The Perils of a Book Pet
31/07/2020 | POSTED BY Pete
I write about animals quite a lot. In my books, I mean, not random notes scribbled in crayon about the fact that next door’s cat has pooed in my window box again. Book Animals can do a lot for a plot; show a character’s caring nature, necessitate an emergency drive to the vet, unite a neighbourhood to search for a missing pet, even wear a cute apron and cap if you are prone to Mrs Tiggywinkle. They can bring characters together, give them reasons to argue and just generally be cute and adorable and picturesque if you are short of something to put on your book cover.
But, because I have Realism running through me like Scarborough through a stick of rock, my book animals must also behave like real animals. I couldn’t write Mrs Tiggywinkle-type fiction if I tried, because I’d spend too much of the book wondering whether slug stains wash out of aprons and who goes around picking up the caps after the inevitable car collision. So my book dogs go through rubbish bins, embarrass their owners in public and dig enormous holes in the garden when left unattended; my book cats bring in headless rabbits which they leave in the middle of clean duvets – just like the real thing.
So my recent book has a hand-reared seagull in it. Which gave me a slight advantage, because nobody expects a seagull to be cute and fluffy. Everyone has had their chips stolen or been sullenly regarded from a nearby roof by a bird that looks as though it’s wondering what you’d taste like. A seagull can get away with being a little bit unlikeable, because they are basically big, noisy sandwich-thieves with worryingly mad eyeballs who can fly. Like insane burglars in a hang-glider. With a vuvuzela. Basically, seagulls are not a traditional ‘pet’, but that’s fine because my couple aren’t a traditional couple either! Neither character would have suited a typical book pet, in any case.
In real life, I have a cat who shouts outside my front door at irrational hours, and a uniquely horrible terrier. Neither one of them would make a good Book Pet. Cat only turns up occasionally and thinks he belongs to most of the village, so is no good for plot development. Unless I were to go around the neighbours to search for him with hilarious consequences, but I know he’ll come back on his own, so I don’t. Dog won’t let any potential love interests come within a lead’s length of me without trying to take their leg off, and will kill and eat anyone who spontaneously calls at the house, so she’s hardly going to add to my character arc. Unless my arc is to become housebound and terrified of people, which would be a bit of a rubbish story really.
I’ve got a good mind to make both of them wear aprons and caps. That would teach them.
A Seagull Summer by Jane Lovering (featuring Roger, the seagull!)
is publishing 6 August 2020.
You can pre-order it here.
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