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largest rabbit, marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest Rabbit, greyhound rescue, Chris Dignam

Greyt Expectations – Rescued Greyhounds and Marmalade Cats

A Marmalade Cat?

This is a chapter from the new book just being tidied up for release in September.  It’s called “Greyt Expectations – From Rescued Greyhounds to Marmalade Cats” and is a collection of the blog posts from here and the South Wales Evening Post pages, along with some other pieces about writing, music – and a marmalade cat called Jeffrey.  I hope that you enjoy it and feel free to tweet, reblog or share.

greyhound, Penny, Crafty Dog

What a Crafty Dog does on her day off.

If reading to children is the best fun you can have, making them laugh, making them gasp or even hide behind their hands in fear of the wicked fox or nasty hunter with his gun, the next best thing is sitting with a pen and paper, or a computer keyboard and dreaming up the characters themselves. Ideas for stories seem to come at the strangest times, usually when lying in bed at night, or out walking the dog when you have the space and time to empty your mind and let it ramble. Someone has said there are only three or four stories; everything else is just a variation on that. That might be true, but there is a heck of a lot of scope for that variation.

One evening driving home from work at local authority council offices I was stuck in a jam queuing on the slip road off the M4. As I listened to music I began to run some ideas around in my head. I wanted to write a book about a recued greyhound that would appeal to children but it needed a twist. The idea then changed to an abandoned puppy being left and brought up by other animals – I guess from the Tarzan idea, or even the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. Rabbits – who had never seen a puppy, and a puppy who had never seen rabbits seemed to work. I started roughing up some ideas that evening, and from the first lines about the speeding car and the flying sack I was away.

Greyhound, Rubbish, The Largest Rabbit, Rabbit hound

The Largest Rabbit

 

Within a day or so I had the first rabbit characters and that of the little hound but I did not have a name. It was a few days into the book when the little character told the rabbits that the humans said he was rubbish and that’s where his name came from – the little puppy named himself! So Rubbish the rabbit hound was born.
I was sketching ideas for a plot, something simple with a villain – a fox fitted naturally into this – and also a hero. Someone needed to be able to tell the little confused rabbit into the great secret, that he was not a rabbit at all but a dog, but it had to be done by a special character that everyone in the book could look up to, but especially the little Rubbish. A noble beast, a great hound was obviously the person we needed and just as the character was forming in the story, the idea of it being The Mighty Finn popped into my head.

How could they meet? Where? I remember reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and also seeing Tom’s Midnight Garden when I was a kid on children’s TV. Looking back now, I guess there was also The Herbs, an animated children’s programme which used to be on Watch with Mother, where there was a wall, and a door which opened into a mysterious garden. The red brick wall and green wooden door were here.

I had a hero, mentor, villain – even weasel henchmen for the villain – but no comic character. This was going to be interesting. Who would be a heroic but comic figure? This was a challenge and I mulled this over for a few days. I was sitting in the office, looking round the room and there, sitting on the exercise bike was an old cuddly toy I had bought for Armelle years ago when I had been in university – a dusty old Garfield. That was it – a dusty old ginger-marmalade cat sprang to life. A well-bred and distinguished moggie, I christened him Jeffrey. He was going to be heroic but flawed – courageous and devil-may-care, he was also very vain and self opinionated, His age meant that he would be a bit creaky – arthritic with a dodgy back, few teeth and bad breath. I now realise that Jeffrey had a lot in common with Tiger, a ginger moggie that Armelle had when I first met her. She too had few teeth, some bald patches, hayfever and was a very good age. I think there was more Tiger than Garfield in our Jeffrey.

marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest Rabbit

The Mighty Finn and Jeffrey the ancient marmalade cat

 

Of all the characters, I love writing for Jeffrey. He is wonderful and things just happen to him; he is the reason that cat-slide roofs exist, was made for flying goggles and a woolly scarf and is crying out for a book of his own. When it came to the Hallowe’en story, Jeffrey was now known as “The Professor” and it was his genius that helped turn the tables on the ghosts. When I do book readings, the kids all love to hear about Jeffrey, and when I gave him his voice, those wonderful rounded vowels of this cat, owned by a retired Colonel who lives next door, it was very easy for him to take over.
The story wrote itself once I had the cast. I just followed where Rubbish, Finn and Jeffrey led, to be ambushed by the Fox but through the bravery of a little rabbit the tables are turned and the good guys win (as they always should in a children’s book).

