Was/Is Thunderpaws a real cat?


Yes, Teufel was a real cat. He was born in the vicar’s house for Holy Trinity Church in Salcombe, Devon, in the south west of England. Teufel moved to Salcombe Yacht Club as a kitten to be the bar manager’s cat, but was returned to the vicarage when the bar manager changed jobs. Teuf then moved to the Tower of London when the vicar changed jobs!


Did thunderpaws live at the Tower?


Yes, Teufel did live at the Tower, in the chaplain’s house right next to the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains) on Tower Green in the late 1990s. If you’ve been to the Tower, he’s walked every step you took there.


Are there other thunderpaws stories?


There will be at least two more books in the series, and as for Teufel himself, yes…

Teufel was very much a real cat at the Tower and very much lived up to his name. There are stories the chaplain told me that didn’t make it into the final draft of the book, like when Teufel fell through a skylight into one of the Yeoman Warder’s houses in the Casemates. And there’s another involving a wedding and a dress.

Lucky people with a connection to the Tower can, with approval, get married in the Chapel Royal St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains). It’s very much a working place of worship for the Tower and the wider community in that area of the City of London.

The chaplain told me of a wedding where, mid-service, Teufel wandered in, straight down the aisle and took a seat on the wedding dress trail to watch the proceedings. There were hushed gasps and chuckles from the pews. But that’s not the end of the story.

My working life rhythm when writing Teufel, was half the year in London for Coca-Cola, on whatever task they needed me for, and the other half away working on the book. I returned from one trip to work in Public Affairs and Communications. Lucy, a new colleague introduced herself. I explained who I was, what I do, my pattern of working and the book about a cat at the Tower of London called Teufel.

Well, guess whose wedding dress it was? Lucy was able to get married at the Tower because her father was heavily involved in the chapel choir. She married an American and the gasps and chuckles at Teufel’s arrival was because for UK guests on her side of the chapel, a black cat was lucky, but for the American side, a black cat was bad luck.

As Teufel will tell you, the luck is all his (and yours) for the taking.


Where did the book idea come from?


The Chaplain had written a story about Teufel, called Teufel’s Tales of the Tower, designed for younger children around 5-6. He’d been trying to get it published but hadn’t succeeded. A friend of mine from New York, Jennifer Jessup, met him on a visit, and as she worked in media and loved the idea, she offered to help.

It proved a hard task. Getting a publisher is! Jennifer and I had dropped out of touch but she happened on my website, saw I was copywriting, and asked if I could help.

I loved working on Teufel’s Tales, but something wasn’t working structurally. I asked if I could go away and reimagine the story. The Chaplain agreed and some time later the origin of this version of Teufel began to emerge. A Teufel for an older audience.

Thunderpaws was three different stories before this one arrived. One of the glories and challenges of the Tower, is choosing what to use. There is so much raw material, so many stories and characters. One draft had marauding monkeys, Colonel Blood was there too, but eventually we got to Thunderpaws.

Almost everything in Thunderpaws is based on real characters, real legends and real myths at the Tower. Indeed Teufel would tell you it’s all real because it’s his story and I’m just the typist. And that’s true. When I read it or hear it, I just feel Teuf. It’s all just him, being him. And I love that.


What age range is Thunderpaws for?


TLDR answer: 9-90 – adults as much as kids. For those that want to know more…

Writing Thunderpaws, I wasn’t targeting a particular age group – going, ‘right this is a middle grade book, so I must write like X’.

I wrote Thunderpaws for readers.
Just readers. People like you. People like me.
Whether they are 9 or 90.

I was lucky to be brought up in a way where age wasn’t really a defining factor at home, with family friends or in our community. I was treated by adults as a person not a child of a certain age. In a way, my writing reflects this. I’ve written the story as it’s come. Have I tailored the language so it’s not too advanced for younger readers? Yes, a bit in places, is one answer. And no, in other places, I haven’t. I’ve trusted the young mind.

Reading as a child, I skipped words I didn’t know. I could usually get the meaning from the words around it, and if not, hopefully the story had the momentum to carry me on. I’ve tried to do that with Thunderpaws. Put words nearby to help with the more challenging ones and especially when Teufel is using uncommon language or mangling (messing up) words, as he does sometimes.

That’s why I put a dictionary of Teufelisms at the front, to help developing readers and also readers where British English is an additional language , so hopefully readers from 9-90 wherever they are can enjoy TP.


How did the name Thunderpaws happen?


As you may know from the story, Thunderpaws’ actual name is Teufel, which is the German word for the devil.

Having devil in the book’s title didn’t seem the best idea, especially when it gets translated. It’s hard to search, because it’s so generic in German and there’s also a German speaker brand called Teufel. I needed something more unique.

