Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy

Author Gillian McAllister spoke with K9 Magazine about life with Wendy, her adventurous Golden Retriever and shared how owning a puppy is more difficult than you might think, at least for the first few months - especially when you're writing a novel.

Gillian McAllister is a best selling author whose debut novel ‘Everything but the Truth’ hit the Sunday Times Bestseller list, paving the way for four others over the last three years, including her latest book ‘How to Disappear’.

Avid followers of Gillian’s social media accounts will have seen her beloved Golden Retriever Wendy making regular appearances.

Intrigued by Wendy’s obvious lust for life (an opinion formed after seeing her rolling around on the ground, covering herself in mud up to her armpits etc), we spoke with Gillian to find out more about life with Wendy.

Hi Gillian, thanks for your time. Tell us all about Wendy. How old is she?

Hi! She turns one on the 4th of July.

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

How did she come into your life?

Well, I had wanted a dog for probably a decade and actually, my boyfriend tasked me, at least 10 years ago, that if I did a walk every day for a year, we could get a dog.

We had a method to track it and everything. I had to take a lead so I couldn't just walk around the shops, I had to come home and get lead. It was a whole big thing.

But then I started my training as a lawyer at the end of that year, and it was just not fair to have a dog. We were both working such long hours, so we got a cat but I didn’t stop wanting a dog.

I left the law in 2018 and we moved to the country in the summer of 2019. And literally the day after we moved here, I said to my boyfriend, ‘Can we get a dog?’ and he said, ‘Yes’, so we started looking.

We started looking at rescue centres, but we weren't sure of the dogs’ backgrounds and we've got a lot of nieces and nephews, so we thought we'd get a puppy that we knew the history of and we could raise from scratch, sort of thing.

What made you choose a Golden Retriever?

We wanted a dog that was easy to train but athletic and could go for long walks because we have so many nearby.

So we found a breeder and went to just have a look as you do and ended up reserving one. As you do. We reserved her in July and she arrived in September.

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

Did you choose her name before you met her or after you got to know her?

We had a lot of debates about the name because we wanted something a bit quirky. And I don't know, to be honest, it was a completely random suggestion and it just made my boyfriend laugh.

All of the other suggestions he deemed far too weird. So we went with it. It was the only one on our list that he agreed with.

But yeah, we'd already reserved her. We were sort of desperately searching for a name and Wendy was the only one we both liked.

How does she get on with your cat?

My cat’s very alpha. He was a rescue so we think he’s about 13. But he's fine. I mean, they're not friends and he’ll assert himself when he has to do.

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

I have a dog a bit like that. He’s desperate to befriend a stray cat that lives in our garage.

She is absolutely desperate to be friends with him. She just goes up to him all the time and if he ever engages her, even slightly, when she's calmer, she just blows it and gets too excited so he then looks at her like ‘No, we’re not gonna be friends because you’re too unpredictable and you’re a bit of an idiot.’

Did you grow up around animals?

We always had cats but never dogs, so I always wanted one.

I have to say though, owning a puppy is intense. We always had multiple cats but when Wendy arrived caring for her was a lot more like caring for a baby than I thought.

Before we brought her home I thought ‘Oh this will be easy, I’ve had cats’ but actually it was like four months of intensive animal care.

Puppies are funny things. I mean, I love my dogs but for the most part, I couldn’t wait for the ones I’ve owned as puppies to get out of the puppy stage.

Yeah, the reality is you can’t do any work, they sometimes bite and they wreck your stuff (laughs).

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

I saw on your website that Wendy wasn’t very well for a while. Is she okay now?

She is, thankfully. She got ill because she was eating or drinking from the dirty streams near us when we were going out for walks basically.

Once a week, she's wouldn't eat her dinner, and then she'd have a bad stomach and then she'd be better, so it took ages to diagnose. She probably went to the vets about 10 times in November. It was awful.

And then when she'd recovered because her immune system had been lowered, she got cystitis. But she's been fine ever since. She's been very hardy since January which I'm especially glad about at the moment because vets are closed under lockdown.

How different do you think lockdown would have been without Wendy?

It would have been so different because she’s a companion as well as everything else.

Without a dog, I just don't think you would get out twice a day and go on long walks which is good for mental health, isn't it? Whether it’s sunny, windy or raining, the best bit of my day is always the dog walk.

And it's nice now that my boyfriend and I can do two walks together because we were having to do one walk each at the early days of lockdown.

I mean, my life hasn't changed that much because I work from home and I think a lot of people would say if they're in the country with a dog that their life hasn't changed too much, because what they like to do is what they are permitted to do anyway.

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

Talking of working from home, your latest book, ‘How to Disappear’ is your fifth and out next month. What made you transition from a career in law to being a full-time writer?

Well, my books became bestsellers, so I did quite publicly well. I went part-time in the law for a while and then I actually wasn't very well. I had a flare up of a long term condition, they're not really sure what it is they think it might be lupus, but I sometimes test positive and sometimes I don't so it's a big medical conundrum, but that flared up. I was trying to work probably 30 hours a week in law over three long days while trying to write a book a year too, so every day was long and I just overdid it.

