Tuesday, 26 February 2013

In Memory of Max

Last week my beloved dog, Max was put to sleep. Max had become such a crucial part of my writing life that I felt I had to write a tribute to him here . . .

 I got Max eight years ago from The Dog’s Trust. They had found him as a stray so we never knew his actual age or where he had come from. However, within minutes of getting him home it became clear that wherever he’d been before he’d been very badly treated. For the first few weeks with us, he refused to leave the house for a walk and stayed stuck to my side at all times. In the end it took a box of his favourite cocktail sausages to get him to go out anywhere other than the garden. I would have to walk ahead a few feet and hold out a sausage to entice him to creep forward. It took us about half an hour to get to the end of my road! The first time I got him into a park I discovered that he had an absolute phobia of footballs – I can only imagine that whoever had him before must have kicked balls at him because just the sound of a ball being kicked would send him fleeing in terror.

But, as the months passed, Max gradually came out of his shell. It was so rewarding to see his fears dissolve and a fun-loving, affectionate dog appear. And for me as a writer, he provided the perfect companion. Writing can be such a solitary profession but whenever I sat at my desk, Max would plonk himself down at my feet and wait there patiently until it was time for his next walk. And our walks became an intrinsic part of my writing process too. Over the years we walked for miles and miles together. And as we walked, I would work on my book-in-progress in my head and every time without fail, plot problems would solve themselves, and characters would become more fully formed. And Max would be there next to me, every step of the way.

In the past few months, old age had started to set in, and my fun-loving, bouncy dog became tired and in pain. As Max had had such a traumatic start to his life I didn’t want him to suffer in old age. The vet told me that having him put to sleep would be the most loving thing to do. It also turned out to be the most heart-breaking. But Max died quickly and peacefully, with his head in my lap being fed his favourite treats.

For the first couple of days afterwards, I wandered around in a daze. My constant companion of eight years had gone and I felt utterly bereft. Then, on Friday night, I had to give a reading at an event at Keats House in London. It was my first reading from my upcoming novel, Finding Cherokee Brown. I always get really nervous when I’m reading from a new book for the first time, and when the host called me up to the microphone my heart was pounding. But as soon as I got there something really strange happened. A picture of Max appeared in my head and I imagined him plonking himself down at my feet. I instantly felt calm and my reading went really well. My trusty writing companion might no longer physically be at my side, but he’ll always be in my heart.

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