Way back when, in the time before Covid-19, I used to house sit. When I wrote The Secretary and the Ghost, I was house-sitting in remote North Canterbury, on a house that was off a gravel road. I could not see any other houses from this farmhouse. My views were of farmland, hills and ocean. It was beautiful, but the isolation was real.
My companion for this housesit was Birdie, a very, very good dog. She took me for walks every day and for the majority of that house sit, she was the only company I had. When the time came to publish The Secretary and the Ghost, it made sense to dedicate it to Birdie.
At that time, I’d just completed writing The Mystery of Brackenwell Hall, while housesitting a very different house—containing three very individual cats. Again, it made sense to dedicate the book to them. By the time The Well-dressed Werewolf came out, I had moved on to another house and three new cats. A trend had been born.
All of the animals I’ve met through house-sitting have been characters. Poppy the psychopath kitten. Bindi, the world’s gentlest, most patient dog. Harry, the miniature German Shephard with discerning taste in music. I have stories to tell about all of these pets, but when I was writing The Collector, only one dog came to mind: Tui, the miniature Jack Russel who has been part of our family since 2003.
There was not supposed to be a dog in The Collector. One of my pet peeves in books is animals who don’t act like animals. The dog who is super well behaved. The cat who doesn’t climb on to your pillow in the middle of the night and hack cough next to your ear until you’re convinced he’s dying. Who sits beside the door he’s just begged you to open for the last ten minutes, deciding if he really wants to go outside. I have very high standards for animals in books, high enough that I didn’t want to write one myself.
Cleo had her own ideas about this. She showed up in chapter three and immediately established her dominance over the plot and Gideon. It took her until late in the book to acquire a name, but she knew she was in charge—just like Tui.
Tui arrived while I was living in Japan. We had two dogs, both elderly, who had died within a couple of months of each other. My granddad came to a decision. No more dogs. It was just too hard to say goodbye to them.
That Christmas, my cousin, working as a shepherd in the North Island, came home for Christmas, bringing his thirteen working dogs, his pet dog, and a puppy with him. He put the puppy in Granddad’s lap. “What’s this?” demanded Granddad. “No more dogs!”
“Just hold her for a bit,” my cousin said. He told Granddad that the puppy was the runt of her litter, so much smaller than her siblings. No one wanted her. The puppy snuggled up to granddad and fell asleep. She stayed on his lap for the rest of the day, granddad quietly stroking her. At the end of the afternoon, he turned to my grandma and said “We can’t let this puppy go unloved.” Tui must have known that it was Granddad’s decision to keep her. She loves the rest of us, but she was always Granddad’s dog.
At this time, I really wanted a cat. Japanese landlords tend to be really strict about no pets, and I was really starved of animal companionship. I told Mum I was planning to get a cat when I got home from Japan, and she said “Mm, wait until you get home and then we’ll discuss it.” When I arrived back in New Zealand, I was not impressed to find a small dog already in residence. “She’s like a cat,” Mum assured me.
Like a cat? I was not convinced. I soon discovered that Tui combined the best traits of a cat and a dog. She liked to cuddle and would snuggle up on your lap or beside you, but she would also go for walks. Tui won me over within days. I was the person who walked her, so I became a favourite. She liked to sleep in my bed at night and hung out with me during the day. However, a large portion of her day was always spent with Granddad. He was not very mobile at this time, finding it increasingly harder and harder to get around. He spent a lot of time dozing in his chair or watching the world go past from the living room windows. Tui would curl up beside him on his chair, watching with him, or doze on his lap.
When I returned to Japan, Tui hunted for me in my bedroom and around the house for days. She gave me a huge welcome whenever I returned home for holidays, but gradually transferred her affections to my stepdad, who walked her and played with her, always spending a good chunk of time minding Granddad. When he passed, Grandma, who had always been something of an afterthought for Tui, suddenly became her new best friend—it was like she knew Grandma most needed companionship.
She’s now Grandma’s dog, and, as I write this, is curled up in her basket at Grandma’s feet, as Grandma sits in her chair, reading the newspaper. She has become quite fussy in her old age. She is very selective about her food, and doesn’t hesitate to walk away from her bowl if she doesn’t like what we’ve given her. The dog sausage that she ate three helpings of one day, she will leave the next. She is a little diva, even if she is grey around the muzzle—exactly what Gideon needs in his life.
No one escapes the Collector.
All Gideon Lawes has left is his scrupulous honesty. Employed to investigate a supposedly haunted house, Gideon vows to uncover the secrets of 32 Belcairn Road. But he gets more than he bargains for in the form of the Collector, a spirit relentlessly pursuing an unpaid debt.
Drawn by chance into the lives of cheerfully generous Fairweather and darkly ironic Holford, Gideon discovers things about himself he never imagined. With the Collector closing in, Gideon must choose between destroying the friendship he values most or sacrificing his self-respect for a lie. Whatever Gideon chooses, the Collector will claim another victim.
The Collector is book nine in the Read by Candlelight series of gothic novellas wearing paranormal suspense and mystery around an evolving ensemble cast. Pour yourself a strong cup of tea and pick up The Collector today.