Today I’m super excited to have talented debut author and all round nice person visiting! Say a big hello to Jenn J McLeod – her first novel HOUSE FOR ALL SEASONS debuted this month and I was lucky enough to score an early copy. It’s a gorgeous story about four old school friends finding their way (and the truth) after tragedy. I thoroughly enjoyed Jenn’s quirky characters and LOL moments amongst real emotion!! And I reckon you’ll love it too. But today, we’re here to hear from Jenn about what she does when she’s NOT writing!
My secret life is not so secret if you go to www.wagtailcottage.com.au Wagtail Cottage is my very special B&B, purpose-built to provide the dog-loving traveller with a clean, comfy, secure spot to stop so the whole family can relax.
And I make no secret of the fact: I LOVE DOGS!
Just like a house is not a home without a dog, a novel is not a story without a dog (or two, or three!) Dogs not only feature in my novel, House for all Seasons, they star. (Well, I think so!)
Just as an author creates human characters with a bits of one person and bits of another, my dog characters are a mix of furry fabulousness! I have added an excerpt from House for all Seasons below but let me introduce you to a couple of characters from the book right now.
Meet Karma (see down below), the inspiration behind Dr Caitlin Wynter’s beloved mutt (written into the very first draft) and Bob the smiling dog. (Karma belongs to writing buddy, Shayne Sands, and Bob belongs to Annie Seaton.
In House for all Seasons, Karma shares the doggy spotlight with Shrapnel (described by his Vietnam vet owner as “a bloody pain in the arse you can’t get rid of.”.) My doggy characters in book two – Simmering Season (out this time next year) – were inspired by four-legged guests to my B&B.
So how did my secret dog-loving life evolve?
In 2004 I gave up my corporate communications/PR role, swapping Sydney’s corporate chaos for a little café culture and buying a small eatery, in a small coastal town, but with big plans to focus on my writing and a new life in the country.
It was like coming home.
You see, I’d travelled this big brown land in my twenties; two women working their way across the heart of Australia, living out of a converted Ford F100 van. For three years I worked anywhere I could, doing anything I could; an approach that kick-started a diverse range of work experiences once back in Sydney, including a stint in a five-star hotel providing security for international celebrities and dignitaries (and collecting stories I can never tell!)
I lasted four years in the café (it nearly killed me. And I developed a great respect for hospitality and service workers). The B&B was something I’d always wanted to do (kind of like having a book on a bookshelf one day.) I feel rather blessed to be living both dreams now, although none of it has happened without a lot of trying, tears and tantrums (and that’s just learning the café business!)
Making the decision to leave the city in pursuit of a simpler lifestyle was THE best thing I could have done. Now, I admit a tree change isn’t on everyone’s list and it is a huge decision. My advice to anyone contemplating a move is to research your options and be as well informed as humanly possible. Then just do it. That ‘oh my goodness, we are actually going to do this” decision moment is the hardest part. Once you master that, and train yourself to not let the detail bog you down, you’ll be less likely to chicken out when the “it’s all too scary, too hard, too risky” moment hits you. Be focused, determined and positive and keep moving forward—never back. You may be surprised, as I was, how things fall into place.
Now for that doggy House for all Seasons excerpt I promised starring Karma:
Not even Karma seemed keen to get out of the car. They both stayed put, a sense of coming home warming Cait against the night air. Her body relaxed. Even her toes uncurled after being clawed and tense from the drive.
She was sure it wasn’t normal to love a dog so much, but the thought didn’t stop her. Karma had no expectations and made no demands.
‘Faithful to the end, aren’t you?’ she whispered, stroking the dog and feeling the heat radiating from under the short, spotted brown on white coat. The vet at the shelter had suggested the white coat was the Dalmatian bit, but it had been the way the dog smiled—a curious combination of bared teeth and gums and a wagging tail—that won her heart.
‘Don’t look at me like that.’ Caitlin stifled a yawn. ‘I told you not to drink so much water.’
At six o’clock she’d driven out of her Blue Mountains hideaway, mindful of the dangerous coating of black ice on the road. Sydney was in for a cold winter. Did that mean Calingarry Crossing would be colder? Anything above zero would be fine; Cait quite enjoyed the crispness of the cooler seasons. Sydney’s Blue Mountains was no place for people who didn’t enjoy extreme temperatures. Extreme was good, usually. Extreme anything made for a welcome blip in Doctor Caitlin Wynter’s flat-lining life.
