Book Review: The way of the dog by Stuart Barnes

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Having a new puppy in the house, I’m obsessively reading as much as I can about dog behaviour and training tips. A lot of this is in the form of online resources – whole websites, articles and a plethora of YouTube footage.

My hairdresser swears by this book, quoting the great line “if we are the most intelligent creatures on earth, why do we try to make our domesticated animals understand our language instead of us understanding theirs?”

That’s quite hard to argue with.

The Way of the Dog explores the ways dogs behave the way they do. If you can understand that, Barnes argues, you can train them better and correct unwanted behaviour. Barnes wrote this book based on years of observing pack animals in the wild. His early chapters are devoted to this extensive experience, and makes for impressive reading. Barnes sets up his credentials early.

It is a very quick book to read – I devoured it in a couple of hours. It is simply presented and written. It’s almost like Barnes is talking to you. His logic is clear, and hard to argue with. I love the notion of a dog whisperer, and buy in to the energy affecting your dog.

As to whether his training methods are ‘right’; I don’t know. The Dog Behaviouralist  at our puppy class disagrees to some extent. The amount of breeding, over centuries, means that there is another overriding ‘force’ in the dog in our homes today. They want to serve their masters. Simple. The pack instinct of wild dogs or wolves have largely been bred-out. The punitive aspects of dog training (which Barnes alludes to in places, like a short-sharp snap of a lead to teach walking to heel, or using your hand/fingers to stimulate the mouth of the Alpha Dog) are seen as out-dated, with distraction/reward a better strategy. See this article as an example (although it’s horrid to read with the web format!)

What do I know?

I’m not sure about growling at my soppy black Labrador. I do make disapproving sounds at her (like an ah-ah-ah), but a growl? Oh no. She doesn’t bark, is proving herself to be loyal and obedient. She is curious and quite brave. She simply sits down and watches if she doesn’t know what to do about something. She is a scavenger (she is a Labrador), and is very motivated by food (repeat: she is a Labrador). She is also a scamp, but she’s a puppy.

The Way of The Dog makes for a fascinating read, but this owner isn’t sure that all of his methods are for me, or my dog.

 

In conversation with Tony Lee Moral…

Tony at the book signing early in September
Tony at the book signing early in September

This is new for me, but back when Playing Mrs Kingston was launched, Tony asked me if I’d like to do an interview on my blog. I’m not sure why I didn’t at the time, but I asked if I could take him up on the offer when I reviewed Ghost Maven. Tony is incredibly generous, which is conveyed in his writing, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him a little better. Enjoy!

Julia: Where did the idea for a Ghost Maven come from? And the term? I love it!

Tony: I lived in Monterey for two years, so I know the region well, and I wanted to write about the beauty, the history and the supernatural lore of the region. All of these combined to form the idea for ‘Ghost Maven’. I was also inspired by the JM Barrie play, ‘Mary Rose’, about a young woman who disappears on a Scottish island and reappears unaged twenty years later. The working title of the book was ‘Evening Tide’, after Henry’s boat, but I changed it to ‘Ghost Maven’ about half way through, because I thought it would appeal to paranormal romance readers, and there is something more evocative when you have the word ‘Ghost’ in the title. The idea for a Maven arose from this premise, someone who has command over spirits, and Alice who is preoccupied with the afterlife having just lost her mother, seemed like a good candidate to go on this incredible journey to becoming a Maven.

Julia: Why move into Young Adult Fiction – what is the attraction for you as a writer?

Tony: I’m a storyteller and am keen to reach a wide a readership as possible. Young Adult readers are also very demanding, and need a fast paced plot and less exposition. They lose interest quickly, so as a writer it is challenging to create scenes which keep readers turning the pages. I specialize in mystery and suspense because of my background writing about Alfred Hitchcock, so I use his tools and techniques for creating suspense. I talk about these principles in my book ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass’, which is a writing manual on how to construct a thrilling screenplay.

Julia: Do you think that Ghost Maven is more love story or suspense/thriller?

Tony: I think it’s more of a love story as Alice and Henry’s romance is the central part of the book, and the sections I enjoyed writing the most. Their meeting occurs at a point when Alice is suffering tremendous grief and bereavement from losing her mother. They are both very lonely characters, and find solace in each other, as they have shared interests in literature, nature, the outdoors and the colour purple.

Julia: I’m sure you won’t tell us, but did Henry Raphael die? And what might be next for Alice?

Tony: At the end of the book, O’Reilly, the enemy survives, so someone will have to fight him in the sequel, which may give you a clue about Henry’s fate. In the next chapter, Alice discovers her powers to be a Ghost Maven, and it’s a very exciting time for her, but also very dangerous. So the book is going to be very dark, as Alice comes to terms with who she is and what is her destiny. Writing a sequel is very rewarding for a writer, as your characters are already fully formed, you know their likes and dislikes, and so does the reader, so you can push the characters further.

Julia: Last we heard, you were doing a follow up of ‘Mrs Kingston’ when you were in Italy. Is she coming back?

Tony: I wrote the sequel for ‘Playing Mrs. Kingston’ last year and Catriona Benedict is definitely coming back. The title of the book is called ‘The Two Masks of Vendetta’ and follows Catriona and her Italian boyfriend Mario in glamorous 1960s Italy. She also comes face to face with her old adversary Louis Ferrero and the twists and turns are so unexpected. I had so much fun plotting and writing the novel, which was an excuse to visit Italy four times last year, as I spent time researching the novel in Rome, Florence, Arezzo, Santa Margherita and Portofino. The book is set in the La Dolce Vita period and follows Catriona and Mario as they are on a quest to find the True Cross of Jesus Christ.
Julia: Now that sounds really intriguing. If I can ask some questions about you as a writer. It’s something I’m very curious about. So, what’s your writing day like?

Tony: This depends on whether I have deadlines, but a typical day when I’m working on a novel is writing about 3000 words. I’m more of a night owl, so I write better in the afternoons and evenings. I wrote an article about Blue Sky thinking which is on the Ghost Maven website and is full of interesting tips on how best to achieve creative insights.

Julia: When do ideas come to you – and how do they come.. Fully formed, or in little morsels?

Tony: I often have the tagline or synopsis for a book, and if I’m very keen to pursue it, I spend hours thinking how to flesh the idea out. I was at my most creative when I lived in Monterey Bay. There is new evidence that being outdoors, and colours like blue and green, can facilitate creative insights. I also derive many of my ideas by going to the cinema. I’m a member of BAFTA, and many of my novels started off as ideas for screenplays, my scenes are often cinematic, and I’m very preoccupied by how my characters look and talk.

Julia: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘panster’ as a writer? By that I mean do you plan/map everything out before you start writing, or go with the idea, the characters and see where the story goes?

Tony: A combination of both. Normally I have the basic idea mapped out and know the beginning and the end. The middle is often the hardest chapters to write, as you have to engage the reader and not lose them half way through. Sometimes my characters take a life of their own, and dictate where they want to go, and I’m always thinking of how they would behave in a situation. I would say I’m more of a plotter overall. As Alfred Hitchcock said, everything has to be planned out on paper, so I do like writing a detailed synopsis if I have problems with a plot, so I can step back and see where the story beats are.

Julia: That’s all fascinating. Thank you so much Tony. Let’s hope that Ghost Maven flies off the shelves. To find out more about Tony and his latest book, Ghost Maven, head over to his website:

www.ghostmaven.com

Tony’s lovely photo was taken from his Twitter feed, @TonyLeeMoral

 

And how is the writing going…?

My sister visited this weekend. “How’s the writing going?”, she said.

“Hmmm…”

She asked the question directly. I’ve been avoiding asking it of myself. She gave me a look. A look between sisters. It reached the neglected writer, who seemed to wave back. I hung my head in shame.

It’s October for goodness sake. Yes, you were derailed, but you’re healing well.

The truth is that I’ve lost the habit. I’ve misplaced it somewhere. I think it’s probably folded up in the wallpaper/post-it notes by the side of my desk. The sum total of Draft Two.

Oh, but there are excuses. Many of them. I was going to start in August. We had visitors. And then Steve asked me to help organise a music festival in aid of local charities. I couldn’t say no, and it took up my spare time. Mike D’Abo came to our little village to sing in a tent! It was awesome!

Then I was going to start in September, but Bessie arrived. The sweetest little black labrador puppy. Our first dog. They weren’t joking when they (whoever they are) said that a puppy is a perfect time waster. Hours, days have evaporated! She chews away at time. It is wonderful. But it’s not getting the manuscript done.

Bessie
Bessie

And so it is October. Five days in. My husband is away (he’s been away for the last four weeks), so sole responsibility for the puppy has been even more full-on than it might have been. What was that – another excuse?

How’s the writing going? The Osteopath  asked me yesterday. He hasn’t asked me that in ages. The Universe is closing in.

So here I am, part confessional, part motivational. Why am I not doing the thing that helps me feel like me? Why am I neglecting the project that has absorbed hours of time and of me? Why am I not fighting for the habit? There are no answers. There is also no real point in engaging the self-critic.

Just. Need. To. Get. On. With. It.

Just write.