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.

What inspires a psychological thriller?

The writing ideas for the psychological thrillers come very differently from the research I’ve done for historical stories. They can’t be found by visiting such obvious places as historical properties. But I’ve learned to use several things.

One. My own life – I’ve started writing scenes set in local places, and using some of things I’ve done. Places I’ve spent a lot of time in and have experienced life in not just visited. I shared some of the places when I told you about the inspirations for After you Fell in The Secrets of a Bestseller. My characters might carry different emotions into the scenes from the days that I’ve done the same thing or been to the same place. But drawing on my reality, I think helps to make the characters experience more real, which enables the reader to connect emotionally with the characters. And that emotional connection, writing a character the people feel something for, is just as important in thrillers as it is in romance.

There’s a seen in The Twins when they hitchhike to Buscot, to swim in the weir pool on National Trust land. That’s something I and my friends did as young teenagers 🙂

My Twins are truants. I admit I did skip school occassionally, but I once met a girl at the bus stop who was going to school for the first time in two years. She said she used to hide in the day. I never saw her again, she didn’t come back. It’s strange how my real life memories from a long while ago can return to influence a story now. I remember her though because I always wondered what had happened next.

Two. Learning about real life crimes, and most importantly the people who commit them. The TV channel, CBS Reality, is my late-night watch. I’m funny I know. In my day job in a meeting we were asked to draw how we were feeling, I made everyone laugh because in my drawing I included a drawing of a woman with a knife – I was tired because I’d stayed up late watching Wives with Knives. Hee hee. But another late-night programme is about twins who commit crimes. I watched it as much to learn about the relationship between twins rather than to find ideas for the story. I’m pleased to say that I’ve already had feedback from a twin to say they relate to my characters. So, that has thrilled me – thank you to the television show.

Three. Identifying the settings for the scenes. Choosing real settings adds to the stories realism. It engages people’s minds with the fiction more effectively. Although there’s always a writer’s licence to embellish spaces, my settings are usually deliberately not accurate to the real places. For instance, two of the characters in The Twins own a cafe in the Lake District. I chose the Lake District for the adult years of my characters because it’s quite an enchanting place. It’s also out of the way, where the characters could go to hide. But a lot of the lakes are full of tourists, and the towns busy with thousands of visitors. So when I found a quieter setting, it became the perfect place for my reserved characters who didn’t want to let anyone know they were there. The small cafe at the Esthwaite Water Trout Fishery became the spot I used as a reference to describe my cafe. But then I embellished it. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of the real cafe. In reality, on the entrance side, it’s a solid wall with a single width door. My setting has a glass front so that the characters see who is coming and going. My fictional cafe is also bigger, it has more tables inside, and a wider selection of food. But the fact that it’s set right on the edge of the lake, and that there’s nothing else around it, those are the things that the real cafe inspired. It has a homely, welcoming atomosphere, tucked away in the woods.

Oh that might take you back to the first inspiration I mentioned in this recent flurry of blog posts.

Four. Music. The inspiration of music runs from historicals into psychological thrillers without change.

The Twins: The most gripping psychological crime thriller of 2020 with a twist you won’t see coming!

available in audio an ebook from today

If you liked Blood Orange, The Perfect Couple and The House Guest you will love this!

Susan and Sarah. Sisters. Best friends.

Nothing could break them apart.

Until they meet him.

And he can only choose one…

Now Susan is back. Determined to reclaim everything Sarah has taken from her.

Her home, her husband…her life?