Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Michelle Styles & Tess and Hardy

Who is in the photo at right?

The photo at the right has me (Michelle Styles, historical romance novelist. I have written 14 novels for Harlequin Mills & Boon. My latest North American release is Sold & Seduced in February 2010, My next UK release is Compromising Miss Milton in May 2010. You can read more about me at my website – and my two 9 month old border collies – Tess and Hardy. Tess has the single patch. They are brother and sister. The picture was taken by Katie Lee during a photo shoot for Living North magazine.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

It was the photo shoot for Living North magazine’s February edition. After posing, I had coffee with the photographer and the dogs joined us.

What's brewing?

It was plain old filter coffee with a little milk.

Any treats to go with the coffee?

Just the coffee.

Any goodies for the dogs on this occasion?

They were being kept in place with treats! Bribery and corruption is all when you want the dogs to look at the camera. They had markies after the shoot was finished and then pig’s ears because they had been so good. The dogs adore pig’s ear and know that they are real treats. After being the star of anything is hard work!

How did you come to be united with your dogs?

We got the pair after our ten year Border collie suddenly died last May. Within hours, it was blatantly obvious that the house was too quiet. We decided to get two because my husband worried that our 13 year Labrador would go soon as well. So far, so good and he remains with us. The neighbour of a friend had a litter and we were able to go and get them. It was not until about mid way through the second week that I twigged why most books and experts say – do not do two puppies at once. It is doing twins voluntarily! Lots of fun but if one dog doesn’t think of it, the other one will.

How did they get their names?

Tess was named because it is the name of my daughter’s favourite book and Tess was her 16th birthday present. And if you are going to have Tess, you might as well continue the influence and so Hardy got his name.

What's an ordinary day like for the dogs?

They wake up just after 6 when I get up. We have cuddles and they go out. If it is light, we will go on an early morning walk, else they come back in. They help let the ducks and hens out. Tess seems to think it is important to hurry the ducks along. Then they have their breakfast. They tend to lounge around/play in the house while I do some writing and then later in the afternoon we go for another walk. The dogs do make regular checks on the ducks during the day. They help put the ducks to bed at dusk and are very good at making sure any stray ducks are rounded up. Then they are fed and play until bed time. Collies are not stick them in a corner and forget them dogs. They like to be involved in everything, including "helping" to prepare dinner, getting any tasty titbits the kittens might have left.

If they have rolled in anything foul, they have a bath. For some reason Tess and Hardy do this and the other dogs had enough sense not to. They are not fond of baths!

Do your dogs have any influence on your writing?

I love having animals in my novels and do try to have at least one dog or cat. It makes the book much nicer I think. I love researching what sort of dog would have been a part of a household in a given time. So for example, my Roman books have had greyhounds, my Viking Elkhounds and finally with a Victorian I was able to have sheep dogs.

Where is their favorite outdoor place?

They adore going to the National Trust property – Allen Banks because they are allowed to run free and there are lots of interesting smells.

Stick, Frisbee, tennis ball...?

Tess loves to fetch anything. Hardy is more of a tug man and Chile just likes to be an elderly gentleman and let the pups get on with it.

Cat, squirrel, jogger...?

Ducks. They are duck dogs.

Duck dogs?

Border collies need a job. They are highly intelligent and never happier than when working. We do not have sheep so they can’t be sheep dogs but we do have late night party ducks who do not like to go to bed. Both Tess & Hardy know their job is to get the ducks in their house at night. After they do their job, they are fed.

Who are the dogs' best pet-pals?

We just acquired two black kittens – Heathcliff and Mr Darcy and they are rapidly becoming friends. The dogs have discovered the joys of cat food. In the outside world, their best friends are Daisy Emma and Jackson – 3 Labradors who belong to a friend where we go and have a coffee most weeks.

What's each dog's best quality?

Their best quality is that they are intelligent, loyal and loving.

What's each dog's proudest moment? Most embarrassing?

Hardy’s most harrowing moment was when he ate raisins at about 10 weeks. Raisins are potentially fatal to dogs as they can cause renal failure. Cue an overnight trip to the vet’s on a drip. Hardy also managed to chew up his discharge papers. The raisins have been kept on a top shelf ever since.

For Tess, it came when she and her brother escaped. I was cleaning out the duck houses and they found a hole in the back fence and wriggled through. The first I knew about it was when the farmer’s wife called and said she had two puppies whom she thought belonged to me. I was about to leave home when Hardy appeared, looking smug, having escaped and made his own way home. Tess on the other hand was attached to a chain and feeling sorry for herself. She refused to have anything to do with Hardy for several weeks afterward! I am very glad that they wear dog tags as well as being microchipped.

Read an excerpt from Styles' new book, Sold & Seduced, and learn more about her and her work at Michelle Styles' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue