Background Where did you get the idea for Furnia from? We have three cats at the moment. One morning, a few years ago when my wife and I were getting up, the storage drawer under our bed was partly open and Lauren (the younger of our two female cats) hopped inside and disappeared. I made a joke along the lines of “perhaps she’s off to visit the cat version of Narnia.” That was all it took for the idea to be born.
When did you decide to write a story about Furnia? It was in 2020. Covid had just arrived and I needed something to do in lockdown. I also had two hip replacement operations that year, so anything I could do while seated seemed like a good idea. As I built the story up, I would read the dialogue aloud, because I find this is the best way to write natural sounding dialogue. When it reached the stage of producing something suitable to give to my grandchildren, the audiobook option seemed the easiest route to follow.
Lauren as a kitten hiding under the quilt
Was there a real Simon? Simon was a real cat when I was a boy in North London and the first cat my family had ever had. He was ginger, stripey and came from in petshop in Muswell Hill not far from where we lived. My dad went out alone one Saturday morning and came back with Simon in a cardboard box as a special surprise. In the story, as part of creating Simon’s character, I decided that he would be from Finsbury Park. Sadly, there are no photographs of the original Simon.
Who is the female author referred to in “Furnia- Fugue”? Beatrix Potter. Her first book came together in 1900 (ie fifty years exactly before I was born) but was not published until 1902. The countryside of the Furnia visited in my stories is also similar to the English Lake District.
What is your background? I was born in 1950 in North London. After school I went to Bristol University to study Physics after which I became an engineering manager in the organisation now known as BT. I moved south of the river in 1973 where I have lived ever since. I married in 1978 and with my first wife I had three sons, all of whom were born in the 1980s. I took early retirement from BT in 2001 and immediately started work in the NHS where I met the lady who became my second wife in 2006. My five grandchildren arrived between 2007 and 2018 - it’s because of them that I decided to write about Furnia.
Have you done any other creative writing? I started work on my first novel “Bertie” in the year 2000. Progress was slow. I submitted it for publication a number of times without success. My second novel was also started in 2000 but was shelved for many years until Bertie was completed. It was also eventually finished and submitted for publication without success but now needs an update. A third novel “Bubble” is partially complete and I am currently reworking it as a children’s novel. There are also two more Furnia stories in the pipeline. Of course I also had to write a lot of stuff during my BT career. While in my short NHS career I wrote an article about endoscopy services which made it to the front page of the staff magazine “Grapevine.” As part of my hobby of amateur radio, I used to write for and edit the monthly newsletter of the Coulsdon Amateur Transmitting Society (CATS) and have 71 issues to my credit.
Where do you get your ideas from? Sometimes, it’s a chance event, such as how I came to write about Furnia. On other occasions I just sit quietly, try to clear my mind and ask myself, for example, “is there something weird about (say) Croydon, and why it was the site of London’s first airport and why it is possible to drive under the Whitgift Centre in real life?” This led me eventually to the Bertie story mentioned above.
Do you have any other writing projects in the pipeline? Apart from the projects listed above, the only other - rather tenuous idea - is to write some short stories where the feline character Simon relates some stories suitable for very young children.
Are there any similarities between yourself and the character Stephen? At the time the story was set, I couldn’t swim, so that bit is true. However, I did learn when I was 12, and haven’t looked back since. I did like reading as a child, and still do, so that is also correct. What puzzles me is whether my real self, confronted by the opportunity to enter Furnia would have taken that opportunity or chickened out. I suspect the latter, and that bugs me.
Do you really like cats? Yes.
Any other interests? Since my teenage years, my main hobby has always been amateur radio, callsign G3WZK. Click here for information about amateur radio and me. Since retiring from paid work at the end of 2007, I have worked on learning support as a volunteer at the Orpheus Centre in Godstone, Surrey, UK. Click here for information about the Orpheus Centre. I also created a website for the Tandridge Handicraft Society (THS) - my wife is its Chairman. Click here for information about the THS.
