Whoever said “Don’t live in the past but look to the future” was only half right – and they probably were not a writer. For us the past is our own personal goldmine, the source of characters, events, adventures and the occasional quirky phrase we slip in to get a smile from the reader. The past is our foundation, whether we choose to recount it or do the opposite in an effort to banish it forever. Every writer’s journey begins in the past for it has made us what we are today.
Some writers use the past by recounting events from their life, an autobiographical approach that, if well done and featuring something original or touching, can be very effective. Many fiction writers (myself included) use it as source material for stories. In my case many of the stories from the “Alex Hastings” series use a little of the “real” past, though often mixed in with several other events. An equal number are made up but use all that experience from years ago to make them as realistic as possible – after all, as Bernard Cornwall of the “Sharpe” series of historical novels points out – there is always a helpful reader out there ready to set you straight if you get your facts wrong.
Sometimes however there is an episode in life that seems to come from fiction rather than real life. Take the last few years, for example. I have to confess, I have been afraid of dogs for much of my life. I still have the scars on my arm to show why this is and my family never had dogs, or allowed them in the house. Then I met my partner and my first dog entered my life. Jump forward to last year and I found myself at Crufts with my partner and several friends, showing a dog we had bred and raised as a puppy. He wasn’t supposed to stay with us but at the time no-one who could take him wanted him. He was not considered anything like good enough to be a “show dog” but he has the sweetest personality and extraordinary charm. He is also “hyper-vigilant” which is a posh way of saying he barks at everything. And I mean everything – people, cars, rain on the window, the post box, the postman and, of course, other dogs. Especially other dogs.
We took him a training class to socialize him and after a false start at one where we were asked to leave he gradually settled a little but even so, a show with 6,000 other dogs does not seem the best environment for a restful day. Yet despite this he did show, he did us proud and he sat on his bench and greeted visitors, had his picture taken with children and even refrained from peeing in the hotel. It was an extraordinary journey. Not one I’m eager to repeat but one I look back on with wonder and delight.
So when I decided to take a break from the “Alex Hastings” books I looked to the past and there was Charlie, the dog who got to Crufts, looking back at me. Writing that story means I have to relive some very hard moments but I have enjoyed it all and one day, in the not too distant future, I hope to share that journey with you.