The next book, The Winter Hare, was going to be a bit darker. Not intentionally, it just wrote itself that way. The influence of the Green Man, the Celtic Hare and the powers of nature were going to be the main elements here. The hunters chasing the hare hark back I guess to the hunters of Peter and the Wolf, but far, far darker. There they are trying to catch the hare – but why? In the dark shed we find out – a shelf full of animal bits, wood shavings and glass domes – taxidermy!
The darker the villains, the brighter the heroes have to become. Finn is probably his most noble in this story, and Rubbish is…just himself, but even more humorous, curious and wide-eyed.

Other cast members are the hunters dogs; two equally evil and terrible lurcher dogs with huge teeth and vicious appetites and tempers to match, and the third hound, a reluctant hunter called Flower. Her role – well, you’ll have to read the book to find out what transpires.

The final set of characters are the army of black and white that is marching towards climax of the book – the great showdown. They are an army of badgers. They might hark back to my days working for the National Trust in the 1980’s at Dinefwr Parc in South Wales. There were a number of badger setts in the deer park and I was lucky enough on a number of occasions to have sat and watched them playing outside in the warm red dusk of a summer’s evening. I was roped into taking part in the local village quiz tournament in the National Trust team. We eventually won the contest and the trophy still sits on our mantelpiece after all these years. The quiz-master for the series was Aeron Clement, a self-confessed Badger-nut who loved the black and white beasts – so much that he wrote a book about them, called “The Cold Moons”. It came out a few years afterwards and became a best seller. There may be a passing nod to Aeron in my characters. He was a lovely chap but unfortunately he did not enjoy his success for long as he passed away soon after it came out. He had written a sequel which was finished by his wife and daughter and it was also successful.

The Largest Rabbit is available digitally, as is the Christmas short story.  The Hallowe’en story “The Haunted Castle or Rubbish and the Hound of the Basquet de Villes” is also available on the blog pages here, and will be out again ready for this Hallowe’en.

The Christmas Story – How Rubbish the Rabbit Hound Saved Christmas – Download the whole story!

How Rubbish the Rabbit Hound Saved Christmas

The Whole Story!

Picture4We have had many requests to make the Christmas Story available to download – consider it a Christmas present from Crafty Dog Books!  It can be downloaded as a pdf file for you to read, already set out in book format.

 

Its free for you to download and share but not for publishing generally without our permission.  Click on the text below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Story How Rubbish Saved Xmas C Dignam

