Unit 72, Birkenhead Market


I wasn’t the sort of child who went dribbly-mouthed and frantically bothersome outside a sweet shop. Stand me in front of a bookshop, however, and there was no peace for anyone until I’d emptied my purse into its till. I’m still rather like that now, particularly where second-hand bookshops are concerned. And, for that, I credit one particular place: Unit 72, Birkenhead Market.

It’s been more than two decades since I went there – in fact, I don’t suppose it even exists anymore – but I thought of it the other day when I reread Helene Hanff’s wonderful 84, Charing Cross Road. Hanff, a martini-loving, cigarette-smoking, New York dweller, was a playwright and screenwriter who found by far her greatest success in later life when she published a book of her correspondence with a London bookshop, Marks & Co. The shop specialised in acquiring second-hand books, particularly from the sales and clearances that increased so rapidly in number after the Second World War (WWII) as the owners of many of the UK’s largest houses admitted financial defeat and sold off their possessions along with their bricks and mortar.

One person’s loss was another’s gain, and Hanff, whose formal education did not extend beyond high school, was a lifelong self-educator with a particular passion for English literature. Although even some of the more obscure titles she ordered by post from Marks & Co could doubtless have been obtained in New York, she would buy her books from nowhere else: “The books arrived safely, the Stevenson is so fine it embarrasses my orange-crate bookshelves…I never knew a book could be such a joy to the touch.” Through her correspondence first with Frank Doel, the chief buyer for the shop, and then with other staff members too, she became closely involved with their lives. For several years after WWII she sent them food parcels (“My little ones…were in Heaven – with the raisins and egg I was actually able to make them a cake!”) and they reciprocated with a beautiful hand-made Irish linen tablecloth and repeated invitations to please visit them in London.

There was little Hanff wanted more than to visit the “London of English literature” but she was stymied repeatedly by financial constraints, poor health and also, one senses, a fear of travel. For more than two decades her explorations happened solely through the pages of the books she ordered from Marks & Co. When Frank Doel died suddenly following a ruptured appendix, Hanff was motivated to ask his widow, Nora, if she could publish a volume of their correspondence. And so 84, Charing Cross Road, the book, was born.

Published by Andre Deutsch, it gave her both plaudits and money.  At long last one of the barriers preventing her from crossing the Atlantic was blown away. And so, with a case of newly purchased clothes, including a dress – “silk, chic and expensive…intended to cover large evenings” – and a growing sense of trepidation that had kept her from sleeping the night before, she found herself on a plane. The result of her ensuing six week stay in London is recorded in her book The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (currently out of print in the UK but due to be rereleased in July 2016).

“All my life I’ve wanted to see London. I used to go to English movies just to look at streets with houses like those [on Bedford Square]…I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die.”

I was living in London when I first read this book – living in London, slightly jaded by its dirt, its cost of living, its crowds and the quietly terrifying sense of threat that pervaded the place after 9/11. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street seized me by the scruff of my surprised neck and reminded me of all that was good about London and how much I too had once wanted to be there. Mine was the crowded, crawling streets of the Medieval city; the flash and dangerous opulence of Henry VIII’s time; the oh-so desirable salons of the Bloomsbury Set; the West London streets set with large white houses with pillared entrances and chequerboard steps; and St Pauls-the-Phoenix. Hers was Bloomsbury, Russell Square, Regents Park, St Pauls, Westminster Cathedral and Shakespeare Shakespeare Shakespeare. More than that, though, she opened her arms and her heart to the modern day city, and it to her.

I don’t think she ever made a repeat visit but I’m not sure she needed to. I don’t live in London anymore but if I need reminding of what I did come to love about the city I only have to read her books. Her places were not necessarily mine but her words fill me with the sense of how books open doors figuratively and, sometimes, literally. Unit 72, Birkenhead Market once did that for me, too. It’s where I joined the Chalet School, tried out a US Californian high school, travelled the world with Gerald Durrell, set my cap at becoming a Yorkshire vet, stomped across Egdon Heath and wept over the fate of those luckless last few in “On the Beach”. I still have almost all of the books I bought from Unit 72 – only those that I knew I’d never want to read again or actually fell apart have been, reluctantly, retired – and I still read most of them, now and then. Some people (my husband!) say life is too short and there are too many good books to read one more than once. It’s a valid point but I’m with Helene Hanff here: like clothes that I wear many, many times, I reread my books again and again. Why would I not when they take me to so many places I’ll never visit any other way?

