Well, what a time for us all, hey? Usually I never quite know what my readers are up to. You’re all so different and spread all over the world, it's hard to predict. But for the first time, I know with certainty we've all faced the same thing: a global pandemic. And while I have been blessed in many ways (I have not caught Covid-19 nor lost anyone as a result of it) I have had my own personal battles, and have come out feeling battered and bruised. Thank God for my friends and family, especially these three above.
As for the writing side of my life, many people have asked what it's been like to write during a pandemic. Other than the obvious, what I struggled with most was what I call ‘spinning head syndrome’. This pandemic really does put your mind in a spin. Even those who haven't been impacted in ways others have, it messes with your mind, right?
This spinning mind syndrome is particularly hard for creatives. We need focused time to dream up our ideas. We need to be able to push away outside distractions to sink into the writing process. Let me tell you, that's been near on impossible the past few months.
And yet at the same time, I have learnt SO many lessons from observing people's reactions throughout the pandemic, especially when it comes to people's opinions and how they express them.
And wow, the pandemic has invoked a lot of opinions, hasn't it?! When I say ‘opinions’ I mean the ones we see play out on social media feeds (and maybe ones we post ourselves too during moments of frustration!). On one end of the spectrum are those who think the pandemic is one big conspiracy. Then there are those who think anyone who dares even step outside their house without a mask on is a criminal. Mixed in with this are a whole bunch of opinions in between. Either way, you'll recognise the more impassioned posts by the use of words such as ‘sheeple!’ and ‘plandemic’; ‘covidiots’ and ‘moronavirus!'
It all reminds me of how het up people get when it comes to parenting, like in my latest novel Circle of Doubt. At the core of the novel is a Facebook group for mothers where the eternal debate bubbles beneath the surface: what makes a 'good parent?' During the pandemic, this debate seems to focus on 'who knows the real truth?' Both are pretty unanswerable to be honest!
I've watched these debates play out with interest, and also thrown myself into them too. Throughout, I've made three valuable observations about character to help me with future novels.
Duality of Character
What makes a fictional character interesting is the battle between what someone presents to the world and what's deep inside them. The main character in Circle of Doubt, Emma, wants people to see her as an assured working mum who doesn't need anyone else but the family she loves. But the truth is, she is deeply insecure and is desperate for a friend she can confide in.
One of the mothers who looks down on Emma gives the impression of being an upstanding compassionate member of the community when the truth is, she hates the place.
These are just two examples of how the exterior can contradict the interior in character.
During the pandemic, I'm seeing countless examples of how character contradictions play out in 'real-life'.
Take the 'you're all sheeple' brigade as an example. In the context of the pandemic, the term sheeple is used as a derogatory term to refer to those who, among other things, are perceived as being easily influenced by the Powers That Be and the media. Sometimes, this will have spawned from conspiracy theories such as the 'New World Order' and 'plandemic' school of thought. Often, it's also a chance to say: 'Hey, look at me, I stand out from the rest of you brainwashed bunch thanks to my revolutionary and enlightened thought!'
The conflict of character that so fascinates us authors really shines through here. By using the word 'sheeple' in a derogatory manner, there is an implication the one wielding the word stands out from the herd, and is a groundbreaking, enlightened individual. But more often than not, they're just like everyone else when it comes to the reality of their lives.
They may argue what makes them revolutionary is their ability to see the truth when others can't. But let's be honest, it's not exactly pioneering to acknowledge the media and those in authority aren't always right or true. Most of us learn this at GCSE level!
Whether they like it or not, by banging on about how different they are from the 'sheeple', it just means people will scrutinise all the ways those in the 'anti-sheeple' brigade do belong to the herd in so many other, utterly ordinary ways.
