Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Dog Den Mystery (Jack Russell: Dog Detective #1)

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. That's Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist.

Dog Den Mystery (Jack Russell: Dog Detective #1) Post 18

Jack Russell: Dog Detective was born from a remark my husband Darrel made when we were out walking our dogs, Ace and Tess sometime in 2004. The first book, Dog Den Mystery, came out in 2005.

Tess was an odd little black and white dog, a rather fey Jack Russell. Ace was younger, a Jack Russell of great character and inventiveness. When we were walking, Tess simply trotted straight ahead, but Ace used to peer around all over the place, including up int the trees. My husband said, "She's a real little detective". We started talking about how a dog detective would function, and by the time we finished our walk we'd worked out a whole scenario for a children's book series.

We decided to make the main character and narrator a Jack Russell, modelled on our Ace. Because we wanted to use puns and jokes centred on the name, we made our hero male, and named him Jack. We decided he would belong to a policeman, from whom he'd have picked up information about how to run an investigation. Jack's owner, or landlord, as Jack styles him, is named Sergeant Russell, known familiarly as "Sarge". Thus Jack's name is Jack Russell as well as him being one. Jack is smart, confident, inventive and curious, just like our Ace. 

We filled out the character portfolio with Auntie Tidge, Miss Russell, who is Sarge's aunt. She is loving and provides a softening influence on Sarge and Jack. It is Auntie Tidge who adopts the cranky street dog Foxie, who is the subject of Jack's first case in Doggeroo, the country town to which Sarge is transferred in the beginning of the book. Foxie was modelled on Tess. Two more characters who play a large part in proceedings are Caterina Smith, a local woman who makes friends with Sarge and her pedigreed setter, known as Lord Red. Red is a feather-brained aristocrat, but he proves a loyal friend. More characters join the cast as the series progresses.

We had a few firm ideas for the series. 

One was that would be no major child character. This decision was made because we needed Jack to be the point of view character, and the one with whom young readers would associate themselves. 

Then, Jack and his friends would investigate only crimes or mysteries that would be in legitimate interest to dogs. 

Jack and his friends would have dog capabilities. They would speak among themselves, but their communication with humans would be limited to what real dogs can do. 

The fourth decision was that the stories would be set a few decades in our past. Jack, being a dog, would have no concept of dates, or map references, or money. Therefore the decade is not important. What is important, although it's never started explicitly in any of the books, is that Jack cannot live in a world of compulsory microchips, strict dog control laws or high volume traffic. This is not the remote past; Dog Control Officer "Ranger Jack" does disapprove of dogs running riot, but he's more likely to take them back to their owners than to put them in the pound. Sarge does shut Jack in his yard, but he's not too fussed if Jack gets out and trots off down to the river in search of clues. Caterina Smith does get ruffled when Lord Red disappears through the tunnel under the fence, and barely a book goes by without her indignant cried of "Lordie, Lordddddieeee!" ringing through Doggaroo. We never consciously decided on a decade; it's sufficient to say Sarge drives a car, Jack knows all about terrier-phones (as he calls them) and trains, but mobiles, laptops and GPS simply don't exist in Doggeroo.

Jack follows up clues, formulates theories, and manoeuvres his friends into acting as his back-up squad. He tells his story to readers in a straight-forward manner, but employs Jack-Talk, which includes dog puns, (especially terrier puns) and Jack's Facts. He makes nose maps, and often gets distracted by the idea of treats, rabbits, or Fat Molly the cat from the library.

In this first book, Jack is around two years old; a young adult dog. Sarge is a bachelor who is probably in his thirties, while Auntie Tidge is middle-aged.

We wrote up a proposal for the series and four months later it was picked up by an editor, who commissioned us to write the first four books.

Book #1, Dog Den Mystery was popular from the start with young readers, and also appealed to adult dog lovers and parents, teachers and librarians, many of whom credit Jack and his friends with bringing reading enjoyment to previously uninterested readers. He is also credited by many of our correspondents with giving young readers an impression or animals as beings with real feelings, real intelligence and their own codes of behaviour and expectation.

It was published overseas in the UK, US, and Canada, and went into French and audio editions. The illustrator, commissioned by the publisher, provided a public face for Jack and his mates and her pictures form a great part of his appeal. The UK edition is called Dognapped which has confused a few readers, and has a cartoon cover rather than the photographic cover on the other editions.

If you want to know more about this series, check out

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