Do you believe cats actually have the powers suggested in your stories? The behaviour of many animals, including cats, is always a combination of instinct, what they learned while young - often from their mother, and what they have learned as a result of their experience as an individual. When we brought the kitten Lauren (see above) and her mother Pippa back from the cat rescue people, it was fascinating to watch Pippa teach Lauren about what she needed to learn to do. This included how to get food and water, use of the litter tray and hunting. Although Pippa was always more timid than Lauren, and still is, when Lauren got shut in our garage, Pippa came and found us and led us to the garage so that we would hear Lauren mewing. Pippa would also try to lead me places as part of her “training” of me. This included leading me to her litter tray and showing me how to use it, leading me into the garden and showing me where to have a wee, and showing me where the food and drinking water were. On a nice day she still tries to lead me to a bench in a sunny spot in the gardens so that I can rest in the warm sunshine. She will do this if I am (for example) pruning the roses in a shady spot or doing something indoors. A previous cat of ours, Mickey was similar and enjoyed sitting in the sun too. One pleasant summer’s day I was doing some gardening, but Mickey was snoozing inside the house. It occurred to me that he ought to be outside too, so I went in to find him. I simply said “come on Mickey, come on,” and jerked my head towards the door, before returning to the garden. A few minutes later he had come out and curled up on the grass next to me, with a contented look on his face. This convinced me that he had understood what I said, had a think about it, and then decided to do what I wanted. Cats aren’t obedient like dogs but, if you ask them something, they have a think about it and then make up their own mind about what to do. I am convinced that cats can show you love if they have been treated properly. Being a domesticated breed helps of course! To illustrate my point, consider the awful child abuse cases that are sometimes in the press or on TV, the worst cases of which can lead to the death of the children involved. Often it emerges, perhaps during the trial, that the perpetrators of these crimes were themselves abused as children so, for them, these behaviours seemed relatively normal or even natural behaviour. Conversely, children who are receive care and love when they are young are more likely to exhibit these traits when they grow up. So animals who are shown care and love by humans when they are young learn that it is rewarding to behave the same way themselves. Animals who live in a brutal and feral environment when young retain such behaviours when adult as part of a learned survival strategy, Makes sense to me.
A key message from “Furnia - Fugue” is about ecology and planet Earth. What are your views on this? It’s too big a subject to go into here. However, regarding global warming and the use of clean energy, I do think we should make more use of solar and geothermal energy. Re solar, the total energy (heat and light) arriving at the planet Earth equates to about one kilowatt per square metre. At the latitude of a city like London (51.5 degrees north) this works out at about 620 watts per sq m on average at noon. This is a lot of energy begging to be used! In December 2023, the films and photos of the volcanic eruption in Grindavik, Iceland reminded me that most of our planet is composed of molten rock so hot that it glows in the dark or even in daylight. Wherever you are, this source of energy is never far away and, in many cases, perilously close to the surface. By my calculations there are about 1 million million cubic kilometres (250 billion cubic miles) of the stuff. Why can't we make better use of this resource? There are many technical issue to be solved but, essentially. the energy is there for the taking. Also this source of energy is sustainable due the continued decay of radioactive elements in the Earth’s core constantly producing more heat. Our planet is about 5 billion years old, so it is entirely reasonable to suggest that this source of energy will continue for a few more billion years. Ultimately, it will die down of course and when that happens the intensity of earthquakes will diminish too. Plate tectonics and continental drift will slow down and ultimately stop. Recycling of the Earth’s crust will also stop which will be a bad thing. However, we are talking about billions of years here and all of this will happen anyway regardless of whether human extraction of geothermal energy is scaled up or not. Burning of fossil fuels causes carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere and increase global warming and needs to be scaled right down. One factor not always mentioned is that there is a natural cycle of the average annual temperature of this planet. Sooner or later, there will be another Ice Age. When we have to cope with that, and we will, it would be very handy to reopen the coal mines as a source of planet-warming fuel and carbon dioxide. So let’s keep the coal, and the oil, for when we really need it!
My YouTube channel is stevebeal73 and my email address for Furnia-related matters is