Why Botanics has miaow factor for Maisie

CATS and gardeners cannot be said to enjoy the closest of relationships. But for one particular feline, those of a green-fingered nature are prepared to make an exception.

You might just catch her peering through the thick shrubbery of the rhododendrons, or whisking her tail out of sight behind the Japanese pagoda, for it seems the Royal Botanic Garden has given Edinburgh's best-kent kitty the run of the place.

Maisie the Morningside cat has been given a free paw to explore the Garden, much to the delight of her creator, local author and illustrator Aileen Paterson.

Garden chiefs have commissioned her to write a new Maisie mystery, which will initially be sold exclusively at the Botanics shop for several months early next year before it goes on general release. And the Inverleith setting is sure to strike a chord with children and parents alike, many of whom will have whiled away countless afternoons exploring the Botanics.

Maisie and the Botanic Garden Mystery will be the 25th Maisie story since the series began 21 years ago, when the kitten from "the tiny farm in a distant glen" came to the posh Edinburgh suburb of Morningside.

In fact she was created after Aileen's 11-year-old son, Max, died of leukaemia in 1980, as the former art teacher at Craigroyston High School tackled her grief through drawing.

Speaking from her Abbeyhill home, the 70-year-old author says: "It's something of a thriller and Maisie is over the moon with it.

"We've covered virtually every inch of the Garden and now I'm working at home on drawings of the flowers, shrubs and the monkey puzzle trees.

"I was chuffed to get this commission, it's so much fun."

But Maisie isn't in it just for the laughs. She takes it seriously as she turns sleuth.

Her creator adds: "Maisie often gets bored and when she's bored, she becomes cross. She's been around - this will be the 25th yarn in the series - straying far and wide from Morningside.

"Half the time she's not in Scotland. I've taken her to Paris and New York and, last year she swanned off in her pyjamas to the Himalayas to tangle with the Abominable Snowman. And sleuthing isn't exactly new to her. In New York, she chased three criminals who'd nicked a necklace.

"She certainly doesn't lack the spirit of adventure. In fact she's a wee bit like me and my children. We were all rather adventurous, a bit nosey."

Aileen admits that her books have drawn on her experiences as a single mother of six and she thinks of Maisie as her seventh child.

And while she herself has been to most of the places Maisie visits, in the case of the Brazilian rainforest, it was her daughter Kim who spent three months there.

"Maisie's looks are based on a cat I used to have called Charlie, but her character is based on my children," she laughs.

To date she is estimated to have earned around 500,000 from the Maisie books and a lucrative television deal back in 2000, in which Stanley Baxter provided the voices for all the characters in the 26 episodes of Meeow!, which was beamed across the world.

"Max would have loved all of this," she says.

"He was enormously good fun and would have found the whole Maisie thing a great laugh.

"I look upon Maisie as a kind of gift which has given me something really interesting to do with my life - and to have a lot of fun with as well."

The idea to set a story in the Botanics though, she says, has been haunting her for some time, leading to a productive meeting with the Botanic management team.

"I think the Gardens are a fantastic place for a Maisie adventure. The Botanics people had no qualms about allowing Maisie to roam all over their territory, once they'd been assured she's not the destructive sort."

In the story, Maisie gets up to her usual sleuthing mischief, set against the backdrop of blue poppies and other exotic plants.

Reluctantly shedding light on the plot of the latest yarn, Aileen reveals: "There's something about a picnic, because I found out you couldn't have picnics in the Botanics, which was a bit of a shock to me.

"I can also reveal that while Maisie sets about solving the great Botanics mystery with characteristic purpose and ingenuity, her readers will be left wondering: 'Who ate all the pies?'" The Botanics' management are, of course, delighted to have such a famous Edinburgh figure paying them a visit. Gillian Emerick, who manages the Botanics shop, where the new book will go on sale, says: "We are delighted that Maisie is coming to the Garden to solve a mystery.

"Hopefully, she will stay out of mischief and the weather won't be too dreich for her visit.

"All the Garden staff will be on hand to give her any help she needs."

Even as she puts the finishing touches on the book, Aileen is pondering how to take her Morningside kitten in an entirely different direction.

"It's something Maisie could handle, I'm sure. I think a stage production of a ballet built around her would work. It would be a tremendous challenge, certainly, but something well worth thinking about by both of us."

• Additional reporting by Katie Emslie.

STORIES HAVE BEEN THE CAT'S WHISKERS FOR 21 YEARS

AILEEN PATERSON'S mischievous moggy has delighted two generations of youngsters since the first story, Maisie Comes to Morningside, was published 21 years ago.

Now one of Scotland's most popular fictional characters, the kilted kitten has had adventures all over the world, from the heart of Edinburgh to the Himalayas. Written for four to seven-year-olds, the books have seen Maisie MacKenzie jet off to Hollywood, dabble with pirates and take up archaeology.

The first book's title was inspired by the Chester Himes detective story, Cotton Comes to Harlem, while many of the stories take their basis from Aileen Paterson's own Fife upbringing.

Paterson was born in Burntisland in 1934. She came to Edinburgh to study art and stayed on, working in the arts and crafts and as a teacher.