Cathy Gunn was a financial journalist and editor before turning to fiction. Scottish by descent, she was born in Tanzania and grew up in Nigeria, Scotland and parts of England before settling into multicultural London. Felix Unbound is her first novel, completed during the pandemic, 30-plus years after the idea first came to her! It developed in stages during her busy career as a journalist for a variety of UK national newspapers and magazines, plus writing non-fiction books about what underlay some big business scandals.
Felix Unbound is available online and in all good bookshops in paperback and ebook: http://www.cathygunn.co.uk/
1. Pictish ancestors of clan Gunn – right at the top of Scotland, over 4,000 miles north of cat-venerating ancient Egypt – are also reported to have been cat-worshippers. Perhaps that habit’s still trickling through the diffuse bloodline, for I’ve always liked cats, and been fascinated by the cat-worshipping traditions, myths and legends of Ancient Egypt. I’d travelled through Egypt’s Suez Canal as a toddler before I’d ever been to my own ancestral land. Perhaps that childhood adventure, largely lost in time, seeded ideas of Egypt that my fertile imagination would later hybridise and bear written fruit as my magical-realist novel Felix Unbound.
2. I was already a journalist, with the usual vague ambition to write a novel some day, when a friend joked that my cat – a confident tabby with extra attitude – would make a challenging human being. I knew immediately that here was a story I’d have such fun exploring and developing. I love a tale about the life-altering effects of an unexpected and charismatic newcomer, on a close-knit group of friends and family. First, I needed a persuasive way to turn a cat into a man. He’d have to be far more than a transmogrified ‘moggy’ working out how to play human. Ancient Egypt’s myths and magic whispered ‘work with us’; and Mau the divine cat present at the dawn of creation and older even than most of the gods, stirred in his sleep – or mine.
3. I’m very curious about theories of how time works – is it linear, circular, porous? My cat-turned-human would take shape through the medium of Egypt’s mythic past leaching into the modern world, causing echoes of still-unsettled, family business; and perhaps not for the first time. I took a hint here from the storyline of the opera Akhenaten by Philip Glass, which ends with a drama of the past seeping through the veil of time, to makes itself sensed in the present. For Felix Unbound, something had to provoke the ancients into allowing this risky breach. Cue my heroine Tiffany – temperamental great-granddaughter of an Egyptologist and a picaresque younger wife – and the statuettes of ancient gods they’d unearthed and Tiffany has inherited, along with something else, perhaps, in her bloodline. Now I had the cat, the catalyst, and a storm of ideas to work with.
4. I had already been back to Egypt in adulthood to visit the archaeology, and been entranced by the beauty, changing light and colours of the Nile with the pink-hued Valley of the Kings beyond its green borders – and Tutankhamun’s tomb amongst the many cut deep into the rock. I’d wandered through the old Cairo museum, been allowed deep within one of the pyramids, stalked the Sphinx; experienced the vast magic of Luxor, the strange atmosphere of the double temple of the crocodile gods at Kom Ombo; and like my character, architect Anthony, admired the almost modern-looking lines of Hapshepsut’s 3,500 year old mortuary temple. The list goes on and is long. Like Iris, too – in a magical Cairo shop – I’d bought heady and long-lasting perfumes conjured from natural plant oils, to carry back.
5. In London and Europe I visited exhibitions about Egypt, re-read many of its myths, and chunks of The Book of the Dead – whose 3,000 years-worth of spells to guide Egyptians safely into the afterlife, gave plenty of leeway for the occasional incantation that my character Tiffany would accidentally deliver.
6. My research was overkill, yielding far more ideas that I could weave into the supporting fabric of the book, but I loved it. As I researched the stories and myth of Osiris, and his sister Isis, I also made sketches of their family trees – taken from the various accounts of the Egyptian panoply of gods – and then echoed them in four generations in the family trees I gave to Tiffany, and her cousin Emma. I’ll leave it to the engaged reader to spot which even briefly-mentioned ancestors, mirror whom. Felix needed to concoct a fake tree for his human life – he needs some proof of ancestry to function in this world, acquire ID, open a bank account, and perhaps gain a passport. Meanwhile, Felix’s natural heritage is ravelling its way into everyone’s lives, and changing them. There is more than one race again time going on.
7. Ancient Egyptian art and skilful tomb paintings are famous deep into our times, giving a direct and tangible route straight into the ancient past. It seemed natural that Felix would channel some remarkable artistic skills into our 21st century that could provide him with a modern career – and ways to try to anchor himself as he gradually recalls what he is. Felix is on a different path to those now around him, and time is running away for him. Traps are crowding in. He’ll need his own leap of imagination, and Mau’s feline cunning, to keep going.