Sunday, 21 March 2010

Woof woof

My top five non-fiction books on canine companions, given that a certain someone is going to be sharing her home with a certain something soon:

Don't Shoot The Dog, Karen Pryor - this one's not really about dogs. It's about animal training using cognitive learning and positive reinforcement. Pryor was a dolphin and this book is the one that brought clicker-training out of the pool and into the obedience ring, and is a proponent of the nice rather than nasty approach to animal training. If you're wondering whether you'd like to give it a go, it reads a little like Malcolm Gladwell's cod-science books, so if you can happily read The Tipping Point and Outliers, this should be fine for you.

For similar behaviourist-edged writing, but more on traits and less on training, see also Stanley's Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, which is one of the few places to say sensible things about breed traits.

The Philosopher and the Wolf, Mark Rowlands - I read this last year and mentioned it on the Veggiebox. Much like a canid, Rowlands is self-obsessed but not selfish. His arrogant, egotistical tone takes a bit of getting used to, but is commendable for its honesty and quite refreshing. Here's what Aimee Shalan over on the Guardian made of the book.

King Soloman's Ring, Konrad Lorenz - This is like a blend of the two books I mention above, insofar as it is a scientific book, but concerned with the topic of what it is to be an animal. There are more geese than dogs in it, but it has a lot of personality, and a strong sense of time and place to the anecdotes, which add to the interest. Lorenz was one of the fore-runners of modern ethology, which is where my own main area of interest in animal psychology lies. Lorenz won the Nobel Prize for Science and Medicine in 1973.

The Hidden Life of Dogs, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. I've only just found out that Marshall Thomas is actually a novelist. I'm keen to check out her. She's one of the modern breed of ethologist. This book is about the development of a pack of dogs, including a dingo or two, she shared her life with. Hers and Rowlands' are the most pleasurable reads here, great books regardless of their subject matter. I'd actually highly recommend The Tribe of Tiger, her book on cat behaviour, but as we were talking dogs here...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Making pictures

I thought some of you might like to see a few pics from last week's shoot. These photos were taken by Yong Ping Loo, who also shot a behind-the-scenes video we'll be including in the The New Goodbye app.

In the third image, you can see Nicole setting up the overhead camera, and an indication of what the finished cover will look like.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Yesterday five heavy beach stones from Sussex and I went on a trip back to my motherland in east London. The purpose of the trip: the cover shoot for The New Goodbye, which took place at Street Studios.

I’ve only been on a couple of full day shoots before, as a dog handler. Dogs require far less preparation that human models and are far less patient. And if it’s one thing models need, it’s patience. I can see why Gavin James Bower wasn’t that enamoured with the life.

Dashed aspirations of a career as a male model aside, hopefully the results of the shoot will speak for themselves. (There’ll be a few sneak peeks up here over the next month or so, no doubt.)

Everything went extremely well, notwithstanding a very cloudy period around lunchtime. Nicole and Saskia (the photographer and stylist) had a very firm vision of what that wanted to achieve, and I think we managed to fulfill it. Nicole and I’d been discussing the shoot for close to a month, so when it came to it, everyone had a pretty clear idea of how things were going to work.

By the time I arrived (last one there, to my shame) Saskia had had already begun to lay the set, which comprised a large canvas pasted with torn-out pages from old crime paperbacks for the base. Added to this were roses, a half tonne of dead branches scavenged from the canal side outside the studio and a black bin-bag full of leaves Nicole had collected from near her home. Oh, yes, and the model of course, as the centre-piece. The title and byline were sprayed onto the canvas using stencils Nicole had hand-cut. There was also some smashed china, which helps with the light apparently. (I reckon Saskia just likes breaking things.)

We were even treated to the pleasant interlude of Johanna Basford, who has created the illustrations for the app, stopping by to ply us with Percy Pigs and Colin Caterpillars as part of her flying visit to London before she jetted back to Dundee. And everyone got to listen to the demo of the track that will be packaged with the app.

The day was documented on camera in both video and stills. The video footage will be cut together as a documentary about the process, and along with some extra bits from the day. So it’ll be almost as if you were there too. There were a number of other people involved too, so thanks to Yong Ping, Caroline, Fumi, Dave and Graham, and Alec at Street for the use of the space. I'm sure this'll be one of the first places to get a preview of the work.

Oh, and remember me mentioning lugging the stones through three counties and across the city at the start of this post? It goes without saying they weren’t used. They’re now back safe and sound on my rockery, so the woodlice had somewhere comfortable to sleep last night.

Next up, fingers crossed, is filming the music video.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

351 changes, and I'm done

The New Goodbye fast approaches a 'public-ready' state. (There are 351 minor changes to implement, and it's job done.)

It's a weird feeling, being on the verge of what is essentially self-publishing. It's not something I thought I'd ever be comfortable with, but, having read through the entire manuscript now, in an almost final state, I have to confess I've never been so confident in or so proud of a piece of writing, and I seriously think there's an audience for it.

It feels like it fulfills everything I want to achieve with my writing. Can an author really ask for more?

Added to this is the fact that it's going to be part of a very special art project, and I couldn't be happier with it. Johanna has completed work on her illustrated version of The Dialogue Of The Dogs and although it took her closer to seven days rather than seven years to complete, it is no less amazing for it: a two metre-long wordless narrative full of tiny detail. I'm not really one for superlatives, but it really is a wonderful achievement.

Monday, 1 March 2010


I guess the term blogsplash is a good idea most years, but things haven't really thawed out too much round my neck of the woods.

Anyway, I've not had much sleep and so am waffling a bit. Aliya and I are taking part in Fiona Robyn's blogsplash, but both of us thought the other was doing it, so neither are sure quite what to do. I guess the best thing is to say the book looks great, find out more about it by taking a look at the Thaw page on her website, and maybe buying/borrowing, but at least reading the book.