Writing books is a pretty solitary endeavour. In that sense, the life of an author is very different from other professions. We have no team briefings or ideas workshops and the closest we get to an HR strategy meeting is texting our other halves to ask them to pick up some loo roll. While publishers do let us out for good behaviour and the odd awards soirée, you basically have to get used to your own company. In the olden days (what my kids call anything pre-2005), an author might have found themselves a muse. Yeats had Maud Gonne, Dante had Beatrice Portinari. But writers these days don’t usually have muses to inspire and provide company. They have Twitter. Which might be a great place for authors to connect, but being online just isn't the same as old-fashioned human contact.
In the past, I addressed this by doing a lot of writing in coffee shops, at least during a first draft. While it’s a stretch to describe my local Costa as inspiring, there is something quietly comforting about being part of the ebb and flow of office workers and young mothers, of couples sharing cakes and the gentle old man who’d come in every day for a cup of tea and chat with the staff. The downside was that my lovingly-decorated home office often felt like a museum piece, a writer’s room without a writer.
But in the last three weeks, everything has changed, because I now have a puppy. Which is arguably better than a muse, even if those aforementioned literary greats probably never had to break off for regular toilet training sessions. Maisie is a 11-week-old Shih Tzu cross breed. We’re not entirely sure what she’s crossed with as her mother arrived at the dogs’ home neglected and pregnant. So technically she could grow to be the size of a Doberman although, as you can see from the picture, that's unlikely.
I’d never really wanted to get a dog, if I’m honest. I’d resisted the nagging of my three boys for years, on the grounds that, with a full-time job and a house full of kids, I had enough on my plate. I couldn’t tell you exactly why I finally gave in. Maybe they just wore me down, which is what usually happens. Either way, we didn’t get Maisie for me.
Yet, it became instantly clear how nice it was to have her around as I write my next novel. She’s someone to snuggle up to when I’m struggling over a plot twist, whose little face is always pleased to see me, who loves nothing more than to snooze by my side while I tap away at my laptop. Playing fetch in the garden feels like a far better use of use of my screen breaks than putting on another load of laundry.
If all of this sounds sappy, then I do apologise, but you’d have to be as hard as the Krays to write about this in any other terms. Because, when the kids have disappeared off to school and the chaos of our house has faded to silence, this little dog is a wondrous thing: company. Which could turn out to be this writer’s best friend.