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.

Inspirations: From J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, John Fowles to The Brontë sisters and me

I never cease to be fascinated by the inspirations that send authors and artists imaginations spinning.

My own mind constantly absorbs information and I seek out opportunities for cropped-10562997_888718807805375_8533099977768604640_n.jpg inspiration and often write scenes that are set in real places. So, when I do things like standing on the harbour in Lyme Regis, I cannot help but image the moment when John Fowles watched the woman looking out to sea and the story of The French Lieutenant’s Woman began unravelling in his mind.

I particularly loved, discovering the inspirations behind Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, though. I didn’t know his inspirations at all until we visited The Vyne in Hampshire.

70192667528+RESIZED_thumb_460x00There, we discovered the gold ring with the Roman inscription, that had been found locally and shown to J. R. R. Tolkien. I could imagine him holding it and it did have a sense of glowing, with the mystery letters inscribed in the gold a bold statement. The 4th Century ring turned up in a ploughed field locally. It was not found as part of a planned excavation, it was just found, as though it wanted to be found. I wonder if you could see Tolkien’s mind spinning in the way he looked at it when he held it?

But it was not just the ring that he knew about and saw. Something else is held at The Vyne. A distance from where the ring was found, a Roman temple was excavated. The temple was built over a spring, so the spring itself was excavated. As part of their devotions, Romans would write down their prayers on small pieces of lead, mostly asking the god to do things. Then they would roll the soft lead up into a tiny scroll, so their words remained private, and throw their scroll into the holy spring. with an offering. One of these tiny lead rolls revealed a request to find a lost ring, and a curse on anyone who had stolen it. Sound familiar at all…

I love these little facts. There is no way anyone can prove that the ring and the scroll have any connection, but both ended up at The Vyne Tudor Mansion and because they were there they created such a fabulous idea for a series of books.

cropped-horse-from-bridge.jpgLike me, Tolkien was also inspired by places. The Wiltshire Downs with their undulating bare hills and the White Horse, that I grew up in the shadow of, sitting on my bedroom windowsill and staring at, appear to have formed the setting of many scenes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s books.

cropped-img_3802.jpgI won’t say anything about Jane Austen’s inspirations, because, as you know, I was so fascinated by that discovery that it became the inspiration of a whole book for me, in Jane the Authoress. But as much as she was inspired by some of the history of her wealthier relations, the Brontë sisters were inspired by the dark and brooding moor on their doorstep and by the wicked and sad life of their brother.

In the Lake District recently, when we went out for a boat trip on Coniston Water, as we cruised around the lake the guide pointed out sites that were the settings for the adventures of The Swallows and Amazons. I could clearly see that John Fowles was painting a picture in his books of a life he knew very well.

Beatrix Potter, though, is my favourite for inspirations in the Lake District. Her inspirations are easily relatable because she not only wrote them, but painted them. The paintings in her books, beyond the characters, replicate the places around where she lived. What is even more fascinating about her inspirations is that this year, I discovered that Beatrix did not live in the house where she depicted her characters in her books.

Hill Top Cottage in Sawrey Village, in the Lake District, was initially Beatrix’s holiday home. She spent a couple of weeks there at a time, but she couldn’t live there because it was not appropriate for a woman to live alone. Then she married and moved to live somewhere else in Sawrey with her husband and kept Hill Tip Cottage as place where she wrote. It makes it far more fascinating when you walk around the cottage just as she established it, with the understanding that it was created to be an inspiration for her books. What a wonderful novelty. It is also extremely brilliant that in her will she left the property and all its contents to charity with the stipulation that it must remain exactly as it was.

When we were walking around the house, because we have recently bought a IMG_4792grandfather clock, my husband now looks at them wherever he goes, and he said, ‘Has that clock always been on the stairs? I’ve never noticed it before.’

The answer is obviously yes…

I wonder if David Williams is doing that with his house for the characters for his children’s books? 😉 If not, he’s not as dedicated. Tee Hee.

The advantage, though, for todays authors, is that we have the internet. If we cannot go somewhere, we can find pictures and descriptions online. But perhaps if we do that, we miss out and our readers lose something.

My preference is still to use experiences, and I venture out to find experiences that spur my imagination. I explore what if feels like and sounds like to be there doing that. Physically being somewhere does help to get the words and images flowing. Although you know from this blog I read a lot of other peoples descriptions of life too. But, I also often share my inspirations in images on Pinterest and Instagram  if you want to take a look at the places and things that inspire me.

I will only mention one of my own inspirations in this post. A particularly special inspiration. Pepper, our Patterdale Terrier, has been an inspiration for every dog that I have written into my books. But Pippin who is in Treacle Moon that is released in June is the most Pepper like dog that I have written. Sadly we lost Pepper last month, so it seems fitting to mention him here.

Thank you for all your inspirations, Pepper.

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