Research Randomness -- Jan Edwards
Latest in my research requirements for Listed Dead, the third in the Bunch Courtney Investigation series, was the ‘right’ breed of dog.
Simple you might think, and perhaps it should have been. The dog in question only appears for a few pages, so why would I go to any extended effort? Simply put, (without plot spoilers) I had a list of requirements to be met that would make said dog both suitable and unsuitable at one and the same time.
So down the research rabbit hole I went.
Before I even started on filling in all my writerly tick boxes there was one large point to bear in mind. Listed Dead is set in 1940 and dog breeding was at an all time low. Why? Because in the summer of 1939 the UK Government produced a pamphlet on the topic which read: “If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency.” It concluded: “If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.” (note very disturbing ‘advert’ for the gun – mind boggling!) This advisory notice fed into other news that, in the event of war, there would be food shortages and rationing and feeding of pets would not be a priority. There was a conservative estimate of 750,000 dogs and cats culled: mostly during September 1939. What the horrifying final total was remains unknown. Fortunately many pets were saved but that there were, by default, far fewer breeders.
The breed I was searching for needed to fit Bunch’s lifestyle, yet at the same time be sufficiently out of the ordinary to give legitimate grounds for her to reject it.
I thought briefly of Otter Hounds, but pack hounds were not suitable; which also ruled out Beagles or Fox Hounds.
Pointers etc were not suitable because they do not retrieve.
Need to retrieve? So how did I discount Labradors and Goldies? (I did toy briefly with the idea of a Curly-Coated Retriever.)
In this book the now illegal practice of tail-docking figures on my trail of clues.
The field was narrowing!
The breeds left to me were mostly Spaniels, which would be fit for purpose in Bunch’s world.
The problem remained that pesky point that I required a breed that was ALMOST right.
Then it came to me. Of course!
When I was a child in Sussex our neighbour had two of these beasts. I found them odd looking creatures, with legs that seemed far too short for their long bodies and over-sized ears that always seemed to be have been given a curly perm and tacked on as an afterthought. Their distinctive ‘odour’ was another factor.
They have never been well known dogs. And even the Sussex Spaniel Association – dedicated to the breed – has a list of drawbacks to owning their darlings on their webpage, which I will paraphrase as:
Negatives : Prone to howling at nothing; can be over protective; can be destructive; soak up mud like a sponge and take forever to dry; grumble a lot (often misinterpreted as growling); are stubborn and strong willed (needing constant reminders of who is boss); often obey commands solely on their own time; are fussy eaters and lastly have an over-active slime factor (leaving slobber trails a slug would envy!).
Positives: They don’t yap; are not prone to wandering ; are companionable (will sit as close as possible – preferably on you); are faithful; have a sense of humour (i.e. will make you laugh EVEN when they have done something naughty).
The jury may be out on whether the last point is good or bad but it portrays a breed that is not for the faint-hearted. Easy to see why they have never been popular with the masses.
Now, given that Bunch already has a penchant for horses that none of her peer group would countenance, it would make the Sussex the perfect dog for her – and Bunch thinks, as she views them in kennels that, “It would be so terribly easy to adore them.”
Having researched the Sussex Spaniel in such detail I did debate allowing Bunch to take one on just for the hell of it! But alas that would be changing the plot to suit my own whim and that way madness lies!
Find out more about Jan Edwards and her crime fiction at https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/
I'd never heard of the Sussex Spaniel before reading this. It almost looks like a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Dachshund since it appears so low to the ground - maybe even a hint of Red Setter thrown in too!
Great to learn more about the breed though, and small details make a big difference in crime fiction. :D
I am not sure what breed the breeder took them from in the late 1700s, Eden.
They are closer to a Clumber spaniel than a Cocker, which is a later breed. (Sussex is one of the oldest spaniel breeds, I gather.) I doubt I shall need to know or mention them in fiction again but fun to find out :-)