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A Cat Called DogA Cat Called Dog

Jem Vanston

  • The Real World
  • Literary/Contemporary

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Why I wrote this book

In short, I wrote the sort of cat book I wanted to read – a funny, witty novel full of arch humour and memorably comic characters. It is not a children’s book (though could easily become one with a few changes) – it is a fable, with deep subtexts there for those who want to see them.

There are also lots of in-jokes about teaching and learning, identity, the class system, philosophy and politics: the whole book is a satire on human nature really. Most of all, however, I wanted this book to be good fun – a really enjoyable read, with great characters and funny situations.

Lots of commentators say I have captured the aloof character of cats perfectly, which is great to hear! Many of the cats in this book are based those we have owned, or are combinations of them, which is probably a reason for its accuracy – though it’s not meant to be documentary social realism so I have used poetic licence whenever I thought it justified.

Some people also say to me that the cat characters remind them of people they know or have known, or TV characters such as Captain Manwaring (George), Eric Idle (Eric), Poirot (Francois), and so are more like people than cats. I am happy to allow any interpretations!

I first had the idea for this book 4 or 5 years ago, and wrote it in my head over that time before putting pen to paper in the summer of 2012. The first 50,000 word draft took only 27 days, though I took 6 months to revise and polish it.

My aim was always to write a book about cats which didn’t indulge in the sort of schmaltzy and cringe-making sentimentality so common in both fiction and non-fiction books about pets – and some very popular ones too. I also wanted to ensure this book was well-written, and lyrical when needs be, with pathos and bathos aplenty, especially when Eric ‘does a smell’! I have always seen A Cat Called Dog as a very original book, which some may struggle to categorise, but also a very commercial one.

Everything I write is comedy in the end, like life, so I wanted A Cat Called Dog to be funny, full of both puns and dark ironic humour, and so to have real depth and empathy. I wanted a story that was simple but which worked on several levels, which could be read as a tale of cats in a garden, or as something deeper. I leave it to readers to decide how they will read it!

I hope A Cat Called Dog is a funny, witty and entertaining novel that will appeal to both cat lovers and a wider readership. I believe it’s pretty original too – I have certainly never read another cat book like it.

All cat lovers who read A Cat Called Dog will be able to tell how well I know cats, having shared my life with them on and off since I was a boy of 7 or 8. The book is dedicated to all the cats we have owned, including the two rescue cats, Honey and Bumble, that I am slave to at the moment!

I find cats endlessly fascinating and much prefer them to people actually: they are more honest, certainly, and often have better breath (even if it can be a little fishy!)

I have great faith in A Cat Called Dog and the characters therein and hope to write a sequel, and also to adapt it into a children’s book for 7-11 year olds, along the lines of a Roald Dahl book. Many readers have got in touch to ask about both, and tell me they can’t wait to read more about A Cat Called Dog and his fellow cats, and all their further adventures – or maybe even to watch them on TV!

I keenly await agent and publisher interest: I shall certainly need backing if I am to develop this to its full potential.

The author compares his writing to James Bowen; Tom Cox; Roald Dahl.


A Cat Called Dog is a charming, witty and entertaining novel for cat lovers everywhere Dog is a cat - the only problem is that he doesn't behave like one! Instead he wags his tail, sticks out his tongue and yaps in a manner which is distinctly puppyish. Something has to be done; the pride of cats is at stake! Against his better instincts, George, an old ginger tom, reluctantly decides to take on the enormous task of teaching the confused kitten how to behave like a proper cat. In the company of the cheeky Eric, the mysterious and exotic Francois and the elegant Miss Fifi, George commences his teaching of the cat curriculum, including lessons on the feline 'Holy Trinity': eating, sleeping and washing. But things do not go smoothly. Maybe Dog will find it impossible to change and unlearn all his bad habits? Soon the cats face a more pressing threat, and one that could change their lives forever. The cats' adventures are touching, sweet and fun, and the dialogue is as wonderfully arch and droll as the memorable cat characters themselves. Issues of identity, loyalty, betrayal, trust and friendship predominate in this mild satire on human nature, making it a bit like Animal Farm - with cats!


Jill Murphy - Bookbag

Cats are not dogs. And dogs are not cats. Even two-legs know that. But Dog was a cat, because that was his name: he was a cat - a cat called Dog - and he was happy with that too. Confused? Don't be. Dog may be happy but he is the confused one, not you. He is a cat. He is a cat. But he's called Dog because he behaves like one. He pokes his tongue out like a puppy. When he gets excited, he wags his tail like a puppy. And, horror of horrors, he even yaps and barks like a puppy. This kitten-cat is only one summer old, so perhaps it's not too late. Perhaps, if he were to find a tutor, he could learn to be a proper cat. A cat who understands the feline holy trinity of eating, sleeping and washing. A cat who understands his importance to two-legs. A cat who can proudly take his place among the others of the best species in the world.

