Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Karen Charlton interviews Jean Gill

 Extract from Karen Charlton's interview with me. Read the full interview here

What do you predict will happen in the future to the publishing industry?
The next two years will see a peak in the digital publishing of more words than ever before. Then, the one-book writers will have got it out of their system; those who were hoping to be overnight millionaires mostly won't be, and will give up writing. There will be less crap out there but there will still be a wider range of books than ever before. Online reading groups, reviews and recommendations on sites like will become ever more important. Mark Coker will be President of the USA and amazon will have a monopoly on e-reader sales to extra-terrestrials.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review - 'Through a Dog's Eyes' by Jennifer Arnold

Quote from Publishers Weekly on the back cover

A “transformative,” inspiring book with the power to change the way we understand and communicate with our dogs.

Few people are more qualified to speak about the abilities and potential of dogs than Jennifer Arnold, who for twenty years has trained service dogs for people with physical disabilities and special needs. Through her unique understanding of dogs’ intelligence, sensitivity, and extrasensory skills, Arnold has developed an exemplary training method that is based on kindness and encouragement rather than fear and submission, and her results are extraordinary.

To Jennifer Arnold, dogs are neither wolves in need of a pack leader nor babies in need of coddling; rather, they are extremely trusting beings attuned to their owners’ needs, and they aim to please. Stories from Arnold’s life and the lives of the dogs who were her greatest teachers provide convincing and compelling testimony to her choice teaching method and make Through a Dog’s Eyes an unforgettable book that will forever change your relationship with your dog.

Jean Gill's Review

What a treasure for a dog-lover! A rich mix of anecdotes, teaching suggestions and thoughts on current research, based on twenty years' experience training golden retrievers and labradors as companions for people with special needs.

The opening chapter describes Jennifer Arnold's personal circumstances and the background to her life's work as founder of Canine Assistants, one of the USA's largest canine service associations. This personal context is the basis of the whole book and I found the author to be good dog-loving company, with extensive experience in a particular sector of the dog world. I trust her integrity and her anecdotes ring true, reminding us of how wonderful the relationship between dog and human can be, beyond the current explanations of science.

I was already fascinated by dogs' unexplained capacity to predict epileptic seizures, so it was interesting to read of how this emerges in the training of Canine Assistants. I enjoyed all the tales of how various service dogs have enabled their new owners to live fuller lives. My favourite chapter, however, was that on play; it made me want to rush outside with my Great Pyrenees and bounce. I've spent hours observing and photographing my own dogs' play habits, and I've never read such detailed, accurate accounts of dogs' play behaviour, with each other and with humans. I couldn't agree more with Arnold over the importance of play for both our species.

I already agree with Arnold's principles, especially in ridiculing the idea that we should behave like wolves. She gave me some useful supporting evidence for my views, and I was delighted to learn that alpha wolves in the wild feed the weakest in the family/pack first, thereby suggesting that even the 'behave like a wolf' brigade are wrong in their theories of food control and 'eating first' to dominate.

I also fully support 'choice training', teaching a dog to think and to choose the desired behaviour, and she gives detailed examples, all useful, of how she works. There are limitations though. I have been taught by a top dogtrainer how to put principles into practice and in my view Arnold's techniques will not work with all dogs.  She does warn the reader that the book is not a training manual for dealing with dog problems and she also states that you should get a trainer's help if your dog bites you or someone else, so this book does not pretend to cover all situations.

Arnold relies heavily on treats, works with golden retrievers and labradors, and matches the personalities of adult dogs with their new owners, and with their special needs. This is admirable but very different from establishing a relationship between any puppy/dog and any owner. I remember getting a Great Pyrenees after the death of my retriever, and discovering that chocolate buttons for dogs had lost their magic power, and toys were no better. Suddenly, I was not the wonderful dog trainer I'd thought myself; I was someone whose dog didn't come when called, and I'd run out of techniques.