The Christmas Story – How Rubbish the Rabbit Hound saved Christmas – Part 1

The plump man in the red suit groaned as he moved in his upturned seat. He shook snow from his beard and hat. He could hear mumbling and the odd swear word from his companions in English, Lapp and Reindeer. The sleigh was on its side where it had landed in the deep bushes. As he looked back he could see the path of destruction where he had flown through ploughing into the small trees and shrubbery and where they had bounced off a small mound before grinding to a halt where they now lay.
“Well Santa, that was not much of a landin’,” the small figure said as he climbed gingerly from inside an elder bush next to Santa. “And I’ve done me shoulder,” the elf pointed to his left arm with his right. He leaned towards Santa who gave it a twist and popped back in with a plop. That made the elf scowl even more.
Father Christmas tried with the elf’s help to get up onto his feet. His right leg, the one he was lying on, was not pointing the right way and was hurting a lot.
“Hmmph,” the Elf said, “looks broken to me.”
“Think you’re right,” Santa agreed. He could not get up so just tried to make himself comfortable. The miserable elf (whose name was Happy would you believe) wrapped a fur blanket round Santa and handed him a bottle of aspirin.
A hairy nose peered from over the front of the sleigh. “Ay up, how are you doin’ ’” said Prancer. Apart from a black eye he was ok.
“The others alright?” Santa asked. Prancer shook his head. “Blitzen has a concussion and Rudolph a broken nose. It’s even redder than normal,” the reindeer added.
Happy huffed loudly. “Damage check,” he called out. There were replies of “Bruised”, “Bumped” “Twisted ankles” and “Broke an antler” from the reindeer who shook themselves out of the snow. “Where’s Trevor?” asked Happy.
“Up a tree,” Prancer pointed with a bruised hoof to where a gnome dangled from a small tree by his braces. Happy and Dancer went over and coaxed the little elf from the tree who landed in a clump of snow. “I’ve broken a rib,” he squeaked (a strange high pitched voice even for a Gnome). As he spoke his bushy beard trembled.
“All in all”, said Santa,” It could have been a lot worse.”
Happy huffed again, “What do you mean – its 3 days to Christmas, you’ve written off the sleigh, got a broken leg, we’re two reindeer down, and our Santa Nav (that was Trevor’s job) is also unworkable.”
The fat man frowned. “Well putting it that way, we’re in a bit of a pickle.”
Rudolph stuck his head from the bushes, “’Ew could say that,” he replied very nasally, holding a hanky to his very red bloody nose.

 

Rubbish, Largest Rabbit, Greyhound, Brindle

Rubbish the Rabbit Hound. Looks suspiciously like a brindle coloured greyhound….

Rubbish and Scutter had been looking for berries when they first saw (and heard) the strange something flying across the sky towards them. They could make out some of the shapes including a large man in red and two other figures shouting. They appeared to be wrestling and pulling at the thing they were riding, it had flown over their heads and further into the forest. Rubbish’s eyes nearly popped out of his head with amazement as it had shot past. Scutter had ducked even though it had been at over tree height. They had heard the shouting, and then a loud crash as it had come to the ground.

“Wow,” Scutter said. “What was that?”
Rubbish smiled and, scooping the rabbit up onto his back shouted, “Let’s go and find out”. With that he ran along the snowy path into the woods, following the trail of fallen twigs and branches and bits of broken flying machine. After a short while they came upon the scene of destruction. They could see the fat man on his side, the two little people and the funny dogs with antlers.
“Can we help?” Rubbish asked coming carefully across to the gentleman. He looked very familiar but Rubbish could not think from where.
“Thank you, Rubbish,” he said. “I’m a bit stuck here. Broken leg and some of the reindeer are also injured.”
Rubbish was surprised. How did the man in red know who he was?
“Is that Scutter with you?” Santa asked. Scutter nodded in reply, also amazed that he knew who he was.
“How do you know us?” the astonished rabbit-hound asked.
“I know all of you. And that you have been a bit naughty, young Scutter, but mostly nice,” in spite of the pain he was in, Santa smiled.
Rubbish recognised the old man – he was the same as on the cards that the Maid and the Butler put on the mantelpiece at Christmas. “Excuse me sir, but are you Father Claus?”
Santa nodded. “Can you get us some help?”
Rubbish thought for a second and then replied, “I’ll go get Finn and maybe the Maid and Butler who can help get you and the reindeer out.”
Happy coughed loudly, “Not a good idea, involving humans.”
Rubbish looked curious, “Why not?”
“They are not to be trusted, and they don’t believe in Father Christmas,” the grumpy elf replied.
At that Rubbish shook his head, “You can trust the Maid and Butler. They are not like the rest of the People. They are good.”
Santa agreed, “Yes, they are. OK young Rubbish, you may go and get them.”
The reindeer had begun to unclip themselves from their harnesses now and were gathering around the sleigh, apart from Blitzen who was still bit dazed from the bump on his head.
Rubbish turned to head back to the garden.
“I’ll stay and help,” Scutter told him. I can try and get Mr Santa comfortable and get some moss to stop that deer’s nose bleeding.”
“OK called Rubbish as he sped off, “I’ll get help!”
From where Santa lay he could see the greyhound give a stretch and fly off into the woods.
“Ooh, I’m cold” squeaked Trevor.
“Shurrup,” grumbled Happy. With that there was a shlumping sound and a dollop of snow slid from a branch above and landed solidly on his head. ”Thanks for that!”

