Touring means I have to pack a suitcase and leave my family and dogs behind. Coco and Harry are with me every day so I really miss them when I’m away. There were lots of school, bookshop and other events planned for World Book Day and to celebrate the publication of Jack Pepper and Hero, so I decided that I’d talk about the things that inspired me to write both stories. But still, I thought, maybe I could take my dogs with me in some way…
On tour, I was delighted at the response to my talk. My first big question was: what does a hero look like? Superheroes have special clothes and powers. But what about everyday heroes? We looked around the room and considered – no, we couldn’t tell who was a hero. Then the children began talking about their own heroes, everyone from Nelson Mandela to their grandmothers and their best friends, and that was lovely.
My second question was: can you tell what someone is really like, just by looking at them? Can you tell that someone is a hero? That’s when I showed them this photograph of Coco (on the left) and Harry:
I explained that I had lots of little things to tell them about each dog, but could the children work out which stories were about Harry and which ones about Coco? This was really fun as the children were shouting out either Harry or Coco at the top of their voices (brilliant and exciting!).
Have a try yourself! (The answers are at the bottom)
• Is a wimp at the vet’s, even though the vet had never done anything mean .
• Likes riding on my neighbour’s mobility scooter – while she is driving it, of course!
• Chewed my glasses!
• Can shake-a-paw if I hold my hand out.
• Chases their tail, round and round until this dog is dizzy.
• Ran back to see if I was ok when I fell over.
• Tried to jump in the river to get their ball back after dropping it in there (I tried to rescue the ball and fell in!).
• Gets into their bed when I say it’s bedtime (the other one runs around the house).
• Follows me everywhere, even if they are fast asleep and I try to sneak out to make a cup of tea.
• Sleeps with their nose under my jumper.
How did you do? I suspect that the more questions you answered the more sure you felt that you were beginning to see what the personality of each dog was.
I also asked the children to suggest words to describe the actions of each dog in each story – for example, riding on the mobility scooter might be seen as ‘lazy’ or ‘cheeky’! The point of this exercise was to show that even though we came up with the list of words to describe each dog (Harry was wimpy, obedient and clever; Coco was naughty, bonkers and cuddly), it was the things that they had done and their responses to situations that I would use to begin to write a story.
I love both dogs, and they are, in their own way, both loyal. But one particular story made the children thoughtful. This was when I fell over and hurt myself badly, miles away from anyone; Harry came running back, stood over me until I could get up, and then walked beside me as I limped home. I think this struck a chord as the children considered how important it had been to me.
So I did get to take them with me in a way. Talking about them and Jack Pepper made me feel as if I was surrounded by little heroes.
Fortunately, I did get to meet Harvey, who lives at Victoria Park Bookshop in Hackney, so I had a few minutes of cuddle and a good look into the soulful eyes of a loyal dog.
(Answers: Coco: 3,5,7,9,10 Harry: 1,2,4,6,8)