And, luckily for Dog, he finds just such a tutor in George, a ginger tom of advancing years, who knows all there is to know about cathood. George undertakes to give Dog the education he so desperately needs. And so George begins his lessons, aided by the cheeky stray Eric, the well-travelled Francois and the sleek and beautiful Miss Fifi, But before Dog can graduate, a terrible disaster occurs. George's two-legs, The Lady, gets an unsuitable boyfriend. A thoroughly bad lot and a cat-hater to boot. She must be rescued from his clutches. And our band of felines set out to do just that...

Oh, awww. This is a story for cat-lovers everywhere. It's full of funny and accurate details that will strike a chord with any cat owner. From the way our furry friends are fussy about their food and their studious ignoring of anything they don't like to the sixteen hours a day they spend snoozing, you will recognise George and his friends immediately. Despite his confusion, you'll even recognise Dog as he rushes about in his kittenish excitement. And I defy you not to smile. It's just lovely.

The subplot about the nasty boyfriend is also highly amusing, with lots of slapstick daftery and a silly two-legs, who just doesn't know what is good for her. Well, we're all daft about our love lives, aren't we? We should all wish we have a George and a Dog and an Eric et al, who will dare anything - even dogs - to save us from ourselves.

If I were pushed to criticise, I might say that A Cat Called Dog occasionally lapses into some awkward dialogue. But dialogue is notoriously difficult even when you're writing it for humans. And it's really only occasionally. So we'll move swiftly on from the nitpick. This is a lovely, sweet, heartwarming book. It will make you happy to read it, regardless of whether you're a cat person or a dog person, or even neither. And in these financially-straitened times, what more could you want? I'd like to read about any further adventures Dog and friends may have - and I'm sure they'll have many. Fingers crossed Jem Vanston will get his writing wheels rolling.

“There’s no use cutting off your tail to spite your bottom.”

I read this entire short novel with my mouth set in a permanent smile. I bet I looked like a freak, grinning like the village idiot; but trust me when I tell you it’s nearly impossible to read this cute little story without smiling the whole time or laughing out loud at the snark and puns so generously sprinkled throughout A Cat Called Dog. The title alone had me grinning!

Two things I noticed right away. The first is that it’s very much written in the fashion of Roald Dahl’s books, and secondly, for some strange reason I had Neil Gaiman narrating the story for me in my head. Go figure!

“A cat must behave like a cat, not like a dog-it is the way things are. And the way to achieve a change, and to help this kitten become a cat, is education.”

“Being un-heducated never done me no ‘arm”, muttered Eric.

“That’s a matter of opinion,” said George-rather cattily, Dog thought.

The characters each have their own distinct personalities, quirks and traits, and easily made their way into my heart. From George the sophisticated old ginger tom, Francois the well-traveled, refined tabby with a French accent, Eric the “un-heducated” stray, to a she-cat called Fifi. With their personalities at opposite ends of the spectrum, the laughs just kept coming. And, of course, the star of the show: Dog – a little kitten-cat who wags his tail when he’s happy, pokes his tongue out puppy-fashion, and whose brave is much bigger than he is. Together, this ragtag group of felines sets about to save the day, and in the process become the best of friends.

A Cat Called Dog is a delightfully charming read suitable for both cat- and dog lovers of all ages. It also makes for a wonderful bedtime story for younger readers. For the novice cat-person, this book can serve as a guide jam-packed with interesting cat facts and tidbits, albeit in the form of an entertaining story. I highly recommend this novel for anyone looking for an uplifting read that will brighten up their day and leave them with a different perspective on people (or two-legs, as humans are referred to in this little gem) and life in general, through the eyes of a feline. Though the story itself merits a four-star rating only, the author’s knowledge of cat behavior ups the aforementioned rating to a well-deserved five stars, which makes this a definite must-read!

Maria Fitzgerald, Catworld magazine

(not available online without subscription)

I found myself laughing out loud at some of Dog’s antics and his character reminded me very much of a young child caught up with the excitement of life.

There are adventures, wonderful characters to meet on the way and also unexpected sadness – very much like true life really. I read many books and thoroughly enjoyed this one.

About the Author

Jem Vanston Jem Vanston (who also writes as PJ Vanston) was born and brought up in Kent, but now lives in Swansea with his two rescue cats, Honey and Bumble. He is a teacher, freelance journalist and also runs his own online editing agency.

Book info

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240 pages


Jem Vanston


Matador an imprint of Troubador Publishing

Publication date

11th July 2013