Finn lay on his chaise longue (an old settee he had made his own) in the conservatory. There was Beethoven on the CD player and the old deerhound was chilling out nicely. He lay there, his shaggy grey coat making him look like a very relaxed old rug that had been laid out over the settee. If it weren’t for the occasional snore you would have been excused for not realising he was alive at all!

“What ho!” a distinctive voice full of polished rounded vowels called, making Finn raise his head. The smell of bad breath, liniment and tuna had already given Finn the clue that it was Jeffery. In walked, joints creaking as he did so, the ancient marmalade cat. “Another wonderful day, old boy!”
Finn stirred. “Morning Jeffery,” he murmured sleepily. “Pull up a chair.”
There was a bit of puffing and wheezing as the old cat clambered up onto the armchair next to the dog.
“Rubbish about?” Jeffrey enquired.
“Out with the rabbits,” Finn answered.

marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest Rabbit

The Mighty Finn and Jeffrey the ancient marmalade cat

These were the three musketeers, the Mighty Finn, the great big hairy deerhound, wise and as gentle as he was strong, Jeffrey the ancient marmalade cat, as brave as a lion but as creaky as a very worn old door, and Rubbish the greyhound, the largest rabbit in the woods. Rubbish had been abandoned and found by the rabbits as a small brindle-coloured puppy and had grown up thinking he was a rabbit as did they. When the rabbits asked his name, he said it must be Rubbish, as that’s what the people who threw him out had called him. Only after he met Finn did Rubbish discover he was in fact a greyhound, and together they had rescued the rabbits from the clutches of an evil old fox and his weaselly villains. Rubbish was declared to be a Rabbit hound and they protected the warren and the other animals in the forest from harm.
“He left a while ago to pick berries with Scutter. They were meeting Bramble and Daisy I think.” These were two of the youngest rabbits who followed Rubbish around adoringly. Jeffrey called them his fan club!
As they sat there, the old friends just enjoying each other’s quiet company (apart from the cat’s wheezing) there was suddenly a flash of activity across the garden. The old green door swung open and a brindle greyhound sped down the red brick path towards them. Finn sat up and Jeffrey clicked upright too. Rubbish skidded to a halt in the doorway.
“Mr Finn, Mr Finn! There’s been an accident. Its Father Claus and the deers, and some elves, he’s broken a leg, the sledge too and things. You gotta come quick!”
Finn shook his head, “Young pup, slow down, take a deep breath and start again.”
The greyhound did indeed take a very deep breath and began to explain all he had seen. Finn and Jeffrey took everything in and exchanged some quick words. “OK. I will get the Maid. Jeffrey, you go back with Rubbish and I shall organise transport and medical help.” Jeffrey reached into a pocket in his fur and pulled out an armband with a red cross on it, “No problem Old Chap – I have my scouting First Aid badge!”
“Rubbish – I’ll meet you at the gate. I’ll just pop home to get my first aid kit.” The moggie trotted out the door and through a gap into the garden next door. By the time Rubbish had taken some more orders from Finn and walked to the garden gate Jeffrey was there with an old leather first aid kit. Jeffrey climbed onto the greyhound’s back and they trotted off down the path back towards the sleigh.

