The joy of animal companions!

DogsNicola here talking about animal companions. Something I’ve noticed quite a lot during lockdown is the number of people who have been getting a dog to keep them company. The prices of pedigree puppies have soared; lots of people have posted excitedly on social media about the pleasure of getting new pets. It’s wonderful if caring for an animal has brought people the benefit of companionship, exercise and uncritical love (maybe not in the case of cats) but this did also set off some warning bells for me.

We all know that a pet is forever not just for Lockdown.

There is no doubt, though, that the antics of various animals have lifted the spirits of a lot of us. My new favourite online stars are Dandies
Olive and Mabel
, two Labradors belonging to the sports commentator Andrew Cotter. His deadpan commentaries of their various activities are very funny and the dogs are utterly adorable. Lots of people have dropped into my Facebook page to see various photos and videos of Angus as we go out and about together, and my writing friend Kate Hardy is posting a diary of her progress training her new spaniel puppy, Dexter. I spend a lot longer that I should watching cute cat videos on Twitter and I’m sure there are plenty of other pets out there doing wonderful cheering things – rabbits, ferrets, even fish making their owners happy.

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Wenches and the Wild

Wench Leopard 1

 Joanna here, bringing you tales of Wenchly encounters with wild things.  We Wenches had been chatting by email about chickens and copperheads, as one does.

Mary Jo, first up, brings us her stories from further to the the Wild Side:

I love animals and grew up on a farm, but I have no tales of devil red hens, mega-roosters, or sinuous copperheads.  There have been plenty of cats and dogs in my life, and my woodsy suburban neighborhood has lots of squirrels and chipmunks and deer and foxes and bunnies.  (I hope those last two don't meet up often!) 

But for real drama, I'll have to turn to Botswana.  Two years ago, we did a safari there after I spoke at a conference in Johannesburg, and it was great.  We traveled several vast nature preserves in open sided safari trucks.  The wildlife there is not tame, but many of the animals have become accustomed to the trucks and pretty much ignore their human visitors as long as we behave.  So a leopard ambled by a few feet away and lionesses lounged in the dirt roads, supremely confident.  

But my most dramatic encounter was our last night in one of the three safari camps we stayed in.  This particular camp housed guests in glamorous tents.  (Hence, "glamping.")  The camps were completely dark when we returned to our quarters after dinner, and we were told to always have a guide escort us back.  On that last night, I was walking ahead of the Mayhem Consultant and our guide, only a single flashlight to guide our path through the African night. 

Wench Lion and truckAs I neared our tent, I heard something rustling in the underbrush.  It didn’t sound large  but it could have been a hyena or some other critter I didn't want to startle.  I returned to our guide and said there's something up there, it didn't sound like a big beast like an elephant, but he might want to check it out.  He did and came back and said calmly, "It's an elephant."

Sure enough, standing smack dab in front of the entrance to our tent, maybe four feet from the canvas, an elephant was chomping on some greenery.  I thought we'd retreat to the headquarters until the elephant moved on, but our guide just said that we could get in through the end entrance of the tent. Oooh-kay, if he thought it was safe… 

I unzipped the end door entry and we went inside.  (I peeked out the front entrance and saw the Wench Happy splashing elephantvast curved back of the elephant silhouetted against the stars, and felt the presence of that great bulk just a few feet away.)

For the next half hour or so we could hear the elephant brushing around the canvas sides as it continued to foraged.  I wasn't frightened but I was wary.  The Mayhem Consultant wanted his shower so he took it.  ("brush, brush, brush, a crunch of a branch, brush, brush, brush…)  I didn't want to be caught starkers if the elephant absented-mindedly took down part of our tent, but that didn't happen.  Eventually the elephant wandered off and all was calm.

But I didn't forget that encounter with a Wild Thing!

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Ask a Wench for November: Those Wonderful Literary Animals

Joanna here, with Ask a Wench for November.  It’s the Thanksgiving month so celebrating all the wonderful literary animals seems appropriate.

Who’s your favorite literary animal?