Credit: 'Sheeple' webcomic by xkcd
And this so fascinates me as an author, that conflict between the outer mask ('I am so different / above others') and the inner truth ('actually, I'm not and it really pisses me off that I'm not') leads to the final irony: the armchair rants of the 'anti-sheeple' brigade ends up sounding like the 'baa-baa-baaing' of a thousand sheep themselves, joining the countless similar rants and rule subversions that echo around the internet chamber and in the homes of people around the world.
The 'covidiot' police can be just as bad. Don't get me wrong, there truly are some covidiots out there, the kind of people who make others feel uncomfortable by bowling into a shop without a mask on and coughing near an elderly person. Or the ones who stand outside hospitals shouting 'covid is a hoax!' as the sick and dying lie inside. In my view, it's perfectly acceptable to call those people 'covidiots'.
But what about those who posted photos of families enjoying (socially distanced) days at the beach when rules were relaxed during the summer, calling them covidiots? Sure, if they were breaking the rules at, say, this time while hospital admissions / deaths were as bad as they are now, maybe they deserve that 'covidiot' label but not back when it was allowed. I've found myself thinking the government and media's reaction has been somewhat hysterical at time. But not now, as cases, hospital admissions and deaths are at a high. We adapt our reactions based on statistical context in this fast moving madness.
The dichotomy we see here is between the desire to appear the opposite of an idiot (intelligent) while not doing the due diligence of checking the rules before accusing others of breaking them (not very intelligent).
During the past few months, something else I've noticed is the difference that comes depending on whether you 'lead with anger' or 'lead with love'. Those who 'lead with anger' allow that negative energy to cloud their ability to notice when compassion is needed. They are so blinded by their fury or desperation to get their opinion across / appear 'cool' in their rule-breaking anti-sheeple ways, that they can't see the suffering and worry friends and family might be going through. They'll jump to bang on about their theories before looking at someone who has, say a clinically vulnerable loved one at risk, and asking, 'hey, how are you doing?'
In Circle of Doubt, as Emma navigates the demands of a holding down a full-time job and being a mother, she finds herself contending with the blinkers of those who lead with anger and it has horrible consequences.
During this pandemic, you'll recognise those who lead with anger because rather than genuinely checking in with family and friends when a new worrying development occurs, their first instinct is to post an opinion on social media.
It makes me think of a recent story about a manatee which was found with 'Trump' etched onto its back (bear with me!). It's like how some people are so desperate to etch their opinions online, they don't realise how much it might be hurting people close to them... including, again, those at risk of dying of covid and their very worried loved ones.
We all have days like this where compassion goes out of the window in the rush to share anger and frustration. I know I've lead with anger, saying and writing things without thought. But as I've got older, I've tried to lead with love, listening to my first instinct to put out a hand of warmth instead of pointing a finger of mockery. Sometimes I don't get it right. At least I admit that.
Emma in Circle of Doubt is the same. Even with all the anger and frustration she might feel, there is a pause for thought before expressing a view or making a choice (or breaking a rule) that could risk wider repercussions. She tries very hard to make compassion the guiding emotion, not anger.
This doesn't mean censoring views. It means thinking carefully about how they will be received, in particular by those you care about, and ensuring you are at peace with that.
The Hidden Motivations
When observing all this play out, I often ask myself: why is this person reacting like this? What motivates people to react the way they do? It's a question all authors must ask of their characters: why?
Sheer showing off?
This is just a small list of potential motivations for those negative actions we take. For Emma in Circle of Doubt, her main motivation is love for her adopted daughter but also insecurity. She wants to prove she is worthy of that love due to an awful episode from her past. Funnily enough, for the mothers that turn against her, they're usually motivated by insecurity in their own parenting too. The insecurity that binds us all as parents, hey?
What about the motivations of those who might lead with anger during the pandemic, accusing people of being 'sheeple' or 'covidiots' before offering some compassion? Maybe it's as simple as love for the people close to them too. They're either upset the Government has taken away their rights to see their loves ones, worried about the mental impact or, on the other end of the scale, they're angry because people flouting the rules might be risking the lives of those they love.
Insecurity could be another. Someone might feel embarrassed they don't have the tools to help the community, so turn to a form of online policing instead, criticising 'covidiots' who turn out to have been following the rules.
Fear is a big one. Ironically, it can be the hidden motivation of those who accuse anyone expressing worry or following the rules as 'sheeple'. Fear that the pandemic we're facing might be a pure act of nature which we can't control, and not something that is planned and therefore easier to control. Fear that the Government and media's fear (and in turn, lockdown) might be justified and if so, that's much scarier to contemplate then any of the conspiracy theories out there.
Or what about peer pressure from those who express strong views? You'll often find people are influenced by the strength of one person's character, so much so that by the time they realise deep down they don't agree with them, they're just too mentally exhausted to counter them. Or they want to impress these strong characters. That old childish desire to seem 'sooooo cooooool'.
At the end of the day, there are always reasons for people reacting the way they do that go deeper than the obvious surface motivations. Even if they insist 'no, I'm just bloody angry', or 'I'm just saying what I believe' nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems. People around them will know that and in moments of contemplation, the ones who lead with anger will see it too.
Trying to bring to the surface that which is so fiercely hidden is what drives us as authors in creating our characters too. It's the 'scratching beneath the surface' which makes us write. And the pandemic has highlighted the emotions that bubble beneath the surface more than ever.
To read my latest novel, Circle of Doubt, click the button below.
Those of you who know my books know I usually like to set them around coastal towns.
But the sea isn't my only love. I adore forests too. For years, I've been staying in cabins in the middle of forests around the UK with my family including my dog. Watching tall pine trees swaying above me from a cabin's vast window can be just as therapeutic and inspiring as watching the sea ebb and flow before me.
One day, while sitting in one of those cabins looking out over the forest, an idea came to me. Not the plot, at first, but the idea of a community. A very tight-knit seemingly perfect community set around a forest. That community came to me fully formed, I even instantly knew its name: Forest Grove.
From there, characters started to spill out. A mother who adores her children and throws herself into the community that has been her sanctuary all her life. A successful businessman with aspirations of being a politician. Three children, each one different. A whole community of characters which felt so vivid to me, that I could almost see them walking through the trees ahead of me.
I honed in on the woman, Melissa. I thought about how fiercely she loves her children... like I love my little girl, Scarlett. And then the question popped into my head:
If she had a feeling one of her children had done something terrible, would she protect them?
What if that something involved hurting their own father, her husband?
And how far would she go to keep them safe from the police, from the community... and from themselves?
And so Wall of Silence was born!
I share more tit-bits like this and will also be doing a giveaway on my Facebook reading group, The Reading Snug. So if you haven't requested to join yet, please do!
I was writing The Family Secret throughout the first half of 2018. It was particularly strange to be writing wintry scenes as spring began to make its appearance. But then something strange happened: it snowed! And this is a video I did on that day...
And here's a bonus pic of my snowy dog to wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year!
Back in Christmas 2017, I visited the pretty Alum Chine area of Bournemouth in the UK with my daughter and my mum. I'd already started writing The Family Secret /The Girl on the Beach, and knew I wanted to base the wintry out-of-season seaside town on Alum Chine. So as it's just a couple of hours' train ride way plus a Nordic Christmas market was being held there that year, what better excuse did I need to go?
Did I also mention I stayed in a chocolate hotel? Yeah, really! I'd like to say that was an essential part of the research but truth is, I just love chocolate!
It was great being able to walk around and take in the atmosphere. I think British seaside towns have a different quality during the winter. Quiet, calm, cold! I needed to get a sense of what Amber, the gift shop owner who discovers a girl walking on the beach barefoot, saw, felt, smelt and tasted during those cold sparse winter months.
