Monday 8 August 2016

Guest Post: Rachel Crowther on Writers and their Dogs

TITLE: The Things You Do For Love
AUTHOR: Rachel Crowther

PUBLICATION DATE: August 11, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

An elite surgeon with a brilliant but philandering husband, Flora Macintyre has always defined herself by her success in juggling her career and her marriage. Until, all at once, she finds herself with neither.

Retired and widowed in the space of a few months, Flora is left untethered. In a moment of madness, she realises there's nothing to stop her running away to France.

But back home her two daughters - the family she's always loved, but never had the time to nurture - are struggling. Lou is balancing pregnancy with a crumbling relationship, while her younger sister, Kitty, begins to realise she may have to choose between love and her growing passion for music.

And even as the family try to pull together, one dark secret could still tear them all apart...

Writers and their dogs

Everyone knows that every great writer has a dog (apart from the ones who have cats, of course, but I am not one of that camp). Most of us can probably name one or two – Virginia Woolf’s Pinka, perhaps, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Flush, or even Gertrude Stein’s sequence of poodles called Basket – and if we can’t, a quick Google search yields several delightful examples, complete with photographs of Irascible Literary Figure and Indulged Canine Companion.

My canine companions are two lunatic labradoodle litter-mates, the doggy equivalent of those human twins who speak their own secret language and don’t have much idea how to relate to other people – but even they seem also to understand the duties of the Writer’s Dog.

One of those, of course, is companionship. Writing can be a lonely business, and as much as we all love being left alone to get on with it, not being QUITE alone is even better. Having a dog at your feet, or sprawled contentedly nearby, is a comfort – even if having a scented candle always to hand is a sensible precaution if you’re planning to share a confined space with a couple of dogs for any length of time. Guarding is another key skill, warning the engrossed writer of imminent interruptions, and perhaps even seeing some of them off. Trixie has a special place half way up the stairs from which she can survey the approach to the house, while Barnabas prefers to lie either just inside or just outside the door, rather like one of those faithful hounds that grace the tombs of Crusader knights. And dogs are good at providing diversion too: cavorting round the garden playing hunt and chase by way of idle spectator sport, and of course justifying the temptation to desert the writing desk for half an hour, any time you like, on the grounds that they absolutely need another walk.

But the Writer’s Dog does more than that, as any of them can tell you. They provide a listening ear: ask them a question and they will instantly lift their head, cock their ear, flap their tail in pleasure at the prospect of being useful. Better still, they understand perfectly well – as no human companion does – that if you ask them a question, it’s because you want to answer it yourself. So they raise their trusting brown eyes to yours to say ‘you know best’, rather than offering helpful advice. ‘Yes,’ you say, after a few moments of meaningful communion, ‘thanks, you’re absolutely right,’ and the tail flaps again, pleased to have discharged another duty satisfactorily.

But putting words into the mouth of a dog isn’t the same as talking to yourself. It’s more than that: it’s a dialogue of the kind you can’t have satisfactorily on your own, and only with the very best trained friend or spouse. It’s a way of talking things out, or talking your way through things; of exploring or testing or explaining or discovering. It’s almost like communicating with that thing of mirage and shadows, the Ideal Reader. I’m sure Flush and Pinka understood that perfectly well, and I’d be prepared to bet that any writer’s dog worth its salt could rise to the challenges of assisting in the great venture of Literature. If not, Barnabas and Trixie would be happy to offer help and advice on the proper place to lie, and the right moment to stir hopefully and suggest a break.

The Things You Do For Love will be published by Zaffre on August 11. You can pre-order here.

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