Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nicola Morgan & Amber

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m the one with glasses - I’m Nicola Morgan, an author, mostly of YA novels and also books about the teenage brain. The four-legged one is Amber, a 9-year-old, female Labrador.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I really wanted to go out and photograph her somewhere interesting in Edinburgh, where we live, but it was horrible weather all week so I hope you don’t mind seeing us having coffee on the sofa in my beautiful study.

What's brewing?

Taylors of Harrogate, medium roast, filter, with milk and one sugar. If I was out, I’d be drinking a cappuccino on an ordinary day or a caramel macchiato with sugar-free vanilla if I’m indulging.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Well, what you see in the photo is my patent recipe: Brain Cake™. I invented this while writing a book about the brain - if you want the recipe, it’s here: Genuinely delicious and healthy, full of fruit and seeds and nuts (if you want), lower in sugar than normal cake, and giving slow release energy to fuel your brain. I can’t promise it will make you cleverer but you are welcome to try. I am.

Any treat for Amber on this occasion?

Well, don’t tell anyone but yes, two biscuits to try to get her to stay still for the photo. We’re careful about her diet, for reasons that will become clear.

How did Amber come to be united with you?

We went to choose her from a local breeder and all the puppies looked as cute as each other. So I picked them all up in turn and Amber was the one who didn’t want to be put back again. She snuggled up and went to sleep. How could we refuse?? Then, we were incredibly glad that we got her and no one else, because a two weeks later we realised she had something seriously wrong with her legs - hips and elbows, so all four legs - and we knew that if someone who wanted to show her or breed from her had got her they wouldn’t have wanted to keep her and I don’t like to think what would have happened. We have to keep her weight down as low as possible and be careful about the levels of exercise; she did have some surgery but it didn’t work. We adore her. She’s very special and we wouldn’t change anything about her. Usually …

How did she get her name?

Just that none of us could agree on anything else!

Tennis ball, stick, frisbee...?

Because of her legs we have avoided chasing/jumping games so we tend not to throw things too much, but she has a habit of finding a huge stick on the way back from a walk and dragging it home. When I say huge, I’m talking major branch size, half the width of the road. People have to get out of the way when we pass.

Cat, squirrel, postman, car...?

SHHHHHH! Don’t say squirrel! Or cat. She can hear the squ word within a sentence, or even a word that sounds like squirrel. “Was school ok?” always caused frantic scrabbling as she tried to get into the garden to find that squ.

What's an ordinary day like for Amber?

Lazy. Short walks because of her legs. Having said that, on a good day she can walk for an hour, and even steep hills, as long as we don’t do it too often. It’s a bit unpredictable but actually she’s better than when she was younger. We just play it by ear. But she has my company all day (what more could she want?) and we play very silly wild games in the house.

Who is your dog's best pet-pal?

She has a very sweet French boy-friend called Clouseau and three identical Westies which she thinks are one dog because she’s never seen them together.

What's Amber's best quality?

The incredible ability to make us laugh, manipulate us and make us think she’s human.

What's her proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

Proudest: every time she demonstrates her best two tricks to strangers. (Best two tricks being “left paw / right paw” and “drop catch”. Drop catch is when she, on command, drops a ball, lets it bounce once and catches it again. And sits there waiting for attention.) Most embarrassing: easy - recently we were walking and a ridiculously small dog came along. Amber obviously thought it was a squirrel. I thought it was a squirrel. It ran like a squirrel. And she chased it like a squirrel. I yelled at her to stop, which she instantly did, largely because the squirrel turned round and barked.

Nicola Morgan has written a number of critically acclaimed books for teens, including the Scottish Arts Council Award-winning Fleshmarket, Mondays Are Red, Chicken Friend, The Leaving Home Survival Guide and Sleepwalking, winner of the 2005 Scottish Arts Council Children's Book of the Year Award.

The Scotsman review of Deathwatch, her newly released YA novel, suggested the novel would appeal to readers "who find Twilight and its ilk too wimpy."

Watch the YouTube excerpt of Deathwatch.

Learn more about the author and her work at Nicola Morgan's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue