A Dog’s Life

Today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Sarah Stephenson, who is here to tell us about a dog, his diary and lots of other interesting things!

Welcome, Sarah! Tell us about your newly published novel, Dougal’s Diary.

Tim, many thanks for inviting me onto your blog today.

Dougal’s Diary is a humorous story about a dog dealing with the complexities of modern life and the unusual characters he encounters.

When Dougal leaves the quiet of Kent for Greenwich, he has no idea what sort of dog he’ll become, no clue about London life, or if he’s chosen his owner well and landed on his paws. Dougal documents his first 18 months of life through the highs of Wimbledon, the Olympics, birthday parties, bonfire night, playing a sheep in a Nativity play and getting into trouble with his young mate, Jacob. And then there are the lows; puppy classes, coping with his chaotic owner and her eccentric friends, a booze cruise to Calais and struggles with his own obsessions; health, socks, balls and Sat Nav skills. Dougal is convinced writing his diary saved his sanity.

DD cover

Is it based on a real dog?

There is a 3D version of Dougal. The moment I got him home I realised he was very different from any I’d had before. He was a lover of life and adventure, a social animal and party-goer, rather more human than dog. I felt his character was asking for a story.

Do you have any further books planned?

Yes, I’m planning a series of cozy crime thrillers set in various homes in Britain, Europe and the States. Recipe for Death, the first book, takes place in Gloucestershire, another in Palm Beach and one in Mallorca.

Tilly Carey, a recently trained chef is sent to work for various clients. Her own family (mother and twin brother) run through the books, as does her assistant, a student from Tbilisi. A young Scottish man she meets on a train brings in some love interest.

It’s a way of using my own experiences without being done for slander.

Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?

Two things: the theatre and my mother.

I grew up in Bristol in the heyday of The Bristol Old Vic and was taken to most of the plays; the Classics, Wilde, Ionesco. Amongst many wonderful productions I saw the young Peter O’Toole, pulled out of the nick (drink problems) just in time for the matinee, play an elderly man and watched Leonard Rossiter as Richard 11.

My mother considered every rule was there to be broken, even driving round a roundabout the wrong way, if it was quicker. She despised men but wanted 2.4 children so conned the Nuns at an orphanage into allowing her, a single parent, to foster my brother. For us children it was like living in a bad, improvised play. We had no idea what tomorrow would bring; food, school or a bed to sleep on – she made money by letting out rooms.

It was easier to exist in an imaginary world.

You’ve been an actor, a dancer, a chef, a novelist. What do you say when people ask “what do you do?”

I just say I cook. If encouraged by others, I might expand and tell stories. No-one knew I was writing until Crooked Cat were about to publish Dougal’s Diary. When I told a bunch of friends over dinner one night, they were absolutely flabbergasted!

Do you find that your different creative outlets complement or conflict with each other?

I’m used to being on my feet, so find long periods sitting at computer, difficult. And time, is another problem; fitting in writing with cooking jobs. There was a dreadful week coming up to Xmas- always a busy period for parties- when I had to get written permission from all those in the book. Yes, it’s fictional but based on real dogs and people. So, in between food shopping, cooking and delivering, I was charging round Greenwich Park, asking surprised folk if they knew where Bertie, the black Poodle or Tiny the Yorkshire terrier, lived. I was hoping to gain answers before my orange sorbets, melted.

Of course, they were in a special container, but you never know. I tend to panic.

Do you have any other talents or interests that you would like to share with us?

I’m supposed to be a good painter; landscapes and portraits – oils. But, you must have the passion. Writing seems to have taken over.

As for interest: walking, opera, films, travel. At 17, I went to Japan alone, on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a two week trip on train, plane and boat, sleeping in hotels where all the rooms were bugged. When I finally arrived – I was to stay with a friend from the Royal Ballet School – she didn’t want to sightsee, so I toured Japan on my own.

What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

Did you ever enjoy 15 minutes of fame and if so, was it fun?

And what is the answer?

I did and no, it wasn’t.

“THE THINGS THEY DO FOR CULTURE” THE SUN 1971

Actress Sarah Stephenson has become the world’s first Desdemona to strip on stage.

The directors, in their wisdom, decided it would make her death scene more poignant, if in the dimmed light she slipped off her nightdress and climbed into bed. Then Othello enters, picks her up, wrapped in a sheet, and kills her. The story was covered by most papers in Europe.

I had members of the audience sitting in the front row watching through binoculars, received fan mail asking for photos and hate mail. ‘If someone was guilty of such an act on the public highway, they would be subject to prosecution. Why should you be allowed to get away with it? Shame on you!’ There was worse, much worse.

But interestingly enough and thinking of his later conviction, I received a letter from Jeffrey Archer on House of Commons notepaper.

‘Just a line to say my wife and I are looking forward to seeing your performance on Thursday and to wish you every success.

I can imagine the past few days have not been all that stimulating for you, nevertheless those of us who love the theatre will judge the play on its merits and not on pathetic articles appearing in the papers.

Very best of luck….

They came round to congratulate me, after the show.

Although they say all publicity is good, I don’t think this experience helped establish me as a serious actress!

Wow, what interesting lives you and Dougal have had! Thanks for sharing those insights with us, Sarah. I hope the book earns you both another slice of fame – and a more comfortable experience of it this time round!

You can find Dougal’s Diary on Amazon

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