Scratchings At The Heart

Driving home tonight I listened to a podcast interview with a clinical psychologist. Dr Chris Blazina had completed a study on the relationship between men and their dogs. One of the findings was that for the majority of the middle-aged men who participated in the survey, the relationship they had with their dogs was one of the most safe and trustworthy relationships in their life.

This was in part a reflection of how, in general terms, men may have a smaller group of friendships and people that they are willing to confide in when compared to women of a similar age.

But it also highlights the importance of dogs in people’s lives. A couple of men had called in and left voicemail comments about their relationship with their dogs which provided further insight. John, a farmer, had sadly lost his working dog, Ned, after many years of faithful service. He spoke not only of the usefulness of dogs in a working sense – along with the frustration when they act of their own accord when they believe they know best – but of the sense of loneliness when that constant positive presence is no longer there.

Another caller was a carpenter who had a young border collie called Pip as a working companion. Pip made the workday better, helped with handling stressful situations, and was great at breaking down barriers with customers and other tradespeople on work sites. Tradies felt a bit freer to play with the dog, or speak to her in a high-pitched voice which they normally wouldn’t use.

The study confirmed the important role played by dogs in our lives and relationships in general. Losing a much loved companion animal can be as devastating as the loss of a friend, loved one or the end of a relationship. Animals also play an important role in enhancing our relationships with the people that matter in to us.

Our lives are richer on many levels for being shared with our companion animals.

Scratchings at the heart was one man’s description of his relationship with his dog.

[Photo: dog in bathtub at Gunning, NSW]


Creative Lessons from Pets

Recently I was remembering when my dog, Buster, appeared in my world. I had wondered how this puppy, full of energy and noise, would fit into my life.

This led me to consider some of the lessons and habits that he has taught me which foster creativity in my days. Here are some of the learnings so far.


Dogs are brilliant at sleeping. There are bursts of activity and they will run and jump and bark and chase anything. Then there’s nap time. Naps can be short or long, and napping is permissible at any time. And life is generally better after a nap. Ideas emerge, sometimes fully-formed plots or ways to move a story forward. As I write this, Buster is napping nearby, as if on cue.

If In Doubt, Shake It Out

Have you ever watched a dog discover something new in the yard, or find a forgotten toy stashed somewhere? Usually they will sniff around it and maybe poke it with a paw before picking it up and throwing it around. This also works for trying out new approaches or routines. It is easy to get into a rut, creatively speaking. Sometimes you need to throw it all up in the air and see what falls down.

Discovery Tours

Also known as walks, these outings provide endless material from a dog’s perspective. So much to sniff and scratch, even if the walk is a familiar one. These regular airings are great for writing material too, or for solving plot or scene problems. There have been many times when I’ve untied a writing-related knot whilst walking my dog. Even a short jaunt helps.

Don’t Be So Serious

Buster is always ready to play. Any excuse for silliness and he’s there. There’s no moping about the past or fretting about the future. There’s just right now. This sense of play can be harnessed when writing to prompts or brainstorming and coming up with different ideas.

Pay Attention

Dogs are alert most of the time. Even when apparently resting and doing nothing, they are listening to what’s going on around them and taking in sights and scents. Sometimes these small details can be telling, and can provide a creative spark.

There is an excellent post called Dogma for Writers by Sue Owens Wright here, inspired by her basset hounds. Have you picked up any creative tips from your pets?


Buster enjoying autumn leaves and keeping an eye on a singing magpie

Background Noise

This weekend there has been maintenance work carried out along the railway lines in the Blue Mountains. This isn’t an unusual occurrence, but it has made me more mindful of the noises in the background. The railway lines are a couple of blocks away, but the sound of the railway carries much further than that, particularly when the wind is casting the acoustics further afield.

It isn’t that I don’t like the sound of the railway – the opposite is true. I like to pick up the light clatter of the passenger trains, or the heavier groan of the freight and coal trains as they rumble along. Twice a day there are the swifter rattles of the XPT, and the weekly passing of the long Indian Pacific. But in the absence of the railway noise, other noises come into focus.

Bird life is plentiful in the mountains, and on a soft, damp day like today it is mainly magpies and king parrots in close proximity. The parrots tend to feed in brightly plumaged clusters in trees, neatly nibbling away at seeds high up in the trees. The cackle of kookaburras carries from a distance, along with the swooping squeal of cockatoos.

