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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sherlock - another dumped dog

By popular request, the story of Sherlock. His ears already have a fan club so it's time I let you meet him properly.

We wanted to motivate Blanche's recovery from her operation (stomach torsion) so we decided in February to get her a new friend. I had promised Lou that his successor (not replacement) would be, like him, a sweet-natured shelter dog that no-one else would want but who could cope with the somewhat brutal friendship of a Great Pyrenees. Hunting dogs are not popular for adoption because hunters assume they were useless at hunting and their background gives them the reputation of being unsuitable as family dogs and liable to run away. So we chose Rudy, who'd been found wandering the countryside in August 2013, with no ID. He was probably thrown out before the new season.

Rudy's prison mug-shot
Here in France, some hunting-dogs are loved all the year round, all their lives. Many, however, live in packs, in cages, exercised only during the hunting season and with no experience of homes and families. We were told that Rudy hadn't known what a caress was but was starting to enjoy them. That he was quiet but showed enthusiasm for outings, in his own way. We already knew what 'outings' meant from our adoption of Lou: a five-minute toilet break on waste ground, 3 to 4 times a week. The surprise with Rudy was that he didn't pull on the lead but he'd been trained (unintentionally) not to come when called. He'd be let off the lead for his five minutes, called, grabbed and taken back to the cage. Obviously, he preferred not to come when called. So we filled in the paperwork and changed his name to Sherlock.

When I went to his cage to spring him from the hellhole, he didn't even get up he was so depressed, and he barked just once, a big hound bay, fit for a Baskerville. I swear he knew I'd come for him and he didn't think he could go on much longer if I hadn't. The breed was new to me and I didn't realise till I got him home that the muscles of his hind-quarters were wasted from lack of exercise and he was far too thin. I thought back to the dish in his cage, piled high with pizza (restaurant left-overs) and untouched. The first night, he cried from the pain in his ears - yes, once again, and worse than with Lou, another floppy-eared dog with the most horrific, untreated ear infection. Dogs are so stoical and they put up with ear infections during the day when there are distractions but they can't sleep at night and the pain drives them crazy.

The vet fell in love with Sherlock and her good work, combined with a healthy diet and daily exercise, has restored his health. His bum is double the size it was and, in his case, that's great news. He's gained 5kg - a big percentage of his 35kg. Thanks to a Blog reader who emailed me, I had a new treatment to try for long-term ear maintenance and we seem to be managing the ear problems by using Zymox regularly (products you can order from the USA and that work miracles).

Sherlock at home
I'm sure from his behaviour that Sherlock had never been in a house before and the stairs up to the front door were a giant step for dogkind. It took a couple of tries the first time but he followed us and the big blonde into the house and into the living-room. He even fell asleep for a while until the T.V. was switched on and then he was completely panic-stricken, ran outside and wouldn't come back in. We left the T.V. off. It took a couple of days with gentle sound and his strong desire to be with us as motivation, and then he was watching Premier League football with everyone else. He still fled from Metallica videos for a while but, now, his favourite place to sleep is right in front of the television.

This is my third dog adoption, I have read hundreds of first-hand accounts from other people, and I have a theory about what I've experienced with all three, very different dogs. They have all been traumatised for the first few weeks and as the effects have worn off, their underlying personalities and experiences have started to show, in some unexpected ways. Sherlock was so numb that anyone could do anything with him for weeks; when he showed dislike and even fear of strangers, I think this was a sign that life mattered to him again and that he wasn't just accepting whatever happened. I know that I have not encouraged his fears in any way (my training is good enough to know that) and yet he is now nervous about situations he didn't care about at first.

Sometimes, trainers make the mistake of assuming that the adoptant is creating fears in the dog. Often, the debutante dog-owner does create fears in the dog! Reassuring and stroking a scared dog is classic reinforcement behaviour. But what I'm suggesting is that awakening from trauma can bring with it all those fears a dog has, based on past experience - or ignorance - and show its own personality, regardless of whether the owner does everything 'right'. Sherlock got over how scary the T.V. was and he has the intelligence and trust in us to learn confidence in other situations he hasn't met before - we are working on it.

