I am in my office, a rectangle with room only for a desk and some books shelves. A big window overlooks the front garden where messy bushes lead to a tall, blue fir. The office is cluttered with books and boxes of equipment, stacks of paper, a saddle I need to sell. There is a card someone sent me for my birthday last year, too pretty to throw away, my daughts paintings and the glazed tile my son painted in primary school, a mother bird with her chicks beneath a rainbow.
The floor is alive with dogs–at my feet, curled around my chair. They sleep as I type. While I prepare a class for next week they wait and snooze, their paws twitching in their dreams as though they are running. It occurs to me all my life what I’ve really wanted was this: to sit in a in a room not unlike this one, surrounded by books and dogs.
My parents loved dogs and we always had three or four in the house. I grew up with legends about our dogs: the Great Pyrenes who followed my wandering baby brother down the road and protected him from anyone who tried to approach, the fabled labrador who it was said saved my father from drowning as a child, the ugliest puppy in the world taken off the street by my father who was known for saving strays, perhaps because once long ago a dog saved him.
Arriving at an art gallery, I was the child who searched for the King Charles Spaniel at a regent’s feet, or for a Pekinese hidden in the the sleeve of a member of the Chinese Imperial Court. I don’t remember a face, much less a name, but I always remember a dog. I will say to my husband, “You know those people with the Newfoundland?” Or, “you know that lady in your office who brings the Dachshund with her to work…?”
I’m wondering if the real reason I became a writer was so that I could be alone, but not really alone, because I don’t particularly like solitude. I read a biographer’s summary of another’s life, observe through the poet’s eye, follow the story of another fiction writer, all while not having to actually be with people, at least those outside my family, very often.
It isn’t as though I don’t like people–I do. Meeting me, you’d never know what an introvert I am. I’m funny and quick and deeply interested in everything around me. But I’m fueled with adrenaline, hyped up on nerves. I dread parties and book launches and anything that involves standing in a room full of people with a drink. Afterwards, I recount all the stupid things I said, the names I forgot, the awkwardness of it all. I really wish I could take Rohypnol after parties, especially publishing parties, so I could forget what happened.
I just adopted two beautiful sheltie dogs. Some people worry greatly over a new pet joining the household, but I take this in my stride, with little concern. The shelties came to me under sad circumstances but have been received into my home with such joy. My children adore them; my husband is surprised by their soft nature. My resident dogs don’t seem to mind. I love seeing four dog beds spread over the kitchen and hallway, four bowls sitting on the draining board, four leashes by the door. If I am not with them, I am thinking of them: my new pack.
I punctuate my day with the chores we (that is, my dogs and me) do together. There is “the presentation of the morning,” when I open the door and they bound outside to the garden. There is the eagerly awaited breakfast which they eat with such gratitude. There is the daily bundling into the car to take my son to school, then off onto heathland for a good run among the gorse and pathways. There is the grooming and dinner and treats and chew toys.
Anyway, I’ve deterimined that dogs improve my writing. Writing is about habit. You make it your habit to sit down each day. You make it your habit to dream about the work when you are not actually at your desk. And it is about discipline. The single best tip you can give a budding writer is this: SIT IN THE CHAIR.
And If every time you got up from your desk four dogs got up with you, you’d soon learn to stay seated—which often means stay writing.