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Pet Spotlight: David Wishart and Annie

AnnieThis is Annie, named after the orphan. We found her nine years ago, in a French layby near the Swiss border, very thirsty and hungry and in a terrible condition: you could literally see her ribs and her skin was patchy with scabs. It turned out later that she had five dead pups inside her.

End of the harrowing bit.

I don’t think she’d actually been deliberately abandoned. She wasn’t chipped (the French for a microchip, by the way, is a puce, ‘flea’, which gives a beautiful, serendipital meaning to ‘a flea in your ear’. Lovely!), which she should’ve been by law, but it was a country district, and according to the SPA vet the locals kept dogs mostly for hunting, so she’d probably just got lost; also, that hounds like her were two a penny (or maybe a centime), so that, yes, they’d ask around, but it wasn’t likely anyone would bother claiming her.

So we decided that we’d adopt her. Not easy: it was only when my wife, over the phone, got the official at the British Embassy in Paris to lower the chances of bringing her back from ‘completely impossible’ to ‘bloody difficult’ that things began to look more promising. Also, because we’d been at the end of our holiday and SPA rules say adoption has to be done in person, we had to drive home to Scotland, go all the way back again two weeks later, arrange for a six-month stay in a boarding kennel for the pets’ passport, then finally collect her for keeps and bring her over on the ferry.

Not, as I say, easy. It didn’t get any easier, either, over the next two years because Annie wasn’t and still to a certain extent isn’t your average domestic pet. She wasn’t house-trained, for a start; understandable, because she’d probably never been inside a house. She couldn’t speak the language, by which I mean British Canine: she didn’t wag her tail, she howled Hound-of-the-Baskervilles-like rather than barked, and she smelt like something out of the lion house in a zoo. Other dogs were, understandably, nervous; you could see them thinking: I’m not ’avin’ anyfing to do with that thing until I hear it tork! Which was a pity, because she was perfectly friendly and would only rip their heads off if they had the temerity to start something, in which case she was really, really efficient. I have the scars to prove it. Claymore landmines come to mind.

A year after we got her, I started writing the eleventh Corvinus book, ‘In at the Death’, which features Placida, the Hound from Hell. Placida, I’m afraid to say, is almost straight Annie, only slightly larger than life size (or was at the time, anyway; since then she’s matured, like a ripe cheese rather than a good wine), from her sudden-death flatulence bombs – never, ever sit downwind of Annie when she’s sleeping, particularly in an enclosed space – to her eclectic and revolting outdoor snacking habits, which I really do not want to expand on here.

So. A character, definitely and absolutely; sometimes too much of one for comfort. But a lovely dog, in her own self-determined, idiosyncratic, frequently-disgusting, slobbish way, very fond of children, gooey over puppies, and a definite source of curiosity on the part of other dog-walkers (often along the lines of ‘What the hell is that?’). While I was writing ‘In at the Death’ I came across a picture of a 1st century BC Gallo-Roman wine cup with a frieze showing a running hound: ears flying, mouth parted in a broad grin. Beautiful, flowing stuff. I asked Hodder if they could include it in the cover, which they did, although only just – you have to know it’s there: it forms the first line of the decorative band running around the front cover’s top.

That’s Placida. And, of course, it’s Annie.

Wishart David high resDavid Wishart was born in Arbroath, Scotland. He studied Classics at Edinburgh University and taught Latin and Greek in school for four years before escaping and retraining as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. He lived and worked abroad, in Kuwait, Greece and Saudi Arabia, as a teacher, materials/course writer and teacher-trainer, before coming back to Scotland with his family in 1990.

Since then he has been working part time at the University of Dundee, teaching EFL, study skills and – when there are enough students to form a class, which isn’t often – Latin. He also examines for Cambridge ESOL. His first book (‘I, Virgil’) was published in 1995, shortly followed by ‘Ovid’, the first of the Marcus Corvinus series.

He is married to Rona, who works as Head of Support for Learning at St Leonards School in St Andrews. They have two grown-up daughters, four grandchildren, and a large, uncouth, and very individualistic dog called Annie. He enjoys Cryptic crosswords, cooking, walking, reading, and listening to music.

His latest book, Solid Citizens was officially published in the US this month.