Starting out with Anne:

Anne chloeI've always loved animals and, as a child, devoured books about them. Finn the Wolfhound, Wild Brother, Black Beauty, The Silver Brumby series, Kiki the parrot in Enid Blyton's "Mystery" series, Timmy the dog in the Famous Five books who went everywhere with them, and many others. 

But stories about dogs always end with the dog dying, so now I like stories with dogs, but not about them.

Probably my favorite animal in a book is the dog, Ulysses in Heyer's Arabella. A scruffy little mutt who is foisted on the very elegant hero by the soft-hearted Arabella, he quickly takes command of the hero, and his household staff. The conversations between Mr Beaumaris and Ulysses are a delight and reveal another side of the hero.

Here's an example: Mr Beaumaris goes away for a few days, leaving the dog in the care of his servants. But Ulysses fretted and refused to eat, no matter what tasty morsels Beaumaris's French chef had prepared for him. When Beaumaris arrives home, Ulysses is pathetically skinny, and his servants all try to explain.

Mr. Beaumaris, who had picked Ulysses up, paid no heed to all these attempts at self-justification, but addressed himself to his adorer. "What a fool you are!" he observed. "No, I have the greatest dislike of having my face licked, and must request you to refrain. Quiet, Ulysses! quiet! I am grateful to you for your solicitude, but you must perceive that I am in the enjoyment of my customary good health. I would I could say the same of you. You have once more reduced yourself to skin and bone, my friend, a process which I shall take leave to inform you I consider as unjust as it is ridiculous. Anyone setting eyes on you would suppose that I grudged you even the scraps from my table!" He added, without the slightest change of voice, and without raising his eyes from the creature in his arms. "You would also appear to have bereft my household of its sense, so that the greater part of it, instead of providing me with the breakfast I stand in need of, is engaged in excusing itself from any suspicion of blame and – I may add – doing itself no good thereby.”  

I'm attaching a photo of my beloved Chloe-dog, who sat at my feet (often on my feet) while I wrote many of my books. I still miss her. My Milly-dog is lovely, but she is too busy discouraging cat visits and refusing birds landing rights in my back yard (or on my trees) to supervise the writing of a book.


Pat, it turns out, is pro hedgehog: Pat hedgehog from wiki

I add animals to my books for various story purposes—Will Ives talks to his dogs in No Perfect Magic— but my lamentable memory simply doesn’t recall much of animals I’ve read about since my elementary school days. I had no books at home, no one to read me Pooh, and by the time I was in school, I’d progressed far beyond what I would have considered baby stories. I know I enjoyed the Black Beauty books but hated Lassie. I was all about horses back then and even read Zane Grey just for the horses his heroes rode off on.

Pat cover kinsaleRight off, the only “recent” book I recall with a memorable animal was Laura Kinsale’s hedgehog in Midsummer Moon (I need to go back and re-read that book!).

And loyal animals of my own—I had none. I’m not saying I didn’t have pets but that we lived on what was considered a major highway when I was a child. People would drop off animals there, and we’d feed them and after a year or two, they’d disappear. So I never developed any particular bond even after I was an adult and bought a dog for our kids. There’s a character story in there somewhere!



Andrea next, with the fictional animals of childhood:

Andrea pooh
Andrea/Cara: I have a real soft spot in my heart for animals in fiction—I think that’s because as a child, the books that captured my imagination featured so many wonderful furry and feathered creatures as brave, loyal and resourceful characters. There are, of course, the classics like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows. Pooh was such a good friend to his raggle-taggle band of buddies. “How do you spell love?” asks Piglet. To which Pooh answers, “You don’t spell it, you feel it!” I also adore his answer to Piglet’s worrying about how to face the challenges of Life: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” Such a wonderfully supportive friend, and beautifully wise words for all of us to take to heart.

