A Shaggy Dog Story

For something a bit different, I wrote this piece for Good Dog Magazine, an online blog promoted via Twitter. Sadly, they seemed to have disappeared, so I hope they won’t mind if I immortalise our best 4-legged friend on my own blog.

Barney

Are Collies a Writer’s Best Friend?

Anyone who understands dogs will know how clever border collies are as a breed and as a writer, I can vouch for them. They give so much. After hearing a sad piece of news concerning more than 20 collies abandoned in a house, only to end up in a local dog sanctuary, it seemed more than a coincidence that we were considering getting a dog of our own. It stimulated an idea… So we did our homework. Hopeful we were making the best choice I looked up as much information as I could find about border collies. Described as intelligent, interactive and in need of regular stimulation, exercise and playtime, we knew what to expect. Keen to discover more, we made enquiries. Sure enough, we received a call regarding a pair of border collies in need of a home.

Although the brothers were destined to be separated, from the moment they trotted through the door, I caught Barney’s eye and knew he was the one. We had the pleasure of walking them and Barney was without a doubt the more submissive. His brother was stronger and more boisterous. Yet my husband too, developed a fondness for the gentler, more timid of the duo and on the same afternoon, he travelled home with us.

The Friendship of Collies

The one thing we discovered in Barney more than anything, was he improved our quality of life. As the research suggested, he did need loads of exercise and playtime. As a relatively young 2 year old, we took him out three times a day for at least half an hour. We’re blessed to have a large park close to home and live a short distance from the sea, where dogs are allowed on the beach. Having a dog got us out more than before, where for the first time in our lives, we actually made the most of our outdoor living space.

Barney

Then something else changed. In 2010 I was wandering along the beach with our dog when I began to develop the idea for a story. I say, I’m a writer but I had never written a full length novel before and discovered my true calling. This is something I include in my author’s biography because it marked a pivotal point. The threads of my story evolved while I was walking Barney along the water’s edge and as time progressed, that book developed into a series.

A Writer’s Best Friend

This is how I started life as an author. I often wondered if it hadn’t been for that special time, meandering along the beach with Barney, throwing his ball, those ideas might never have come to me. I began my debut novel in 2011 after I had figured out the entire synopsis. But Barney’s intervention didn’t end there…

Border Collie, Barney

I’ve always been an early morning person which is the time, I do most of my writing. Once the novel was underway, I found myself waking up earlier and switched on my laptop at around 6am. Barney always followed me into the office. The one thing I’ve noticed about border collies is they form an attachment. They are not solitary dogs, they like company and somehow, Barney became an essential part of my writing ritual. If he wasn’t curled up on the floor next to me, I couldn’t concentrate; he became my muse. The time I really noticed his absence however, was in 2012 when he needed an operation.

Knee Surgery

Sadly, Barney ruptured a cruciate ligament, which is not uncommon. Being such lively dogs, running, spinning, jumping for the ball and doing a little pirouettes are a frequent cause of this injury – it is common among footballers too! Barney had to be put to sleep for his operation which involved fitting an implant to repair the ligament. It meant an overnight stay, which was a morning I really missed him. Fortunately he made a full recovery. It is regrettable that we had to cut his walks down from three a day to two. Yet it was always the same. Whether we were playing in the park or enjoying the tranquillity of the seafront, the ideas for my series kept flowing during these special times…

Fellow Writing Companions

Barney (now 11) had both knees operated on in the end. He is also showing signs of arthritis. Sadly, he’s a shadow of the dog he was; not nearly as energetic but still a great companion. Since my writing journey began, I met some fellow authors, such as Carol Thomas, who has written a children’s book, ‘Finding a Friend.’ Her family adopted a puppy last year, which was perhaps the inspiration for her story; when I asked her what she thought about me writing an article for ‘Good Dog Magazine,’ she replied as follows:

“As a sixteenth month old Labrador Hubble is great at making sure I don’t have lots of odd bits of paper around me, my notes have to be organised and kept in a book or he would eat them! When it comes to writing on my computer he settles down next to me and keeps me company. I love dogs and have featured Labradors in all of my stories to date.”

I suspect all dogs can be great writing companions…

My five-book series, titled ‘Same Face Different Place’ can be downloaded as an ebook or at local book fairs in the Chichester area. Since completing it, I’ve started writing a book of short stories and one begins through the mind of a dog.

Barney in the autumn woods

An Update

We don’t know how much longer we will have Barney for but his health has started to deteriorate. With various things wrong, it is regrettable we’ve had to cancel our  insurance with Virgin Money Pet Insurance (who used every excuse not to help us with his healthcare) but we’d be better paying that money into a separate fund now.

Yesterday evening, I was delighted to take him for another walk along the beach in the sunshine. I seem to have lost my inspiration lately but it came back just when I needed it, and in time to finish a first draft of my new book. So I will end with a little extract…

Buttons lurches forwards, his nose twitching. Damp clothes, cold skin and a subtle trace of sweat almost mask the impression of a person lying there. The whimper in his throat rises to a wail.
“What is it boy,” his owner gasps, “what have you found?”
Closer and closer he shuffles to the source, the scent getting stronger. Something salty arises out of the mist, something almost pitiful; it is the smell of blood. Another tug on his lead makes him start, the darkness heavy as the face of a child peeps out from a circle of bushes.
“Oh, dear God…” he hears his owner groan.

Rosebrook Chronicles is a Work in Progress and coming soon.

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About Helen J. Christmas

I am an English author and have written a series of novels, titled 'Same Face Different Place. Beginnings is a gangland thriller set in the criminal underworld of 1970s London. The second Book 'Visions' is a psychological thriller, set in Kent; a mystery that ensnares the owners of an historic, English Country House. Book 3 Pleasures contains suspense, thrills and YA romance, set in a backdrop of organised crime and at the advent of the British rave culture. There are 2 final books in the series, Retribution (Phase One) and Retribution (End Game) where the saga reaches its dramatic conclusion.
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