Getting sick gave me the time and space to realise that I was trying to do two careers at the same time, so I just handed my notice in so I could write full time and that was almost two years ago.

I mean, I sort of wanted to do that anyway, but I think with a career like law where it's really like sort of an identity, it was hard for me to take the plunge because the income is kind of inherently insecure with fiction so it felt like a big risk even though I was earning a wage.

So it kind of took an illness for me to get my ducks in a row and really decide to do it. Looking back, I don’t think I could ever go back. I’m so lucky to be able to do my own thing every day.

Your next book is getting rave reviews, how do you find this period in between waiting for its release and it coming out? Does it make it easier to have positive feedback from fellow authors?

(Laughs) I'm not sure. I mean, my vice of choice is obsessively checking reviews every few minutes. It doesn't ever get any easier because each book is a part of yourself and you never know.

I always say I'm backstage putting the performance on and I never get to watch the performance, so you don't know that the stuff you put in your book really works.

I like to have seen about 50 reviews by the time I sort of relax which I have now and they're all mostly good so I think that's when you know it'll be okay.

No book is universally panned, I had to say that to a friend of mine recently who's worried about her book. I said every single book on Amazon gets four or five stars average, like no book you see has one star as an average.

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

So I am sort of learning to not invest all of my self worth in the novel reviews but it is hard when you put your heart and soul into something. And I also think when you also have a sort of public persona on social media for example, where people will tell you what they think of you, you just have to in some ways have a professional you and a personal version of you where you know that they don't really know you.

I’m not sure when people message you they really intend for you to read what they’ve messaged and I think authors are kind of micro-celebrities, and people don’t necessarily think that you’ll read messages that might hurt your feelings while you’re in your living room eating dinner, but I've had a few years of it now so I'm sort of a bit more used to it and a bit more jaded probably.

How is Wendy helping you through any of the usual stresses of writing and editing book number six, which I know you’ve been working on?

I think the hardest part was when we first had her because that was when I started this book. It was my first experience of doing a first draft, which you need to have a lot of headspace with peace and quiet to think about whether it's working or not, and at the time, Wendy would only sleep for about two hours a day, so during those two hours, I became ultra-productive (laughs).

Now that she's nearly one for the most part, it’s great. She resembles a sensible adult, at least for a while, so I can think about my books on our walks, which is what I always wanted. To be able to go for a ramble in the countryside with her and think about my plots and characters.

That said, she did abscond on a walk to play with another dog today. She just has no recall. We’ve read books and there's no treat we can offer her that’s more of a reward than playing with another dog if there’s one around. She’d rather play with them than us. She’s great with a clicker, but she can’t hear it outside.

So yeah, I wouldn't really recommend an eight-week-old puppy as a novel writing companion. It was a bit hairy at times and I sent my boyfriend a lot of really grumpy texts (laughs) but it’s great now. She lies at my feet all day and gets plenty of walks.

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

What is the biggest thing you’ve learnt about yourself since owning Wendy?

I think that before I would have identified as someone who likes a lot of the time to themselves to do what they want to do, and my career, it kind of facilitates that because I work for myself and all I have to do is deliver a book each year. It doesn't matter when and where I do it. So if I’m honest, I actually really surprised myself that I was able to be selfless because you have to just put them first.

I wasn't allowed to go out for coffee or even make a coffee sometimes without Wendy pulling on my jeans, so yeah, it was like a sort maternal instinct where I wanted to look after her as best as I could and I repeatedly cast aside my work and my wants to raise her, which I never would have said I really would have been able to do happily but you do, don't you, because you love them.

What do you think the dog's biggest strength is compared to man?

Probably to live in the moment. Even if she's just been sick, Wendy doesn't sit there and think about it. She's just like, 'well, that was horrible' and she moves on.

Dogs don't sit and worry about the future or think about the past as far as I can tell.

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

Are you planning a party for her birthday?

We’ve got a Whatsapp group with her six sibling's owners. None of them has any recall which makes me feel better (laughs) but I don’t think we’re going to be able to meet up by July, but who knows. I’m going to bake her a liver cake, so we'll see how that goes.

I’m a hopeless cook and the best thing about cooking for dogs is that is really doesn’t matter how it looks, or for some dogs even how it tastes, they’ll eat it anyway (laughs), which is good for the ego.

(Laughs) Good point.

Finish the following sentence, my dog is…mischievous.

And one final question, if you could ask Wendy one question and one question only, and she could answer you, what would you ask her?

I would ask her if she actually wants me to throw balls for her or if she's annoyed that she brings me her toys and I throw them across the room. It’s a common conundrum (laughs).

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy
Photo Credit: Gillian McAllister

I hope she would say she likes fetching them but you never know, do you? I sometimes think she brings me that and then she looks at me like ‘Why don't you just go and get it?’.

My boyfriend said to me the other day as we were leaving for a dog walk ‘I wonder if she just thinks we like walks? Like, she doesn’t know we’re going for her, she just thinks she’s accompanying us?’.

Many thanks, Gillian!

K9 Magazine’s Thanks Go To…

Thank you to Pet Munchies for sending Wendy a bundle of their natural dog treats.

Me & My Dog: Gillian McAllister & Wendy

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