NEWS: Leonev’s Last Voyage & Space Cat’s First Flight

Talking of reaching for the stars and finding Earth, can we all doff our helmets to Alexei Leonev who passed away this week? What an extraordinary man. In those early days of space travel, the Space Race recruited plenty of courageous explorers. But rarely were they so articulate about what they experienced, so artistic in their vision. Leonev is best known for undertaking the first ever space walk or EVA. His own paintings show him as a white suit hanging on an umbilical cord above the blue planet. The dark visor reflects the deep, leaves us to guess the emotions of a man untethered from his homeworld.

Space Walker statue at National Space Centre: Credit Siobhan Logan

Yet his description in interviews puts us right there, inside the suit that was his temporary ship:

“You just can’t comprehend it. Only out there can you feel the greatness – the huge size of all that surrounds us … It was so quiet I could even hear my heart beat. I was surrounded by stars and was floating without much control. I will never forget the moment. I also felt an incredible sense of responsibility.”

The elation of that moment was about to turn to panic however. His spacesuit malfunctioned and swelled so much that he couldn’t fit back into the capsule’s hatch. With only minutes to spare, he let out some oxygen from his suit and squeezed back in, headfirst. Undaunted, he returned to space a decade later to shake hands with American astronaut Dave Scott when they docked ships on a joint US Soviet mission. It signalled the end of the superpower Space Race. Leonev’s career captures the Cold War fuelled intensity of that first decade of space exploration. And his art allows us to see beyond that, into the human experience of it. That vision continues to inspire Space Cat Press.

And so we cut to Space Cat’s debut flight at this weekend’s bookfair. When you step through the wooden portal of Leicester’s Central Library, it’s hard not to think of Hogwarts or Lyra’s Oxford college in Pullman’s Northern Lights novel. The automated doors beyond might just swing you into Narnia or outer space. The floors intrigue with a tiled mosaic. The grand staircase is lined with an Egyptian mural. Yet these are no hallowed halls for Etonian schoolboys or trueborn wizards. This is the hearthplace of story in the city and its doors are open to all; scholars, the homeless, pensioners seeking computer access, refugees, kids and yes, writers too.

Happily, this is the site of Space Cat Press’ autumn series of launch events, all supported by Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading festival and #DMULocal. So this weekend, at Leicester Writers’ Bookfair, we unveiled our first bookstall, laden with books, rockets, space-bags, poemcards and cosmic sweets. A galaxy of goodies for space lovers and bookworms alike.

And what enormous fun that was! Books were browsed and bought, sweets were sucked, tote bags were filled and poem cards read. Always a joy to meet readers, authors and other small presses. And many thanks to Matt & his team of librarians and volunteers for making us so welcome. Suffice to say that by day’s end, SPACE CAT was over the moon and purring.

We’re looking forward to our return to Leicester’s Library mothership for a FREE writing workshop next week. Writing to the Moon & Back is led by SCP author Siobhan Logan. Booking is essential – see the link.

You are also warmly invited to join us for an explosive Desert Moonfire book launch on the same evening, Weds. 23rd October, with rockets, mooncake and stories and poems of the Space Race. Bring shades – it’s gonna get hot and bright when we fire up on Pad 39a.