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Hark Hark the Dogs Do Bark

I have been putting the finishing touches to a new book, ‘The Ice King’ this week. It’s an origins story and part of a new series that will be coming out soon titled ‘The Witch Ways’.  A black dog has an important role in this book and it is a totem and magical animal that I am always attracted to.  The chain of thought that this writing has rattled concerns some cogitations about my feelings towards dogs.

A black dog features in folklore and fairytale and they range from a fire eyed hound to a shaggy helpmeet. They are always monstrously large, chihouahas don’t feature in much British folklore, and some of the dogs are carriers of human spirits or the embodiment of a ghost. Still others are watch dogs, hunting dogs and the especially wonderfully monikered ‘Church Grims’ a title for which Greyfriars Bobby might actually qualify.

One of the joys of writing is that you can come upon these beasts and creatures and adopt them for your own ends.

I know there are lots of dog lovers out there, I’m not, strangely, one of them. I’m rather afraid of dogs having been menaced by both a corgi and a cocker spaniel as a child. Stop laughing at the back, when you are four a cocker spaniel is really quite menacing. To be honest I’m not that much taller than a spaniel now.  Anyway, despite all this pedigree trauma I always felt that if I had a dog I would not have a yappy one (corgi, cocker, NO) instead I would invest in something on a more mythic scale. I would have an Irish Wolfhound (Irish, got to be if I am to cling to my mythically Celtic roots). Wolfhound. It’s got ‘Wolf’ in its name, what’s your average Hopelessly Pagan Romantic going to do? I cherished this dreamhound for years. I would call him ‘Finn’.

Etched forever on my memory is my first meeting with Henry, the Irish Wolfhound.  He was owned by the mother of one of my daughter’s friends. They lived in a cottage style house in a local village, quite bucolic. I was picking my daughter up on this particular afternoon and I’d been instructed to come up the farm track and knock on the back door. I arrived to find a huge five bar gate and after some minor gymnastics I managed to lift the latch and walk in. (I wasn’t wearing a red riding hood but I hope you’re getting the fairytale vibe off this encounter.)

A knock at the door produced no response so I knocked again. As I did so I heard footsteps behind me and I turned.  I was face to face with the largest, hairiest dog I have ever encountered. I am five foot one, Henry was five foot three.  He could look me right in the eyes if he stooped a little, which he did as he was rather curious. His eyes were, truth be told, soft and friendly. His nose, big and black and wet, sniffled at my face like a canine hoover and he stepped closer. I had nowhere to go, my back grazed against the render of the cottage wall. Henry reared up, taller still and rested first one paw and then another on my shoulders. I entered that state of paralysed euphoria they say you fall into when being mauled by a lion. He was, at that moment, a truly mythical beast and, as I looked up into his panting jaws through a haze of grey fur, I thought that he might possibly have been sent from some nearby Sidhe to fetch me. I was going to be away with the faeries in a trice.

Henry did not eat me that afternoon. He was a friendly dog and was simply resting his paws after a somewhat strenuous walk. Needless to say this encounter quoshed my notion that I might one day have a wolfhound; I have to say they look much smaller in the medieval portraits.  Henry, I was told, required his own sofa, never mind a basket.

When his heart failed him a few years later I was very sorry to hear it, tears were shed into the bread dough that day.  I like to imagine this kindly gentleman beast, escorting guests each evening to and from the Sidhe, guiding them into the Otherworld before finding a peat fire somewhere and settling himself on the hearth, resting his paws once again after the longest walk.

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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge


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