books             Hanff

Enjoying a vibrant writing life

My writers’ group is lucky enough to be involved in 10 days – Winchester, a biennial, interdisciplinary arts festival supported by organisations such as Arts Council England, Hampshire County Council and Winchester City Council. The aim is to bring together artists of many different types, provide them with the opportunity to showcase their work – in Winchester Cathedral, the City Museum and the Discovery Centre – and to engage the public, both creatively and perhaps also by making them look at their city in a new way.

The theme is Chalk – and cities don’t get chalkier than Winchester. Dig down anywhere in this ancient capital of old England and its environs and you’ll find lumps of the stuff studding the topsoil. Keep burrowing and you’ll find chalk bedrock. Thanks to the filtration qualities of the chalk in the riverbed,  the tributaries of our river, the Itchen, are transparent as the most precious diamonds and provide the ideal habitat for water voles, otters and white-clawed crayfish.  Chalk imbues our buildings, our streets, the graves we bury our dead in, our whole history. It’s a huge subject.

Last night the writers involved – those from my writing group and another local group – came together to decide which of the several pieces each of us had written would be showcased in the various venues. We then moved on to discuss several different public engagement activities. One of these, due to include crowd-pulling speakers, raised particular concerns. It wasn’t that we couldn’t find interesting – and successful – literary people who’d be willing to speak; it was that we weren’t offering anything different from the myriad of other talks and conferences held locally on how to get published, how to secure an agent, why Mr X wrote the book he did and what made Ms Y persist with hers in the face of a full-time job and multiple rejections. That’s not to say these are not valuable topics to hear about because of course they are.  However, we wanted something different: something for all those writers for whom publication is never going to happen for whatever reason and also for those mid-way along the journey, who might want new ideas to keep them going, to validate what they do and support who they are. This resulted in the idea, put forward by the director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival, that we discuss (and it will be a discussion rather than speeches) how to have  a vibrant writing life – and celebrate it. Of course, this might include publication but it might also mean thinking about what else is available locally to stimulate your writing. Yes, we’ll have interesting, successful and well-known writers on the programme but hopefully they will be able to approach the event in a different frame of mind from other similar ones and to inspire in listeners the sense that the world is full of possibilities, big and small. And what, after all, is more important to any writer – indeed, at times, to any person – than inspiration and possibility.

Chalk, it seems, runs deeper than the bedrock.

For more details about the collaboration between the Hyde and Taverners writers’ groups for 10 days – Winchester, please check out our website. There’s an opportunity to send in your own work (flash fiction or poems of 200 words or less) or a chalk moment to feature on the website. (NB You don’t have to be from Winchester to do so!)

On What is Lost

The beauty and genius of a work of art may yet be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer, but when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again. C. William Beebee

William Beebee was the David Attenborough of the early twentieth century. Ornithologist, explorer and trail-blazing conservationist, he led dozens of expeditions for the New York Zoological Society and the American Museum of Natural History and, in the early 1930s, spellbound wireless listeners with his bathysphere broadcast from half a mile down in the ocean, describing never-before-seen fish and other marine life beyond most people’s craziest sci-fi dreams.

I came across Beebee through the quotation at the top of this blog, which Gerald Durrell used at the front of one of his books. Durrell’s ashes now rest at Jersey Zoo beneath a stone inscribed with the same quotation. They are words that, from my first reading of them, have resounded with each beat of my heart. They are words that I cannot believe do not inspire a sad sort of panic in anyone who hears them. I thought of them last week when I read about the disappearance of Tanzania’s elephants. Aerial surveys in 2013 and 2014 confirmed that Tanzania has lost two-thirds of its elephant population in only four years. First the Selous, then the Ruaha and soon, perhaps, the Serengeti. These aren’t subsistence poachers – impoverished farmers or disgruntled locals pushed out to make a “better” national park experience for dollar-rich tourists – or even haphazardly-organised gangs. No, these are criminal syndicates based in faraway Dar-es-Salaam and divided into “teams”, responsible respectively for scouting the animals, killing them, butchering their remains and, finally, transporting what they came for: ivory.

Immense amounts of money still resides in ivory (just as with rhino horn, tiger bone, turtle shells and shahtoosh among others). We can blame China and the childlike belief of many of its residents of the cancer-curing, penis-stiffening, blood-warming properties of ivory et al all we like – and maybe we should do so. However, we must not forget also to look much closer to our comfortable Western homes to find the cavalier lack of respect that characterises so many of our dealings with all those millions and millions of creatures with whom we share our earth.

Take “Cecil”, the Zimbabwean lion, reportedly illegally lured from his reserve, shot with a bow and arrow and then pursued for the 40 hours it took him to die before he was finished off by a gun. And the killer? A dentist from Minnesota already so in love with hunting for hunting’s sake that he’s under a probation order for his inexactitude over precisely where a black bear was killed in Wisconsin in 2006. But it’s not only him; it’s every bystander too: the applauding ones, the silent ones, even the ones who turn their back in a show of caring. After all, this is a man whose online presence showing him posing with a slaughtered rhino and a slain leopard apparently caused no more disquiet among his friends and associates than, say, a change to his golf handicap or a significant birthday. If such activities are deemed normal – whether grudgingly or not – then where is the impetus for change?

I’ve read things today suggesting that neither Cecil nor this gun-loving dentist deserve the publicity they’ve received. Apparently I should be more concerned with the nameless, numberless dead in the DRC and Syria or with the hundreds of thousands of children being lowered further into Dickensian life by our Dear Leaders and their “we’re all in this together” philosophy. And I am concerned. Of course I am. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t also care about the fate of Tanzania’s elephants and “Cecil” the lion. To me, each feeds into the other. To be properly human is to care about anything that once gone is forever lost, whether that’s a population of elephants, an individual lion, the childhood and improved life-chances of a country’s children or civilians wiped out in conflicts they didn’t start and can’t finish. William Beebee spoke sense. There’s no rewind button. What a pity we can’t see it.

On sharks and children

Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of Jaws, the movie. Rarely can a film have entered into the collective psyche in the way that this one did. I can’t remember when I first saw it although I do remember when I first didn’t. It was shown on television here when I was a very small child of four or five. I came home from school the following day highly indignant because my teacher had asked the class who had stayed up to watch it. Apparently – or so I interpreted it – mine was one of the very few hands not to be raised. Of course I made up for it in years to come, watching the films (all of them) and reading the book. Perhaps that’s why the spectre of sharks has never been far from my mind when swimming in seas and oceans as geographically, biologically and climatically diverse as the Irish sea, the Mediterranean and the Indian ocean. Older people tell me it didn’t used to be that way. ‘Sharks?’ I recall a great-uncle saying. ‘No, you might worry about sharks if you were torpedoed [he was in the Merchant Navy in WWII] but not at the beach. Never at the beach.’ I did though – and a cousin and I used to spend goodly portions of our Easter holidays in that well-known shark mecca, the Lleyn Peninsula, committing to heart the tragedy on every page of a luridly-illustrated book entitled something like “Shark Attack!” that we’d picked up for 50 pence in the discount bookshop in Portmadoc. Needless to say, any large marine creatures in Cardigan Bay remained prudently elusive.

My children still haven’t seen any of the Jaws films (yes, my five year-old self would be disgusted with me) but the idea of sharks as Something Bad and Dangerous is sewn into their consciousness. I realised as much three or so years ago at a tearoom in Orkney’s Bay of Birsay. ‘There was a pod of orcas out there last month,’ the waitress said, as she put her tray down. My four-year son and niece squabbling over turns of the binoculars in front of the picture windows either did not hear her or, more probably, orca meant nothing to them. My two-year old daughter, however, with eyes fixed firmly on the cakes, tried out the new word. ‘Orca?’ she said.

The waitress smiled, wiped her hands on her apron, and went over to a small display of postcards next to the homemade jams. She put one glossy card on the table. ‘Here,’ she said, pointing to the impossibly smooth curve of black and white back. ‘This is an orca. It’s also called a killer whale although, really, it’s a dolphin’. With wide, interested eyes, my daughter looked up and nodded as if she understood. Then she frowned and looked down again. She jabbed her finger against three tall triangular fins that broke the surface of the water around the orca’s back. ‘Sharks,’ she said, unhappily. ‘There are no sharks in the swimming pool.’ We adults nodded in hearty agreement. ‘Sometimes in the sea,’ I began, before sensing the need for a change of tack. ‘But these aren’t sharks. They’re orcas. And you needn’t worry; this sea is far too cold for swimming.’

The storm that had sent us hurrying along the coast away from Skara Brae had subsided. Wind-driven sea-spray still misted the tearoom’s windows but the seaweed on the shore outside no longer tossed its rubbery green tentacles from side to side like long-haired headbangers at a heavy metal concert. The water – so recently a foaming cauldron with sea birds expertly piloting the wind above it – was grey and almost glassy, and the birds now rode its surface, easy as paper ships on a boating pond. A slice of sun poked out coyly from behind a cloud to coax diamond chips of light from the sea. The children at the window were sufficiently entranced not to notice the plate of cakes on the table behind them. Still clad in now slightly steaming waterproofs, they’d reached some sort of accord as to who had which pair of binoculars. No matter that one was looking through the wrong end; they were happy and quiet. We ate our cakes and drank our tea. I wondered how many times I would need to return before I saw an orca. The four year-olds shrieked simultaneously. Several small balls were bobbing closer to shore before resolving themselves into large grey animals that humped fatly out of the water and onto a narrow spit of sand. One rolled onto its side and waved a celebratory flipper at the sun. I stared at the seals, thinking them fair compensation for the lack of orcas. My daughter looked at them before shaking her head a little sadly. ‘Sharks,’ she said.

On words and ears and why I write

One of the questions every writer faces sooner or later is, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Plenty of us tell ourselves, oh, I write for myself; it doesn’t matter if anyone else reads it but if this isn’t exactly a lie, it’s perhaps only a half-truth. Very little makes me admire a writer more than when they stand up to be counted, so to speak, and admit that, actually, they write to be read. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that it tends to be published – and often very successfully so – writers who are brave enough to say as much out loud (although perhaps this is because these writers have less fear of people pointing and laughing or, worse, ignoring them altogether).

Of course traditional print media is not the only way for writers to be heard. Oral storytelling is far older than the written word and, while it has rather lost its place in the western world, it has its successors. Mind you, some forms of writing lend themselves rather better to oral performance than others. Few people would sit through a recital of even a novella but a play is another matter. And the long history of poetry recital is increasingly being supplemented with flash fiction. Years ago I engaged in the quaint-sounding pursuit of “Speech and Drama”, which mostly consisted of reciting – from memory and with appropriate theatrics – a variety of poetry. As a somewhat melancholic teen, I spent far too much time perfecting my performance of several of Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel” collection. It did gain me a Poetry Society gold medal for spoken poetry after a performance at the Central School of Speech and Drama, during which my grandmother had an angina attack (hopefully unconnected), and also prompted me to plough onwards with my own highly derivative poetry collection (long since consigned to the loft for future generations to squirm uncomfortably over or rats and pigeons to use as nesting material).

The idea of performing my own materials in public had not really occurred to me until a friend of mine – a published novelist – reminded me that it was doing readings of her short stories at the local library that pushed her onwards with her creative writing several years ago now. When that same library, in Winchester, started to host an evening called “Loose Muse“, I read the promotional materials with interest. Started in 2005 by Agnes Meadows, Loose Muse, whose home venue is London’s Poetry Café, aims to provide a supportive environment for women writers of all genres to come together, share their work and learn from each other. As well as providing an opportunity for new and upcoming writers, it also showcases more established ones. For example, I was delighted to hear the award-winning poet Rhian Edwards perform (ukulele and all) and subsequently to enjoy the Family Matters tour, performed by the poet/writers Agnes Meadows, Patricia Foster, Janett Plummer and, in absentia, Linda Shanovitch.

I actually only intended to go along as moral support for a friend who’d been asked to perform one of her comedic short stories in the guest slot but she persuaded me to take along one of my poems in case there was space in the “open mic” slots at the end of the evening. There was – and I read “At Pine Ridge”, published last year in Synaesthesia magazine. The second time I went, I was braver and read something new that I have yet to submit anywhere. It got positive feedback, which has encouraged me to think about to where I might send it but, more importantly, it sparked a conversation among several of the people sitting near me. It’s a poem about early motherhood and everyone near me, including the 80 year-old lady who’d read a magnificent ballad about Queen Eleanor, had something to say or to recall on the topic. It’s a good feeling when something you’ve written engages so many other people and makes what I said in my first sentence above seem only a quarter-truth. Perhaps, after all, writing to spark a reaction in others is what counts…..

Freestyle writing challenge

Two days ago I was tagged by Helen Jones to consider taking part in a short freestyle writing challenge. I used to do this sort of thing a lot. It’s a little like warming up before a run or some other vigorous exercise; it prevents the “muscles” you’re going to use in the main event (whether that’s running or writing) from spasming from the shock of unaccustomed use and reminds you that, actually, this body (or mind) has potential.

And it’s potential that’s you get from a freestyle writing exercise. It’s as far from a polished piece as it’s possible to get but it’s not useless. Far from it. And actually it’s fascinating to see what the mind is capable of coming up with at short notice and with no prior preparation. I’m not sure I’ll do anything further with what mine produced – at least not now – but I will try to make it a more regular thing as a way of warming up to the poetry-writing and novel-editing that currently fills my writing hours.

So, the rules were as follows:

  1. Open an MS Word Document
  2. Set a stop watch or your mobile phone timer to 5 or 10 minutes, whichever challenge you think you can beat
  3.  Your topic is at the foot of this post BUT DO NOT SCROLL DOWN TO SEE IT UNTIL YOU ARE READY WITH YOUR TIMER!
  4. Fill the word doc with as much words as you want. Once you start writing do not stop.
  5. Do not cheat by going back and correcting spelling and grammar using spell check.
  6.  You may or may not pay attention to punctuation or capitals. However, if you do, it would be best.
  7. At the end of your post write down ‘No. of words = ____” so that we have an idea of how much you can write within the time frame.
  8. Do not forget to copy paste the entire passage on your blog post with a new topic for your nominees and copy paste these rules with your nomination (at least five (5) bloggers).

My topic was:

You went to sleep in your own bed but have woken up somewhere completely different. Where are you, what’s happening and can you figure out how you got there?

I didn’t address the brief fully. Reading through my piece, it’s clear I have zoomed in on the physicality of where am I, with scarcely any sense of what’s happening or how I got there. Oh well – things to consider for another exercise, I suppose.

Here’s what I came up with:

Thin grey light – not the soft yellow that flushes the edge of my blind. This light fills the room. Room? Is that what it is? The walls are grey too – and hard, like stone. They’re so cold they feel damp. Perhaps they are damp. Or perhaps it’s my hand. I rub it against the duvet, except it isn’t a duvet. It is…..nothing; only my own self and the translucent cotton of my nightgown. Oh, I’m cold. Yes, I’m cold. I sit up and I’m lying on stone too. I can feel the hardness in my back and around my hips as if my bones have grown overnight, intruding into new places in the muscle. I flex my legs: first one and then the other. I stretch my arms. It hardly seems like my body. And yet there’s the cold; there’s no denying this cold.

I scrunch my knees up against my trunk, seeking the slight warmth the one can offer the other, and wrap my arms around myself. Now I’m halfway to vertical I can see where the light is coming from. It’s seeping around a large rock. I ought to investigate but I’m afraid. The cold is no new sensation. Unpleasant maybe but not yet, at least, unbearable. And for as long as I sit here, rocking to myself, I can pretend I’m somewhere quite usual. Or, better, I can imagine that I’m set to wake any moment. Yes! That’s it! The alarm’s going to go off in a minute or perhaps two. And then there’ll be the smell of toast from downstairs and the sound of someone shouting, ‘Get your shoes on! Hurry up!’ Perhaps next door’s dog barking at the blackbirds tugging worms from the lawn. Anything but this.

Oh. Now I’m listening. I can’t help myself. Someone is shouting but it’s nothing about shoes and nothing about being late. I can’t hear a dog but if there is one I don’t suppose it’s one I want to meet. I turn my head, look around. There’s a big rock – huge – at the back of whatever this place is (a cave?). I get to my feet – they’re bare, of course – and pick my way over the stones that litter the floor. I’ll hide here until whoever it was put me here comes back for me. They’ll rescue me, I’m sure.

