I have a suitcase – one of those soft cloth ones, ethnic, stripy – which I take on some of my school visits. I stand up at the front of the classroom and I lay this suitcase gently on the desk, and I say to the kids, “I have, in this suitcase, 12 ferrets. Hands up anyone who would like them to be LIVE ferrets?” Without fail, everyone who is 4 foot and under sticks their hands in the air. I stick MY hand in the air. The teachers make little moue faces and do not join in.
Because they know what kind of commotion would ensue if I really did have a busyness of live ferrets* with me.** I know too. And that is why I choose the ferret to be my muse. (Though a better word might be “acknowledge”.)
Ferrets are spirits of chaos. They are the gods of wild enthusiasm and ridiculous persistence (not to mention the joy of squiggling through small spaces for no other reason than just to see if you can.) They bite and they smell and they are impossible to control. They race when they want and they sleep when they will, deep, deep – they go all floppy, as if they were dead - and there is nothing you can do but wait until they decide to wake up again. They are unpredictable, delightful, and only the certifiably daft would choose to share their lives with them.
And writing’s just like that too. Just like a ferret in the brain. Chaotic, unpredictable, delightful, smelly, bitey … Okay, work with me here. When the writing’s going well, full tilt, ideas leaping about and wrestling with one other, it’s wonderful, right? But when the muse is not in the mood, is there anything more recalcitrant? More dead? And all we can do is wait for the words to come to life again.
Ferrets may be smelly
But there’s more to them than farts
They are bouncier than jelly
And contribute to the arts …
In The Seventh Tide, one of my time travellers is a talking ferret. His name is Professor Hurple, and he arrives in the world of the G from the world of humans. The Library in which he lived had been set on fire by greedy developers, and his friend the Librarian urges him to escape.
“Go! Save yourself!” she said.
For a moment, I honestly didn’t understand what she meant. Go? Go where? The Library was my home – the Librarian was my family! I just stood there, chittering uselessly, until she picked me up and looked me in the eyes.
“Back wall,” she said. “By the window. Where the Celtic Mythology section meets Sci-fi/Fantasy, there’s a gap. It’s tight, but an exceptional ferret should just fit. I’m counting on you,” she said.
Me too, Ferret Muse. Me too.
* A group of ferrets is known as “a busyness” because of their major tendency to bustle about. And because “a craziness” isn’t a recognized collective noun.
** It is a collection of 12 toy ferrets, of different sizes and colours, that I carry in my suitcase, including a number that are rare in the wild – the Rainbow Ferret, for example, or the elegantly striped Tiger Ferret.
Oooh, I'd better watch my tail if there are ferrets about! Thank you very much, Joan.
Joan Lennon's website is www.joanlennon.co.uk
Her books that explicitly include ferrets are The Ferret Princess and The Seventh Tide.
And since the main character of The Slightly Jones Mysteries has “a pointy little face like an inquisitive ferret”, here are her books so far:
The Case of the London Dragonfish
The Case of the Glasgow Ghoul