This post first appeared on the NFOTA blog September 3, 2021.
Born July 24, 2019, Artie, (AKA Arthur Conan Doyle) became my constant companion in early October. I’d met his dog mother, Bella, a year earlier during one of the ever-increasing vet visits for my fifteen-year-old French Bulldog, Janie (AKA Miss Jane Marple). “Ah you have a Frenchie too,” I said, acknowledging something of which I’m sure Bella’s human was fully aware. He told me she’d had a litter the previous year and was doing well. I asked if he planned to breed her again. He wasn’t sure but offered to call me. I gave him my number.
Acquiring my first French bulldog puppy, Hercie (AKA Hercule Poirot – you’re sensing a pattern here) coincided with an idea for a mystery novel. Mysteries being my go-to reading material, I followed the dictum to write what you want to read. And in following the old adage to write what you know, I created an amateur detective who was also an artist and gave her a dog.
After moving to rural Ontario and adding Janie to the family, I gave my sleuth a lucrative portrait commission, took her to the countryside and left her in an old mansion with a strange group of characters.
Why does the dog make such a wonderful muse? John Steinbeck made a road trip in search of America with a poodle name Charley––a great sounding-board for his thoughts. Steinbeck said that he always tried out his material with his dog first.
For Dodie Smith it was Dalmatians, and at one time she had nine. When a visitor commented that her dogs would make a ‘lovely fur coat’ she responded with A Hundred and One Dalmatians.
Lord Byron was inspired to write poetry for his faithful Newfoundland dog, Boatswain. His Epitaph to a Dog ends with the words: ‘To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise; I never knew but one—and here he lies.’
Emily Brontë took her companion and protector, a bullmastiff cross named Keeper, for long walks on the moors. He was also her model for one of her few extant watercolour paintings.
About her pug, Pongo, Donna Tartt wrote, ‘My dog has a number of acquaintances of his own species, as do I but it is abundantly clear to both of us that there is little company in all the world which we enjoy as much as each other’s.’
“Martha My Dear” is a song about Paul McCartney’s Old English sheep dog. Neil Young wrote “Old King” for his hound dog and for her poodle, Ralph, Nora Jones wrote “Man of the Hour.”
What is it about a dog that empowers so many of us? And what about that question of dog as muse?
Surely the solitary occupation of writer benefits from that unconditional devotion, especially from one so keen to accompany us on long walks. More than good for your health, walking is conducive to generating great ideas. And being a writer means being a reader so cuddling up with a companion who wants nothing more than to be close, may put you and keep you in that comfy chair, book or e-book in hand.
Now, with Artie by my side, I’ve given my artist/investigator good news. She has another commission. And, though this one raises the stakes, it’s all happening at the zoo. And the bad news? There’s no mystery without calamities, complications and the gruesome end for a mammal of the human variety.
Author and artist, Susan Statham’s mystery novel The Painter’s Craft is set in her birthplace of Toronto, where she, like her protagonist, studied the fine arts. Taking early retirement from the Toronto District School Board, Susan relocated to a hamlet east of Cobourg. President of the Cobourg Art Club and past president of Spirit of the Hills Arts Association, Susan contributed to and co-edited four Hill Spirits anthologies. A life-long animal lover, she’s “never met a dog she didn’t like”. Read more about Susan’s art here, and her writing here.