4 Mar 2016

Dougal's Diary by Sarah Stephenson

Genre: a dog tale/ humour
Release Date: 14th Jan 2016
Publisher: Crooked Cat Publishing

Has he chosen well and landed on his paws? Dougal the Labradoodle puppy, a complete hypochondriac and Boris Johnson’s No1 fan, arrives in Greenwich with great expectations.
He longs to travel the world on Virgin Atlantic, dine at royal banquets and become; either a superstar and party the night away or work as a doorman at the Savoy.
Behaviour classes were never on his wish list, neither were cliff-hanging experiences on the Thames, booze cruises to Calais or obsessions for eating socks.
Can he survive life with a chaotic owner and her eccentric friends? Can he deal with his jealousy when a foster puppy comes to stay? And as for his dreams, will they ever come true?

Do dreams ever inspire your writing? What did you last dream about?
Yes indeed they do. I had a particular dream some time ago.
There was a large house sitting at the top of a hill. A woman stood at the gate blowing a kiss. A young boy was being driven down a long winding road away to boarding school and though the two lost sight of each other, that kiss followed him to wherever he was, brushing his face with his mother’s love. It was the last time he saw her. The parents were killed in an aeroplane crash. Unlike a photo that fades and frays, that image remained with him forever.
I’ll put it something, one day. It has to be the right thing
My last dream was a panic dream. My beloved uncle is 92 and has the start of dementia. In my dream I stood knocking at his bright yellow door. It was opened by a very enthusiastic uncle holding out two large white envelopes of identical size. One, he said was for me. It looked like a Christmas card. The other was addressed to the poet. The writing was in red biro, not a colour he uses.
The envelope, addressed to Ted Hughes, was followed by four squiggly lines, each one ending with a question mark. He wanted me to post it. Should I tell him Christmas had been and Ted Hughes long gone and if he was alive it never have found him? I worried about the rapid decline of my uncle’s health and was thrilled to find it a dream.

When did you first start writing? And when were you first published?
I’d written on and off for thirty years, but shown it to no-one. Then I joined a class exactly three years ago; The Write Place in Dartford. And Elaine Everest, who runs it, changed everything. So Dougal’s Diary was published as an ebook by Crooked Cat, even that sentence sounds unreal and possibly a lie, exactly 6 weeks ago.

What is it about the genre you write that appeals to you the most? Do you read other genres?
I had no idea I was going to write a humorous book. And no, I don’t often read humour. I read a mixture of crime, romance, autobiography and modern literature.

Can you tell us a little about your latest book?
Dougal’s Diary is a humorous, fictional story about a modern dog (Labrador/ Poodle cross) dealing with the complexities of present day 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 whether he’s chosen his owner well and landed on his paws. Dougal documents the first 18 months of his 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 the lows of puppy classes, coping with a chaotic owner and her eccentric friends, going on a booze cruise to Calais and struggling with his own obsessions: health, balls, eating socks and Sat Nav skills.
If he misbehaves will he end up in Battersea, if he keeps his nose clean, could he star in a local play, and as for his dreams of travelling on Virgin Atlantic, can they ever come true?

What inspired you to write it?
I have a labradoodle called Dougal. And when I first got him, I immediately felt he was different from dogs I’d had before; running into any house with a front door open, sitting on their sofa, almost expecting a cup of tea. And his favourite day was one spent at a school fayre having his face painted by a collection of small children. He was a lover of life and adventure: a social animal, a party goer – rather more human than dog. I felt his character was begging to be put into a story.

Have you ever spotted anyone reading your books anywhere?
Sadly not! Being an ebook makes it difficult. I thought of peering over the commuters stuck to their kindles on the tube, but the one time I did, the woman turned on me , obviously offended, and said, ‘I’m not reading porn, you know.’ So, I haven’t tried it since.

Who designs your covers?
Laurence Patterson half of the Crooked Cat, publishing company. But I did have a say in the design.

