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  • Written by L.S. Matthews
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  • A Dog for Life
  • Written by L.S. Matthews
    Read by Brian Butler
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Written by L.S. MatthewsAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by L.S. Matthews


List Price: $5.99


On Sale: February 12, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-84928-2
Published by : Yearling RH Childrens Books

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On Sale: October 10, 2006
ISBN: 978-0-7393-3682-3
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This is the true story of the journey of John Hawkins and his dog, Mouse, from way up north to way down south.
Mouse has been John and his brother Tom's dog for life. They got her as a puppy when they were just little themselves, and they very quickly discovered that they could understand everything Mouse said and she could do the same. She was just a person like everyone else--though maybe a bit cleverer than most.
You've maybe heard that John "ran away with his pet dog." But the truth about this story is that John and Mouse made the journey to save Tom. It's hard to pinpoint when Tom became truly ill, but when the doctors said they had to send Mouse away for fear of infection, the boys knew they had to do something. Without Mouse, Tom would never recover. The journey began to find a temporary home for Mouse, but once they'd set off, nothing turned out the way they'd planned.

From the Hardcover edition.


One Truth and Lies

This is the true story of the journey of John Hawkins (that’s me) and our dog, Mouse, from way up north to way down south. You’ve probably heard a mention of it before, but the people that tell the news, they don’t tell it right. I never knew that before, until I heard how they told our story. They got all sorts of things wrong, and it made me mad.

My mum said that everyone knows the news people always get it wrong. You hear famous people moaning about it all the time. She said, some of the time they just make mistakes, but mostly it’s because they tell the story they want to tell, or the story people want to hear.

I thought about that and realized it was true; I was always hearing famous people complaining the news stories about them were wrong, and maybe I just hadn’t believed them. And it’s true that people like the most crazy story, as long as they can believe it. Like, “Joe got a new bike for Christmas” won’t exactly race around the school, but “Joe got a new bike for Christmas, but everyone knows his dad stole it” will. Even if the more exciting version isn’t true. But “Joe got a new bike for Christmas, and aliens delivered it to his door” won’t work; the person trying to pass that one on is likely to get either no reaction or some pain.

And I worked out long ago that bit about people not believing stuff they don’t want to hear. Sometimes they just act like they haven’t heard. Sometimes they call you a liar. For them, anything is better than trying to believe something they don’t understand.

An example of this is when my brother Tom saw a ghost. Not “saw” exactly, because we were leaving a church after a wedding and he was walking a little way ahead, chatting away to someone he thought was a relative, walking next to him. He said afterward he just vaguely noticed it was a man, in a suit, but when you’re walking alongside someone, you don’t really look at them. We saw him talking to himself, and we called to him, and he looked back at us, and then all around, and asked where the guy had gone.

Mum didn’t like it, I could tell, and said Tom must have been imagining things. Tom and I realized later it must have been a ghost. But people don’t like ghosts—why, I don’t know. Tom said this guy was perfectly friendly before he vanished; though, when he thought about it, he hadn’t actually said anything back to Tom. So we shut up about it after that.

We also dreamed the same dreams some nights. We found we even sometimes got each other’s dreams by mistake, though we couldn’t think why—we’re not twins or anything; Tom’s two years older. Like one day Tom had been playing ball with his mate and that night I had the dream of doing the same thing, but I could tell it was Tom, not me, and in the dream he was irritated about something that wasn’t fair. I found this a bit of a boring dream, and told him off the next day, and said could he keep his dreams out of my dreams, which were much better than his.

Tom said he’d had one about my ant farm being tipped over; but he wasn’t interested in the ant farm, and if I’d keep my dreams, he’d try and keep his.

We never worked out why this happened, and of course, there wasn’t really anything we could do about it. But we didn’t tell people—including Mum—because we’d tried before, and they seemed to get cross with us, or think we were lying.

The same sort of thing was true about Mouse. Mouse had been a puppy when we were young, and she was called Mouse because she had squeaked like one. Of course, me and Tom, we understood everything she said and she felt the same. We could talk out loud to her or just by thinking the words, and we’d hear her talk right back, in our heads. She was just a person like anyone—maybe a bit cleverer than most—who happened to have paws and fur and so on; she could run faster and play ball better than both of us.

We found out, as we got older, that we could talk with most dogs, though it took a little more time and effort, as other dogs weren’t used to doing this with humans. But we slowly realized that other people thought “dog” like they thought “cabbage”; it was another species entirely that you couldn’t communicate with or anything. When Mouse did stuff, they said we’d trained her. If the tough kids think you’re lying, you’re liable for a beating, so we kept quiet, but it was hard, because it seemed unfair on Mouse. The good thing was, Tom pointed out, she really didn’t care. She had humans all sized up, and if she could cope with their small brain limitation, so could we.

