Saturday, 2 August 2014

Game of Seven: The Two Dogs

The 'Game of Seven' seems to be the latest craze among
literary bloggers, and it's quite fun.
          The idea is that you take your work in progress, go to the seventh page, count seven lines down, and then quote the next seven lines (more or less.)
          So here goes:-

            “You stay there,” Mrs. Thomson said, “until my husband gets home. He’ll know what to do with you.”
            Mind that she did not ask me into the kitchen. I was to stand in the yard until her husband came home, and he would know what to do with me – as if I was some new tool. I was to stand outside and eat in the yard, like the rest of the farm’s livestock. I was not good enough to step into the kitchen.
           That was the start of the worst time of my life. I had hard times in later years: hard living and hard work. But there has never yet been a time worse than that.

          This isn't exactly a work-in-progress. It's more a work-with-agent.
         The narrator is Sandy and, at the age of 10, he had just been bonded, by his mother, to work for the Thomsons until he is twenty-one.
          The book tells the story of his mistreatment, and how he runs away to home. His mother orders him back to the farm. She doesn't have the money to repay his bond.
           But the bad treatment grows worse, so Sandy runs away. He is breaking his bond, and has also taken carrots and oats from the stable, so he has stolen food too. He knows that he could be hung for theft, if caught.
Wikimedia Commons: Jean-Louis Petermann
           He falls in with two drove dogs, who provide protection and company. They are making their way home, alone, after the end of a drove. Sandy, with nowhere else to go, decides to follow the dogs to wherever they're going. Together with the dogs, he walks across Scotland to its West coast - and then follows the dogs further, to the Hebrides.
         Secretly he hopes that the dogs will lead him to a new home, even though he mistrusts everyone.

           A few publishers have already seen it and rejected it. The consensus seems to be that the story is too slow, and too old-fashioned. The fact that it's being told by a man to his children, makes it less exciting.
        They're right - and publishing is a business, and there's no reason why they should publish something they don't think will sell and make them a profit. But I had to write the story as I felt it should be.
          As I worked on it, I considered, and rejected, ways to make the story more exciting. I could have had the boy hotly pursued by the authorities, or vengefully pursued by the farmer - but I didn't feel that either would be realistic, or historically accurate.

          At the time the story is set - roughly 1800 - there was no official police force. To have the boy hunted and arrested, the authorities in each district would have to have been contacted, with a description, by letter. They would then have had to consider it worth the time and effort to search for, and arrest, a ten year old boy. Even if this had been done, I couldn't imagine the hunt being pursued with enough vigour to make the story exciting.
          To lead the hunt himself, the farmer would have had to leave the work of his farm - even though he has little idea of where the boy has gone - and ride for miles, asking for him. I thought it more likely that the farmer would go to the boy's home and, if he didn't find him there, would make a few local enquiries, and then give up. (The farmer does reappear, vengefully, towards the end of the book.)
Not a keeper...
         For me, the story is not about a chase, and whether or not the boy will be caught. It's about resilience. It's also about getting up and walking away from a bad situation - about having to courage to gamble that the devil you don't know may be better than the devil you do. (I've never been convinced by the view that just because a devil is familiar, you should stick by him. Go and find another.)
         It's about the young hero coming to the realisation that just because these people have treated him badly, it doesn't mean that all people will always do so (which is a notion that traps many adults in misery, so a lesson worth learning early, I think.)
       Here, the boy is trudging through the hills above Oban, when he hears the hoofbeats of ponies coming up behind him.
'The Handsome Drover' by Heywood Hardy

