t was in a rush of inspiration, in a not normally inspiring setting—a commuter train to London—that Martin Penny began his YA novel, TAILs: The Animal Investigators of London. This is the Oxfam book- shop manager-turned-author’s first novel aimed at a younger audience,

and has a Roald Dahl feel, as it uses humour and heroism to tackle complex themes. The initial idea for TAILs was very loosely based

on the “Croydon Cat Killer”, a media-driven cause célèbre and bogeyman of the mid-2010s—though rest assured Martin’s upbeat and fun tale strays far from the source material. It was Penny’s publisher who came up with the initial idea for TAILs and asked Penny to write it. Penny says: “I was hesitant at first, maybe because of the themes. But I was travelling up and down to London at the time, and on one of those trips, I took a notebook and pen with me and it started to come out very quickly.” He hopes this will be the first of a series of books featuring his animal sleuths. The book centres around Yowl, a fearless and

clever young tabby who unites a group of Croydon animals—like Big Red the fox, a squirrel called Secret and Hoot the owl—to try to nab the culprit, despite their differences. Over Zoom from his home in Turkey, Penny says: “Yowl was based on my cat,


t undoubtedly led to a major break- through. I don’t regret anything,” Lord Peter Hain said of the Stop the Tour protests, explored in his new book Pitch Battles: Sport, Racism and Resistance, written with André Odendaal. The organised disrup- tion against all-white South African

rugby and cricket teams heralded the end of apart- heid sport, eventually leading to 2019’s Rugby World Cup-winning South African side, captained by Black athlete Siya Kolisi. The book, marking the 50th anniversary of the protests, argues sport can “never be divorced from politics or society’s values”. Protests were sparked when visiting rugby and

cricket teams from South Africa attempted to tour the UK. Describing the tactics used by the protes- tors during the Stop the Seventy Tour, Pitch Battles reads as entertainingly as a knockabout caper. At one point, one activist, booked into the same Park Lane hotel as the Springboks rugby team, spent the early hours “gumming up the players’ door locks with solidifying agent”. The doors had to be broken down the next morning ahead of an international. Another protestor, dressed in a smart suit,

tricked the team’s waiting coach driver into letting him on board. He promptly “slipped into the driving seat, chained himself to the steering wheel and drove the coach off”. A Springbok player later recalled, “All hell broke loose… one of the players managed to get his hands around the driver’s neck.

The bus crashed into half a dozen cars... Chaos… And all this only four hours before kick-off.” The Stop the Tour campaign “reached parts of the population” that had never before been involved in politics, according to Hain. Unlike politicians, “most people are not highly political, they’re just getting on with their lives”, and in those days the average British man “looked at the back pages before the front pages”. Sport was at first used “as a stick to beat apartheid”, affecting South Africa’s reputation on the global stage, leading to sharp drop in trade, and later, “as a carrot”. Nelson Mandela understood the healing power of sport, with his first public appearance as president at a South Africa–Zambia football match; when he later attended the Rugby World Cup final to see the Springboks play, the “99% white” crowd rose up to cheer him, chanting “Nelson! Nelson!” In the past five years, there has been an

increase in athletes speaking out against injustice. “Sportspeople shouldn’t have to transform them- selves into politicians,” said Hain. “They’re just like everybody else, going about their daily lives.” But he notes that athletes, including Lewis Hamilton and Megan Rapinoe, have felt “freer to speak out” in recent times, and that a “decisive moment” in that respect was NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick “taking a knee” in peaceful protest against racial injustice, in 2016.

Pitch Battles (9781786615220, £14.95) will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in September. The hardback is out now.

Piggy, who I had when I moved away from home. I’m not sure she was as brave as Yowl, but the mannerisms were based on her.” Penny, who ran Oxfam’s flagship London bookshop for 12 years, has been living in Turkey for the past five years, with his wife and two sons, aged 10 and 12. The boys were the book’s first editors: “I ran TAILs past my two children as I was writing it, I got the youngest one to highlight every word he didn’t understand. Based on their feedback, I adjusted it and toned it down and left some of it as it was.” Penny, an animal lover, insists the book is not

graphic or replete with repeatable acts that might keep readers away—in fact, he believes the book reaffirms the incredible value of animal life, and highlights the need to prevent cruelty. In 2018, The Metropolitan Police concluded that

there was no evidence of human involvement in the Croydon Cat Killer case—blaming it primarily on foxes—and ended its investigation. That decision was met with much public anger; certainly Penny has his doubts. “There were a lot of cats discovered that had marks on them that don’t sound like they came from other animals. Maybe we will never know, but I thought it was an interesting idea to try to catch the killer in a book.”

TAILs: The Animal Investigators of London (9781913606398, £14.99) is published by Eyewear Publishing on 29th April.


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