Recently I read and reviewed the book Buster: The Military Dog That Saved a Thousand Lives. It's an easy-to-read book that tells the story of Buster, a military dog who served five tours of duty – an achievement that is unparalleled by any other military canine. The story is told by Buster's handler, Will Barrow, and is written by author Isabel George. She has written four books, three of which have made the Sunday Times Best Seller List.
I had the opportunity to speak with Isabel about writing books about dogs, and it was a very interesting conversation. If you've ever had the idea for a book about dogs, there really isn't a better time to write it than right now. The pet industry is growing by leaps and bounds every year, and more people own dogs now than ever before. Isabel told me all about being an author and what it is like to write about canines.
Interview: How to Write A Book About Dogs
It seems like the first question that I always ask of my interviewees is how they got started doing what they are doing. Believe it or not, as a child Isabel's family always had cats. As an adult, her children begged her for a dog (what kid doesn't do that at some point?), and she finally gave in. They adopted a Jack Russell terrier/Fox terrier mix from the British charity Dogs Trust.
Isabel always enjoyed writing, and she's obviously a dog lover, so she hoped that the two interests would cross paths eventually. Without really noticing it, she began a collection of books and newspaper articles that all had something to do with animal heroes. She's since come to realize that this hobby came out of the many, many stories her father use to tell about animal mascots that often lived on British warships (her dad was in the Royal Navy).
What he said fascinated me and it introduced me to the bond that exists between animals and servicemen and women – especially in the dark days of war.
Isabel began her career as an author with a children's book. That seems like a much less threatening audience to me than adults. Good idea, Isabel! This first book, Animals at War: In Association With The Imperial War Museum, was written for children, and then she extended the them of animals in war when she pitched her next book for older readers.
It was decided that a book on canine war heroes might be the way to go, and the publisher was right! The Dog that Saved My Life: Incredible true stories of canine loyalty beyond all bounds was published in January 2010, and Isabel was able to share more stories of heroic dogs in Beyond The Call of Duty: Heart-warming stories of canine devotion and bravery in October 2010.
But where do the stories come from? Does she search them out? Actually, in line with her old hobby, she actually collects the stories, but of course some of them also find their way to her. That sounds so simple, but it's just the beginning of writing a book about dogs.
For her newest release, Buster – The Dog that Saved a Thousand Lives, the story itself was discovered in a national newspaper. Isabel thought it was an amazing story and Buster was such a fantastic dog – so handsome and with an incredible military bearing. She was so impressed that she contacted Flight Sergeant Will Barrow and asked him if she could tell Buster’s story.
Not only did she need Barrow's permission, but she needed the military's permission to tell the story as well. After getting the okay from both parties, they began the writing process. Although the book is about Will and Buster’s close bond, Isabel also needed to know all about the dog's past.
She needed to ask his previous handlers about their experiences, so she conducted lots of interviews with people who knew Buster and who worked with Will. She also had to do lots of background reading about the various conflicts that the pair were involved in in order to set the book in context.
Spending time with Will and Buster and speaking to the people closest to them both was the most valuable investment in the book. The laughter and tears of this story will stay with me. It was an honor to be able to work on the book with Will, and now Will has that part of Buster forever.
When you're just starting out, you need to do a lot of things on your own to help get your book in the hands of a publisher. Isabel said she had been trying for about 10 years to get her idea on animal heroes to be accepted by a publisher. When it happened in 2006, she credits a lot of it to the Imperial War Museum in London for endorsing the idea and recommending her to the publisher.
The book was launched at the opening of the Museum’s Animals in War exhibition in London, and that probably had a bit to do with the next proposal she created landing on the right desk at the right time. Isabel told me, “A lot is down to luck and never giving up.” Great words to live by for an entrepreneur.
Isabel seems to think that her job is the easy part – well maybe not the easy part, but the fun part at least! She says that as an author, the publishing and marketing are out of your hands if you work with a publishing agency. They handle the marketing for you, probably so you can get started on your next book.
When talking with Isabel I could instantly hear her passion for her work. I don't know if it's the writing or the animals that she is writing about – more than likely it's a combination of the two. If you've read any of Isabel's books, you know that her passion shines through in her writing as well.
Her newest book, called Dog Soldiers, is due to hit bookstores in the UK on January 28, 2016. It's the story of two young dog handlers that were killed, their dogs beside them, in Afghanistan. The impact of their loss is told mainly through their mothers. The boys joined the Royal Army Veterinary Corps – and so, in a way, did their families.
The stories that Isabel tells are not just of the dogs or of their handlers. They are stories of the lives of amazing heroes, both canine and human. If you enjoy reading military books, dog stories, or just inspirational literature in general, I would highly recommend one of Isabel's books.