by Helen Christmas
Anyone who understands dogs must know how clever border collies are as a breed, and, as a writer, I can honestly 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 in an instant, he was the one. We had the pleasure of taking them for a walk 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 that he improved our quality of life. As the research suggested, he did need loads of exercise and playtime. As a relatively young two year old, we took him out three times a day for at least half an hour. We’re blessed to have a large green park close to home and live a short distance from the sea, in an area 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.
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 suddenly discovered my true calling. This is something I always 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
So this is how I started life as an author. I’ve often wondered, if it hadn’t been for that special time, meandering along the beach with Barney, throwing his ball, whether those ideas might never have come to me. I eventually began my debut novel in 2011 after I had figured out the entire synopsis. But Barney’s intervention didn’t end there…
I’ve always been an early morning person, which is the time when I do most of my writing. Once the novel was underway, I found myself waking up even earlier and switched on my laptop at around 6am.
Barney always followed me into the office. Border collies form attachments. 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.
Sadly, Barney ruptured a cruciate ligament, which is not uncommon. Being such lively dogs, running, spinning, jumping for balls and doing little pirouettes– all are frequent causes of this injury, which 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, a process that took weeks, as well as some physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. It is regrettable that we had to cut his walks down from three a day to two. Peter took him to the park in the morning and I took him down the beach in the evening at low tide. 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) has had operations on both knees. He is also showing signs of arthritis, prompting us to add supplements to his food, such as fish oil and YouMove, with the hope this will aid his joints. 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.”
So maybe it’s not just collies. I suspect all dogs can be great writing companions, as I’ve discovered in the years we’ve had the joy of Barney in our lives. In addition, I hope my article has given inspiration to potential collie owners.
Helen Christmas has written a five-book series, titled ‘Same Face Different Place’ which can be purchased online or at local book fairs in the Chichester area. Her book is a mystery thriller set in England but since completing the series, she hopes to write short stories, at least one of which will be told through the mind of a dog. She can be found online at: http://www.samefacedifferentplace.com/the-author/