It was also a great way to get me in the Christmas mood. A lot of the scenes in The Family Secret are based during the festive period. Don't let that fool you into thinking this winter tale is full of joy and laughter. Frozen deathtrap lakes, chilling family secrets and wintry heartbreak are all included too. This is a Tracy Buchanan novel after all!
See a gallery of pics from my travels to Alum Chine below. If you want to order The Family Secret here or in the US, click here.
Location always plays an integral role in all my novels, whether it be the ravished shores of Thailand during the 2004 tsunami in The Atlas of Us or the eerie underwater world of submerged forests in My Sister’s Secret.
And it’s no different with my latest novel The Family Secret (The Girl on the Beach in the US), which is set in several locations such as a wintry British seaside town, a stunning loch in Scotland and the ice beaches of Iceland.
Location is so crucial for building tension and atmosphere. Here are five ways I do that:
1. Use all the senses
I learnt this one while working as a travel journalist. It’s not just about what you see, but also what you hear, smell, taste and touch.
Take a Scottish lodge that features a lot in The Family Secret, for example. This is how wildlife documentary maker Gwyneth experiences it the first time she walks in:
'I was instantly struck by the contrast between the house’s chilly exterior and warm interior: inviting oak panelling, the smell of an open fire and Christmas spices, the delicious warmth of its air compared to the icy white setting outside. A large patterned rug lay in the middle of the hallway, and two wooden stairways swept up towards a balconied landing. Another Christmas tree stood at the back of the hall, so high the star at the top reached the top of the railing on the balcony. A stag-antler chandelier hung from the ceiling on chains, golden lights glistening. It was just Dylan and I in the hallway, but I could hear talking in the distance, laughter, the faint trace of Christmas music tinkling from speakers. I could also hear people walking around on the floorboards above me.'
As you can see, I used all the senses so the reader feels they themselves have stepped into that lodge.
2. Bad things can happen to beautiful places
I love writing about beautiful places which have something rotten beneath the surface. In The Family Secret, that Scottish lodge looks like the perfect location for a festive gathering, perched on the stunning loch with snow-tipped mountains beyond. But that loch, despite its beauty, can also be a death-trap when iced over, as Gwyneth discovers the first time she's there and falls through the ice. As I write, the loch ‘shone beneath the moonlight, as menacing as it was beautiful’.
3. Don’t worry toooo much about weather clichés
Authors are always warned off using weather in obvious ways when writing, especially when opening up a novel. But when it comes to scaring the bejesus out of readers, clichés – especially weather clichés – can work to a writer’s advantage. In The Family Secret, I use the increasing snowfall to create a mounting sense of tension and claustrophobia. In fact, the whole season of winter is used to enhance the effect of the locations with the potential for cracking ice and stifling snowfall.
4. Treat location like a villainous character
Okay, confession time. I sometimes plan my novels using Excel. And in every Excel worksheet I set up for a novel is a section on characters. And in that section is where I place all my notes about the location of my novel because (and you’ll hear this from a lot of writers) I treat location like a character. In The Family Secret, location becomes the main characters’ friend and their foe. Like Winterton Chine, the pretty festive seaside village where gift shop owner Amber discovers a girl walking barefoot on the icy beach with no memory of who she is or where she came from. Amber loves the place, it’s where she grew up and lives. But equally, the town can be a constant reminder of difficulties in her past. That loch is also a character on its own with the potential to claim lives beneath its hard icy surface.
5. You don’t have to write what you know
Yep, it’s nice to have an excuse to go on a jolly and visit the places I write about... and many times I have. But it’s not essential. I’m a writer after all, I like to use my imagination! I hadn’t visited the submerged forests I described in My Sister’s Secret, for example. I did it from online research and pure imagination. It’s the same for The Family Secret. I haven’t yet been to Iceland, one of the main locations, but I know people who have so picked their brains about it and did lots of online research. The location of Winterton Chine is, however, based on the lovely Alum Chine in Dorset which I visited during the Christmas I started writing the novel. Any excuse for a mulled wine on the beach, I'm pictured here with my daughter during the visit!