I was at work one day, typing away in my heavy-fingered way, when Joanne, a colleague and friend walked past. We looked to each other to say hi, and she said, “Thunderpaws”.

I thought she was commenting on my typing and nodded. I’m a proper hammer with a keyboard. She was actually referring to her walking – which I didn’t get at all. But what I did get was that it was a fantastic name! I asked if I could use it for Teufel (Joanne was/is very kind and read a very early version of the book). Joanne said yes, and here we are with Thunderpaws!*

* In the interim between then and publication, a pet nail clipper brand launched using Thunderpaws as its brand name. I’d been using Thunderpaws for years and would carry on, Teufel is Thunderpaws, Thunderpaws is Teufel.


When will Book 2 be ready?


If all goes well, Thunderpaws and the King will be ready for release in late 2023.

I need to find a new illustrator and they will need to time to do the work I have in mind. If you know of anyone who can do light and emotion (and cats, of course) like MonoKubo, please let me know through art@thunderpaws.com. There will be something lovely and special for anyone who brings the next Thunderpaws artist to my attention.

Their style doesn’t have to be the same as MonoKubo’s. I’m not after a pastiche of her work. I am after a progression. An iteration. I know exactly what I’m after, so feel free to send away – just as long as they are in the same quality ballpark as MK – emotion and light!

A note on sending artwork: please only send links, no file attachments, and please consider whether the work is actually on a par with MonoKubo. Every moment I spend looking at work that’s nice but not exceptional is time I’m not spending on Thunderpaws and the King. And I have a lot of work to do with TP and the King!


How many books are planned?


Currently there are three books planned for the Nature’s Claw series; Thunderpaws and the Tower of London, Thunderpaws and the King, and… (that’s a secret). The number may change. There are other areas to explore, as you’ll see when Thunderpaws and the King launches in 2023.


Will there be a thunderpaws film?


I expect so. Thunderpaws, the whole Nature’s Claw trilogy and the spin off possibilities are all designed with visual communication in mind. It’s why readers so often comment that Thunderpaws should be a film.

Currently, it’s about waiting for producers to find it, and then the right producer to find it.

If you’re a producer or you know one where the fit could be good, feel free to get in contact. Again, just like finding a new illustrator, there will be a lovely thank you for anyone who introduces the right fit.


What size is the book?


The physical book is 7”x10” (18cm x 25.5cm), so it’s larger than a standard paperback, and heavier because it’s on better quality paper to carry the colour printing.

The story itself is 60,000 words, over 278 pages in the softback print copy, and the audiobook is 8.5 hours long.

The book’s physical size came about when Robyn and I were trying to optimise space for her formatting work balanced against colour printing costs, which are much higher than standard paperbacks.

The more the print costs, the more the retail price has to be.
At the time, I was looking at the new technologies of print on demand, where a book is printed only when the customer presses buy. 7”x10” was the largest page size possible across the major English language speaking markets.

On demand appealed because it meant as well as needing less capital to invest in stock, books could be printed as near as possible to the reader and shipped to them over the minimum distance possible, so it was great environmentally.

So, Robyn and I set about working with 7”x10” as our dimensions. When we got to a rough production draft, we did a test copy and saw print on demand’s colour quality was not good enough, especially not at the cost. MonoKubo’s work deserved more. Readers deserved more. So I moved to look at short-run colour printing with copies printed in the UK and USA as a first step, and this is what we went with.

Print on demand will get there in time. The quality will go up. The distribution will expand. The cost of colour will reduce.

A smaller colour version of the book may follow later, and there may even be a black and white paperback. But for now it’s the 7”x10” softback with glossy pages.


Where was Teufel written?


Teufel was written in London, New York, Durban and Cape Town in South Africa, Lamu (a small Kenyan island with loads of cats, where everyone gets around by donkey or boat), Tobago in the Caribbean, Bali, Tokyo and countless bullet trains up and down Japan, Tbilisi in Georgia, a small country between Russia and Turkey, and then finished off in London during lockdown. Love every place in different ways.


How long did writing Thunderpaws take?


Thunderpaws has been four different books, the one you see before you, and three other different story arcs.

It’s my first novel. I didn’t grow up with reading or writing as my great passion. Adulthood was no different. But I started to be told that I should write – generally in response to emails, text messages, heck even dating messaging.

If there’s a story in that – it might be that you don’t have to be an avid reader and writer to be an author (it helps, it definitely helps, do it!). What matters, to me, is that you are interested and you care about trying to do it well. I certainly had that about communicating, and now it’s just expanded from communicating with friends and loved-ones, to friends, loved-ones and readers. And that’s lovely.

Here's a surprise.

Thunderpaws first came to me in 2007. I can’t believe it was that long ago. And it had been with the Chaplain long before that.

How can a book take that long?

