Feature:

The dog I thought I was saving ended up saving me

‘You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town. You’re sellotaped to the inside pane of the jumble-shop window. A photograph of your mangled face and underneath an appeal for a COMPASSIONATE & TOLERANT OWNER. A PERSON WITHOUT OTHER PETS & WITHOUT CHILDREN UNDER FOUR.’

Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither has been shortlisted for the 2015 Costa First Novel Award, and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. She reveals her inspiration for one of the novel’s main characters.

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‘In summer 2011, I adopted Wink, a one-eyed Patterdale-terrier-cross from a local rescue sanctuary. I chose him out of a line-up of perfectly sweet and obedient dogs because I have always been irresistibly drawn to damaged things. I was told that he’d been used for badger baiting and was found roaming the countryside with his eyeball hanging out. An anonymous donor paid his vets bills, but didn’t want to take him home.

Like most dogs who have been mistreated, he was nervous and unpredictable. But Wink came into my life during a period when I felt nervous and unpredictable too. His ‘rehabilitation’ distracted me from my lostness, lending structure to my purposeless days. The dog I thought I was saving, in many ways, ended up saving me. When it came to writing about him, I wanted a narrator who represented an extremity of my isolation and loneliness, whose life could be more meaningfully transformed by a delinquent terrier, and this was how Ray came about.

There’s no way of knowing how old Wink is, maybe seven or eight. He has a white moustache now, though he’s still as lively as ever. I show him his flattering likeness on the book’s cover and say ‘look, you’re famous now!’ But of course he just sniffs it to see if it’s food.’

‘This is a novel bursting with brio, braggadocio and bite. Again and again it wows you with its ambition, its implication, the more forceful for never being italicised, that simple words from our frail and brittle English language, placed quietly in order, with assiduous care, can do almost anything at all… At its heart is a touching and inspiriting sense of empathy, that rarest but most human of traits. Boundaries melt, other hearts become knowable. This is the work of the highest artistic seriousness. It doesn’t try to impress but invites you on a journey, stirring deeper, more lasting recognitions.’ Joseph O’Connor, Irish Times

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