If your latest book was made into a film, who would you cast?
I particularly enjoyed this question, but struggled to make my mind up.
The dog Dougal could either be played by himself or a Greyhound with a shaggy rug on it.
Andy the large owner of an very large dog called Tiger, should be played by James Corden - so long as he’s prepared to be a rough diamond who swears a lot.
The next door neighbour who puppy sits, either by Miriam Margoles or Ann Widdecombe - they’d have to be prepared to remove their teeth.
And his owner by Kate Winslet

What's your favourite book that made it to the big screen?
We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver or Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

What were the last two books you read?
I’ve been doing research for my next book which will be a crime novel, so I’ve read as many thrillers as I could manage, in the shortest possible time.
Dona Leon’s By It’s Cover.
Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money

Name one female author who you think deserves to be better known.
I think Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander and many other books, deserves to be better known and more widely read.

Where do you write?
Everywhere; the bus, train, tube, even in the car if stuck in traffic jams . My favourite place is in bed in the early morning with the electric blanket on. But usually I’m at a small desk, sitting on a very uncomfortable chair.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? And did you follow the dream?
Well sort of. I came from very intellectual parents and really struggled at school. At eleven my mother, took me to one side and told me that since I was too stupid to do anything academic, I’d better concentrate on ballet, which I was quite good at. Once I’d recovered from sudden bombshell over my stupidity, I said if I had to make a decision at the age of eleven, I’d rather act. Over my dead body, was her reply
8 years later when I was studying at the Royal Ballet School on a scholarship, I contracted a virus that affected my balance and hearing. In that one day my career changed. 14 years of training written off. Once I was able to stand up and walk in a straight line, I applied to drama schools. So in the end, I did have an acting career. Whether it would have been my first choice, I have no idea.

In the movie of your life, who would play you? 
Meryl Streep.

Speed Round...
Top drink to make you tipsy?
Red wine
Shopaholic or shopadon't? Shopadon’t
Sky high heels or closer to the ground? Close to the ground
E.L. James or Jilly Cooper? Jilly Cooper
Cry baby or tough cookie?
Tough Cookie
Exotic beach or enchanted forest? The forest but I do like a beach to wander along and the sea to swim in.

Sarah, who grew up in Bristol, now lives in South East London with two dogs, the occasional grandchild and a lot of mess. She’s had a chequered career as ballet dancer, cook, cleaning lady, salesgirl of outsize underwear in Littlewoods and actor. As an actor she worked mostly in the theatre: plays ranging from Shakespeare to improvised, both comedy and tragedy.
Cooking combines two of her passions; travel and people. She’s catered on barges in Burgundy, private houses in America, many stately homes in England, run a delicatessen, a stall in a farmer’s market and been a judge on the Great Taste Food Awards. Good opportunities for hearing about the lives of others.
Her need to write began with letters; sending home news of her adventures. At seventeen: travelling alone on the Trans-Siberian Railway and across the Sea of Japan. In Greece as a drama student, when the van blew up at the Springs of Daphne and they explored the mainland, riding on bread vans and tractors before selling their blood for a fiver and hitch-hiking home on a lorry. Or in Morocco on a solo trip, in pre-mobile phone days, when she was chucked off a bus in the desert and found herself surrounded by hundreds of camels and similar numbers of men, all in local dress.
Since then Sarah hasn’t stopped scribbling and joining the Write Place, a writing class in Dartford, encouraged her to put the contents of numerous exercise books into something more concrete.
These days Sarah chooses less adventurous holidays but might well send one of her characters off on a trek she doesn’t feel brave enough to make.
Dougal’s Diary is Sarah’s first book.
Dougal's FB
Twitter: Sarah: @SvsStephenson
Dougal : @DougalDiary

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  1. What a fabulous interview and so many things I want to comment on but if I did that it would be another blog. However...Yes, I can definitely see Kate Winslet in the part.
    If you continue with Janet Evanovich you are in for lots of treats.
    And lastly, Meryl Streep? Yep, you're an actress. You can do it.

  2. Thanks Suzie, for your interesting and unusual questions and for hosting me on your blog today.

  3. Thanks Natalie, for reading and replying and of course for putting me on to Janet Evanovich. She is such fun.

  4. I did smile at the comment of a whippet wearing a shaggy rug and love the idea of a toothless Miriam Margoles playing the next door neighbour. I'd watch it!
    Good luck with the book, Sarah xx

  5. Goodness, Sarah, what a fascinating life you've had. Sounds like material for several novels! Wishing you well with the book - I've read it and think it's very funny.

  6. Sarah, it was absolute pleasure to have you here!
    Francesca, Elaine & Natalie, thank you so much for stopping by :D
    Suzy x


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