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Cloudesley Square strays stand up to fat cats

PUBLISHED: 08:00 14 September 2017

Tony Burke's The Cats of Cloudesley Square

Tony Burke's The Cats of Cloudesley Square

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The Cats of Cloudesley Square sees a group of felines go up against a property developer to save the church they live in

Tony Burke's The Cats of Cloudesley Square Tony Burke's The Cats of Cloudesley Square

“There is a church in Cloudesley Square, with no vicar living there, no pews or hymn books or old prayer mats, just lots of happy sleepy cats…”

So begins The Cats of Cloudesley Square, a new children’s book that’s just about as local as you can get. The characters hail from Angel to Holloway, Clerkenwell to Finsbury Park and Laycock Street to Liverpool Road.

The author Tony Burke, while no longer based in London, spent a long time living just off Highbury New Park. Having had kids (a three year old son and 10 week old daughter), the family decided to swap London for the south coast.

“Before I had children, when we were footloose and fancy-free, wandering around Islington with lots of time on our hands, we use to walk through Cloudesley Square,” he says. “There are a lot of stray cats around the church and people leave food for them and it’s cute; on a summer’s day there would be about 20 cats. We’d make a special trip to see the cats, because my girlfriend loves them.”

The cats inspired Tony to write his first book.

“I wasn’t even thinking of writing a book,” he says. “I just went home one day and wrote the poem and showed it to my brother.”

Tony Burke's The Cats of Cloudesley Square Tony Burke's The Cats of Cloudesley Square

His brother David, an artist, musician and designer has provided the illustrations.

But the book isn’t just about a cute story about fluffy animals; it’s got a deeper message. The feline locals are at risk of being displaced by a big property developer Hugo de Beauvoir who wants to knock down the church and build a block of flats.

“It’s a parable for modern times,” he says. “I don’t imagine for a second that a bunch of four year olds are going to rush out and join the Labour party, but it’s there and it’s part of the fabric of London life. People are getting marginalised and people are getting pushed out.”

He may not live in Islington anymore, but he does commute every day to his job in advertising from his home in Brighton, and is always conscious of the changes happening in the area.

“I work in Old Street and all they’re doing is building skyscrapers for the tech market and an 80 year old bloke who’s lived there all his life doesn’t stand a chance. All in the name of progress.”

The cats in the book have been based on some of the local people Tony knew when he lived here.

Tony Burke's The Cats of Cloudesley Square Tony Burke's The Cats of Cloudesley Square

“I’ve got some homeless friends in Islington; there’s a guy up on Highbury Corner called Tim who’s quite a character,” he says. “I used to spend a lot of time with him..

“You’re gonna learn more from a guy who sleeps in a cemetery and takes drugs than you are from a merchant banker who lives on Liverpool Road. Those kinds of stories and those kinds of people I relate to more than the new money of north London.

“The underling story resonates with me a bit. I think as a creative person you do feel like a bit of an outsider some of the time and I think sometimes you relate more to the underdog than you do with the fat cat or the successful businessmen. I think that’s probably where the story came from.”

He’s currently distributing the books between interested readers, schools and has sent a few copies to Great Ormond Street Hospital. He’s hoping too that some other locals will be interested in reading it

“Jeremy Corbyn used to be my local MP, he’s someone I voted for and who my children have met – I’d certainly like to get a copy to him at some point. I could even go around and read it to him in bed, couldn’t I?”

Find out more about the book (£10) and how to get hold of one at: facebook.com/TCOCS

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