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  • Leah Chamberlain

Mačka Island: Leah Chamberlain

ZiN's writer-in-residence for July of 2017 is Leah Chamberlain, a US writer, who is in Ližnjan working on her first novel dealing with the life on an island. Leah found her inspiration for the novel in Croatia when last year she visited the island of Šipan in Dubrovnik area. This year she's back to Croatia finding in Istra a place to further develop her novel.

"While on Šipan, two things really struck me" Leah explains, "and these are: the freedom that the kids had, and how the cats seemed to rule the island. My tour guide told me that there was an organization that came in now and then to work with the cat population, and for some reason that detail really stuck with me. From that detail, my novel started to grow. It is about a woman named Kit who has volunteered to work with an organization that is helping the cats on a fictional island, Udica. She is a veterinary student from the States, and signed up for the program in part to get away from the abusive boyfriend she has just left. She becomes close with many people on the island--Mare, who runs the hotel Kit stays at and helps the Vets International organization with their work; Mare's young granddaughter Nikolina, who has a gift for catching cats; Luka, who runs a small bar left to him by his uncle. But her ex, Brandon, isn't as far out of her life as she thought..."

Leah Chamberlain lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado. She earned her BA at Knox College and her MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University, where she first combined her love of writing with travel. She continues to travel as much as she can during summer breaks looking for inspiration for her next work.


Mačka Island (an excerpt from the novel in progress)

Kit could feel their eyes on her as she walked across the courtyard, and her determination faltered. She stopped at the first bench she passed and sat down, pretended to be very interested in picking at the cuff of her shorts. She could see the kids, hear their shouts, but she didn’t go over to them, not under the eyes of the village grandmothers.

And then she spotted Nikolina, bouncing around among the others in her red dress again. Kit smiled, more to herself than anything, but Nikolina must have felt her watching because she slowed in her movements and turned to search the edges of the park. When she spotted Kit, she broke into a smile and waved, and then ran over to the other kids, pulling them into a huddle around her. Kit’s face went hot when she saw the girl’s arm emerging from the group, pointing at her. The eyes of all the kids followed its direction, and she waved meekly. None of the kids returned the wave, but turned back into their huddle.

Kit glanced over at the grandmothers to see if they had noticed too. They had, and were watching her with slightly bemused looks on their faces.

“Must be some kind of serious conversation,” Kit shouted over to them, a joke to break her nervousness. They just nodded, and Kit suspected they understood about as much as she had earlier.

She turned back to watching the kids just in time to see their pack break, everyone running in separate directions. She couldn’t tell what they were doing—hide and seek maybe? They scattered from the park, some alone, some in pairs, and tore along the walkways until they disappeared from view. And still the grandmothers watched, one of them chuckling as Kit stood up and then sat back down again in her confusion.

Nikolina was the first to return, a cat clutched in her arms, its legs hanging limply, bouncing with the girl’s gait.

She came right up to Kit. “Mačka!” she said, and she held the cat out to Kit.

Kit looked the cat up and down—it was young, not more than a year, and had a scar that ran across one eye. She would have expected it to be hissing and spitting, but it seemed resigned to its fate and just blinked at her slowly.

Mačka, mačka!” the girl insisted, pushing the cat closer to Kit to punctuate each word.

“Okay, okay,” Kit said. “Mačka, yes.” And she took the gift of the cat into her own hands. It was surprisingly light, and struggled for a moment until Kit put one hand firmly under its ribs, the other cradling its hind legs. Then it settled into her hold, even snuggling against her.

This was a feral cat? Kit wondered. It had already started to purr.

And then suddenly kids were pouring out of the woodwork, cats in their grasp, bringing them to Kit.

Vištica s mačkama!” one of the women called again.

One of the older children laughed. “Baka says you must be the…woman. For the cats. This is true? This summer it is you?”

And Kit, at the center of an embarrassment of cats, could do nothing but nod in agreement.


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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