Andrea here, musing today about secondary characters. I find that one of the ways to keep a series fresh and engaging for readers is the addition of new secondary characters in each book. Not only do they add to plot twist possibilities, but they also add color and texture in their interactions with the main protagonists, allowing me to bring out facets of the “stars” in interesting ways. (Though often they aren’t really content to hover in the shadows, but get a bit pushy and keep demanding more time on center stage! Honestly, don't they know who's the boss here?)
It’s great fun to sit and think about what sort of friend will add to the mix of a story. It’s hard for me to explain how they come to mind . . . sometimes—like the fog in Carl Sandburg’s famous poem— they come in on little cat feet . . .
And sometimes they come in on big, hairy dog paws!
Okay, I confess that I already have Weasels in my Wrexford & Sloane Regency mystery series . . . actually they are two urchin boys, nicknamed The Weasels by Lord Wrexford for reasons I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, the boys have a fiercely independent—and untamed—spirit, which can lead them into trouble. In my current WIP, the fourth book in the series, (the third comes out in September) they have acquired a canine companion-in-mischief.
Don’t ask me how. It just sort-of happened.
Once it became clear that a dog had to become become part of the menagerie, I needed to decide WHAT kind of dog. That actually was rather easy. In my mind, it simply had to be a big, rough-and-tumble canine, given the scraps the Weasels get into. That narrowed down the choices . . . he had to be big. I also had a vision of what said dog should look like . . . a resemblance to a wolf was highly desirable.
Hmmm . . .
Given that the book is set in Regency England, I also wanted a traditional British sporting breed. And then the picture became even clearer when I thought about two of the regular secondary characters in the series, who happen to be Scottish . . . And thus, Harper loped into the picture.
Harper is a Scottish Deerhound, a noble and ancient breed. Indeed, the "royal dog of Scotland" dates back to at least the 1st century CE—Roman pottery had been unearthed in Argyll from that era. There are also standing stones from the 7th century showing rough-coated hounds in a hunting scene. It was until the 16th century that the term “deerhound” was used. That’s because the dogs were bred as coursing hounds used by clan chieftains for hunting the giant red deer in the Highlands of Scotland. The deerhound's unflinching courage became legendary throughout Britain.
According to one history I read, Deerhounds were at one point so prized that anyone beneath an earl was prohibited from owning them. It seems that caused Greyhounds to become more popular in both Scotland and England, and Deerhounds were in danger of dying out. However, the prohibition on ownership seems to have been rescinded, and the breed once again flourished. By the nineteenth century, the dogs came to look much as they do today.
It's one of the tallest dogs. A male stands around 32 inches high at the shoulder and weigh 110 pounds. The rough coat can range from sandy taupe to a steely blue-grey. (The preferred hues for aficianadoes of the breed.)I love the look of a Deerhound, but another main reason I picked it is because despite its massive size and strength—and fierce jaws—the dogs have a wonderful reputation for gentleness and friendly disposition. They are considered wonderful family dogs.
I also discovered some other fun fact about the dogs: Sir Walter Scott owned a Deerhound named Maida, and the breed was a favorite of author Isak Dineson (Karen Blixon) when she lived in East Africa. There are many photographs of her with her dogs—her favorite was named Dusk. And a Deerhound is featured in two Harry Potter movies—Cleod plays Padfoot, the Animagus of Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black.
I had great fun with Harper, and he kept barking for a bigger role. Did he get his way? Ha—you’ll just have to wait and see! (The book, tentatively titled Murder at East India Wharf, will be out in spring/summer of 2020.
I love big dogs, and always get a kick out of watching the Working, Herding and Sporting breeds on television at the Westminster Kennel, What about you? Are you a dog lover? Do you have a favorite breed? Any favorite dogs as “characters” in novels?