The Dogs is told through the very individual voice of Cameron, a boy with a very active imagination and a reputation for talking to himself. Where did Cameron come from?
Me; my friends tell me he is the closest character I have written to myself. My mother left with me when I was a year and a half, back in the early 50s. She had been beaten throughout her marriage and it had escalated, so she had been told if she didn’t leave, she would be dead. I consider myself lucky because I didn’t grow up in a household with a lot of violence within but there was always the tension. Kids, whatever you grow up with you think is perfectly normal. I grew up thinking it perfectly normal that my mum and dad were living apart and when my dad came to visit, he had to stay outside in the car; it seemed normal to me for him to leave me alone in the woods and walk backwards so I would think I was abandoned or to keep my head held under water to practise holding my breath. All of those things seemed to me normal at the time.
If Cameron’s background and experiences draw on your own life, what about his character? In particular his imagination which both frightens him but also enables him to act out scenarios thereby reaching the truth. Is this you as well?
I talk to myself quite a bit. I have always had an imagination. On the farm and in the small town I had lots of time to myself and I would make up stories for myself with puppets. The idea of assuming other roles and playing other roles in my head was of interest to me. So Cameron when he makes up stories and talks to himself and his lips move, that was me.
If Cameron is you, are the other characters drawn from life? Could someone open the book and say “Oh I recognise that person”?
I started as an actor and so I work as if I am doing an improv with myself. Under the skin we are all the same. I try to write from inside of the characters. And I try to do that with the characters aren’t so nice like the bully Cody. When I do physical descriptions, I notice things and remember something interesting, but the ways a character react is if I was them in that situation. They are imaginative characters peopling this world. The farm is my grandparents’ though.
Dialogue is an important element in the book. Which is easier to write, a play or a novel
I don’t write plays any more. There was a play that kept expanding in my mind and would turn into an adult novel. One of the things I love in writing fiction is the freedom to go into a person’s mind and do a little back story that one really can’t in a play. Plays have a much more limited cast – you have to feed your actors. One thing I really like about writing novels is that I will get emails from readers, often years after and from all over. Really a play lives through a particular performance when it is being produced. Very few people read actual plays.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I think it would be fair to say I don’t disbelieve in them. I think if I were dead and there was an afterlife, I would have much more interesting things to do than hang around. I do believe in extra-sensory perception. One that things that interests me increasingly in life is serendipity; the way things dovetail. Maybe narrative is what we do to make sense of the random nature of life.
Do you think young readers should read about difficult or disturbing experiences?
Yes; the way I see it if people are old enough to live something then they are old enough to read about it because they want to make sense of it. We can explore in fiction and literature things that are very dark. For kids who are going through things that are very dark, it is a wonderful release for them; for the others, it is very useful for them to know and help them empathise – why is a Cody like a Cody? Why is that kid talking to himself. It is the fear of the unknown that is most frightening.
The Dogs is published by Andersen Press, £7.99