Writing and Reading

Who’s the Top Dog?

Please welcome the multi-genre best-selling author Jean Gill. I love Jean’s historical novels, the Troubadours Quartet. But am excited to hear that her wonderful dog story ‘Someone To Look Up To: (a dog’s search for love and understanding)’ is currently the number one best seller in its category on Amazon. I’ve asked Jean to give us an insight into her life in France and how she became a best-seller.
Over to you Jean.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

Thank you, Deb! I’m a Welsh writer and photographer now living in the south of France with a big white dog, a scruffy black dog, a Nikon D750 and a man. We escaped the rain in 2003 when my husband retired. I wanted to write full-time after having taught English in Wales for many years. My claim to fame is that I was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Wales. I’m also mother or stepmother to five children so life was very hectic.

Have you always loved dogs?

I joined the P.D.S.A. (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) when I was seven. I knitted blankets for dogs and nagged my parents for one (with no luck, as we moved house and country too often). As an adult, the moment I was in a house with a garden, I adopted a dog advertised in the local paper as ‘deaf Pyrenean puppy needs re-homing’. So I think that’s a ‘yes’. 😊

How did you become a dog trainer?

When we moved to France, I joined French dog forums to meet other fans of the Great Pyrenees breed. We’d been owned by four of them and were discussing whether to start the great adventure once again. Training was often discussed on the forums and somebody recommended Michel Hasbrouck’s bestseller Dressage Tendresse so I read it and it all made sense to me.

Jean with Bétel learning to swim

I contacted Michel to ask whether he knew of a similar book in English for my friends, and he said, ‘Why don’t you translate it for me?’ So I did, and we found a publisher to bring out Gentle Dog Training. Michel and I became friends, and worked together to support dog-owners online, offering them his Dogmaster training.

When we welcomed two Great Pyrenees puppies into the family, I took the first one, Blanche, to Michel in Switzerland, for two days intensive training (of me, not of the dog). We always joked that she’d been to Swiss Finishing School.

A few years later, after we’d worked together online, I went back to train as a dog-trainer and passed the weekend’s challenges – like most experts, Michel is exacting. I wanted to continue but life threw me a curve ball. My husband needed an emergency appendectomy and I faced the fact that, in my fifties, I couldn’t take on all these new careers, or I’d explode.

I trained as a beekeeper instead and I did learn enough from Michel to feel confident in dealing with whatever problems my own dogs present. That has been a life-saver.

Is the book fiction or faction?

Faction. All the stories in the book are true, based on some of the thousands of true stories I came across on forums and in my work with Michel. They did not all happen to the same dog but I shaped them to make an adventure from the dog’s viewpoint, to show both the mistakes we humans make and the love we could find.

And your characters, are they based on real people/dogs?

The character of Sirius owes a lot to my own dog Bételgeuse, who had a sense of justice as big as his heart. His sister Snow is very like my Blanche-Neige, feisty and playful. Some of the anecdotes in the book are from my own life with dogs. Blanche really did steal a whole slab of Beaufort cheese and sat there with her cheeks hamsterful, jaws glued together, until I noticed and rescued her.

Unfortunately, the macho attitude to dog-training is also drawn from life and I well remember one man, a doctor by profession, bragging about how he disciplined his Great Pyrenees.

As for animal shelters: yes, there are indeed some like this, with these types of people working there. We have adopted three dogs from French shelters, since I wrote the book, and life matched fiction far too well.

Any advice for new dog owners? (My husband and I are looking to adopt our first dog from a rescue centre).

The great adventure begins! Advice is not a one-off as the more you learn, the more you’ll understand. Read Someone To Look Up To – of course! I’ve blogged about dog adoption too, with some advice here

And in my book One Sixth of a Gill which is available free to those who sign up for my newsletter.

Top Tips

Choosing – talk to the shelter workers about what sort of life you are offering the dog and listen to their recommendations. Don’t let pity rule you. Don’t choose a dog with health problems. Don’t choose a scared dog. Especially if you are new to dog adoption, you want to lessen your chance of dealing with aggression. Don’t worry if the dog is more interested in rushing along the lane on a test walk than he/she is in you – shelter dogs have to make the most of the tiny amount of time they have outside a cage.


If you can, make the journey from shelter to your home a chance for you to talk to your dog, to stroke him, to give him some dog treats, (if he likes them). Let him have an old cardigan with your smell on it. This is where the relationship begins. You can use a dog crate with the cardigan and some treats in it, especially if travelling alone. Make sure you have a collar with your contact on it, to put on the dog – dogs get lost by escaping at this stage!

Jean’s current dogs – Sherlock and Watson

Jean with Betel


Make time to be with your dog for at least the first 2 days and ban all your friends and neighbours from the house. Your dog has enough to deal with! Establish a routine to make the dog feel secure; a place to sleep, a place for food and routine times for going outside. DON’T let the dog off-lead anywhere that’s not fenced, for at least 2 months and even then, test that the recall can be trusted. If not, DON’T take a risk. It is normal for a dog to try to escape, even to go back to a horrible shelter. Your dog has to learn that this is home.

When your dog is lying peacefully, doing nothing wrong, praise him in a purring voice. Tell him he’s beautiful. Love him with your voice. Ditto when he does something you want to encourage.

NEVER ask your dog to do something unless you can enforce it. You are teaching disobedience and disrespect.


Ask for help if you need it, from a trusted dog trainer who never recommends hitting or shouting.

I could write a book on it! But of course I have. As has Michel.

What other books do you write?

I’ve written nineteen books, including medieval historical fiction (the award-winning Troubadours Quartet), memoir, non-fiction, Young Adult and poetry.

What is your next project?

I don’t know! I have several photography projects, including a shoot in a smithy with a master craftsman who’s going to make me a Damascene steel knife. My bees will wake up in the next couple of months. I am working on Watson’s vélophobie – he goes bonkers when he sees a bicycle. I can only guess at what happened in his life before us – he was dumped twice at the shelter. But I don’t know what I’m going to write next. Input from my readers will influence my choice as I have drawerfuls of ideas and don’t know what to choose. What do you think I should write next?

Thanks for sharing Jean and for your top training tips. I’m popping over to Amazon now to check out your other books.

As for your next writing project. I know your readers would love another historical fiction series or how about some cozy mysteries involving a bee-keeping amateur detective?

Check out the links below if you want to contact Jean Gill or would like to know more about her books.

IPPY Award for Best Author Website



The Troubadours Page

Youtube book trailers


25 Book Banter with Deb McEwan

My recent post on Indie Book Banter – thanks guys. x

Inspired by Ants

I was sitting in the garden, chilling after a long walk and wondering what to write next.

I probably should have started book three in my ‘Aliens’ series. Ideas were swirling round in my head but nothing tangible yet. I saw movement on the ground and looked down. An army of ants were going about their business. Some headed in my direction. As one neared my foot I lifted my thumb to squish it, then hesitated as I had a fleeting thought. Looking up to the sky I wondered if anyone up there was poised to ruin the day or life of an innocent human who had taken a wrong turn, or perhaps found themselves caught up in one drama or another.

ants1-1730011_1920This got me thinking about death, religion, the afterlife and the eternal battle of good versus evil. I left the garden and started writing straight away. And the ant? He or she lived to fight another day. Not so the many others who pushed their luck and moved into the house shortly after. No mercy was shown to this lot.

ant_on_thumbMy Afterlife series is about the eternal fight of good against evil. I wanted the good guys to win but it wasn’t always easy and that doesn’t reflect real life, unfortunately. I believe in reincarnation and have always liked the idea of Karma with the hope that we reap what we sow. When some of my baddies got their just desserts it was important that they felt the pain they’d inflicted on their victims. My overactive imagination was a great help in this process. I spent some time wondering what would be really horrible but plausible (to my story) and took it from there.

When you’re dealing with the afterlife, heaven, hell or whatever you like to call it, almost anything is possible.

In this series, when there is absolutely no doubt, the really bad souls are taken to the dark, merciless world of cruelty and demons. They either serve their masters or are subjected to pain for the amusement of the demons – sometimes both. When their masters tire of them, they are returned to earth in various guises to suffer extreme levels of humiliation, pain and degradation. If they’re lucky, those in charge may return these souls to earth as humans, to carry out their evil.

This is why the innocent suffer.

Blog 1 pic 3

Where there is doubt, the final destination isn’t so simple.

That’s the situation in which Claire finds herself and more about this next time.



Best Book Cover Contest Winner

BEST BOOK COVER WINNER 2017Over the moon to be the winner of Ultimate Fantasy Books Best Book Cover Contest 2017. The fantastic cover was designed by the multi-talented Jessica Bell. Big thanks to my friends, and friends of friends, for getting me through to the final.

My ‘Beyond Death’ blog tour runs from 22 May to 2 June. Click here Beyond Death Blog Tour to discover more or here Headtalker Beyond Death Book Tour to support the tour. Let me know if you have any questions and I hope to see you there.

Beyond Death Banner



Dearest People Parents(8)

Dearest People Parents,

The stress of the past few weeks finally caught up with me on Wednesday. The endless stream of visitors arriving empty handed and leaving with some of our cherished items over the past month or so has been very unsettling. But, if that wasn’t enough, seeing your cases dragged along Molly’s driveway and the hidden tears as you said your goodbyes just about finished me off. I’m not being overly dramatic when I tell you that your departure left me totally and utterly devastated. Neither Scruffy nor Molly could cheer me up as I watched Allan’s car depart. Not only were you both leaving me, but you were also taking my foster folks!

Empty Room
As soon as the car disappeared from sight I turned to food for comfort and ate as many treats as Molly would allow. Feeling both physically and emotionally yucky I then lay down to contemplate what was to become of me.


It seemed like an age later that Scruffy alerted me to the sound of an engine in the distance. I hoped with all my heart that you had returned to me, but alas not. Still, Allan and Deb walked in and it was great to see them both. They drove me to their home and eventually I settled in – I must admit that it took a few more treats and kind words before I started to feel anything like my old self.

And then I remembered!

I could have kicked myself. You told me a few weeks ago that we were going to live in Spain but that you were going to Victoria’s graduation first. I would follow a week later and you would meet me at the airport. With all the hassle of the last month, I totally forgot! So, as much as I’m having fun with the foster folks, I’m really looking forward to seeing you both next Wednesday. I must admit that I’m not looking forward to the flight but then I’m no different to lots of other nervous fliers. I hope you’ve arranged for the vet to give me a little something to help me sleep because unlike you Daddy Derek, I can’t have a few pints before I board. Or can I?

Donut and the plane

And talking about a little something, I’m looking forward to being spoiled rotten when I arrive in Spain – remember you said you’d make it up to me?

I’m off to do some cycling now to work off those extra calories from yesterday. Have fun at Victoria’s graduation and give her a big sloppy kiss from me.


Hasta la vista to my very favourite people parents, until next Wednesday when we all begin our new adventure. x

Donut’s on the Move (7)

Hola amigos. Remember I told you last time that we’re on the move? Well, they’ve had that little chat with Kara and I and if you haven’t already guessed, we’re off to Spain next month. But before I share my thoughts on this, I just have to tell you about my latest dating experience.

Donut and Derek

I know I said I was committed to singledom after a string of dating disasters, but that changed when I received a message out of the blue from a cute-looking spaniel. What did it for me was the uniform. She said she was a major and looked so good in her little combat jacket, so I agreed to a date. She was good company but very hyper – aren’t all spaniels? She told me she worked as a sniffer dog but wouldn’t go into any details when I asked questions. How exciting! I can’t say there was a massive spark but I was seduced by the romance of a lady in uniform with such an exciting sounding job, so agreed to a second date. Anyway, the following day I received a pm from her partner for life (his words not mine). It turns out she’s actually unemployed and has never even been in the military! He says she has issues (really?). We had a bit of a blokie chat and actually got on quite well. Poor dog, he obviously adores her but I don’t think she’s any good for him. Close shave for me though.

Anyway, back to the move. Not yet sure how I feel about it but I’ve decided to go along with it. A change is as good as a rest and all that. The cat has been a bit chilled over the last few months, due to finding a couple of mates to hang out with. But she’s back to her old paranoid self since the news of the move. She doesn’t like change and now she knows we have to fly, she’s doing my head in. ‘What if we crash? What if it gets hijacked? What if I’m air sick?’ She says all this while pacing about and has taken to crossing herself with her front right paw. She also looks upwards as if waiting for some sort of heavenly intervention – I think she’s turning into a born again something or other but am not quite sure what.

Donut and Kara

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly cool about being propelled into the air at 150 miles an hour or so, but having done a little research, flying still seems to be the safest way to travel (isn’t Google wonderful?) And, between you and I, I expect to be upgraded due to being just a little bit famous since starting this blog. I have tried explaining to Kara how safe flying actually is. Problem is she won’t stay still or keep quiet long enough to listen. I think I’m going to have to administer brandy or something the next time the people parents are out in the hope that this will calm her down long enough for me to allay her fears.

Donut on bar

I’ll let you know how it all goes as soon as we have a decent connection.


Unlikely Soldiers – The Early Days (2)

Amazon Unlikely Soldiers page

The two main protagonists in Unlikely Soldiers are Michelle (nicknamed Mouse) and Guy. I mentioned in the last post that some of the things that happened to Mouse are based on my experience in the Army. Not so with Guy. I didn’t want these books to be about Allan (my husband) and I. I took advice from a good friend who’s an ex Royal Military Policeman, and lots of Guy’s life in book one is based on my friend’s own experiences.


Allan’s Scottish but Guy’s not. He’s from North Yorkshire and without giving away too much of the plot, has been brought up in a dysfunctional family by a mother who doesn’t give a damn. He’s the eldest of a number of children; his father is absent (for reasons explained in the book) and let’s just say that his mother has problems. In my early Army days in the late seventies/early eighties, I met so many people who’d had it tough as youngsters and had joined the Army as a means of escape. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Army was the making of them.

Guy does have a stabling male influence in the form of an elderly neighbour who has his own interesting past. Guy hoped to be the first in his family to leave school with a decent education but a chain of events beyond his control put paid to that. The neighbour convinces him that if he doesn’t get away from home, he could end up being a parent substitute to his siblings. As much as he loves his brothers and sisters, Guy doesn’t want this; he’s also worried that he might turn out like his father. That’s his worst nightmare so he decides to enlist.

British Army Recruiting Video – Early 1970s

It takes him a while to get used to the strange new Army regime, but he fits right in. His trade training is tough – remember that this is the nineteen seventies and life was very different back then. Guy learns to look after himself and to keep his mouth shut. He also encounters personal tragedy early on in his Army career, which changes his outlook on life. He’s determined to make the most of his life in the Army so tries to deny his feelings when he’s attracted to anyone.

Fate does its job and Guy and Mouse eventually meet – under testing circumstances. They both have baggage and life back in the day came with its own complications. Many women were still fighting hard for equality and some men refused to take the aspirations of career-minded women seriously.

Their Army careers are important to both Mouse and Guy, and there are also other people who could come between them.


The path of true love is seldom a smooth one, especially in the Army where the chain of command always have the final word…


Not Your Average Sunday (6)

I usually love Sunday mornings. The people parents are always in, instead of rushing off to work or out gallivanting like they do on weekdays. Derek might clean the pool or tidy the garden and Lilia sort the washing or potter about the house. Kara the cat usually annoys me less when they’re about which is a bonus. Sometimes I join in with the activities, others I lie around doing nothing. Whatever I’m doing, I simply enjoy just hanging with the family.

That all changed last Sunday.

I sensed something wasn’t right as soon as I opened my eyes, and my nose started twitching. Smoke! The lazy day vibe completely disappeared as Derek made a quick call to the neighbours. Their curtains were closed and I listened as he explained that a fire was heading our way!

We all did a search for Kara, to no avail. The decision was made to evacuate and it was only then that I realised I quite like the old girl. Yes I know she’s a pain and we enjoy winding each other up, but she’s our pain.

It was lovely at the beach where the people parents had their breakfast. But it was still a worry not knowing whether we and many others would have a home to return to, and whether we would discover a charcoaled cat.

Derek made some calls a little later and after a family discussion, it was decided that it was safe to return. The fire fighters, helicopter/plane pilots and some helpful civilians had done a marvellous job. The fire had been contained and as far as I’m aware, there was no serious damage to person or property. But what about the cat? I later discovered that Kara decided to have a sleep over with one of the neighbourhood toms (they’re just friends by the way, she’s not that sort of cat). She sauntered into the kitchen with not a care in the world, which is very unlike her as she’s a serial worrier.

It was a worry for all of us and I’ve taken some photos this morning to show you some of the damage. So sad looking I think you’ll agree.


I would love to say that everything’s back to normal now, but not so in our house. We’ve had more visitors than usual and some of the furniture has disappeared. I hear talk of pastures new but they haven’t sat me down yet and told me exactly what’s going on. I’ll let it ride for a bit. After last Sunday I know they wouldn’t go anywhere without me and as long as my little family is together – except Victoria who’s working in London – I really don’t mind where we live. I will miss this place and a number of people (especially Allan next door, who’s such great fun). But the world is a global village and I can always use Face Time to keep in touch.

Until next time folks, keep safe.

Donut Dreams of Wendies (5)

I thought it was going to be just another ordinary day in our home but there was more activity than normal. Something was going on but I couldn’t quite put my paw on precisely what. I nodded off while waiting for the people parents to come home from work. She took me for a walk and I assumed he was out for a pint and would return later – he’d finished his week of call out duty and was likely to be chilling in a local hostelry. Bedtime came and went and I refused to go up those wooden stairs with the lovely lady of the house, so settled on the sofa.

Donut on setee

She sighed, gave me an affectionate pat, and off she went. Some time later I realised he wasn’t coming home. I walked up those stairs with the weight of the world in my little legs. Where was he and why hadn’t he come home?

It took a while to get off that night and when I did, I dreamt of the Wendies. For those of you who don’t know, Wendies live in the dark recesses of the planet Largo. The indigenous aliens use them to bribe and scare their offspring, much like humans do with their children. Wendies are the equivalent of the bogeyman or maybe Father Christmas (I sometimes get those two mixed up). Suffice to say that it wasn’t a pleasant dream. I’m glad I woke up before the Wendies spirited me away.


I wasn’t the only one who didn’t sleep well and she was a little short with me the following day. I forgave her though; she was obviously missing him too. I wondered when he was coming home?

The days passed slowly and I started to think he might be gone for good. I even went to his favourite place in case he’d been delayed there, but still no sign of him.

Donut on bar

Night times were always worst when I had to resign myself to the fact that another day had passed without him and it was such an effort to walk up those stairs at the end of each day.

I always enjoy my walks but instead of the usual human accompaniment, my surrogate auntie from next door joined me and my lady. I was left to daydream as they chatted about women’s stuff – no, please don’t ask for details! We occasionally met other dogs and their human companions, and I must confess to a hint of jealousy as I watched some four-legged strangers bask in the love of the human couples they were with. These occasions were tinged with sadness and I couldn’t even be bothered to make friends with these dogs, or have a quick sniff of their nether regions.

Then yesterday I sensed a strange atmosphere. She’d been shopping so the cupboards and the fridge were replenished. There was also some recently purchased beer in the house and a new spring to her step; call me Sherlock Holmes if you will but I know she’s not the type of lady who drinks beer.

My hopes were dashed when she went out in the car when it was dark. Another social function perhaps? Could I have misread the signs? I sighed and fell asleep.

Not sure what time it was when I was woken by the door opening and something else. Yes, it was that familiar Geordie accent. He’s home! My little family is almost reunited (miss you Victoria) and all is well again in my world.


Donut – It was great while it lasted…(4)

It was great while it lasted, but some things just aren’t meant to be. Pretty much from day one in our relationship I noticed that Teddy drew loads of attention. Don’t get me wrong, people love me too and I get my fair share of cuddles. But with Teddy it was different. Everywhere we went they wanted to admire or touch her. She lapped it up of course but for me, it became a little tedious.

As well as having to cope with this, a few dogs tried their luck (what a cheek!) but Teddy graciously told them that she wasn’t interested and I was her one true love. My heart swelled.

Teddy model photoTeddy with Ball

A few weeks ago we were playing ball at the dog beach. As an aside I was a little disappointed to discover that people are allowed on our beaches, but we’re not allowed on theirs. What’s that all about then? Anyway, we were approached by an older looking female Pug who introduced herself as Lola. She had the gift of the gab and it was obvious early on that she was an astute business dog. (I googled her later and was proved correct). She smothered Teddy with compliments, telling her that she was adorable and believed she would make a fab model. She told her about the glamorous life and the travel involved and I could see the faraway look in Teddy’s shining eyes, until she looked at me. Teddy smiled at me, and then turned Lola down. The shine seemed to have disappeared from her eyes and, much as I adored Teddy, I couldn’t let the opportunity of a lifetime escape her.


We had one final date the next day and as we sat holding paws and watching the magnificent sunset from the beach, we vowed to stay in touch and be friends forever. I hope she’ll remember me when she’s rich and famous.

Seeing me a bit down, my people parents decided it was time for an overnight break to take my mind off what could have been.

Off we went to Latchi to stay with some friends in a lovely villa and it was simply wonderful! The weather was sunny and we had lots of fun on long walks, fishing and just shooting the breeze. The people parents and their friends overdid it that night and while they drank and put the world to rights, I spent some time chasing the local cats. They were all a little delicate the following day – the people, not the cats – but I was as right as rain.

Donut with beer

I got on with the new people friends, two lovely men, like a house on fire. So well in fact that I’m beginning to wonder if there’s another reason that Teddy and I weren’t right for each other.

One other pleasant surprise during the weekend was the new music. I absolutely loved the Justin Bieber vibe and am pleased to announce that I’m now a Belieber!

That’s all until next time folks. Be good.


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