Well, as above, it’s been several different books, and I would only write for part of the year. I’d head off – usually somewhere lovely and warm – get my head down and get on with wherever the draft was up to.

Each trip I’d learn new things about writing (I’m a learn by doing person). Freelance manuscript reviewers would read the results. It would be better. There would be new things to fix. The next trip I would fix those things. It would be better. There would be new things to fix. All the time getting better. That, if anything, is the writing journey. Graft.

People, including loved-ones, would quietly intimate – isn’t it time this was just published? But I knew it wasn’t quite there yet. Little things to fix. And I knew I needed the outline of the trilogy before publishing book 1. So off I went to Tbilisi, in Georgia (a country between Europe and Asia) to work on that.

I spent the first three months planning out the series, then had three months to get into book 2. I found two people to help. Kathryn Clark, my now reader, to give feedback on the draft as it came together, and Matt East, a productivity specialist in the US, to act as what I call my silent policeman, checking in once a day by text to see how the work’s gone.

Landing back in London, I arrived with a plan for two books, two possible spin offs and half of book 2 first-drafted, plus a huge love for Tbilisi, Georgia and the Georgian people. I planned to go back after my next Coca-Cola contract, and was packing to fly when lockdown landed.

Stuck in London, there was nothing to do but get Thunderpaws published. MonoKubo and I worked on our respective bits and Robyn was found via the Royal College of Art’s website. Robyn was among a talented group at the RCA. No surprise, it’s regularly voted the world’s best art school. What specifically appealed was the emotion in her work and its inky fluidity as I describe it. And her words. Of all the graduates, I chose to approach Robyn first. She said yes and we were off.

I tasked Robyn with creating 46 chapter ornamentations and helping with the internal layout in the publishing design software, InDesign. When Robyn showed me her ideas for the first chapter, I was surprised to see she’d also done the text in the style of her degree show work. I hadn’t discussed this, partly because of budget, because formatting a whole book is a huge amount of work, and partly because I wasn’t sure if her degree work (small form pieces) would work across a novel.

With a print out at book-page size, I set about reading the sample. On that opening page, my eyes flicked from Teufel’s world on the left to Mushika’s on the right. I was disjointed. I pushed to keep reading. I turned the page. 30 seconds later I realised what was happening.

Robyn’s work was keeping my eyes and mind focused to a level I never normally experience. I was more engaged. More in the story. I kept reading. I asked an English language literary specialist and trusted family friend (Jane Leggett, thanked at the beginning of the book) and she agreed. So, it was time for a chat with Robyn over email because everything was that or WhatsApp.

To paraphrase it went something like this, ‘Robyn, it’s amazing, and if you’re up for doing it, I’m up for doing it, but it’s a shed load of work. A serious shed load. We’ll have to turn it loads of times [do a full set of edits and then start again] but I’m up for it, if you are.
She said of course, we agreed a financial way to handle all the extra work and we were off.

Next was the audiobook. You need a narrator, a producer and a studio. Sometimes a narrator self-produces in a home studio, but generally you need all three. A friend in New York, an American actor, who’d studied in London offered, but I doubted whether I could afford him (he acted with George Clooney in Michael Clayton) and I pointed out there are over 40 voices.

I was certain I wanted an active read, with accents, not just a flat narration. I approached a UK stage actor about any up and coming talents he knew, but the two that responded weren’t quite right. So I looked at voice artist agency websites.

What you get to look at is a sea of headshots. You click in, read about the actor, listen to samples. In this sea of faces there are ones you recognise and ones you don’t. You click and listen. Click and listen. Click and listen. And for me, it was no, no, no, no. Internally, I was, ‘how will I go through all these faces?’

Then there was this dude. About half way down. His headshot didn’t look like the rest. There was a sparkle. An energy. His eyes.

I was like, ‘now he could be Teufel.’

I got on Google. Tracked down a chat show clip (Graham Norton). He was telling a story about an audition for a Scottish role. The story, the whole reasoning behind his actions was perfect Teufel. I was smiling as much as the studio audience I couldn’t see (but could hear laughing).

The actor was Daniel Kaluuya. A young British actor you may know for Black Panther (in 2 ways) and Get Out. I loved the idea of a young, black British, north Londoner playing King Richard III and all the rest of the characters. And it turns out that a genuine Hollywood star is not that much more expensive than an actor you’ve never heard of! I was off.

I asked his agent. His agent asked Daniel. Daniel was up for it. We began to work on a deal. He was in LA. We would need two studios. One there, one here. Two producers, cars. I did the maths. Eek! Worked on how could I make it work.

Then he won a Bafta. An Oscar. (Daniel you’re a doggin’ cattin’ star, sir!) He was gone into the whirlwind of big star and I was back to square one.

I returned to the headshots. Worked my way diligently through two whole agency websites. I enquired about six actors, narrowed down to three, and Adam Gillen stood out.