But I think one of my real heartthrobs is Gus the seagull from a lesser-known classic called The Fabulous Andrea fabulous flight
Flight. Robert Lawson was afairly famous children’s book author/illustrator who lived in my small town down a country dirt road at a house called Rabbit Hill. (Named after one of his award-winning books.) As a child, I loved driving past it and thinking of him writing his books in that old New England colonial house. I read them all, (and most featured animals, including Amos, who helped Benjamin Franklin in his many endeavors.) But my absolute favorite of his works was one with Gus and his pal, Peter Peabody Pepperel. Peter, by some strange scientific accident in his father’s lab, is shrunk down to the size of a mouse. Which, it turns out, makes him the perfect size to set off on an adventure to save the world from an evil scientist. Peter’s father grudgingly allows him to take on the mission and makes a small leather cabin (oh, I loved the description of its interior) to strap to Gus’s back. And off they fly . . . .

The story somehow just captivated me. Looking back, I think because it has all the themes that still resonate with me today—the bonds of friendship—even when your best friend is considered weird by everyone else; loyalty; courage, even when you’re afraid; honor . . . and a spirit of adventure and curiosity!  


Nicola Ethel bookshopNicola with a wonderful view on literary favorites. (She's a Shere Khan and Eeyore fan like me) :

It was fun trying to decide on my favourite literary animal and awfully difficult to choose. A lot of my favourites were encountered in childhood and I still love them today, especially Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin. Nutkin was such fun, irrepressible and cheeky. He had the sort of personality I wished I had as a child. Even when he had been chastised with the loss of his tail and was older and wiser he still had a buoyant spirit that couldn’t quite be squashed! He remains a special character to me to this day, perhaps because red squirrels are now so rare in the UK and they are so cute and funny to watch that seeing them is a real joy!

I guess my other childhood favourites also represented aspects of character that I found fascinating, from Shere Khan, the mesmerizingly wicked tiger in The Jungle Book to Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, who was so gloomy but somehow, funny as well. These days I have my own “literary dog” in Angus as well as a procession of literary guide dog puppies we enjoy taking to book festivals. (The picture shows Ethel visiting an indie bookshop!)



Mary Jo, advocat:

Mary Jo here.  I certainly have my share of feline muses lounging about my desk and channeling creativity from the astral planes.  (I can see three cats from where I'm sitting at my computer, and the fourth probably isn't far away.)

Mjp bet meSince pets strike me as a normal and even necessary part of life, I'm happy to see them in books. Sometimes they are relatively low key, other times they have a vital place in the plot.  Jennifer Crusie has a fine hand with plot pets.  My favorite is Elvis in Bet Me, a splotchy orange and brown cat with one eye closed in a sinister fashion, as if he's a one eyed pirate.  Except he changes eyes, closing sometimes the right, sometimes the left.  He's a con cat. <G>

 He also learns how to turn on Min's stereo so he can listen to Elvis Presley CDs.  When "Love me Tender" comes on, he turns up the volume. Ugly and vaguely scary looking, he is the hero's accidental gift to the heroine, a gift she didn't know she needs.  He brings joy to Min's life, and immediately realizes that her ex-boyfriend is scum.  <G>

 I'm also fond of Crusie's basset hound Fred in Anyone But YouJust divorced Nina goes to the shelter to get a perky puppy to celebrate her new life, and ends up with the lugubrious Fred because he's due to be chopped the next day.  Luckily, Fred is lovable as well as lugubrious, and he finds his way into her heart and her love life in very canine ways. 

Mjp catMost of my stories have cats in them, unless it's a road book, where it would be too hard on the cat. My newest rescue, The Spook, is a ship's cat in the book I just finished, Once a Scoundrel.  He's adept at catching vermin and sleeping on people's bunks. <G>  I'm looking forward to reading about everyone's else's favorite literary pets!




Joanna here.

And my own take, rounding it all up with my wonderful dog Mandy. She came to me in the middle of her doubtless adventurous life, an SPCA stray.

Dog with possum 4

Mandy, protecting the house from a possum

She's a tough, unpretty dog with the personality of a Marine sergeant and an eclectic ancestry. She keeps the perimeter of the camp safe from UPS men and knows exactly when I should get up. Picture me pulling the blankets over my head with a “Not now, Mandy” and Mandy having none of this. Runs a tight ship, Mandy does.