Finn sighed, “OK, here goes. How do I get them to understand me? Lassie time again!” He slid off the settee and walked into the kitchen. The Maid was busy baking and the Butler sat at the table reading the paper whilst waiting expectantly for a Welshcake to come his way.
“Excuse me, you two,” Finn called. They turned towards him. “Just wondered, could we get out the Landrover and take a spin into the woods? Been a bit of an accident and we need transport.”
“Aw,” said the Butler, “He wants a cake! Sorry Finn, they aren’t really for dogs but I’ll see what I can do.”
The Maid smiled and threw him a piece of broken Welshcake that had been cooling on the side. Finn sighed and shook his head, “That’s the problem with me speaking dog and them speaking human. They can be so dim.” He did eat the piece of cake, (well, it was the polite thing to do).
Pantomime time. Finn spun around to get their full attention and did an impression of Father Christmas, a sleigh, then lay on his back waving his paw in the air in a broken and painful way.
“Aw, he’s so clever,” the Butler said. Finn just rolled his eyes. “They really are thick,” he muttered to himself.
It was the Maid who got it, “He wants something,” she said. Finn nodded. “Do you want us to follow you?” Finn nodded again, and then nudged the keys on the hook by the back door. “The Landrover?”
Finn barked. The humans scrambled about to get themselves sorted and within a few minutes they were sitting in the Landrover outside. Finn sat in the passenger seat, the Maid behind and the Butler driving.
“OK, now where,” the Butler asked. Finn barked, “Follow me,” and pointed his paw towards the track leading into the woods.
“Better go where he’s pointing,” the Maid said. So off they drove, two bemused people with a deerhound navigating.

