Monday, 4 February 2013
My dogs, George, my labrador, pictured here when old and Timmy, springer spaniel and Jasper -I'm going to put him on now, half and half
were the inspiration for Hector and Ulysses the two black labradors who are big characters in Miss Appleby's Academy. They play a very important part, well, Hector does anyway, he's one of the main characters, just as my three dogs were main characters in my life. I dedicated my book to them, they made us so very happy.
When I was a child we had dogs, cats, chickens, cattle, mice, rabbits and probably others which I have forgotten. I have not forgotten the day that my mother's cattle invaded the main street. There was only one big street. How they got out of the field we do not know. And the people who lived in the bungalows nearby were always complaining that our hens wrecked their gardens.
I hadn't known that such a rich childhood was going to be so very useful for the books I am writing now. I have had animals in my books before but none which played a major part and Emma Appleby understands dogs because she too had them in her childhood.
I can also remember one particular day when I was walking Timmy around the fields beyond the school where Katy went and there was an irish setter chasing some sheep in a field and the woman, its owner, was saying something like, 'Come to Mummy,' and instinctively somehow I stood there, all five foot four of me, let my voice fall as far as my boots and I shouted across the field,
'Come back here, you bloody dog!' and the dog got such a shock that it stopped immediately and came over and sat down beside us. I felt so clever, not something that's often happened.
Emma Appleby, my heroine in my new book, knows such things. She knows that when a dog threatens you you don't run, you get down to its level, look it in the eyes and beckon in a soft confident voice. You get it to come to you. I've never known this to fail. It isn't a trick, it's knowledge. I saw my husband do such a thing a dozen times and people always thought there was something special about it and I suppose there was, he always adored dogs and understood them.
I was bitten twice when I was a child because I used to go up and cuddle other people's dogs and sometimes the dogs weren't too keen on it and my mother told me repeatedly not to and here I am in Durham City and every time I meet a dog I can't help being happy and if you give them half a chance they like you too. I get down and talk to them. Dog owners never mind and we are such doggy people here it probably takes them hours to get anywhere when they go into the city. And the dogs love all the attention.
It made me very happy too to revisit my dogs in Miss Appleby's Academy. They have been dead for a long time and my life has moved on but Hector and Ulysses restored just a little of it as I remembered how dear they were to me.