I’ve never been a dog owner, although I have been owned by many cats, so it is very exciting to welcome F J Curlew to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me all about the Ukranian street dog Dan, the star of her latest book Dan Knew.
Dan Knew is available for purchase here.
A Ukrainian street dog is rescued from certain death by an expat family. As he travels to new countries with them a darkness grows and he finds himself narrating more than just his story. More than a dog story. Ultimately it’s a story of escape and survival but maybe not his.
The world through Wee Dan’s eyes in a voice that will stay with you long after you turn that last page.
How Dan Knew Came To Be
I had cried uncontrollably in the shop where I was casually buying a pair flowery wellies when I received the phone call. “It’s the vet here about Wee Dan. I’m sorry, it’s bad news.” I crumpled onto the floor in a heap of utter despair. The sobbing continued as I was walking along the street: sitting on the bus, going home, opening the door. I couldn’t stop and I didn’t want to. Drowning in sorrow was all I could do. People had avoided looking at me, probably thinking I was that crazy woman who talked to herself, had fits of hysteria, to be kept at a distance. Ignored.
I didn’t know if I could do this. I really didn’t. It felt like something was tearing at my heart, my chest hurt, my breathing was erratic: I felt sick, my head was swimming. Thoughts made no sense. Nothing made sense. My little dog had gone. No warning. No time to prepare myself. Just gone.
I’ve had dogs all of my life, lost several, been very sad, mourned and grieved over them, but nothing like this. I spent the day staring at mindless television…just getting through. Just.
I knew I had to write. It was the thing that kept me going these days. The thing I could count on to lift me out of whatever reality I was stuck in. It had got me through hard times before: given me hope, a reason. When I couldn’t teach any more, or work at all, due to the devastating side effects of a nasty little cancer, it had given me a purpose and more than that. A purpose that I loved! The ability to lift myself out of this world and into one of my imagination had been an absolute life-saver. I tried to work on my latest project. I was 60 000 words in. I could do it.
Well, actually, no I couldn’t.
It had to be his story. Our life together. That was all I could think about and it kept him with me somehow: kept him alive. I was writing it in his words, from his point of view and it was wonderful. Being inside his head. Every day.
As I wrote about him, relived it all, he was here with me for that little bit longer, by my side, tapping at my keyboard, nudging at my hand with his little wet nose. I was obsessed. I had to write, and write, and write. Now I had a positive reason for foraging through countless photographs, walking down streets in Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Portugal, on Google Maps, remembering. Reliving. Writing.
We had been through such a lot together. Lived in all those countries, faced abuse, fear and sickness…together. The story poured out of me and I had the first draft of 70 000 words done in a month. That was unusual for me. I take my time, write slowly and carefully, perfecting and perfecting as I go. Not this time.
Of course, as I wrote, memories of some unpleasant times that I had long since buried also crept back in, and some of the writing was very difficult. I skirted a lot, avoided saying too much about me and my story, not really wanting to go back there, nor to crowd Dan’s story out with mine. Getting the balance right was a challenge. Sifting through a life, deciding which stories to tell, events to cover, feelings to express. There were many, many rewrites.
But I love that, the editing, making something that you have created the very best it can be gives me a thrill. And this was Wee Dan’s story so I had to do it justice. I can remember watching a documentary about Donna Tarrt and being amazed at how each of her novels had taken ten years to write. Now I understand. I could go on writing Dan Knew: perfecting it, living it for years. But that would be remarkably unhealthy. I know I have to move on, to live in the present.
Even now the synapses connect and more memories surface. I remember something and think maybe I should have added that? But the deed is done and the book has been published. As long as I have shown enough, so that the reader can understand what was going on, whilst keeping it all in the voice of Dan, I am happy.
It is also amazing to be able to hold his book in my hands, to see it for sale, to know that his little voice is being heard by somebody else. His journey continues. That gives me a thing of concrete, of permanence. And I like that. I like that a lot.
About F J Curlew
Fiona dropped out of school aged 15, because being the consummate rebel, she hated it! After becoming a single parent she decided to return to education, graduating in 1996 with an honours degree in primary education. Ah, the irony!
As soon as she graduated she packed everything she owned into her Renault 11, including her daughter, two dogs and a cat, and headed off to Estonia to become an international school teacher. After fifteen years of teaching, predominantly in Eastern Europe, she returned to the UK .
She now lives on the east coast of Scotland with two Scottish rescue dogs and a disgruntled Portuguese cat.
Fiona is also the author of To Retribution – A love story/political thriller set in times of turmoil, available here.