Fiction & Drama

Fiona Harrison: How I captured the voice of a canine hero


I always wanted to write a novel. You know, a good one that people read and enjoy rather than use as a paperweight. The trouble was that despite my dreams of writing a page-turner, I couldn’t find the right character for the story I wanted to tell. For the emotional yet dramatic tale I had my heart set on, I needed someone readers would take to their hearts and root for right from page one and despite my best efforts, inspiration was lacking. Then one day, the right idea and character appeared when I least expected it. I was out running in my local park and saw a very cute little pug with two wheels for back legs. It hit me just how adorable pugs were, and that’s when I knew I’d been looking in the wrong place. My story shouldn’t be told from the perspective of a human; it needed the perspective of a pug! The pug in question is Percy, abandoned at a rescue centre and adopted by a new family shortly before Christmas. Of course, Percy isn’t just any dog. He’s an incredibly loving pug, and when he discovers the new family he has fallen for need help, there’s nothing he wants more than to rescue them. I’ll confess: I felt daunted at first and actually tuned out the character I had discovered. Instead I went back to trying to write from the point of view of a human, but quickly realised it wouldn’t work. The story had no flow, felt stilted and frankly too human. It was time to embrace the pug, and after realising Percy was a dog who was here to stay, my biggest hurdle was ensuring that he felt authentic. It was vital that Percy sounded and acted like a dog rather than a person, and like most things, the devil was in the detail. I thought back to the time I had adopted my own cat from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and considered how the animals there must have felt as they waited to find new families. It was a good place to start as the moment I put myself in Percy’s paws his character unfurled. I could see how scared he would feel about life in a rescue centre, the joy he would experience as he made new doggy mates, and the sense of powerlessness he would no doubt endure as he discovered that his family was in deep trouble. During the initial chapters, I continually worried that I hadn’t captured Percy’s voice or understood his story, and I was petrified he wasn’t believable to the reader. If I had listened to those concerns instead of Percy himself, there was a good chance I may never have finished his tale. Instead, whenever I felt overwhelmed I took a breath and calmly waited for Percy to talk to me. I always found he was there when I needed him, just hanging on for the right moment to bark his story into my ear. As his story developed, Percy very quickly became as real to me as any human and I found it easy to convey the love he feels for his family and the bond he shares with his doggy pals. Over time, writing from a dog’s perspective became second nature and expressions such as, lend a hand, which became lend a paw, tripped off my tongue as naturally as the conversations between Percy and his friends. It’s been a while now since Percy and I spoke and I do miss him. Yet I also know that if I need to capture his voice again, then like any good character, he’s just a bark away. – By Fiona Harrison 

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