" as they're called, in the 19th century.

More research (lots more) turned up fascinating details about all of the different kinds of tall ships, what they carried and which routes they took, the sailors who manned them and the ports they stopped in.  We decided the cats would live in Nova Scotia, in a lovely port town called Lunenburg right on the coast.  We'd read that cats had always been a big part of sailing life, and that they'd often be stolen from the docks and "impressed into service" on the ships to keep mice and rats away from the foodstuffs in the cargo.  If that happened to one of the brothers (particularly the one who did not care for the sea), then surely the other would have to try to rescue him, wouldn't he?

Cecil and Anton

Cecil and Anton

And so Anton and Cecil were off on their adventures.  While they were apart, Valerie and I wrote alternating chapters, each taking one of the brothers.  We were apart too, in New York and Virginia, but we got together as often as we could to plan what would happen next, and we Skyped quite a bit.  The names Anton and Cecil remind us of French-Acadian type names, which we liked because the Acadians from Nova Scotia eventually settled in Louisiana (and are now called "Cajuns"), and that's where we're both from.  We have a lot of ourselves and our family history woven into this story, even though it's from a whole different time in history.  Right after we wrote the first five pages, we said to each other, "We love these guys!"  And we still do.