We discover new things about him all the time. Training with treats hasn't been possible until now. I thought he'd probably been trained not to take treats and yet he would take little bits of chicken or soft cheese from my hand, and he will eat soaked dog kibble but not dry biscuits. Yesterday, I looked properly at his teeth, which the vet had declared to be good. They do look good when his mouth is closed, but the four middle bottom teeth are eroded, filed away? damaged? ground down on cage bars? I shall ask my vet next time I see her. But I'm now sure that he can't eat hard treats - not won't - and he's been happily accepting little soft cheese cubes today. I know there are other ways of training but I think this is going to help with communication. There are four of us in this marriage :)

After two months with Sherlock, we felt confident enough to take him on holiday for a week and I am very proud of how he behaved: he has been perfectly house-trained (despite never being in a house!) not destructive in any way and he copes with the princess. They are unquestionably one pack although he is not willing to play with her - yet. You will laugh at his one irritating habit. He is a bit of a whiner, especially if we leave the room and he wants us there. Especially first thing in the morning, at first light. Yes, I now have a dog who insists on giving 'A Song at Dawn' outside my bedroom window!!

John, Sherlock and Blanche, the princess, on holiday in Provence


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jacket make-overs

Many of my books were published three years ago and the jacket designs are showing their age so it's definitely time for a re-vamp. Also, the books are gaining ever more readers so my own knowledge about how the books fit into the marketplace has grown, and that changes what I want the jackets to look like.

I know the designer won't mind me canvassing for comments and opinions on the new look so I'd appreciate any reactions to 'Faithful through Hard Times'. Fellow-writers might be interested in some of the choices I'm making and why, before you comment, but I know some of you just like the pictures, so here they are.

One practical point about the text on book jackets is that amazon will only let you use words in a title which actually appear on the jacket, and all the title words show up in amazon searches, giving you some freebie extra search words. That's why I added 'a WW2 true story' to the ebook cover. If you want to know more about the book itself and whether the new cover represents it effectively, in genre and appeal to likely readers, check it out here

OLD JACKET

NEW JACKET


Branding?

It is widely agreed that writers will be more successful by sticking to one genre, building a readership and having 'a look' to all of their books. Publishers have always done this; self-published authors are well-advised to follow suit. But I'm not going to.

Call me mad or call me multi-faceted but I write in many genres and I think the 'genre look' of the jacket is more important than the 'Jean Gill' look. Quite honestly, I married the only person who's ever going to read all my books because they are just so diverse

Which fonts?

I plead guilty to underestimating the artistry of fonts - never again. Thanks to sites like the Book Designer and its recommended link Fontsquirrel I know what's trending and why it matters. The fonts suck on my 3 year old book jackets. But then they also suck on my books which were conventionally published over the last twenty years. Things change. But thanks to designer input, I'm looking at fonts, and the way they're mixed, as a way of keeping a 'Jean Gill' look, despite the range of genres. 

Which art-work?

As a photographer, as well as an author, I have strong opinions on this. There is, however, nothing to stop me giving the designer instructions and then looking at options on layout, background, textures,colours.. detail and fancy-work. I wasn't happy when I found exactly the same jacket as one of my books, just a different colour - the publisher (yes, a 'proper' publisher) had used one stock photo, straight. Stock photos of all qualities exist and my own don't always meet my requirements but I want enough of a twist to the design to keep it different from someone else's in more than author name and title.

I know that one of my many failings is that I love complexity and clutter - too clever by half, as my mother always said. Jackets need room for

Text?

Part of my lack of respect for fonts was due to the old-fashioned thinking that blurb is on the back of a book. In today's one-click or forget-it world, the front jacket wins or loses readers. Even though amazon now allows readers to view the back jacket, (for those publishers smart enough to figure out how), that is still one more click. I want commitment after the first kiss. 

I've always agonised over the right title but now I want pointers to go with it; an indication of genre (to double as search words on amazon), a killer quote. One advantage of becoming established as an author is that I have wonderful quotes to choose from. In fact, I'm starting to worry about offending someone by not using his/her great quote - the problems of success!

Love?

Oh, yes. Every time. I want a jacket that I love, passionately. Even if I want a better one after three years... We are talking about books here, right?

Over to you...

Any thoughts on my new jacket? On book covers in general? What decisions do you make? How often will you spend precious time on improving the books already written - instead of writing new ones?