English surrealist artist Richard Saunders and his legendary Russian Blue cat Tolly have been internet favourites for years. Now Tolly finally gets to publish his memoirs…
If you’re on the internet, and if you’re a cat lover, you could not possibly have missed The Topiary Cat. Tens of thousands of fans have faithfully been following the Magnificent One – as he calls himself ever so modestly – as he roams splendid English gardens, chills at peaceful lakes, looks on with great interest as gardeners toil away, and gently teases his creator Richard Saunders in regular posts to their fans.
And like surrealism, Tolly’s internet existence is somewhere between reality and dream. Yes, he did live in this world of mere and fallible mortals, a much-beloved member of Richard’s family until the day he travelled across the Rainbow Bridge. But no, he never actually had his likeness shaped into real topiaries (well, at least not to our knowledge.) That is strictly a product of the prodigious imagination of his human servant Richard, who best explains what Tolly was, and still is, all about:
With so many friends fascinated by his life, it seemed only normal that Tolly would publish his memoirs. And he finally did! Of course this would have happened much sooner if Richard, affectionately nicknamed “The Master”, weren’t always busy with other things, including having to teach Georgi, Tolly’s worthy successor-in-training, the tricks of the cat trade and how to look his cutest in photos…
As beautifully illustrated as befits such a splendid feline as Tolly (and Richard’s quite exceptional talent as an artist and designer), “The Topiary Cat – a Bushy Tale” finally just hit the shelves. So of course we wanted to be among the first ones to report on this bestseller in the making.
But how can one of us inferior humans even begin to tell Tolly’s story? We therefore asked the Immortal One himself what he thought of the book that Richard attempted to put together.
Tolly, what inspired the Master to write a book about you?
The Master had been planning to get a story done for years, in fact he had asked his daughter to write it originally, but as she now has two children and a demanding job, he felt he might be running out of time. He’s now 75 years old and, unlike The Most Magnificent Topiary Cat, he is not immortal! So he set about writing it himself, mainly to entertain my Facebook followers during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
What are your fans saying about the book so far?
It has only just been published, but the few who have a copy have loved it. For a more comprehensive overview, we shall have to wait and see. Richard is a fussy old mortal, so he put his heart and soul into this project, and wouldn’t wish to disappoint the 40,000 followers of my Facebook page. I don’t think it is likely he will have let them down.
Do you think that – if this book is well received (which of course it will be!) – there might be one about Georgi?
The amount of stress, not to mention the cost, of producing this small volume makes the prospect rather daunting, he tells me. But sequels keep running through his tired old head, and one never knows what he might do. I certainly don’t!
What else would you like your fans to know? Any advice you can give us mere mortals? Any secrets you can share with us? (Don’t worry, it’ll remain strictly between you and 80,000 readers!)
The Master is somewhat ‘other-worldly’ and can only focus on the creative side of his art. He really needs a slave, just as we cats have managed to do with humans. Otherwise he would have been more successful at making me as famous as I deserve to be. Can you believe it, but some mortals have actually never heard of me! For instance, any sensible author would have found a publisher to print and distribute MY book by now. He is hopeless, but I love him, despite that failing. One of many of his failings, by the way.
“This is the story of a shy boy, nearly 10 years old and his constant companion, a Russian Blue cat named Tolly. His Grandpa is head gardener of a nearby estate and an expert topiarist.
Grandpa creates a huge topiary of Tolly, so realistic Richard talks to it as though it is alive. Weird happenings ensue: statues come alive, a lake turns to gold and a new constellation appears in the night sky.
Discover how The Topiary Cat becomes a living being with extraordinary talents but a lack of understanding of mortal humans. This story is a message of hope driven by empathy, a love of nature and concern for the care of our precious world.”
Not that such trivia are of any interest to the Magnificent One, but the book in itself is a gem: On the first few pages, the Topiary Cat concept is introduced from the very first image to going viral, Tolly’s sad demise, and the addition of Georgi to the journey. There follows a single page that shows a picture of the home Richard lived with his mother (also in the photograph outside the house) in the village, Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. It goes on to explain the the story is semi-autobiographical, the Grandpa being based on himself, the mother based on his own, Katie, and the boy in the story based on himself too, at the age of around ten.
The 122 page novelette contains over seventy images, all photos or photo-compositions, some of which have been seen before, and many not. A single page titled ‘Epilogue’ hints as to what happened to the characters subsequently. There are also half a dozen ‘Spot the Difference’ puzzles – FB fan favourites during lockdown, with a page each devoted to the solutions. And a sign off final page says a tearful goodbye to Tolly, with a moonlight photo based on the very first image ever produced many years ago.
In fact, the book was preceded by a Topiary Cat SoundCloud first published in September 2020, sweetening the long months of pandemic insecurity. Richard’s soothing voice narrates Tolly’s story, pulling you into his magical universe.
Most of us cannot wait to bid this year 2021 goodbye and good riddance, but if it goes out on a positive note, we owe it to Tolly, Georgi, and Richard who know how to sprinkle artistic fairy dust and magic on our diet of bland days. But of course, there HAS to be a snag… while UK fans can easily order the book online for themselves and all their cat-loving friends, continental Europeans have to navigate the by-now standard Brexit-related complications. Our insider tip (not that you heard it from us…) – have your UK friend or family order it and send it on to you, marked “gift”.
And a final message in the words of the Immortal One, “have a good ‘W’ everyone” (a concept which Tolly does not quite grasp by his own admission, given that in Catland no such thing as days or weeks exists, but which he strongly suspects to refer to Saturdays and Sundays…. or perhaps any day of the W-eek. Who understands these strange human ideas anyway?
All photos courtesy and with kind permission, © Richard Saunders
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