She sleeps six or seven feet away from me when I work. Close enough to keep an eye on me. Distant enough so she can charge headlong against any incoming threat.

I plan to use her, slightly fictionalized, in the next story I’m writing. Still called Mandy, still brown, still uncannily smart.


What about you? Is there a book animal you remember fondly after many years?

All that is goldfish …

Joanna here, talking about Regency Goldfish. Thomas Benjamin Kennington

This goldfish posting is a classic posting from seven years ago, rather than something new. I do apologize. But you're caught me at a perfect storm of personal challenges including, but not limited to, taxes; galleys suddenly due on the next book; buying a new car; (having banged up the old car in a permanent way); speaking at a conference; and flitting up and down the northeastern states in airplanes that tilted and bobbed like rubber ducks in a bathtub except with occasional lightning which we do not see so often in well-regulated bathtubs.

Onward, then, with my scattered apologies, to a retread post.

 * * * * *

You've probably asked yourself, from time to time, if there are any Shakespeare quotations about goldfish. 

Did Shakespeare say, "That which we call a goldfish, by any other name would be as bright"? 
Or insult some catiff with a, "Thou wimpled, reeling-ripe goldfish-lickler!" 

He did not. 
Goldfish didn't make it to England till nearly a century after Shakespeare's death. We got Shakespeare's take on dogs and cats, camels, carp, marmosets, mackerel, and whales . . . but not goldfish. 

I shall offer you my take on goldfish instead

The Carp Who Made Good. 

The carp is a wide-sGrabbing_for_goldfishpread, useful and reasonably  tasty fish that's been domesticated for a couple millennia in China.  While the Chinese were raising carp for the table, they'd noticed a common mutation that threw an orange or gold fish in among the ordinary ones. 

After centuries of noticing that, about a thousand years ago, the Chinese set down to the serious business of breeding these bright-colored fishes as garden ornaments.  The women of the imperial court doubtless engaged in a little friendly rivalry as to the beauty and vigor of their particular line of goldfish.  They'd bring them inside in big porcelain basins to enjoy.  Especially favored courtiers would be invited over to watch the fish swim, this being before TV and Wii.

When trade routes opened in the 1600s, goldfish were freed from their splendid isolation in the Mandarin's garden and went travelling the world.  Japan first.  Then southern Europe, coming in through Portugal.  Then just about everywhere.

The Japanese Kanji characters for goldfish are 'gold' and 'fish'.  'King yo'.  In Dutch, goldfish is goudvis.  French, poisson d'or.  Spanish, carpa dorada.  Goldfish tend to be called 'goldfish'. 
When goldfish hit Europe, it settled a bit of an artistic conundrum.  Chinese  paintings had been arriving in Europe with representations of goldfish.  "Pooh," said some.  "Mythical animals." 

Turned out it wasn't artistic license. 
It was fish.

Legend has it goldfish were brought to France as a present for Madame de Pompadour.  In Russia, Prince Potemkin gave goldfish to Catherine the Great. 

Goldfish were the Tiffany trinket of the Eighteenth Century.

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What the Animals Got for Christmas

Cat in chair smallI don't forget the animals at Christmas. They may not know what's going on, but they know it involves food.

If I left them out of the festivities, the dog would gaze at me sadly, wondering how she'd failed me. What she'd done wrong.  
The cat would stomp over and bite my ankles. Mandy with toys 2

So they both got finely chopped chicken served to them in a lordly dish with much crooning and praise.

Up there's the cat in her accustomed cat-coma, sleeping off Christmas dinner, cat version.
I didn't buy her any toys. She turns her nose up at toys.

Christmas birdAnd to the right here is the dog, slightly more alert than the feline. Note the new squeaky toy. It's blue. It has eyes. And spots. And three (count 'em three!!) air bladders inside, each squeaking at a different note. The dog has a high old time playing tunes on it.

Outside is the accustomed tribute for the birds. Sunflower seeds. Only the best for my feathered friends.

The dog is grateful.

The cat, as usual, accepts my tribute.

Who knows what birds feel?