Now, the reason I’m writing this is because Mum said, what you can do is write the truth yourself. Some of these famous people do that and call it an autobiography, or memoirs. Then you get your say. So that’s what I’m doing. And I don’t lie, so all this really is true. Well, sometimes you’ll see I had to cover myself with a story or two, on my journey, but I’m not hiding that from you, and like I said, sometimes you have to go along with people and tell them what they want to hear.

The truth of the story is, me and Mouse made the journey to save my brother, Tom. But the newspapers wouldn’t understand that. You’ll maybe have just heard about me “running away with a pet dog” and so on. Me and Mouse and Tom, we knew the truth, but no one seemed to listen. Now it’s different. That’s why I’m writing this.

From the Hardcover edition.
L.S. Matthews

About L.S. Matthews

L.S. Matthews - A Dog for Life

Photo © Bob Dron

"I wouldn’t write a book which didn’t challenge the reader with questions which maybe aren’t easily answered. I have to write books which at least have the potential to effect changes . . ."--L. S. Matthews

L. S. Matthews is the winner of the Fidler Award for her book Fish, an award given for a first novel for children. She lives and writes in England.


How I write:
When I wrote Fish, it was based on a dream I had. I woke up and thought (as you would, if you had a dream like “Fish”), what was all that about? I thought about it, and it seemed to start making a kind of sense. I think I had to put the events in order, as parts of the story appeared in flashback sequence in the dream. I am not sure, but I think I continued to dream other parts of the story later.

There is no sensible time, as an adult with responsibilities, to sit about writing stories, but I wrote Fish at a particularly silly time. I had two children, knew I had to sell my house, but had no idea where we were going to live, or how we could afford it - I had just walked away from three terms of strenuous teacher training.

With all these pressures on me, I watched news footage of determined and courageous refugees on television, and went off to bed, worrying about, of all things, how I would transport the three Koi Carp from our pond without distressing them, and to where?

All my writing seems to happen like this - it works from dreams; in the daytime, I correct and alter and move it around in my head till it seems to make sense; I don’t write anything down; and by the time I come to write, I know it pretty well and have got rid of all the worst mistakes. Because it’s hard to keep a whole book in your head and keep running through it to make sure you don’t forget, I’m very keen to get it down. I touch type (I was forced to learn how in my first job) so, having worked on a book in my head for maybe six months, I can have the first draft out in two to four weeks, because I am just typing out a story I have already written. I like to do this outside as much as possible, otherwise I get miserable from being inside too much. With Fish, I typed for 12 hours a day sometimes, in this very brief period; I calmed down a little with my second book.

I like to work like this because when it’s in your head it is easy to just rip out a chapter or move something to a different part of the story - no retyping time and time again!
When I was a child and had scary dreams, I learned to manipulate them, to control the events. I think this plays a part in the way my dreams form the stories to my books.

Where do you get your ideas for characters, settings, events?
All of my characters have different parts of my personality in them, I suppose, and parts of people I have known.

Events - well, I have never battled through a war-torn zone, but I came across a body when I was ten or so, and therefore I could write about Tiger’s feelings, sitting by the body of the young man who was shot.

I grew up the youngest of a family of five children; both of our parents worked full time and the house had a long garden which backed onto a wild area of land . . . much of my time was spent scrambling about, making camps, coming home filthy and scratched, but happy. I had two older brothers and singularly failed to notice that girls should be different until people started telling me so at about the age of 12. I had already noticed something was up when I was sent to our local school at 7, and didn’t get to play cricket and football like at home, but was pushed into a collection of people who played netball and rounders . . . hence the issue - or lack of it! - of Tiger’s gender in Fish. Some people still don’t get it. They say, “I thought it was a girl/boy” and then ask, “Well, which was it then? What was Tiger supposed to be?”

I answer: “Tiger’s not supposed to be anything.”

Then they say, “Yes, but what did you write it as? Girl or boy?” Just as they are sure there is an answer, I am equally fascinated by the fact they think it matters.

Animals (including fish and birds) are important in my books because:
They may appear in the story at a moment which makes them symbolic, but they’re real too.

I communicated with animals probably before I could walk or talk; they were just different kinds of “peoples” to me then. I am more likely to notice a small bird hidden in a hedge than a human passing in full view and I still find it hard sometimes to concentrate on a human conversation when an animal is talking at the same time.

What motivates me to write?
It gets things out of my system, things that I am cross about, and maybe I can’t put everything right, but I can say to the world, “What about this? This is not good enough.” And to readers who may not have been fully aware: “This is reality, I know you’d rather think it has nothing to do with you.” But at the same time I can show the inspirational qualities of people . . . I am angry at what they are put through, but their courage and determination is something to admire, and only tends to be shown when tested to the limit. It puts my own worries, and my own abilities to cope, in proportion. I wouldn’t write a book which didn’t challenge the reader with questions which maybe aren’t easily answered. I have to write books which at least have the potential to effect changes . . .


“The bond between the brothers and their dog is as convincing as Tiger’s devotion to the title fish in Matthews’s first book.”–Publishers Weekly, Starred

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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