Traffic sounds from the highway include the whine and moan of trucks, always on the move. Most car and bike noises are subdued in comparison for the most part. There is the occasional hum of a plane, somewhere above the low cloud cover.

Closer to home the breeze plucks a tune from a bamboo wind chime, a soft plunking sound on the air. The rainwater tank is full and there is a methodical tinkle as the overflow is caught in a container. People walking past chatter and laugh, or speed past on bikes. Dogs in the neighbourhood holler out greetings or warnings, their calls picked up along the roadway like a raucous Chinese whisper. Then the rain starts again, a soft settling upon the roof.

What makes up your background noise?

[Photo: glimpse of a king parrot]

My I Spy: Something beginning with ‘D’

In the past week I have been nearly spoilt for choice as I have kept an eye out for ‘D’ objects on my travels. A drive through the Megalong Valley on Saturday including spotting daffodils (they are just coming out and are beautiful) as well as donkeys resting in a paddock. Unfortunately the donkeys had scarpered by the time I had a chance to return to photograph them. So here is what I have spotted instead.

Dogs and doorknockers @ Katoomba

Dogs and Door-knockers

Dogs and Door-knockers

How could I resist? Two for one! Spotted this window at Katoomba featuring some impressive door-knockers, including two kookaburras on the far right, as well as cast iron dogs.

The Drummer

The Drummer


This fine figurine was given to me by my brother who has a knack for quirky presents which become treasures. The air of concentration combined with the attention to detail make me smile whenever I spot him. March to your own beat.

Doorways at Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta

Doorways at Elizabeth Farm

Doorways at Elizabeth Farm

One of my enduring obsessions when I’m looking to take a photo in a house is to frame a room with a doorway. Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta is the oldest colonial house in Sydney and is one of the most welcoming house museums I have been in. The furniture is modelled on the style of the relevant periods but it is replica – you are encouraged to sit, touch and relax in the surroundings. The shape of the house with its separate kitchen, servants quarters and courtyard provided many opportunities for photos of doorways. This is from the dining room looking through the entrance and into the drawing-room, the final door looking out onto the garden. A delight.

Diorama at Hydro Majestic Pavilion

Diorama at Hydro Majestic Pavilion

Diorama at Hydro Majestic Pavilion

This diorama contains a model version of the Hydro Majestic, reinforcing the sheer scope of the motel as it clings onto a kilometre of escarpment. It is located on the remnants of the old stage, and behind it are doors and screens from earlier periods.

With thanks again to Pip Lincolne for prompting me to play with her post, and my eagle-eyed blogger on this search, Autumn. And now I’m looking out for ‘E’.

Spying: A  B  C

Put Your Stamp On It

It is inevitable that after a while there is a consistency around the voice in your writing. There are words that you tend to use, sometimes even a similarity in the kind of characters that you create. This isn’t necessarily a conscious act; it is an inherent element of your writing style.

These echoes in writing help form the voice, the viewpoint that distinguishes the writing as unique. Some writing is so distinctive that if an excerpt of prose was provided, the author could be identified without any additional clues.

Perhaps it is due to the maxim ‘write what you know’. Opinion varies as to whether this is a good approach or whether a more adventurous path is recommended, but what is familiar to the writer comes through what is written, even if it is only through small details.

Recently I was looking through some of the short stories that I’ve written. In about a third of them there is at least one dog, and sometimes there is more than one. In most instances this wasn’t a deliberate plot decision; they just seemed to wander into my writing. There are other animals as well, but for me dogs do seem to have a habit of turning up on the page.

This is probably due to the sighs of my mostly patient pup nudging my subconscious as I’m writing early of a morning. The more rascally dogs that appear would be when he’s doing his border patrol, advising all and sundry that this is his space. He seems to leave paw prints on my work from time to time.

Now that I’ve identified this element in my writing, I will be more aware of it. This doesn’t mean that dogs will cease to feature in my writing; I love dogs and this will continue to seep through in my stories. But now that I know, I can use this where appropriate to reinforce my writing voice.

What leaves a mark on your writing?

[Photo: signage at entrance to council depot at Rydalmere]