Books and dogs

I didn’t have a pet dog as a child, it wasn’t until my daughter was fourteen that we introduced a dog into our lives. The idea of having our first dog came from a book. I picked up a book on dog breeds in a garden centre. It opened at random on a page with the image of a black Patterdale Terrier. I said to my daughter, ‘If we have a dog, we’ll have that breed.’ It was probably three years later that we found Pepper. He was the last dog in the litter, a family dog from the outset not a working dog. We found him after visiting the vets to ask what we needed to do as we planned to pick up a Patterdale Terrier from Wales. Patterdales weren’t very common then. Pepper was born just up the road from our house and it was as though he was meant for us, the timing was so perfect. He was a very placid loving dog, which is a rare character for a Patterdale. He grew up to be the image of the dog in the book, he had long legs for a Patterdale, as the image in the book had.

And what a revelation it was to have my first dog! If you don’t have a significant pet, you can’t imagine the importance and intensity of that relationship, or at least I couldn’t. Like many first-time adult dog owners, I was surprised by the attachment that developed, and how quickly it developed. Dogs really do become a part of the family. Dogs are childlike when they’re young and it immediately makes you feel like their parent.

Writers, because we are working at home, sitting still, in one place, often have a dog that keeps us company. Of course, in a COVID world that’s true for more people. My first dog would simply squeeze into a chair beside me and sleep. My current dog is far less patient with my laptop 😀 I am barked at in the evenings and told to put it down, so he can have his cuddle. He upstages me too, by sitting on the bed behind me during video calls.

Our first dog became so much a part of my life, though, that, of course, having experienced that relationship it was an obvious step to write dogs into my books. So far the dogs have only slipped into the historical books. But what I like about adding the dogs into stories, is that they help define the personality of the human character.

Robert’s Deer Hounds in The Passionate Love of a Rake show a high level of loyalty to a man who struggles to glean loyalty from human beings, he is much better at pushing people away. But his dogs … The dogs’ loyalty implies that there is something beyond the hard shell. The dogs likewise tell a tale in his son’s story, The Reckless love on an heir. It was quite a few years ago now that we watched the deerhounds running from a 17th Century Grandstand. They are very stately and sleek looking dogs. Perfect for Robert.

Then there is Pippin, the King Charles Spaniel, in Treacle Moon, Polly’s pet. He’s a lapdog that travels everywhere with her. His nature is more like the nature of my Pepper the Patterdale Terrier. He likes to be held and fussed. Her close relationship with Pippin expresses her desire to feel close to someone, and that she is a warm, generous-hearted, tactile person who appreciates displays of affection. The displays of affection that she’d lacked in her childhood when she was orphaned.

Somebody asked in the interview with One More Chapter this week, ‘Who would your side-kick be if you were a detective?’ I said my dog. Jack, our rescue dog, who we have now worked out is mostly a Lancashire Heeler. He is a perfect inspiration for a thriller accomplice. He observes everything, keeping an eye on who and what passes by the house. He is also a good tracker and a heel nipper – good at rounding people up like sheep. So, there may be a dog in a future thriller.

The dogs in books don’t always behave, though. There is the issue of not wanting to write too much about them; if they aren’t adding to the storyline in some way then I don’t want to keep going on about them. But they need to be there in a scene somewhere. It’s when there’s an intense scene that they become a difficult addition. What’s the dog doing during the dialogue that you don’t want to break. In a film you wouldn’t interrupt a scene for the camera to pan to the pet, but in a book, people don’t have the visual knowledge that the dog is on a lap, or on the floor in the corner. 😀 Robert’s deerhounds were easier to manage, they could be looked after in the stables by the servants. But Pippin, by the very nature of a lapdog, he should always be there. He was very good at sleeping by the fire. Ha ha. Pippin’s presence in Treacle Moon, and then in Entangled was something I had to keep going back to and adding in too, because my mind would progress the scene and then I’d suddenly remember, where’s Pippin? Oh blast, I forgot him again …

It is a bit, as they say with actors, never work with children and pets. Young children are the same, you have to keep putting them into safe places in the intense scenes.

A writer’s mood board

Many of the authors I know, in their story development stage, gather together ideas in the way lots of creative professionals do, by building them into a mood board. It helps to form those early inspirations into a context that creates a good story. A story – in romance that has a strong beginning middle and end, and in thrillers has a strong beginnnig, fifteen suprise deviations and a shocking end ;D .

I’ve often talked about inspirations for the settings of scenes, and the plotlines in my books but there are also inspirations for the appearance of characters. Authors cut out pictures from magazines, of the public, actors and models they identify with and pin them onto cork boards along with pictures of places and sometimes maps of fictional villages and towns. My historical story boards are in my mind, on my laptop and despersed through books. There are hunderds of photos in folders, that I’ve taken on visits to places that have inspired me, and piles of books around the house with coloured bookmarkers or peices of paper poking out of the important pages. As my fans will know, for most books I also capture some of the things I’ve used as inspirtion in accompanying Pinterest Boards. So readers can see the places, items, properties and people that inspired elements of the stories.

These images include the rooms which inspired Clio’s home and lifestyle in Hartlepool, in Entangled. Then the follies at Stourhead and Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron’s property, which were inspirations for George’s home.

But I discovered a new inspiration for characters last year that I haven’t shared here before. My husband and I live in an old cottage and after we’d built an extension decided to change the furniture in the old half of the house too. So, we started hunting for antiques. But while I was searching for antique furniture I found myself being distracted by minatures in the antiques shops. I spent ages looking into the eyes and faces of people in their small portraits. As I said last week, it’s absorbing wondering who they were and how they lived, and then they became the characters. So, I started gathering some of these images. It’s no different from choosing a face in a magazine today, really.

I bought a few minatures. But then I began just saving pictures of them, because I can’t buy them all. I have about a hundred pictures.

What I particularly love is the minatures that look like mistresses. I imagine the small paintings secreted in a gentleman’s chest pocket near to his heart :’D . He’d take it out and look at it, and show his friends to brag about his prize. You can usually spot a mistress in a portrait, even among the portraits on the walls in the large stately homes. They are painted with a coquettish air and usually exposing a large part, if not all, of one breast. I’ve said it often – the Georgian’s kept their mistresses unspoken of in polite society but in plain sight. While the Victorians pretended to be pious and hid their mistresses behind closed doors. Below is the sort of image that makes me imagine this young woman was someone’s mistresss. It’s bejewelled so I think he was very proud of winning her attention, if not her affection. And she probably came at a high price. It’s the sort of portrait that would inspire a story let alone a character. I imagine her to be a woman like Harriette Wilson – and there’s a tale of a mistress that followers of this blog know very well.

The true story of a 19th Century Courtesan ~ Harriette Wilson

The true stories, Harriette Wilson, the 19th Century Courtesan, didn’t tell in her memoirs