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Cat-tastic cat tales!

Cat whisperer: Val Sherwood with her new book Bermuda Cat Tales (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

For Val Sherwood, the biggest challenge to writing a book about cats, was the cats themselves.

When she first started, her eight cats miaowed, circled and jumped on the keyboard whenever she sat down to write.

“I kept telling them they are all going to be famous now so they have to get used to stardom,” Ms Sherwood said.

Despite their behaviour, she released her first book, Bermuda Cat Tales last month, a memoir of her adventures rescuing and rehoming more than 300 kittens, and also a few ducklings, toads, dogs and lizards.

She was inspired to start writing after her older sister Wendy Avery, gave her some inspirational stationery for her birthday in March.

“She’s been a significant catalyst in my life,” Ms Sherwood joked. “Funny things have happened each year. And I thought I would share some of those stories.”

Until then, she’d written many reports as a chartered surveyor, and folk songs, as a singer, but hadn’t done much creative writing. “Jan Quinn had a course at Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society and she helped me, from the early editing stages,” Ms Sherwood said. “Carol Sousa, who wrote Tea With Tracy, also helped.

“I sprinkled it with whimsical animal poems that hadn’t been published before. I also put some of my well-known songs in it, such as my Bermuda Railway song.”

She was overjoyed when she finally held the book in her hands last month.

“I felt proud but protective, like you do with a new baby,” she said. “It’s a book of happy that I want to share with the world.”

Although she’s a bit of a cat whisperer today, she didn’t grow up with cats.

Her parents, Sydney and Eileen Sherwood — ran the Sherwood Manor Hotel in Fairylands back in the 1960s.

As girls, Val and Wendy Sherwood had rabbits, hamsters, gerbils and dogs, but no felines.

“I don’t know why,” Ms Sherwood said. “Maybe it was because we had a dog and that was it.”

In adulthood, she more than made up for the lack. She found her first kitten while working to open up the Bermuda Railway Trail to the public in 1987.

One day, she and a colleague were on the trail near Winton Hill, Hamilton Parish, when she heard a little miaow.

“There was no mistaking that sad, pleading sound,” she wrote in Bermuda Cat Tales. “It was definitely a cry for help.”

She discovered a tiny grey tabby in a prickly bush.

She took him home, plotting all the way, how she’d convince her boyfriend to let her keep him.

When she got home, her boyfriend took one look at the kitten and said: “Can we keep him?”

They called him Max.

Over the years, she found more kittens; Twiglet in a hedge, Cat Stevens after a storm, and Tucker Man on her sister’s porch.

Tucker Man lost his vision after he caught the cat flu from his mother.

“Then, I had to figure out how to raise a blind cat,” Ms Sherwood said. “There’s no manual for that. Because he didn’t have his sight, it was about how to cue him and let him know where things were. I had to teach him how to go up steps. He has a mind map now.

“He is quite amazing, and knows his way around the house. He has been a quick learner.”

To celebrate the cat, Ms Sherwood wrote a song called Tucker Man.

“I play Tucker Man at the Folk Club at the Robin Hood Pub & Restaurant,” she said. “I also played it on the radio with David Lopes. He has been amazing in playing my music.”

She admits she has had to do some odd things over the years to catch needy animals. Not all of them really wanted to be rescued.

She recalled once, having to crouch down by a car parked in Hamilton while she tried to coax a reluctant kitten out.

To outsiders, it may have looked as though she was talking to the car’s hubcap.

Instead of complying, the cat simply slipped from car, to car, coming dangerously close to passing traffic.

“You might call it odd to invite umpteen cats into a kitchen for a large tray of kitty stew, just so you can catch cat number 36,” she said. “And you might call it odd to race all over the neighbourhood looking for a pool net to rescue a toad from a tank.

“The traffic-dodging ducklings I rescued at a roundabout were pretty dangerous for all involved.

“You could almost say that doing odd or vaguely dangerous things is routine. ”

She rescued many of cats while volunteering with the Bermuda Feline Assistance Bureau.

“I think there are fewer kittens than there would have been if BFAB hadn’t spayed and neutered 30,000 cats,” she said. “I tell people who like cats, this is what we do, and I tell people who don’t like cats, at least we are reducing the population. It is just we are doing it in a non-lethal way.”

The organisation shut down last year.

Now Ms Sherwood is a member of a new feline organisation Cats Assistance Trapping Service Bermuda Limited, started last year.

Part of the proceeds from her book go to Cats.

Her hope is that people are entertained by her stories.

“There might have been some sad stories along the way after 300 kittens, but I chose not to share those,” she said. “I want to be in a coffee shop where no one knows that I wrote the book.

“I want to see someone with the book and see them going, awe ... It’s a book of happy.”

Val Sherwood will be signing books at The Perfumery on Queen Street in St George at the Bermuda National Trust Christmas Walkabout on December 7