This is an informative and enjoyable book on a particular sector of the dog world, and on specific aspects of training. If you're looking for a general book on training all dogs,  I'd recommend 'Gentle Dog Training' by Michel Hasbrouck. In the wider context of all dogs, I think Arnold is naive in some of her statements, such as her assertion that using the leash to force a position is wrong (e.g. 'sit' or to stop the dog jumping up) and that positive reinforcement will bring the dog to the desired conclusions of its own accord, eventually. (Believe me, if you've had 70kg of Great Pyrenees knocking your glasses off, 'eventually' is not a word you want to hear).

Although I would disagree over some specifics of training, I would love to debate these with Arnold, and I have the impression that she would enjoy that debate, and have excellent reasons for the way she works. As she points out, most dogs want nothing better than to please us and communicate with us, so those brutal modern methods which promote domination are to be shunned.

I couldn't agree more and I see it as a sad sign of the times that Arnold has been targeted for vicious criticism by those who feel their methods are threatened. In a letter published on her amazon page she wrote, 'At times I am straightforward to the point of bluntness about the wrongs we are doing to our dogs in the name of training. In some circles, I'm already being criticised for what I have written. I wish I could say that the unpleasantness doesn't bother me a bit. I can't. I am all too human. But it won't stop me. I owe dogs too much to be silent. We all do.'

Good for you, Jennifer Arnold. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review - 'Mrs Jones' by B.A. Morton

Happy World Book Day, and Dydd Dewi Sant Hapus, with daffodils.

Following my interview of B.A. Morton, here's my review of her novel  'Mrs Jones'.
amazon page

A British girl with a secret.
A New York cop with a past. 
And a mob that wants revenge.
In the slickest, sneakiest twistiest-turniest hard-boiled crime noir novel to come out in a long time, ruggedly pragmatic but honest cop Detective Tommy Connell picks up an English girl, Mrs Jones, who claims to be the witness to a murder, and promptly falls in love with her. Well, Mrs Jones, whoever she is, must be very attractive because an awful lot of people seem to want to get their hands on her if they can prise her from Connell's determined grasp, including some prominent representatives of organised crime and the Feds. Detective Connell definitely has his work cut out here if he wants to end up with the body of Mrs Jones, dead or alive, that's for sure. All-in-all it's probably safe to say he hasn't a clue what is going on. It is probably equally safe to guess that Mrs Jones does. Not that 'safe' is quite the right word to use here or, there again, maybe it is.

Jean Gill's review of 'Mrs Jones' by B.A. Morton

I came to 'Mrs Jones' with all kinds of preconceptions, not just the usual ones from blurb, cover and genre, but also knowing that it won a prize in the prestigious Yeovil Competition, and knowing that I liked the author's persona in interview.

Having entered (and failed) at the Yeovil, my response to the book was a mix of sour grapes and surprise at discovering that 'Mrs Jones' is not a powerful work of literature, full of deeply challenging insights. Then I forgot about what it isn't and enjoyed it for what it is.

This is a fast-paced, romantic detective story, racing through a few days in New York at the speed of a Hollywood car chase, and with the same enjoyment of gangland and shoot-outs, all described with just enough detail to let us imagine the action. The relationship between Connell and Mrs Jones is created with lively, humorous dialogue (if unconvincing in the American voice) and the premise of a Geordie girl with a New York cop is original and entertaining. Their mutual attraction must be eligible for a record as the longest foreplay in fiction, with seven or eight romantic scenes in which the interruptus to the desired coitus is delivered via every device from a small child to a police bust. This is too much frustration for my taste but other readers will enjoy what the author calls the 'will-they won't-they' hook. That much build-up ought to be satisfied by a wonderful climax shared with the reader but I found that frustrating too. If you want to know what I mean, you'll have to read the book yourself.

There are inevitably holes in the detective plot, which offers ever-new revelations. Some of them just don't fit with earlier details of behaviour and feelings, so forget realism. Connell and Mrs Jones are likeable characters, and the story is fun, often engaging the reader by letting her work out what's going on rather than having it hammered home. The other characters are merely the supporting cast.

'Mrs Jones' is great for light holiday reading. I was half-way through the book when my train reached Barcelona Station and I was irritated that I'd arrived so yes, I'd say it's an enjoyable page-turner, an action movie in print.

With any of my reviews, keep Hemingway in mind:-
'If it’s bad, I’ll hate it. If it’s good, then I’ll be envious and hate it even more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.'