Award-winning author Cliff McNish’s heartfelt comedy novel is about four dogs stuck in a rescue centre. Called Going Home, it's aimed at 8-12 year olds, and is both fun and poignant. Look out for our Retweet competition on Twitter and you could win one of 10 signed copies up for grabs. In the meantime here’s an interview with Cliff about his new book.
Can you tell us how you got first got involved with rescue dogs, Cliff?
My wife Ciara was the real dog lover. She started volunteering at Battersea, walking five dogs every Friday, and I’d join her for the last one or two. It was a freezing January when she started, and I vividly remember meeting her in the darkness those winter days, her face red with cold, hands half-numb, but she’d never, ever looked happier. We didn’t look back.
Did you carry on at Battersea?
No. After a year, we found our own stray. Lost on a bus of all things. Clearly a street dog. SAM, we ended up calling him. A beautiful, grey-muzzled sight-hound crossed with ... well, who knows? But boy was he smart and fantastic. There were some problems at the beginning. Separation anxiety. He really hated it when we went out at all. But we dealt with that and had him for two great years before he passed away.
Is that when you got involved in fostering?
Yes. We didn’t want another dog straightaway. Too heart-wrenching. So we ended up providing a temporary fostering home for a few years for Battersea dogs that were recovering from operations or needed evaluation in a calm, home setting. Since we had no young children at home, we could provide that.
Was it hard not to take one of the fostered dogs for your own?
Yes, but Battersea helped with that. Right from the start they said, ‘Please just stay as fosterers, every fosterer we get ends up taking a dog and then we can’t use them any more! It’s much more useful to us to have you fostering than taking a dog of your own!’
So we did that, and were helped by this: apart from one dog, Battersea found a home for every single dog we fostered. It sometimes took many months, but eventually they did it. So fantastic.
Were there any dogs you especially remember?
Yes. Basil. Unforgettable Basil. He’d been kept in a shed his whole life as far as anyone could tell. Horrible circumstances. And he simply couldn’t bear to go outside. In fact, for weeks we could only get him to pop his nose out from his hiding place behind the couch when we left the room. I thought, ‘There’s no way we’ll ever find a home for this one.’ But we did. Ciara was extraordinarily good at calming down dogs. She slowly coaxed him out, and amazingly a patient woman with another dog finally took him on. That dog was relaxed and Basil ... just settled as soon as he was with her. We giggled like five year olds when we got back to our car after the exchange, we were so amazed his story had come to such a happy end.
Why did you decide to write a novel about dogs stuck in a rescue centre?
It was my wife’s idea. Ciara kept saying to me, ‘Look, you’re always writing these dark scary fantasies and ghost stories. Why don't you write a heartfelt story with lots of jokes about some dogs stuck in a rescue home?’
I kept putting it off, but when she passed away 2 years ago the idea resurfaced. I kept on having thoughts about dogs. Funny dogs. Silly dogs. Dogs with problems. The kind we’d got to know well. Ugly dogs no one wants. Dogs afraid when people stroke them. Dogs that have given up hope, they’ve been stuck in rescue centres so long. And I realised I wanted to write something tender for them in Ciara’s memory.
Going Home is available from all booksellers You can find it on Cliff’s website http://www.cliffmcnish.com/diary/