Right, I think that’s it, I’m off to lie on my chaise lounge (yes, I really have one!) and imagine the world of my next novel…
To pre-order The Family Secret, click here.
Just two weeks until Christmas, can you believe it? To celebrate, I’m giving away this beautiful handmade star created by the very talented Woodcutter... who also happens to be my husband!
To be in with the chance of winning this star, as well as an early digital copy of my next novel, email me by 14th December with the subject 'Advent Star'. If you like The Woodcutter page on Facebook you will be entered twice, THREE times if you're a member of The Reading Snug on Facebook too. Just me know in your email that you've done this.
To find out more about The Woodcutter's beautiful work, please visit his website.
Here's an exclusive extract from my new novel, which will be hitting digital shelves in January as The Family Secret in the UK and The Girl on the Beach in the US. This extract sees one of the main characters Gwyneth, a wildlife documentary maker, meeting Dylan McClusky for the first time in the remote Scottish highlands, a meeting that changes her life forever. Find out more about the novel here.
I took a step towards the frozen loch, carefully testing the ice beneath my snow boots. It was set, surely strong enough to sustain my weight. I was tall but thin, weighing less than usual after all those months of living on boil-in-the-bag camp food.
I took a deep breath and stepped onto the loch, watching as the bird, a fluff of white, soared across the sky, its soft white wings almost blending into the sheet of wintry clouds above. It headed down to the loch and to my surprise landed on it.
I took another step forward.
It froze, peering up at me, and I froze with it, pleased the camera was rolling.
Then the sound of cracking ice pierced the air. The bird flung up into the sky and I cursed myself. I went to step back but there was another crack. I watched in horror as a line zigzagged away from my feet.
I leant down and slid my camera across the ice towards the loch’s banks, watching in relief as it glided to safety. But when I went to follow it, I suddenly plunged down, neck-deep in icy water.
I tried to grasp at the ice but it broke under my fingertips. The sub-zero temperature gripped me, making me begin to tremble uncontrollably.
This quick? Surely not?
I twisted around, paddling my legs and heaving myself onto a thicker ledge of ice, but I just slid back down, fully submerging this time, gasping for breath and the pain of the cold when I reemerged.
You’ve really done it this time, Gwyneth.
I looked towards the huge lodge overlooking the loch.
‘Help!’ I called out through freezing lips. ‘Help!’ again, screaming this time.
As I said that, a piece of detached ice nearby floated towards me and smashed into my cheek. I fell sideways in shock, my hat falling off, freezing cold water swirling around my exposed head, the pain unbearable. I tried to grapple with the ice again but it broke, the fragments sliding over my freezing hands.
I kicked my legs, frantic now, gasping for breath, vision blurring.
I could feel myself growing weaker, my breath coming in spurts. Above me, the ptarmigan reappeared, circling around me, the feathers of its fluffy white wings lifting in the winter breeze. For a foolish moment, I hoped my camera was still capturing it, so close like I’d wanted.
Was this it, my last few moments alive? Of all the life-threatening positions I’d put myself in throughout my career so far, it had to be this that would take me: a frozen loch in my own country.
I thought of my parents then. Would they mourn my passing? Or feel relief I was gone?
Maybe relief. It was something I suddenly felt in that moment: relief I didn’t have to continue contending with the guilt, the sadness, the gaping hole left by their rejection. It was such a contrast to the fighting spirit people knew me for.
Finally, time to stop fighting.
But then a man appeared.
I heard him before I saw him, the sound of his heavy boots on the still intact ice and his quick breath. Then I smelt cigars and whisky. He leaned over me, all coal-dark hair and eyelashes. There was a look of panic in his eyes. He wrapped one long arm around my chest, yanking me up from the freezing loch and carefully treading ice to walk me back to the loch’s banks.
