Monday, May 19, 2014

Alan Beechey & Leila

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s Leila, a female mutt who’s nearly seven, and me. I’m Alan Beechey and I’m the author of a murder mystery series featuring Oliver Swithin, an amateur detective who writes children’s books. (My third title, This Private Plot, is out this month.) An early DNA test showed that Leila has bits of Japanese Akita, Chow, and Shar-Pei, three breeds that a recent National Geographic said were still largely wolf. She certainly has the Akita Inu’s pink nose. I also suspect cat genes.

What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I’m addicted to both coffee and canines, so just waking up is a good enough reason.

What’s brewing?

Straight illy brand ground roast, in a Mr. Coffee maker, strong setting. Plus half-and-half.

How did Leila get her name? Any nicknames?

My oldest son had a classmate call Leila at his nursery school, and he once said that he’d like to use the name for a pet. I think it was meant as a compliment. And well-deserved. When the real Leila was about four, it was discovered that she had serious hearing difficulties, which hadn’t been detected earlier because she’d simply managed to work around them. So for courage and resourcefulness, a worthy namesake. (If Leila had been a male, she’d have been Bertie, after P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster.)

Leila’s full name is now up to The Divine Leila Gretel Kibbles Indiana Bones Sherlock Bones Beechey, Mistress of All Squirrels. (Did I mention I have three boys?) Incidentally, Leila means “night” in Arabic, which is kind of perverse for a white dog.

How were you and Leila united?

She was one of a batch of unwanted puppies rescued from North Carolina by Pet Rescue of Larchmont, New York. We’ve had her since she was four months old.

Are there any Leila-inspired dogs in your new novel?

No, This Private Plot only has a brief appearance by a family cat and the odd sheep. But my first book An Embarrassment of Corpses featured a black cat that was based a former girlfriend’s cat called Smudge, only I renamed him Satan (entirely appropriately). My second book, Murdering Ministers, includes a harrier called Murray in one scene. This was a way of thanking the real Murray’s owner, who was the poison expert I’d consulted on the administration of strychnine.

Does Leila do more to help or hinder your writing?

Leila is the perfect beast for a writer: her morning walks give me time to think and plan, and then she withdraws to a modest distance while I’m at the desk. My children, on the other hand...

Where is Leila’s favorite outdoor destination?

I live in Rye, New York, which is on the Long Island Sound, and during the long winter months, at least one of our beaches is open for dog-walking. There’s nothing Leila likes better than chasing a tennis ball along the sand until she gets bored with fetching, paddles into the sea, and drops it just of out of my reach. Incidentally, a wallow in the ocean – although she’s not a swimmer – is a feature of every beach trip, even in sub-freezing conditions. But try to put her in a nice warm bath...

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Tennis ball, all her life. Sock. Anything made of Nylabone.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Squirrel. Her frequent attempts to pursue a squirrel up a tree trunk are what make us suspect the cat genes. That and her habit of trying to bury her number twos.

What is Leila’s best quality?

Well, of course, she’s smart, she’s affectionate, she’s beautiful. She is boisterous but not aggressive. But although she’s only a fraction Akita, she exhibits a lot of Akita traits, which includes a certain aloofness with other dogs and with people. She’s polite and curious and happy to romp for a while with a puppy on the beach or join a sprint in the park, but then she slips away, preferring her own company. Her philosophy of socializing boils down to “do no harm, take no crap.” I think if more humans started out with this as a basic tenet, the world would be a better place.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Leila could speak, which actor would do her voice?

When I was training Leila as a puppy, it was hard at first to find a tone that was firm without being fierce. I finally evolved a voice that implied I was morally scandalized by any disobedience, like the prim headmistress at an academy for young ladies. So my scolding voice tends to be that of the magnificent British character actress Joyce Grenfell, or occasionally Dame Maggie Smith at her most vinegary. (“What were you thinking, young lady?”) As for Leila, a thoroughly American dog? Oh, Sarah Vowell, who did Violet in The Incredibles.

If Leila could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

Why are you talking like Sarah Vowell?

Visit Alan Beechey's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: This Private Plot.

--Marshal Zeringue

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