A light-hearted look at how pets seem to affect the lives of readers and writers.
I have three rescue cats. I didn’t mean to have that many, I was happy at two (Joey & Sookie). But I’m a sucker for a sob story and when I found out Teddy (ginger and youngest) was the only survivor of his litter and was then rejected by his mother, I had to rescue him. But boy did he kill my creativity!
Kittens are hard work. Teddy was just eight-weeks old when he came to live with us. Kittens may be easier than puppies because they don’t need two or three walks a day, but Teddy was a playing machine and if I didn’t play with him for ten minutes at least every hour I was awake, he’d meow constantly, or dramatically throw himself off my desk just to get mummy’s attention! He became a little obsessed with me, which was absolutely lovely at first, but it wasn’t long before I was questioning whether he was going to kill me in my sleep if I didn’t wake up at midnight to love him… We think he’s part Maine Coon, which explains his love of hunting/play.
Anyway, during those rare, glorious minutes when he would finally sleep between play times and meal times, he’d wrap himself around the foot of my chair, so I couldn’t get up without him waking. That meant I had to write in bursts of 45-minute sessions and hope I didn’t need the bathroom in between! It’s hard to be creative when you have a ticking timer to work to…
But now my cats are older (Teddy’s almost two), they need less play and they sleep more. Do they help me as a writer? I post many photos of them on Facebook and Twitter and I can honestly say I’ve met so many other writers and readers through those photos and posts. Fellow cat/animal lovers are happy to share photos of their pets and we all experience them distracting us by wanting to sleep on our laptops/books, wanting to chew our red editing pens, wanting to be let out at that moment we’re about to write a pivotal scene, wanting to be let back in 30 seconds later…on repeat. All day long.
But when they’re all asleep at the same time, that’s when the magic can happen. You have to be really quiet about writing though, because the minute you get up for anything; tea/coffee, biscuits, reduced price mince pies etc, they take the opportunity to wake up, nod to their food bowl/back door/favourite toy. And unless you do what they demand, you can forget writing.
What about dogs? Well, we used to own a chocolate Labrador named Daisy. She was much more demanding than the cats because she needed three walks a day and more play than all the cats put together, so I didn’t write much at all during that time. But I didn’t care because I loved her. Daisy was with us pre-social media and she’s no longer with us, but she is the inspiration for the rottweiler dog, Rocky, in my book – Who Cares If They Die.
Daisy taught me a lot about myself and losing her was one of the most heart-breaking things my husband and I had ever gone through. I started writing Who Cares If They Die later that year and although I had no intention of ever writing an animal character into my book (I assumed no-one would take my book seriously if it had a dog in it), Rocky appeared out of nowhere. He literally wrote himself. I had no idea where he was going and when he attached himself to Dean Matheson, it just felt right. He has some of Daisy’s characteristics and readers have fallen in love with him as much as I was in love with Daisy, which is a fitting tribute to her.
It’s funny because, before I wrote about Rocky, I probably wouldn’t have picked up a book that featured an animal in it. I mainly read crime, thrillers and horror, and I would have assumed it wasn’t going to be a ‘proper’ crime novel if it can feature a cute pooch. But actually, I read a lot of Dean Koontz in my twenties and he’s obviously completely in love with his dogs as they feature heavily in some of his books. And let’s not forget about Stephen King’s Cujo! He’d make anyone want to go out and rescue a St Bernard! No? Just me? What about Pet Sematary? Could you still love Churchill, the cat, after he returns from his burial? To be honest, one of my cats is that scary even without being buried in a Micmac burial ground.
Many people assume that because we have three cats, I’m a crazy cat lady who doesn’t like dogs. I am a crazy cat lady, yes, but I grew up with dogs (as pets, not siblings) and never wanted a cat. It was only when we rescued Joey that I became completely enamoured by felines. If you own a cat or a dog, it’s highly likely you love all animals.
So…do you need to own a cat/pet to be a successful writer? Of course not! But the internet does love a good cat/dog photo/video and it’s a great way of meeting like-minded readers and writers, as I’ve found. Pets can limit how much time you have to write but owning them provides rich material to draw from when you find an animal character unexpectedly pop up in the middle of your story, like Rocky.
Do you have pets? Let me know in the comments! I suspect there are many other kinds of animals people keep as pets. I’d love to know about them and how they affect your reading or writing!