Artist Melanie Brown, a regular of local artisans’ markets with her stones, shells and finely printed trinket boxes, has eventually realised in print her dream of illustrating her late mother Margaret’s modern fairytale: the story of a curious feline, inspired by their family cat Tiddles.
Melanie has been working on this project as a tribute to her mum, to whom she was very close, since her passing eleven years ago. However, Melanie put it on the back-burner for most of this time, occasionally adding new pictures, until she managed to self-publish it with CreateSpace just on time to make a nice present to cat persons of all ages.
With the subtitle ‘A Harrogate Adventure’, ‘Beyond the Flower Pots’ will catch your eye with its exquisite front cover, oh-so-British in the realistic depiction of the daffodils in the fore, the mischievous wink of the protagonist black cat, all balanced by purple and pink hydrangeas in the garden of sage-green foliage.
“The protagonist, Tiddles, was actually my mother’s black cat, who went missing and returned three weeks later,” Mel says. “My mum was very emotional during this disappearance, and overwhelmed once Tiddles was back home safe when hope was almost lost. So she felt she had to record the event for the whole family to remember it. The story was written between 2000 and 2004, and what started as a true story was embellished with make-believe adventures to engage her young readers’ imagination when retold.”
The escapade is set in Yorkshire, where Margaret lived at the time of the incident, and so Melanie’s illustrations are bathed in traditional countryside light, with vibrant garden flowers contrasting against steely skies, stone and brickwork cityscapes dotted by pointy steeples.
“My favourite medium is gouache, which allows for vibrancy and versatility,” she says about her illustrations, developed on a larger scale than the miniature-like artistic souvenirs she made herself known in Gibraltar for. “It is quite long for being a children’s book, so it can be enjoyed over some time, adventure after adventure.” There are forty-six pages featuring twelve illustrations, all Melanie’s hand-painted originals which she treasures at her home in Teulada, Costa Blanca, where she recently moved after having spent a few years in Gibraltar with her son.
“I can’t tell you too much about the plot, or it will spoil it for my readers, but what I can tell you is that Tiddles is a typical apartment cat who lives a cushy carefree life until one day she gets tempted to explore the world beyond the comfort of her little garden. She meets a streetwise white fluffy cat and they become the best of friends. It’s all going-to-town fun and games until Tiddles finds herself alone and hungry in a dark and cold unknown place.”
Leafing through the book, the reader will spot Tiddles longingly gazing at the mysterious city beyond the wrought-iron gates, cascading with morning glory and other colourful creepers in full bloom. Attention to detail is always a must in Melanie’s artwork, in the sapient stroke used to deliver the pink fuchsias growing in the terracotta pot to the left, the green watering can – almost a cliché for any self-respecting British backyard – and even the pigeon, beckoning from the top of a bright yellow tree.
Turn the page and you will stare directly in Tiddles’ amber eyes in an emotional close-up that expresses the love that Melanie remembers her mother feel for, and lavish on, her lucky cat, here depicted while being stroked by a passer-by, trying to shelter her from the rain. Turn another page and it’s spring in the park again, where Tiddles and her new white friend are being playful with trees and ponds, on the background of grass dotted with yellow and blue flowers, green and coppery leaves, and the flight of two magpies. Again we feel the British touch that tells us how much Melanie misses her hometown, and her mother to share it with.
As the story unfolds, Tiddles makes a close encounter with a cute white Scottish terrier: stylistically, this picture features the lovely contrast between black and white lively represented in the cat-dog dynamism, complemented by the ever-present bright green and the detailed brickwork in the fore, highlighted by immaculate white grout.
The terrier is a nod to Melanie’s parents’ homeland: “Mum was Scottish and came from Glasgow, like Dad. They grew up in the same town and had a wonderful marriage,” Melanie tells, as she reminisces about her childhood in Devon. “But the pictures I painted are inspired by Harrogate, where my parents ended up, and the Tiddles incident took place.”
Margaret had a full professional life starting out as a ballerina in the Scottish ballet, a dream shattered by a bad car crash. This experience motivated to become a physiotherapist, before answering again the call of the performing arts and landing a stage designer job. After having Melanie and her brother, she became an acclaimed chef and upon retirement, she returned to her first love, ballet, to make and dress porcelain dolls and memorabilia for various ballet companies.
‘Beyond the Flower Pots’ is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, for just £9.50, a reasonable indeed price for a full-colour 8×10-inch paperback.