The Accidental Dog

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The image above is a screen shot. It’s from a mind-map app that helps me play with ideas and structures when I am writing my book. Each bubble with its idea or comment can be moved and changed, allowing thoughts to rub up against each other, to make new connections and test old ones. Moving things around whilst keeping a view over the whole, adding, subtracting and rearranging quickly and loosely helps me turn ideas and structures into a plot – the thing I find most difficult in writing.

But this isn’t an app review. It is about the accidental dog in the second box.

The first box says ‘chorus?’ because I have been testing the idea of having one – fairly traditional, full-on, commentating, interacting and demanding. Whilst thinking about how that chorus would manifest, what it would actually be, one of the ideas was that it would be all the voices in between, the incomplete presences in a landscape. Knowing but powerless, wise but naive, beholden but unconfined. I added a couple of new bubbles with further thoughts and turned off the computer, ending the day content with what I had managed to wrangle onto the screen.

When I came back to it today, there was the dog. I have no idea how it came to be there.

It originates from a slew of icons and symbols that can be opened on the app screen. I very rarely use them. It’s like pulling open a drawer that is full of Kinder-egg toys when I haven’t got any glasses to hand. I didn’t know that there was a dog amongst the vast array. It’s easier to write the words than sort through the garish jumble to find a picture that would stand in for the word.

During my fine art MA, one of my tutors gave me a bit of advice that was probably rote; a teaching aphorism rather than a specific piece of guidance suited to my work. But I use it all the time – when writing too. When stuck, a good way to become unstuck is to try the counter-intuitive. So after laughing cheerfully about my mystery dog, I thought ‘what if my chorus, the commentators, the wise fools holding the characters to account were actually dogs?’ I already have a scene that involves an encounter with a wolf. This glimpse has remained constant, acting as a way-finder as I try to clear the tangles that presently obscure the rest of my intentions for this book.

Maybe I was influenced by my recent reading of a quite brilliant short story by Hassan Blasim, Dear Beto, in which the protagonist, the wise fool, the commentator, is a dog. (This story is in The Iraqi Christ, published by Comma Press – an excellent collection and highly recommended.)

I then also remembered Toby Barlow, the author of Sharp Teeth, (another book I really admire) suggesting that all cultures and all ages have werewolf legends because of the domestic dog. Dogs share our homes, they walk with us, lie at our feet but they are descended from the wolf. I think Barlow’s phrase was the dog brings the wolf to the hearth. In so doing, the dog gives us too a connection to our wild ancestry. I picture this connection like an arrow, a segment, a thinly angled and perhaps ragged section of the circle that twist from the present edge to a tiny centre point; back to the ancient history of our animal soul. I picture it like Munich’s Englische Garten, a beautiful park that takes a radial section out of the elegant city, letting the wilds into the centre, so that past kings could leave the palace, the apex of civil society and ride directly into the savage exuberance of the hunt.

My book is, in some ways at least, about transitions between states, about blended boundaries, about the blurred line between sea and land, the dry skin and the wet interior of the body. The plants that grow in the earth and the food that fuels our growth. I won’t go full-reveal so early in the game but my accidental dog has given me a view of my own text-to-be that is miraculously clearer. I have found the path through it. I have found the tunnel into the heart of it, the opening that connects the whole. I am part of the chorus suddenly and can see it all. It feels very exciting.

Now I have to trash my several tens of thousands of previous words, and write the whole damn thing. Walkies! 🐕

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