     I glanced back and saw a couple of men coming along on two tough little ponies. By their clothes, I thought them drovers, on their way home from market...
     Not so long before, I would have run from the path and hidden from those men, but now I was bolder. I turned back to my road, taking no notice of the riders.
     I thought they would go by, taking no more notice of me than I took of them. Instead they came up beside me, and slowed. The nearest rider spoke to me, in Gaelic. It meant no more to me than the bird twitter all around.
     I looked up and saw a man looking down at me from the pony’s back. He wore a thick tweed coat, and a tweed cap pulled down low, and a bright red scarf wrapped around his neck.. all sparkling with drops of rain caught on the wool. His beard and moustache were thick and curly, both grey and dark, so I couldn’t see much of his face, except for his blue eyes and big yellowish teeth.
     I looked away and carried on walking. I thought he would think me dumb or stupid. I thought he would soon be tired of yapping at me in Gaelic, and would kick up his pony and ride on.
     Instead, after waiting a while for an answer, he said, in English, “The laddie with the doggies!"
     I looked up in surprise then.
     He laughed, and coughed, with deep, rumbling sounds. "Aha!" he said. "English! Everywhere we hear tell of the laddie with the doggies."
     I wanted to run away and hide then. I felt caught out, and trapped. But we were in a steep-sided gulley and they were on horses. I wouldn’t be able to run far before they caught me.
     "Don't you run, don't run!" said the man with the red scarf. "Look at doggies!"
     I did. Spot and Patch were trotting alongside me, but they were looking up at the men on the horses. Their tongues hung out over their teeth, and their tails wagged.
     “The doggies ken us well,” said Red Scarf. “We ken the man of them."
     The other man had a pipe in his mouth. He laughed around it, and it wagged as he said, “That we do!”
     “You know their owner?” I said.
     Red Scarf laughed. "You can talk, so you can! Aye, I
'Waiting for Master' - by Edward Robert Smythe
ken their owner. He’s cried Lachlan Maclean... What might you be cried, laddie?”
     “None of your business,” I said.
     "A strange name for a laddie," Red Scarf said. “Hector, have ever you heard of a laddie called ‘None Of Your Business’ before now?”
     The man with the pipe laughed, and I scowled at them both, my shoulders hunched up and my bottom lip stuck out.
     Red Scarf’s pony still plodded beside me. "Is it that Lachlan’s doggies have looked after you well, None Of Your Business?”
     Oh, how I hated him. "I have no stolen them!" I said. Those dogs were worth far more than the oats and carrots and sacks I had stolen. I would have been hung three times over for stealing them.
     "No, no, indeed," he said. "We never thought you had stolen them. We were wondering if, maybe, the doggies had stolen you?"
     His pipe-smoking friend laughed again.
     I could think of nothing to say, but trudged on in silence, refusing to look at them. If I ignored them, I thought, they would be bored and would ride past.
     But they let their horses slow to a dawdle. I looked up and was startled to find Red Scarf watching me. His eyes were very blue among his brown wrinkles.
     "You must leave them thieving doggies," Red Scarf said. "They will lead you into bad ways." He drew up his horse. I saw that another track joined ours just at that place. It led away downhill. “We go this way, None Of Your Business,” Red Scarf said. “We are going to pay a visit to my sister who married a man from here. Leave them bad, thieving doggies to tend their own business and come along with us. My sister will stuff you like a goose for Christmas."

     That was a wonderful, tempting thought. Food and plenty of it – and a warm, dry place to sleep. I hesitated, I admit.
     But no doubt this man’s sister would be glad of a boy she could set to work, and feed on scraps, and belt for no reason at all.
     "Come on lad!" Red Scarf said, and Pipe-Smoker laughed again.
     I looked at Spot and Patch. They were trotting away down the main track. They were clever — they knew which way I should be going. Spot looked over his shoulder at me... I turned my back on the riders and walked after the dogs.
     "Lad!" Red Scarf called after me.
     I turned and walked backwards, so I could keep an eye on him, and run away if he came after me.
     "Lad." He made his pony walk towards me. “One night in a house will no hurt."
     Spot and Patch came trotting back to me. They sat down beside me, but Spot looked from me to the main track, making it very clear that he wanted to be getting on. "Clear off,” I said to Red Scarf. I told you, in those days, I was a hard little nut. I hadn’t any manners.
     Red Scarf nodded to himself and felt in the pocket at his belt. He took out a coin and offered it to me, leaning down from his saddle.
     “I don’t want your money,” I said. I knew that people always want something in return when they give you money...
     "I was not giving the money to you," he said. "It's for the doggies." He threw the coin and it landed on the hard trodden earth of the track. Both dogs trotted over and sniffed at it, as if they really thought it was meant for them.
     "Be so kind as to look after it for them,” Red Scarf said. “God go with you. I will look for you in — " He said something that I didn’t understand — but I didn’t think I would ever see him again, so it didn’t matter.
          My agent says there are a few publishers to see the book yet, before we give up. But it's quite possible that I shall be publishing it myself.
'The Shepherd's dog' by Howitt
     Anyone interested in the old droving trade, or in Border Collies, might enjoy this site - The Border Collie Museum


madwippitt said...

Pffft! I HATE the game of sevens. It gives you a snippet, and then just as you are ready for more, stops. Because it is a WiP you can't buy it and read the rest. It's like going to a restaurant, getting a gorgeous starter, and then being thrown out before you get the chance to even run your tongue over the main course. Fie on Games of Sevens: it should be banned!

Susan Price said...

I've just bought a copy of your latst book, though, Mad - The Five Pound Pony. Wonderful cover! I'm looking forward to reading it.

Joan Lennon said...

I love the drover story and wish it a good home, sooner rather than later!

Anonymous said...

Me too, me too - I love the story - hope it finds a publisher soon!

Judith Key

Susan Price said...

Thanks Judith! - How are things going with you?