After crawling through several traffic snarls on the F3 freeway, including the clean up of an earlier southbound fatality, she had finally hit open road. At last a chance to enjoy her new car, one she’d prefer not to christen with pee.
She glared at her passenger. ‘You’ve got more than enough legs to cross, so I suggest you cross them. Not long now.’
Had it been just her, Cait would have kept driving, but there was no ignoring the big brown eyes and the hangdog look from the passenger seat. She eased off the accelerator to slow the Volkswagen Beetle cabriolet, still new enough to have that showroom smell, an aroma so desirable that the salesman had presented her with a spray bottle of the stuff. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that ingesting potentially life-shortening spray scents was not on her list of necessities. She much preferred nature’s perfume. Even dusty country roads invoked fond memories for Caitlin.
Despite her initial reluctance to subject her shiny new baby to Calingarry Crossing’s local roads, Cait was now glad. Nothing like a new car to make a long trip more fun. Being able to put the top down and turn up the music added to her enjoyment. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was the best driving music, although she doubted the composer had intended it to be so. With the car gliding over a country road soaked in sun, an invigorating winter wind whipping her hair out from under the retro headscarf, the car’s heater on full throttle to warm her legs, Cait let loose with her very best Meg Ryan, knowing only the cows and galahs would hear her.
‘Yes! Yes! Oh, yes!’
Pulling as far to the side of the narrow strip of bitumen as the unsealed shoulder allowed, she stopped in the shade of some roadside gums. The cluster of trees stretched straight and tall, creating dappled sunlight across the road and adjacent paddocks.
She’d made repeated stops to stretch all six of their legs and to drink coffee, or in Karma’s case, water; hence the dog’s need to pee—again.
The stop was timely, allowing Caitlin to secure the roof back in place, the cool, late afternoon air reminding her that winter in Calingarry Crossing meant cold nights and frosty mornings.
‘Time to grab something warmer to wear first,’ she said to the big but obedient fur-person in the brown spotted coat.
Karma was Caitlin’s best friend, constant companion and even confidante. They’d spent so many nights ‘talking’ together, lamenting the lack of romance in their lives. Caitlin would laugh, ruffle Karma’s ears and say, ‘I know what those eyes of yours are telling me: that there’s hope for those of us who haven’t, you know, been fixed.’
‘Sorry about that, girl. Now, are you going to pee or not?’
Karma raced off, losing herself in the paddock of tall grass, nose down, tail up and wagging like billy-o.
‘And don’t you dare roll in anything out there,’ Cait called out, her gaze flitting between her watch and the setting sun. ‘Hurry up, girl, time we got moving.’
She buried her head in the car boot, struggling to budge the medical bag her mother had presented to Caitlin in the days following Joseph Wynter’s funeral, with the words, ‘More befitting your station as a country doctor, my dear.’ While touched that her mother had chosen her as the recipient, the chunky, third-generation bag unfortunately now occupied a third of the Beetle’s boot, making it impossible to access the suitcase properly. She grabbed the first thing she put her hand on—warm, woollen and white—and slipped her arms through the sleeves, wrapping both front panels of the cashmere cardigan tight, tucking them snugly around her body.
‘Good Karma. Come on girl.’
Caitlin whistled. She loved the sight of her best friend bounding towards her through the fields of green; sure beat the overcrowded dog park down the road from the Penrith Medical Centre.
At the far end of the paddock, distant but drawing nearer, a billowing dust cloud spiralled into the air. A willy-willy traversing the unsealed crossroad she’d passed a few hundred metres back was Cait’s first thought, until she heard the bassy doof-doof of speakers and the roar of a straining engine growing nearer. Dread stopped her mid-whistle, her head toing and froing between the fast-moving dust cloud and her best mate bounding towards her obediently.
‘No, Karma, no.’ She held out both hands as if they possessed magical stopping powers, but her faithful friend kept running. ‘No!’
Thanks SO much for coming on my blog today Jenn and sharing your passion for dogs. You can connect with Jenn through her website, Twitter and Facebook and House for all Seasons is available in bookstores and online from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes and Booktopia.
In the meantime readers, I’m curious… are you more a cat person or a dog person!?