While I was writing my new novel, The Perfect Date, I gave it the working title The Dog Walker. Caz, the central character, is a professional dog walker, and it opens with her rescue dog discovering a body early one morning up on Brighton Racecourse.
She realises with horror that it’s the man she met through a dating app, the Perfect Date she was due to see again that very evening. But worse – far worse – is that this is the second time this has happened to someone she was seeing. Is it a horrible coincidence? Or is there something else going on?
A question often asked of authors is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ With this book, the answer is that, about two years ago, we got a dog, a Lagotto we called Uncle (don’t ask…). With our children grown up, it was the cliché empty nester move, and she has certainly filled my need to care for someone/thing other than myself.
What I hadn’t realised is how excellent having a dog is for a writer. First of all, you are forced off your typist’s arse twice a day, so you walk lots of steps, meet other people, discover new neighbourhoods and country walks. Then you are given that walking time as thinking time – a quick turn around the writer’s block, if you will. But, more specifically for a crime writer, you find yourself in situations and settings that bring you exciting starting points for stories: conflict between dog walkers/animals; the characters you meet and kind of get to know through talking about your respective dogs; those seedy wildlife areas on the fringes of urban settlements; dangerous potholes where someone could disappear; deserted, deep dark woods (that I’d never go anywhere near if I weren’t with my pooch)…
And then there is the classic: being out early doors, in those lonely parts, with what essentially is a sniffing machine. Uncle will run across an entire field if she gets whiff of a rotting carcass. Thankfully, the worst we have discovered is a long-dead fox (‘Mmmm,’ she went, rolling around in it. ‘Perfume’). But, with the kind of imagination I have been cursed with, I always worry that it could be something worse. Indeed ‘dog walker finds body’ is an all too common newspaper headline.
So of course, one morning up on a spookily deserted Brighton Racecourse, my mind went there, and then I started spinning it out, and by the time I got home, I had the outline of the story, as well as the character of Caz, who is one of my favourite creations, a Sports Direct girl, with more waterproofs than dresses, who is as faithful and desperate to please as the lovely animals she looks after. Couldn’t happen to a nicer girl…
So why, with all that, isn’t The Perfect Date called The Dog Walker? In the end, my editor persuaded me that it might put off anyone – like her – who isn’t into dogs.
Was she right?
You can order The Perfect Date from your favourite bookstore, or get it now online.