Monday, December 21, 2009

Juliet Marillier & Gretel, Pippa and Sara

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Juliet Marillier, a full time writer of novels that span the genres of historical fiction, romance and fantasy. My most recent book is Heart’s Blood, a romantic ghost story loosely based on Beauty and the Beast. I live in a riverside suburb of Perth, Western Australia. With me in the picture are Gretel and Pippa. My third dog, Sara, needs her own photo [below left] because she’s fussy about whom she allows close. Gretel is an intriguing cross breed, aged about 8. She’s part miniature pinscher, part something with really big ears. Pippa is a purebred miniature pinscher, aged 4. Sara is mostly Maltese. She is an old lady, at least 12.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

A work break for me, on the couch at home. The dogs are very strict about enforcing these breaks, so I can attend to their needs.

What's brewing?

A decaff long black for me, made in the plunger.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

I’m having almonds and dried apricots.

Any treat for your dogs on this occasion?

Pip and Gretel are having a Greenie, a type of dog treat that is good for their teeth. Sara is too old to be bothered chewing anything challenging. We’re all on special diets for various health reasons.

How did your dogs come to be united with you?

They are all rescue dogs. Gretel has been with me for six years. She was found wandering in an industrial district and taken to a refuge – she was there several months before I adopted her. It is amazing that nobody took her earlier as she is a good-tempered, pretty little dog. She does have a major health issue – she’s epileptic and needs daily medication for life. My best companion.

I’ve had elderly, blind Sara for just over a year. Most of the time she’s sweet as pie, but she can transform instantly into a growling, biting ball of aggression. I took her in as a foster dog, and once she was settled here it seemed too cruel to expect her to move again. She has a heart condition but is doing OK thanks to good veterinary attention plus love and care. She spends a lot of the time sleeping.

Pippa is the newest arrival. Her owner was an elderly acquaintance of mine who died suddenly last winter. Pip was his precious only child, and I took her rather than see her go to a refuge. She came complete with a wardrobe of hand-sewn dog coats ranging from brocade to faux fur. She’s had to learn to share her house and her human with other animals. A bundle of energy in a small body. Oh, and she’s so good at those pleading eyes…

How did they get their names?

Pippa was originally just Pip, and named after an English cartoon character called Pipsqueak. Sara came from the shelter with her name, which I thought suited her, though on second thoughts Her Ladyship or Princess might be more apt. In the refuge Gretel was named Petunia. I knew I’d never use that in public! Since she’s part pinscher, a Germanic name seemed appropriate, so I named her after a German fairy tale character.

What's an ordinary day like for your dogs?

In theory it’s structured around my work routine, but actually it’s structured entirely around the animals. Gretel, Pippa and Sonia the cat all sleep in with me. Once someone wakes up, we’re all up. I make their breakfast and administer their various medications, then we listen to the radio news while I have my breakfast.

Next come walkies in rain or shine. Dogs never seem to understand that if it’s raining out the back it will be raining out the front as well. I’m lucky enough to live in a riverside suburb with many great places for dogs to play, explore, socialise and, in summer, swim. Not that mine do – they are all timid about water. Gretel and Pippa get their walk first, a long, brisk one. Sara lives her life at a slower pace than the others, and that includes her walks. Being totally blind, she has to stay on the lead. We make a regular visit to the corner store for our daily newspaper. Sara likes to stop every few paces and have a good sniff around.

After the two walks, I settle down to write for most of the day, with breaks for coffee and meals.

In the late afternoon we repeat the whole routine. I usually work some more in the evenings, but the dogs prefer it when I watch TV. Gretel, Pippa and Sonia the cat take turns on my lap, with the others snuggling as close as possible. When Sara has her turn on the lap, everyone else moves away rather than risk a sudden random attack.

Do your dogs have any influence on your writing?

They provide inspiration for the dog characters in my books. In my most recent novel, Heart’s Blood, there is a giant hound named Fianchu, of whom it’s said that he can eat a ram in one bite. He plays quite a big role in the story, and part of his tale is based on real life experience. I think readers will be able to work out which part it is and why it was so difficult to write. My work-in-progress contains a crotchety little white dog called Fang. No prizes for guessing which member of the household she’s based on!

Cat, rabbit, postman…

Cat, but not our own cat Sonia, who is unafraid of dogs. Pippa is still learning about this.

Who is each dog's best pet-pal?

Gretel likes Sonia the cat – they’ve been here longest and are happy to curl up and sleep side by side. Pippa likes Gretel best, as she is a good walk buddy and super-tolerant. Sara doesn’t like anyone.

What's each dog's best quality?

Gretel: sweet temper
Pippa: courage
Sara: super-cuddliness

What's each dog's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

They all get ‘proudest moment’ awards for their unstinting support this year during my long course of breast cancer treatment. That’s why my hair is so short in the photo – it’s growing back after chemo. My dogs’ unconditional love was a major factor in my staying brave and positive through this challenge. Gretel especially liked sharing the daytime naps.

Most embarrassing? Well, dogs have no concept of embarrassment, but there have been a few moments involving bodily functions and public places.

What would your life be like without your dogs?

Too quiet! I’d go a little crazy if it was just me and my laptop all day. My exercise regime would suffer, and instead of talking to the dogs I would have to start talking to myself … I’d miss the cuddles and affection terribly. The love you give a dog is returned a hundredfold. It’s unlikely I will ever be without at least one dog. I find it very hard to turn away a waif who needs a home.

Best dog book?

Street Dogs by Traer Scott, a wonderful photo essay on dogs living alone or in packs in Puerto Rico and Mexico. It will make you cry, but it’s uplifting too.

Juliet Marillier's historical fantasy novels are published internationally and have won a number of awards.

Wildwood Dancing made Amazon's 2007 list of top ten books for young adults; it also won the 2006 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel.

Juliet Marillier's website to learn more about her books and works in progress, and read her "author's spotlight" essay at the Random House website. Also, check out Writer Unboxed, a genre writing blog which she shares with several other writers and editors.

an excerpt from Heart’s Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Heart’s Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue