Dogs: the enemies of creativity

Occasionally when I look at my dog Ruby, I remember a conversation I had in about 2005 with my friend, neighbour and fellow-author Roger Deakin.

I told Roger that, after years of living with cats, I was thinking of getting a dog. My partner Angela’s old cat Dodger had just died.  A new cat would cut a wide swathe through the local songbirds. And the bantams left a bit to be desired when it came to interaction with humans.  A dog would be interesting, fun  –  good exercise.

It took a lot to shock Roger, but this did.

‘A dog?’ he said, with genuine disgust.

Yes, a dog. Why not?

Roger muttered something about environmental damage. I replied that, if I were a water vole living around his moat and was offered the choice of sharing the garden with a dog or a cat, I knew which I would choose.

Sadly, Roger did not live long enough to see the arrival of Ruby, but I suspect that even her exceptional charm, wit and beauty would not have won him over. His reaction, I now think, had nothing to do with wildlife or the environment.

It was instinctive. Authors (serious authors) do not have dogs. They just don’t.

A cat: that is the company of the true, creative spirit. A cat watches. It is independent, entirely selfish. It is scornful of rules, occasionally ingratiating itself in a superior way. It behaves badly – but only when no one is watching.

A cat, in other words, is an author.

By comparison, dogs are open, extrovert, noisy. They require structure, attention, order.  They force the humans around them to change  –  become less thoughtful, more shouty and controlling.

Certainly, that is what happened to me. It would be unfair to blame Ruby entirely for my professional disappointments over the last 12 years, but there can be little doubt that, since she arrived, I’ve had more misses than hits. In my personal life, I may have become more open,  a more responsible member of the community, but my writing has gone in a direction which is –  well, canine.

But, frankly, Ruby is worth it. Who needs a Booker Prize when you own a dog who can sing to her own tune?

It was a short piece in the New Yorker  by the famous Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard that reminded of my conversation with Roger all those years ago. ‘Has a single good author ever owned a dog?’ he asks. ‘I find that hard to imagine.’

Then, in the sneaky, feline way of authors, he turns it all around, shifting the blame on dogs while glorying in his own rebelliousness.

‘I have always had within me that fear of doglike aggression, and, whenever I have encountered it, in the form of an angry motorist, for example, or an angry girlfriend, every time I have yielded to it and become paralyzed. The only area where I have defied it has been literature. At times I think that is what literature is for, that literature is a place where one can express oneself freely, without fearing the law of the father, the law of the dog. That literature is the arena of the cowardly, the Colosseum of the fearful, and that authors are like pathetic gladiators who freeze up when a dog barks at them but retaliate and assert themselves and their rights as soon as they are alone.’

The law of the dog? Do me a favour, Karl Ove.

I fear that, even if this lugubrious man met Ruby, saw her tricks (specifically, ‘Die for the Queen’), and heard her sing, he would  still not see the point of dogs.

Get ‘im, Ruby.