I’d find it hard to write a story without animals. They enrich my life so I reckon they can enrich my characters’ lives, too.
I’m in good company, as animals have been used in literature for centuries, probably starting with Homer’s faithful companion, Argos — although I can’t claim to have given any of my creature characters great allegorical significance. So whether as an anthropomorphic lead in books like 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith or a companion like Nana in Peter Pan by JM Barrie, animals really do add to a story.
According to ITV’s documentary, The Secret Life of Dogs, it was Sir Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering that influenced increased interest in dog-ownership, thanks to two Dandie Dinmont terriers called Mustard and Pepper. If ITV says so, it must be true.
Animals can be fabulous instruments for introducing humour into a scene. Their insolence or their sangfroid can be at glorious counterpoint to the drama unfolding. Equally, their quiet, comforting presence may be just what’s needed in an emotional crisis.
In Vicki’s Work of Heart, my heroine is a vegetarian. Now why is that? Well, I have a huge respect for vegetarians. I’m almost one myself but sadly, like an alcoholic, I need help. It’s not easy living, as I do, with a red-blooded, dipped-in-the-gravy, omnivore, whose face drops in disbelief when I present any kind of meal that doesn’t have animal protein in it. I tense myself in anticipation of the question, ‘Where’s the meat?’ each time I dare to inflict veggieness upon him. I know cooking two different meals is an option, and sometimes I do, but I can be a bit lazy.
And then there’s bacon… Like I said – I need help.
I once heard the lovely and slightly eccentric Radio DJ, Tony Blackburn, on the topic of his vegetarianism. He explained it very simply: ‘Animals are your friends, and you don’t eat your friends.’ That struck a chord with me, so I borrowed his sentiment and used it for Vicki’s motivation not to eat meat.
When Vicki moves to France, her best friend sets her up with accommodation in the home of Christophe Dubois – a veterinarian. I have a bit of a thing about vets. I find them very romantic. They’re heroes. They care for animals and save lives. What’s not to love about a vet? Christophe has two dogs – Hercules and Boz. Both are based on dogs I met in France, who quickly found places in my heart. Sadly they are no longer with us but will live on in my memory and this book. Their real names are Gus and Bibi.
I love cats, too. I once rescued a tabby after a road accident. My neighbour thought it would be fun to call it after him but since I didn’t think ‘Ian’ was a very good name for a cat, I chose his nationality instead. Scottie was as soft and meek a cat as I’ve ever known. Over time he became known as Scottie-poohs Posh-paws No-balls Moult-a-lot GT. (GT because he used to sit under cars and come home with an oily back.) Like all cats, he was nowhere near when I wanted a cuddle, but the moment I put a book on my lap, or tried to write – he was trying to get in on the act.
So I will continue to feature animals in my work, although I’ve yet to spotlight my first dog – a headstrong little beagle called Molly – because she’d steal the show.