Words: 392 (in 10 minutes).

I’m going to flout the rules and not nominate anyone in particular to try this exercise but, if you want to, particularly if you’re a Taverner (and whether or not you have your own blog – you know who you are), it might be fun – and it’s only ten minutes. If you do want to have a go, your topic is: <don’t scroll down until you’re ready to write>









You have just been born. Where are you lying? Who – or what – else is around you? Do you know who you are?

It’s All About Dogs

“He was the perfect companion for an adventure, affectionate without exuberance, brave without being belligerent, intelligent and full of good-humoured tolerance for my eccentricities.” Gerald Durrell on Roger the dog in My Family and Other Animals

“A black-and-yellow streak shot past the station agent. Dog Monday stiff? Dog Monday rheumatic? Dog Monday old? Never believe it. Dog Monday was a young pup, gone clean mad with rejuvenating joy.” Dog Monday greets Jem Blythe as he returns from the First World War battlefields in Rilla of Ingleside by L.M.Montgomery (from the Anne of Green Gables series)


I grew up with dogs – real-life ones and those in books. The real-life ones were my friends and even my sanctuary when the rest of the world got tough, and just the mere sniff of a dog in a book made me like it more. I haven’t touched an Enid Blyton book for years but the thought of Timmy still makes my heart skip with excitement and I’m yet to get over my yearning for a St Bernard after Rufus and Bruno in The Chalet School series. I even came to look on bull terriers with a softer eye after Heloise in I Capture the Castle.

And now, at last, we have we have a new addition to the household: an almost nine-week old Toller puppy who is as soft and fluffy as a kitten and yet looks head-turningly fox-like, right down to the foxy spring and pounce. He’s not doing much for my daily word count or for the unbroken nights that I was still counting as a blessing even though my children are now both school-age. And the house has acquired the faint odour of eau-de-canine despite daily floor-washing, a liberal application of beeswax, open windows and highly-scented flowers. However that, I tell myself, will dissipate once house-training is complete. (NB There’s no need to disillusion me here. I’m well aware of my future reality.)

My children are exactly the same ages as my younger sister and I were when our family acquired our first dog: an Irish Setter called Penny. Penny was the first of several dogs: Irish Setters, Dalmatians and a Toller.

I have a dim memory of being crowded into a small room in the breeder’s house, a litter of puppies tumbling about in the space between fireplace and sofa, while the breeder quizzed my parents. Where did they live? Had they had dogs before? Would the dog live inside or out? Did they know how much exercise Setters needed? They must have passed the test because Penny came home with us, cradled on my mother’s knee, in the back of the car. Many years later, she said, ‘I don’t know why I didn’t sit in the front seat with her.’ If she had, Penny wouldn’t have had the chance to be sick all over my shoe. I didn’t like the shoes; they were sturdy brown things from Clarks, with T-bars and no hint of a patent shine but I still wasn’t sure I wanted dog sick on them. ‘Don’t worry,’ my mother said, ‘I’ll clean them for you.’

When we got home, I assume the first thing my parents did was take the puppy into the garden. The first thing I did was run upstairs to my bedroom – I’m not sure what I’d done about the vomity shoes – and lie down on my bed, staring at the ceiling. We’ve got a dog! A dog! is what, even now, I remember ran through my mind just like the wobbly caption at the bottom of an old film. (Incidentally, I recognised the same peculiar mixture of exultation and disbelief more than twenty years later with the birth of my first child. It’s a baby…. was my first thought.)

I soon got over the urge to lie prone on the bed and joined everyone else – bar the cats, that is – in the garden. Penny, I was determined, would be my very own Roger, Timmy, Dog Monday, Jack and Pongo all rolled into one. Of course, as a child, and a young one at that, I got all the best bits of having a dog in the family and, walks in inclement weather aside (we lived in the north-west where it rains more often than it doesn’t), none of the drudgery of mopping, wiping, getting up in the night and training – although, to do them credit, my parents got me involved in all of that just as soon as I was old enough. I grew up determined that my children should have the same thing. Now they have and I am filled with a strange mixture of pleasure, excitement and trepidation. Real life dogs are much more work than literary ones but, I think, just as inspiring in their own way.

Gratuitous puppy picture: