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A Word or Two About Animals

Just like my character, Ange, I have always had a deep and abiding love of animals, and the world of nature.

I grew up watching programs about animals on television – wildlife shows, David Attenborough documentaries, and shows like A Country Practice and All Creatures Great & Small, which almost convinced me to pursue a career as a vet – until I realised I probably wouldn’t be adept at handling the emotional side of the business.

The first animals I was introduced to as a small child were cats. Mum always had cats – a ‘house’ cat, who lived indoors with us, one or two ‘outside’ cats, and for many years, a cattery where she bred Himalayan and Persian cats for cat shows.

They always struck me as beautiful, graceful creatures, with strong personalities and a great capacity for love. We seldom had any cats that were bad tempered or aggressive – there were one or two over the years, but most were very loving and sweet.

As a child – and an only child at that – I often thought that mum lavished far more care and attention on these animals than I ever got, and I remember sometimes being jealous of the time and energy she spent on them in comparison to what I felt to be the rather strict and authoritarian regime of child-rearing my mother engaged in with me.

My rebellious side came out for a while in my wish for a dog – my very own pet to keep me company when I played outside, to tell my secrets to and to lavish my own affection on. We did have a dog for a while, but when I found he wasn’t terribly interested in my company or affection, and didn’t care to be trained, I was a bit disappointed.

Of course, living out in the country meant there was always livestock around. One of my happiest early memories is of dad’s Jersey cows. He had two milkers, and he would tie up the one he was going to milk, and then put me up on her back while he sat on the stool and got busy filling the bucket. I remember how soft and warm the cow’s hide was, and the sweet smell of her as she stood patiently and chewed her cud.

But it was horses that interested me the most when I was younger. I was a horse-mad girl, and couldn’t wait to have a horse of my own and learn to ride. My parents took what seemed to me a distressingly long time to comply, waiting until they considered me old enough and responsible enough to understand what it meant to care for a horse and stay safe around it.

There had always been horses in our paddock. Being a rural area, just about everyone around us had horses. And in my father’s job as a country policeman, there were many occasions that called for their use – especially when old folk wandered off into the scrub surrounding the nursing home just to the east of Westwood.

I loved my pony to bits, and learned to ride on him. However, he found this imposition on his otherwise leisurely lifestyle intolerable, and often staunchly refused to co-operate. He soon worked out all the little tricks that some horses develop for making my riding time uncomfortable – making me chase him for ages just to catch him, trying to brush me off underneath low tree branches, or to graze my leg against the barbed wire fences. I could rarely even mount without him sneakily nipping me on the backside once my foot was in the stirrup!

Author at 13, with her pony Prince

Still, he was mine and I loved him. Determined and headstrong as he was, I persevered with him (to little avail) until we were forced to find him a new home in my mid-teens. I missed him terribly, but as I grew older, and got used to living in town, I found myself happy to live with just cats for company.

And so began a progression of much loved and cherished feline companions over the years. Each a very special and unique individual in their own way. Not only that, but I also do some professional pet-minding in my town from time to time, and enjoy meeting new pets and looking after them when their parents – er, owners – are out of town.

But… what has this got to do with my writing?

Well, besides the fact that I usually have a cat keeping me company whilst I’m busy plotting, planning, researching and creating…

The idea to give Ange a career dealing with animals came to me early on. I figured that, as she certainly wasn’t a people person, she wouldn’t consider a career path in customer service – or anything where she would have to deal with people very much. So I therefore always had the idea that she might work with animals instead.

I also felt that she was an intellectual, and would have gone to university to further her education. And so it seemed natural that she would work in a professional setting such as a veterinary practice. Women were vets long before the 1960’s, although a minority at the time of this story, and I could easily imagine her doing whatever was required to become one – years of university study and placement, working a part-time job to pay her way, starting out as a junior veterinary nurse in her first job, and then learning the ropes in the workplace.

Another factor was that Ange would have a special rapport with animals – one of those people who animals instinctively trusted and was able to calm them and handle them easily – a talent that I would dearly love to have (even though I usually get on quite well with most animals).

It seemed to me that a person like that might be interested in pursuing a more specialised area of work. So at the beginning of the story, Ange is considering going back to university to study ethology – which is a branch of zoology concerned specifically with animal behaviour.

It makes sense, right? After all, Ange is intelligent, and has far more empathy for animals than she has for humans. In fact, this is one of the areas in which she must learn and grow to fulfil her mission during the story – to better relate to people and how to serve them with their best interests at heart.

In the end, Ange’s journey forces her to open her mind and her heart to many new possibilities – lessons she must learn very thoroughly to become the goddess she is destined to be.

Keep a smile on your dial until next time, and peace and love in your heart

From Lana Lea and her time-travelling muse

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