Tag Archives: Penny

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.

Greyt Expectations – Chris Dignam’s Rescued Greyhounds – Teething Troubles – Good Dental Health

Why our Penny was down in the mouth…

 

          We all know how important it is to look after our teeth and that we need to brush them at least once a day and preferably more.  Animals can’t brush their teeth so have to rely on us in two ways; providing the right type of food, and brushing their teeth for them as required.  This week we saw what a gum infection can lead to as our Penny had to go in for a tooth descale and ended up having teeth out.

          We brushed her teeth at least twice a week with doggie toothpaste, and would give her stick chews and dental chews to help the process.  We did this with all our greyhounds and to some extent this worked.  Sally did have to have a few teeth out, some of which we put down to her never chewing her food.  Crunching hard food is supposed to help shift plaque and debris.  However, this is not really logical; imagine you relied on eating a packet of biscuits instead of brushing your teeth – it just would not work.  Eating carrots or hard fruit or vegetables can help but not all dogs like these.  Sally would sit by the kitchen sink on a Sunday waiting for her carrot when we prepped dinner but if we gave Sammy a carrot she just looked at you as if you were nuts – “What – you want me to cook this myself?”. 

          In the end you have to use a toothbrush and doggy toothpaste.  This is usually meat flavoured (apparently but they hide it well) and you can apply it with a toothbrush or a finger brush (which looks like the finger of a glove with nobbly bits on).  You rub the paste onto the teeth and it is supposed to break down the tartar and debris.  Sally hated the toothbrush, but would allow me to use a battery powered brush (she was a strange dog!).  Sam would sit and almost enjoyed having her teeth cleaned.  Just take it gently, and get the dog used to the brush for short periods and build it up to a rub around the teeth over time.

Sally, greyhound, A Hound in the House,

Sally still had most of her teeth into old age.

Some dog owners swear by feeding their dogs raw food as this is was what nature intended.  It consists of raw meat (hearts, mince, chicken) and the accompanying bones too.  Chewing bones helps keep the teeth clean, and raw bones do not shatter like cooked ones which is why they can be given raw chicken bones.  The argument is that this is what they would eat in the wild and what they evolved to eat.  We were seriously considering this but events overtook us.

          Penny did not have an auspicious start as far teeth were concerned – greyhounds are renowned for having rubbish teeth and gums.  Many dogs have a sloppy diet when they race and due to being fed in batches they are also used to bolting their food as the slow eater will end up hungry.  Less scrupulous trainers or owners will also feed their dog poorly which just compounds the problem.  When we picked Penny up from the rescue centre she had been spayed and her teeth scaled.  In spite of this, she had bad breath which we put down to her digestive system.

          So Penny began each day with cereal and a large couple of dollops of plain yoghurt, which she absolutely loves.  Whereas Sally’s digestive system had been awful (I won’t go into the details but you can imagine the outcome or should I say output!) Penny’s has always been really good.  The outside of her teeth was always pretty good, though they would occasionally go manky so we would start more intensive cleaning.  We even tried changing her food to find one that gave her better breath which was occasionally successful.  Weirdly, she was better with human food. 

          Her breath was still not very fragrant but looking inside her mouth it was not so obvious why.  Last week she went in to have the musk glands in her bottom cleaned (never a nice thing) and in passing we mentioned the bad breath.  The vet took a look and I mean a really good look.  The outsides looked dirty but the insides which we could not see were worse.  She warned us that they needed a clean and that some might have to come out. You could see where her gums had receded due to the gingivitis and plaque and in one spot the was a hole under her roots.  We were shocked and I was mortified that I had let her get into this state.  We consider ourselves to be good and knowledgeable dog owners but even we were caught out.  The toothpaste does not get to all corners of the mouth, dried kibble is not a miracle cleaner and dental chews can’t replace a proper clean.  Maybe I had also been in denial.

          Penny went in on Tuesday.  When I rang after lunch, she was on the operating table, and I was told she was worse than we thought – she would need many teeth taken out.  In fact, most teeth.  In fact nearly all her teeth.  When I rang an hour later, she was still on the table – for nearly three hours it eventually turned out.  Penny had all but her four canines and one molar removed.

       

greyhound, Penny, Dignam,

Penny recovering at home.

She was really groggy and sore when we collected her, and she dribbled and bled all night.  She is on two different painkillers, antibiotics and a mouth rinse, but is making a good recovery.  Like all greyhounds, she can be a bit of a wuss, and she also knows how to play people and milk the sympathy.  It has to be said though that having so many teeth out must be really painful so she is also in real discomfort.  She has been very brave I guess.

          The moral of this tale (tail?) is that you need to keep an eye on your dog’s teeth, brush them at least once a week and watch their diet.  Avoid sugary food and treats (as we would do ourselves).  Apparently there is a powder which can be added to food that helps keep plaque down as well – ask your vet about it.  Learn from our mistakes and Penny’s example.  Good luck, and to paraphrase Frasier Crane – Good Dental Health!

The Largest Rabbit at Sketty Library!

Come and meet Penny the Crafty Dog and Hear about Rubbish the Rabbithound!

Thursday afternoon next week 31st July, Penny the Crafty Dog will be visiting Sketty Library with Chris Dignam for a book reading of “The Largest Rabbit”.  Not only will you be able to meet Penny, but you will also be able to meet the wonderful chracters in the book; Scvutter and Bownie and the rabbits, the mighty Finn the Scottish Deerhound, Jeffery the ancient marmalade cat and of course Rubbish the largest rabbit of the title.  Meet these heroes, and also the villains of the book, and maybe get a signed copy too!  The library is also running a reading competition.

Anyone wanting any further information, check the Sketty Library page on the City and County of Swansea website, or ring the Library for more information.  We look forward to seeing you all there!

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