Pet Spotlight: Stuart Neville and Sweeney

Sweeney 1The first thing my fiancée Jo and I did when we moved in together was get a dog. We’d each always wanted one, but our previously single lifestyles didn’t allow for it. Now we were making a home together, a dog was a natural step, so we started looking for a rescue mutt to adopt.

We went back and forth to the local pound over several weeks until one scruffy chap caught our eye. While all the other dogs yelped and jumped up and down, going “Pick me! Pick me!”, this shaggy black fellow just watched us walk by, quiet and calm, his tail wagging. Obviously, he was the one. The dog warden told us he’d been found abandoned in the countryside, and they guessed his age at nine months. The quiet and calm thing was a trick, of course. When we got him home, he turned out to be as bouncy and hyper as just about any dog we’d ever met.

Sweeney settled in quickly, becoming a part of our lives in just about every way, and we got used to his foibles. We discovered no sock can be left unprotected or he’ll have it away to his secret cache of hosiery. He loves to cuddle on the couch, regardless of whether you want to cuddle him back or not. He thinks every person or dog he meets is his BFF, again regardless of whether they want to be his BFF or not. And chasing stuff is the BEST. THING. EVER.

Sweeney and IssySoon after Jo and I got married, she got pregnant. The delight of having a baby on the way was tempered by one thing: how would Sweeney react? No matter how much we loved our rambunctious friend, could a baby be safe around him? What if he was jealous? What if he thought it was some sort of plaything, a little pink squeaky toy?

Not quite nine months later, we had a five pound baby girl, so small I could hold her in one hand. We called her Issy (short for Isabel, after her grandmother), and she spent the first few days of her life in hospital. I made a point of bringing home some of her tiny little vests and blankets to let Sweeney smell them, to get that scent in his mind, and know everything was okay.

When the day came to bring Issy home, our hearts were in our mouths. Would Sweeney accept this new arrival? Would he react badly? Would we have to give him up? Then he surprised us both. Jo brought Issy into our living room, sat down on the couch with the baby in her arms, and waited for me to let Sweeney come in. He padded over to Jo, his nose twitching, his tail high. He sniffed Issy’s little head a few times, then lay down in front of her, quiet as a mouse.

Sweeney and Issy 2With no coaching or interference from us whatsoever, Sweeney knew to be calm and gentle around the baby right from the start. When I took him out for walks, the first thing he’d do when we got back was go looking for Issy and make sure she was safe. It’s been a joy to watch her grow and see the relationship between them develop. Now that Issy’s coming up on eighteen months, the first thing she does when she gets home from day care is call “Eeenee! Eeenee!”, and Sweeney comes a-running. With a little luck, they’ll be friends for a long time to come.

Stuart Neville‘s debut novel, THE TWELVE (published in the USA as THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST), won the Mystery/Thriller category of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was picked as one of the top crime novels of 2009 by both the New York Times and the LA Times. He has been shortlisted for various awards, including the Barry, Macavity, Dilys awards, as well as the Irish Book Awards Crime Novel of the Year. He has twice been longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. He has since published two critically acclaimed sequels, COLLUSION and STOLEN SOULS.

Stuart’s novels have been translated into various languages, including German, Japanese, Polish, Swedish, Greek and more. The French edition of The Ghosts of Belfast, Les Fantômes de Belfast, won Le Prix Mystère de la Critique du Meilleur Roman Étranger and Grand Prix du Roman Noir Étranger.

His fourth novel, RATLINES, about Nazis harboured by the Irish state following WWII was just published, he is currently touring the U.S. in support of it.