For me, walking has always had a therapeutic quality. Even when the weather’s out to get you - cold, wet and blustery - when the wind brings tears to your eyes and you can barely move your feet through a sea of mud. Even then, the process of wrapping up against the elements, leaving the house and heading for the countryside (or a park, or a quiet lane) is in itself, I believe, good therapy for an overcrowded mind. There’s something about putting one foot in front of the other, even if you’re plodding along with your hood pulled up over your head and your eyes on the ground, which helps the mood.
And if you add good weather, the countryside, wildlife, birdsong and air untainted by diesel fumes – then even better. Nothing raises the spirits as gently.
Except, of course, the presence of a canine friend or two. The unbridled, unselfconscious enthusiasm of a small dog on a daily walk, the excitement of seeing another dog - or quite often, just another human - repeats itself daily. Same place, new smells, sounds, dogs, people. Cats and birds. Squirrels! Such delight in the routine. It’s infectious.
It was on one of my daily walks by the Thames – I’m lucky I can get there in less than ten minutes – that the idea of walking as therapy struck me as a good theme for a novel. Well, possibly - but what then? The diary of a dog-walker? Fine – but one-dimensional, repetitive and tough to sustain a reader’s interest.
You can probably imagine where I went next. Why would my protagonist need therapy? Was there something in her past which needed to be resolved? It went from there. I wanted to explore the idea of a dog, and walking, helping to bring someone back from the brink, creating a new, safer world for that person. So that’s where Dare to Remember began. It went through two working titles, some interesting critical discussions with my writing group and many drafts before I felt that it succeeded in doing what it was supposed to.
It’s when I walk the dogs that I wrestle with the twists and turns of a plot that won’t settle down at my desk, or the traits of a character who just doesn’t seem quite real. Sometimes the walking just clears the mind; sometimes it offers the creative jolt that a new story (or a stuck story) needs. Almost always I return with a sense of purpose as well as muddy boots and pawprints in my hall.