When we got to the bank, I tried to wrap my arms around myself, the cold unbearable. He placed his thick woollen coat around my shoulders then pulled me onto his lap and rubbed my arms.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked in a thick Scottish accent. ‘Tell me you’re okay.’
‘N-n-n-n-not the time to be m-m-m-making a pass,’ I managed to stutter.
Relief spread across his face. ‘If this is how men make passes at you, then God help you. Body warmth means life,’ he said with a quick smile that showed straight, white teeth.
I leant into him, exhausted, as he rubbed my arms. He was wearing a black jumper, its tough wool scratching at my freezing cheeks. We stayed like that a few moments before my trembling stopped. Then he leant over, one arm still wrapped around me, dragged a rucksack towards him and pulled a hip flask from it.
‘Whisky fixes everything,’ he said, biting the top off with his teeth and handing it me.
‘Could you get any more Scottish?’ I asked, taking a sip and welcoming the warmth as it snaked through my insides.
His smile widened, his brown eyes sparkling as they explored my face.
‘You’re beautiful,’ he said matter-of-factly.
‘For God’s sake.’ I shoved the hip flask into his chest and stood up, swaying slightly. I was used to this, men trying it on. Frankly, it did my head in and distracted me from what I needed to do: my filming. I shook my head, trying to disperse the icy fingers clutching at my mind, and half stumbled, half jogged to the water’s edge, where I knelt down so I could grab my camera from a worryingly thin sheet of ice nearby.
The man laughed as he stood, revealing his full six foot three. ‘It’s just an aesthetic observation, not a come-on,’ he explained. ‘Don’t take it so hard. Anyway, you’re not exactly in any position to look unkindly upon me. You trespassed on my land, after all.’
‘So that’s your house then?’ I asked, gesturing towards the wooden lodge across from the frozen lake. It was huge, with vast windows looking out over the lake. In one window was a Christmas tree that reached up towards a vaulted ceiling, scores of beautifully wrapped presents beneath it. Each window of the house had candles flickering in it, creating a warm, friendly glow.
‘My family’s home, the magnificent and mighty McCluskys,’ the man said with a trace of sarcasm in his voice.
‘That’s one mighty house,’ I said, checking my camera.
‘And that’s an impressive piece of kit,’ he said. ‘You make films?’
He raised an impressed eyebrow. ‘The female David Attenborough.’
‘I’m the one behind the camera. You know, the ones that do the hard work?’
As I said that, I felt my head go hazy. I swayed slightly and the man clutched my arm.
‘I think we need to get you inside,’ he said, all the joviality gone from his face. ‘Get you warm.’
‘I’m fine,’ I said, pulling my arm away. ‘I’ll get the engine started, turn the heaters on.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. I have a warm house with access to a roaring fire, a bath and multiple clothing options thanks to my sisters . . . who will also be there, just in case you’re worried I’m an axe murderer,’ he added with a smile.
I couldn’t help but smile back.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘As long as your family forgive me for trespassing.’
‘Once they find out why, they’ll forgive you anything. This Christmas Eve will always be referred to as “that Christmas Eve the wildlife documentary maker trespassed on our land.” Trust me, they’ll be delighted someone like you was the one doing it. What were you hoping to film here anyway, the bearded Scottish male?’ he asked, stroking his dark beard.
I shook my head. ‘I was filming a ptarmigan. I was actually lost and came across the loch.’
His handsome face lit up. ‘Beautiful birds. I see them a lot from the house, nestling up in the mountain there.’
We both looked towards the mountains and a hint of sadness flickered over his face. Then he turned to me, putting out his hand. ‘I’m Dylan, by the way.’
‘Gwyneth,’ I replied, taking his freezing hand and trying to ignore the spark of electricity between us, the loch a menacing witness before us.
As a huge thanks to my readers, I've teamed up with a bunch of your favourite authors to run an #AdventingAuthors Calendar with exclusive content and goodies behind each door. Simply visit this page each day to see what's behind the door.