In the forest Happy and Trevor had despite their injuries, managed to get the reindeer together and, using harness as a rope had pulled the sleigh upright. Santa had managed to get clear and was now propped against a tree and looking down at his mangled leg. The magic aspirin provided by the Elf Service was working and he could not feel any pain. Even when Donner (lovely girl, for a Reindeer, bit a bit dim and clumsy) had slid on the snow and fallen over him. Trevor was really concerned that it was so close to the big night and now the Big Man was injured.
“I’ll be ok,” he kept reassuring the others. “I’ll take a few aspirin.”
Happy grumbled, “Don’t be daft! Driving a sleigh whilst under the influence… Not a chance.”
Rubbish and Jeffrey bounced into the clearing, the old cat rolling off and popping up in front of Father Christmas.
“Well bless my soul,” the ginger moggie exclaimed. “Father Christmas himself!”
Santa grinned broadly, “Ah, Mr Jeffrey Jeffrey himself!”
The cat was immensely pleased that the man in red had known his full name. “It is indeed, sir. Now what can we do to help? I have bandages!”
“Bye dose is beeding,” a muffled reindeer voice announced. It was Rudolph with his dripping red nose. Jeffrey went over and unwrapping what seemed like a mile of bandage, found a pad which he applied to the reindeer’s nose. The bleeding soon stopped but it was clear that the reindeer’s nose was broken.
“You won’t be doing any directing,” muttered the happy elf.
Rubbish looked around. “Santa, Finn is on his way, and the Maid and the Butler. They don’t speak animal but you might be able to understand them. They’ll get you back on your feet,” then Rubbish saw the twisted leg. “Or maybe not…”
They could hear the sound of an engine coming, the rough diesel rumbling and crunch of snow and twigs being crushed under wheels. In a few minutes the old green Landrover appeared and made its way up the track.
As Finn guided the Landrover through the snow along the track the Butler and Maid had been amazed by the long line of destruction, with the broken branches and bits of wood from the sleigh, “Whatever happened here?” the Butler asked his wife.
The Maid shook her head, “I’ve no idea but I’d guess it was a small plane. It was incredible that Finn knew and also knew to fetch us.”
Finn grinned. “He’s a clever old boy,” the Maid added, ruffling his head.
There was a low mound ahead and the Landrover climbed it and then dropped into a clearing where the sight made the two humans swear (in an incredulous way). They could not believe their eyes, for in front was a battered sleigh, two little people in what appeared to be fancy dress, five reindeer (one with a bandaged nose) and under a tree next to Rubbish, lay Father Christmas. Or rather someone dressed like him, but with a broken leg.
The Maid stepped out first, and then Finn trotted over to Santa. The Butler came last.
“Oh thank you so very much, Kath, and you Sam. You’re so very kind for helping me,” Santa smiled.
Both Maid and Butler were surprised to hear the old man use their names – they didn’t know him did they?
“What happened?” the Butler asked.
The Maid went across to gather the reindeer and check the one with the broken nose. Jeffrey had bandaged it expertly.
“Test flight of the new sleigh, “Santa explained. “Went really well until we hit turbulence. “
Happy called over from where he stood by the sleigh, “Looks like a duck hit us.” There was a small clump of feathers where a very large bird had clipped the sleigh.
The Butler thought that as hoaxes or tricks went, this was a really good one.
“Looks very realistic,” he told Santa. “The guys at the pub put you up to this?”
Kath was stroking the reindeer who looked remarkably lifelike and real to her, “Sam…?” she replied.
Santa laughed. Finn shook his head and tutted.
“Here, Sam, as sensible as ever. Let me prove to you who I am.” Santa closed his eyes and muttered something under his breath.
Finn looked at the Butler.
“Well?” Sam asked.
Santa smiled. “Just wait,” he answered.
“I don’t see anything old chap,” a voice said.
Sam turned to face Finn, “D..did you just say something Finn?”
Finn looked at Sam, “Yes old chap, as usual. I say a lot but you never understand me,” he said.
“You’re speaking English,” Kath added.
“No, we’re speaking animal,” a younger voice piped in. It was Rubbish.
“How can we understand you?” the two humans were amazed.
“I have given you the gift, as a thank you for helping us. And it will also make things a lot easier to organise if we can all understand each other,” the man in the red suit added. “And it may help make you believe that I am who I say I am.”
It was hard for the Maid and the Butler to believe that this really was Father Christmas, that they were helping with the real flying reindeer and that almost as amazing, their Finn and little Rubbish could talk, and the old cat Jeffrey, who seemed to have an opinion about everything.
“I wouldn’t lift him like that old boy, “Jeffrey said as the Butler got under Santa’s right arm and the Maid under his left. They carefully walked Santa to the Landrover.
“We’ll get you back to our house,” Kath told Santa, “I can look at your leg there and get a doctor,” Santa shook his head at his suggestion, “and we can get the reindeer sorted too.”
“They can rest in the barn,” Finn said.
“Okay,” Santa agreed.
“What about the sleigh?” asked Rubbish.
“I’ll bring a tow rope and drag it back to the farm,” the Butler said. “We’ll take a look at it there and try and sort it out.” He was not so sure about that though – he had no experience of magic machines. Diesel engines he could do, flying sleighs would be a bit trickier.
The reindeer climbed up (some rather gingerly) onto the flat back of the Landrover. Happy and Trevor climbed in with the humans and Santa. Jeffrey sat amongst the deer, Rubbish and Finn trotted home. They were back at the garden before the Landrover and the casualties. They were all unloaded and everyone given a bed, mattress or patch of straw for the night.

  • Will Santa be able to get the presents out?
  • Will Santa even be able to get into his sleigh?
  • Will Christmas have to be postponed?
  • Read Part 2 next week!

 

If you want to read more about Rubbish the Rabbit Hound, and how he became the Largest Rabbit, look out for the book “The Largest Rabbit” available from the Crafty-Dog-Cymru.co.uk website.

All characters copyright Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Books Cymru, except for The Mighty Finn copyright Kate Standing/World of Finn.

Illustrations copyright Jacs Little Welsh Studio/Crafty Dog Books Cymru