Friday, 26 February 2010

I was Jilly Cooper's Dogwalker

When I was a child I wanted a dog but although we had the usual run of cats, hamsters, mice and one rogue rabbit, my parents flatly refused to countenance a dog. By my early teens I'd given up nagging them, but it didn't stop my secret longing. In particular, I wanted the dog across the road, a handsome English Setter. I didn't know much about his owners - he was something in publishing and she was a journalist for the Sunday Times but my parents read the Observer so that was that - but they had this gorgeous lovely lollopy dog.

One summer I bumped into her and the dog and, in a moment of courage, offered to take him for a walk. I took him for a million walks across Barnes Common, basking in the glory of temporary ownership. I played Crufts, solemnly putting him through his paces around an imaginary showing ring, and rescue dogs, and spy dogs, and tracker dogs. I loved that dog, and spent hours on a painting of him against a background of autumn leaves as I'd run out of green paint. A few years on and I swapped dogs for boys - though dog walking was a useful ploy to spend time alone on a park bench with the object of my affection.

A few more years, and I was babysitting for the couple across the road. I now knew that she was also a writer. It was very hard work. I knew that because the room she used as her office was directly opposite my bedroom. If stuck on my homework I would stare across at her typing away. She was never stuck on her homework, always typing, always working. When it was sunny she'd take her typewriter into the garden and write in a bikini and a floppy hat, but the words still flowed. When I went round to babysit I'd be asked to supply a good name for a cat or dog in one of her books, or give information about what young people were reading or listening to. She was successful, but she worked for her success.

She wrote six novels in that office across the road, the ones called by girls names: Octavia, Prudence, Emily and so on. Then came Riders, and they left our street for a big house in the country. Now I'm a writer myself, working from a similar room, trying to put the hours in that Jilly Cooper had when I was a teenager. And as for Jilly Cooper, she's still got that painting of that daft English Setter up in her office. I like to think it brought her luck, but I suspect all that hard work had something to do with it.


Lizzie said...

That's a lovely anecdote.

I always suspected that despite her slightly ditzy (and I like ditzy) image, Jilly Cooper is extremely hardworking and professional.

The writer formerly known as Blossom – my deaf cat's name!

Sarah Duncan said...

She always called everybody darling and was charmingly vague, but worked darn hard - much more than I did with my homework!

I rather liked Blossom!