It should come as no surprise that I write a lot about talking animals – after all, the titles of my first three books are The Chimney Rabbit, The Chimney Rabbit and the Underground Mice, and Tales of the Ancient Rabbits.
There’s a great tradition in children’s literature of talking, anthropomorphic animals – think of Kipling’s The Jungle Books, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, E.B. White’s Stuart Little, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy… A recent example is Dave Shelton’s brilliant A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. Each puts its own spin on the concept. It’s a tradition that probably extends to even earlier than Aesop’s Fables, so we’re looking at more than two and a half thousand years of tradition.
My anthropomorphic animals are rabbits, dogs, cats, bears, foxes, mice, wolves, boars and even one tiger. They all live alongside humans, and there’s a rigid class system mostly based on size. I’ve compressed the size differences between the animals, though, as otherwise it makes it difficult for creatures the size of bears to interact with creatures the size of mice – I imagine that where bears are around the six foot mark, dogs and cats are in the four to five foot range, rabbits three to four feet tall, and mice around two to three feet tall. I haven’t stated this outright, but I’ve implied it – perhaps it’ll be a job for my (eventual) illustrator to make it obvious!
The one thing I’ve done that I feel very strongly about is to remove any aspect of character being formed by species – it’s the one thing that really annoys me about some anthropomorphic stories, where mice are good but rats are bad, foxes are cunning and rabbits timid, dogs are loyal and cats are selfish. It just strikes me as laziness to use the species as a determinant of behaviour, so I’ve made sure that my stories have heroic dogs and villainous dogs, heartless bears and decent bears, helpful cats and wicked cats… there are no nasty rabbits, though. That just wouldn’t make any sense, would it? Rabbits are brilliant!
I do sometimes wonder if I’m out of fashion with my anthropomorphic stories, and telling a story about talking rabbits might not be the best way to get published, but I’ve always thought that there’s no point chasing trends. Write what you want to write, write what you’d like to read – and if that doesn’t find favour with agents or publishers, so be it.