There was this one clip (it turns out from the start of a play) where Adam just blew me away. Olivier-nominated, RADA trained, star of ITV’s Benidorm (a major UK show – but travelling half the year, I don’t see a lot of TV so didn’t know of him). Star of theatre companies I know and love: the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe, and he was from Manchester, a city I know and love – a northerner like me. He’ll do!

And do he did.

Thunderpaws worked him hard in the studio, but the producer and I could hear Adam falling for Teufel as the read progressed. He’d do take after take, getting variations on voice and delivery. We grabbed what extra studio time we could to help with the time the voices take and by the end of two weeks work, the book was done and it was on to the edit. The editor said she’d never worked so hard on an audiobook in her life, but as the producer said, we’d come out with gold in places. Adam’s gold.


Is there an American version?


Thunderpaws is available in the US in print via thunderpaws.com and Amazon, as well as ebook and audio. All copies are in British English. I debated about there being an American English version with more z’s and less u’s – but in the end, it’s a book about a cat in London, at the Tower of London. I figure American readers can cope with an autumn not a fall and the odd s where a z should be.

To help with the more unusual words (for Americans and others), there’s a dictionary at the front which includes explanations for Teufel’s more liberal interpretation of the English language. For ebook readers there’s a copy at the front and it’s also available in a separate artwork PDF you can put on your phone for quick reference. The same PDF is available for audiobook listeners too. If you need a copy you can order it (here).


How can I see colour art on mY e-reader?


Most e-readers currently have black and white screens. I’m sure over time this will change, but in the interim, a free PDF featuring all the artwork, the dictionary of Teufelisms and short character bios is available for quick reference on your phone. If you need a copy you can order it (here).


the art in print FOR ebook or audio


In addition to merchandise, the artwork and character biographies PDF mentioned above is available as a colour print booklet. It comes in the same dimensions as the book, 7”x10” (18cm x 25.5cm) and is available to post worldwide from the UK. You can order it here.

The booklet is an effective way to get cheap copies of the artwork for children’s walls, etc, when you don’t want to go to the expense of art prints, or want copies where it doesn’t matter if they get accidentally damaged. All you have to do is cut them out. Please note, the booklet is double sided with the artworks in order, so it’s not possible to have all the artworks cut out and on display from just one booklet.


The writing process (for me)


The things I love about writing are – firstly it’s thinking and writing, and the way the two go together, both consciously and subconsciously when your brain is connecting faster than the thoughts you’re feeling.

Secondly it’s problem solving. Problems you’ve created through earlier writing – so apart from editors (and others more skilled than you at pointing them out), it’s your job to fix them. No one else is going to do it for you. They are not going to go away by ignoring them. Better get on.

Fixing can be hard. It can take time, but I know that usually (touching wood here – literally, my writing desk next to the sofa I’m on, on a hot August Sunday) - if I work the problem hard enough I will find an answer.

One of the ways is scribbling ideas on blank pages. Page after page until answers come. 95% is normally junk but that 5%, or work from that after, will get me to where I next need to be.

The other way is to go for a walk or run with music I know well and to wait for answers to come. They may not be to the question I’ve asked, but answers always come, and I’m so, so grateful. It’s perhaps one of my favourite processes in life.

The third place is just before sleep – that drifting moment. Answers and ideas surface and those are normally solid. If not always perfect, or even useable, they’re generally very strong.

I write best in the mornings, preferably waking and starting before dawn. I don’t use an alarm clock. I wake, make coffee, start. Usually around 4/5am. Anything before 4, I tend to find is too early. I may be awake, but tiredness is awake too and has a huge plan for staying around all day, so I stay in bed and wait for 4am. Okay maybe 3.30am if I’m really excited to get on.

Six days a week. One two-day break off a month. A week off every 3 months. That keeps me going. The days off are hard. All I want to do is write (or whatever part of the creation process I’m on), but I force myself to do other things, because if I don’t take the rest, future work will suffer. Rest creates work.

I nap.
Boy, I nap!

20 minutes. First one is sometimes 7 in the morning. I might take three a day. I don’t care. I’m proud. I’m usually finished with work any time between 11am and 2pm. If I’m writing, I may have got 500 words done, or 2,000. The usual is about 1,000. Editing days can be much longer, 10 hours or so.

If I’m on a sprint, trying to create a draft, I will plan tomorrow’s writing in the evening, do it first thing, afternoon is a quick tidy up of the day before’s work then plan tomorrow. Rinse and repeat.
Taking things out is as important as what’s left in. A person who knows their stuff is really valuable. My reader (Kathryn Clark take a bow) is brilliant at saying X needs a bit of Y and to keep saying it until I agree. Get yourself some good brains nearby. Use them wisely.