To kick it all off on Day 1, I'm giving you the chance to win a beautiful wooden reindeer necklace, a signed copy of The Lost Sister AND the chance to read an early digital copy of my latest novel, The Family Secret, before it comes out in January.
To enter, just email me your name and postal address with the subject line Advent 1 and I will randomly choose a winner by 10 December so you can receive the item before Christmas!
My latest novel The Lost Sister is dedicated to a very special someone: Archie, my old Jack Russell, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. Combined with the fact one of the main characters in The Lost Sister is a vet, in its own way, the novel is a shout out to the importance of animals in my life… especially my writing.
First, from the point of view of writing characters. I feel the way a character interacts with animals gives a real insight into their personalities.
As a vet, Becky in The Lost Sister is clearly someone who adores animals. Her three dogs - her ‘skinnies’ as she calls them - are like children to her. Becky’s the kind of person I can totally imagine being friends with, strolling along the beach with our dogs. Like me, she judges people by how they treat other living things. One character in The Lost Sister kicks a dog out of the way, an instant black mark against her name in my view.
I also use the way animals treats humans to give an indication of character. For example Becky’s mother Selma is selfish on the surface, running away from her family to write in a cave. Sarcastic and vain, often cold and careless with her words, at first glance, she’s pretty unlikable.
But there are parts of her that are at odds with this: the way she sticks up for a friend and the way she’s able to see people’s vulnerabilities and help them with those vulnerabilities. And though Selma isn’t a fan of animals like her daughter is, they seem drawn to her: she reluctantly lets a dog tag along with her when she’s living in the cave.
I think animals are so very perceptive. They sense parts of us we don’t even know ourselves. The dog in the cave, for example, senses Selma’s innate vulnerabilities and the fact she won’t hurt anyone… not wittingly, anyway.
And what about the influence animals have on writers as we work?
When my dog Archie passed away, I told myself I would leave it a year before getting another dog. There’s no denying dogs, especially puppies, can be a challenge and a lot of hard work. People just don’t get that a lot of the time, hence why you’ll hear of so many abandoned puppies. So I knew with deadlines looming, it was best to wait to get another dog.
But the fact is, I simply couldn’t write without an animal companion beside me. The house felt different. My office, once my sanctuary, began to feel like a dark cavern of nothingness. I walked around the house literally calling Archie’s name out, seeking him in those places he might retreat to sometimes. I knew he wasn't there, couldn’t be there, but all-the-same, I searched for him. My whole being ached with his absence.
Of course, that was grief. Real raw grief. This dog had seen me through thick and thin, and had become my daily constant companion when I gave up work to write full-time.
But now he was gone.
I missed him because I loved him, but I also missed his quiet soft-breath (or snore!) which brought a rhythm to my writing. The knowledge that during moments of plot hell, I could grab a lead and take him out for a walk, each step untangling knotted stories. The way his furry face would peer up at me when I muttered an expletive at not being able to get the bloody printer to work. A raised eyebrow, a sigh, then back to sleep. Then the way he jumped around my legs when he sensed any excitement, like when I got my books delivered or discovered My Sister’s Secret had hit the number one spot on Amazon UK. And yep, the way he somehow understood when I was going through a tough time, furry chin on leg, big brown eyes staring up with sympathy.
I missed all that, and I learnt a valuable lesson: any author who has grown used to writing with an animal companion can never do without one again.
Three months after Archie passed away, I brought home a beautiful little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Bronte (well, it had to be Bronte, didn’t it?).
Of course, I will never ever forget Archie and he lives in in my novels and my memories. But as I feel Bronte snuggling up to me right now (and, to be honest, completely taking over my chaise longue, meaning I’m balancing my laptop on a nearby chair), I’m so pleased to have the one asset every good author needs: a furry-faced companion.
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