Authors: Isabel Wolff
It has been five years since
was first published in the U.S. Since then I’ve written three more novels, and so the story of animal behaviourist Miranda Sweet had naturally gone to the back of my mind. I’d come to regard the novel as an old friend, to whom I’d once been very close, but whom I now saw only from time to time, in a bookstore or a library, or flashed up on Amazon. So when I learned that Mira Books had decided to reissue
it was a wonderful surprise. My previous novel,
, had been about an agony aunt, or “Dear Abby.” I decided that my next heroine would be another agony aunt—but this time one for animals and pets. By then animals had become quite a feature of my novels. I’d always loved writing about animals, because they present an opportunity not just for humour, but also for poignancy, as they’re such a touchstone for human feeling. I’d also observed with interest the rise of the animal behaviourist as a popular cultural figure. In the early noughties there were many newspaper and magazine articles about animal behaviourism, and a number of popular TV series devoted to it, too. And all made the same, crucial point: that an animal behaviourist first has to understand the
before he or she can begin to work out the pet. So I began my research, talking to animal behaviourists about how they can help curb domineering behaviour in dogs, or inappropriate territory-marking in cats, excessive anxiety in rabbits or feather-plucking in parrots.
But I was also trying to decide the human dimension to the story, and I decided that “behaviour” would be its main theme. So I came up with a heroine, Miranda, an animal behaviourist whose own past behaviour leaves much to be desired: when she was sixteen she was part of an animal rights group that did something bad, and it led to a young man, David, being hurt. I then had Miranda by chance meet David, now a successful photographer. Miranda resolves to confess to David, and to seek his forgiveness; but to her dismay, she realises that she’s falling in love with him. Fearing that he’ll reject her, she therefore hesitates to tell him the truth.
I then perceived the book as being about courage—moral courage of the kind that Miranda will need to show, and physical courage, too. Miranda’s best friend Daisy happily bungee jumps and hang glides and
rock climbs, but cannot find the courage to confront her own long-term boyfriend, Nigel, about his failure to commit. Miranda’s former fiancé, Alexander, is extremely brave—in the swashbuckling TV dramas he stars in, that is; in real life he shows a dreadful lack of guts. Then there’s the TV stuntman Marcus, who comes to Miranda’s weekly “puppy parties” with his Jack Russell terrier, Twiglet. Marcus happily throws himself off tall buildings and drives cars across canyons, but can’t find the courage to ask Daisy on a date.
My final, and perhaps most important theme, is that of redemption and forgiveness. Will Miranda’s mother, bitterly divorced from Miranda’s father, be able to forgive him? Will David forgive Miranda once he finds out who she really is? Will Miranda forgive Alexander for his terrible desertion of her? There are frequent references to Shakespeare’s
, because that wondrous play is all about forgiveness and teaches us that “the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.” Miranda seeks to be redeemed, but first needs to be forgiven. She also needs to forgive the grave wrongs that have been done to her.
is a romantic comedy with a moral dilemma at its heart. It teems with animals—rabbits and guinea pigs, cats and dogs, parakeets and ponies, not to mention a herd of llamas. Ultimately, though, it’s a very human tale, one that I very much hope you’ll enjoy.
Isabel Wolff, London, 2011
TIME AFTER TIME words and music by Robert Hyman and Cyndi Lauper ©1983 Dub Notes and Reilla Music Corp., USA (50%) Warner/Chappel Music Ltd., London W6 8BS. Reproduced by permission of International Music Publications Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU words and music by Patty Smith Hill and Mildred J. Hill ©1935 (Renewed 1962) Summy-Birchard music, a division of Summy-Birchard Inc., USA. Reproduced by permission of Keith Prowse Music Publishing Co. Ltd., London WC2H 0QY.
The publisher and author have made all reasonable efforts to trace the copyright owners of all copyright material quoted in this publication. In the event that any of the untraceable copyright owners come forward after the publication of this edition, the publisher and the owner will endeavor to rectify the permission accordingly.
Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace.
‘Will you be all right now, Miranda? Miranda…?’
I slowly surfaced from my reverie.
‘I said will you be all right now?’ repeated Clive, my builder. Would I be all right now? I considered the question. I wasn’t at all sure that I would. ‘It’s just that I’ve got to be in Barnes by five,’ he explained, as he began to gather up his emulsion-spattered sheets. ‘So if it’s all the same with you…’ I banished painful thoughts and forced myself to concentrate.
‘Oh. Yes. Of course. You want to go.’ I glanced round my new workplace—my new workplace and my new home too. In three weeks Clive had transformed six St Michael’s Mews from a semi-derelict shell into a smart office with a small living space on the floor above. The estate agent had negotiated a reasonable rent—reasonable by Primrose Hill standards at least—on condition that I refurbish it myself.
‘Thanks, Clive,’ I said. ‘It looks wonderful.’
He pursed his lips judiciously, then pressed a crumpled hanky to his neck. ‘Yeah…well, I’m pretty pleased myself. I’ve checked the electrics,’ he added as I reached for my bag, ‘and I’ve been over the roof again and it’s sound. Is there anything else needing doing?’
I scribbled out the cheque, sinkingly aware that it represented the last of my savings. ‘No. I don’t think so. It all looks…great.’ I surveyed the newly egg-shelled walls and gleaming skirting boards, and flicked the downlighters on and off. I raised then lowered the green micro blind and tried the drawers in my new desk. I examined the joins in the new wooden flooring and made sure that the security locks on the windows all worked.
‘Have you got enough bookshelves?’ he asked as he packed away his paintbrushes. I nodded. ‘Well then, if you’re happy with it all, I’ll be off.’
I glanced again at my final checklist. ‘Actually there is one last thing—the sign.’ I picked up the ceramic plaque I’d had specially made and handed it to him. ‘Would you put it up for me?’
‘Sure.’ We stepped outside, shielding our eyes against the glare of the midsummer sun. ‘You can’t start your new business without this, can you?’ said Clive, affably. He pulled a pencil from behind his right ear and made rapid marks on the walls; then he began to drill, a slender avalanche of pink brick-dust drifting to the cobbled ground.
‘Got enough punters?’ he enquired as he screwed in the plate.
My stomach did a flick-flack. ‘Not quite.’
‘Don’t worry,’ he reassured me. ‘You will. There. That’s it, then. All done.’ He took a step back as we appraised it. ‘Perfect Pets’, it announced, above a stylized drawing of a dog on a psychiatrist’s couch. Beneath, in smaller letters: ‘Miranda Sweet BVSc, Animal Behaviourist’.
Clive beeped open the doors of his van. ‘I know a few people who could do with your services,’ he said as he slung his equipment inside. ‘My neighbours for a start. They’ve got
this Labrador. It’s lovely, but it’s barking mad.’ He shook his head. ‘Literally. Barking. That’s all it does, all day.’
‘Poor thing. It’s probably being left on its own for too long so what it’s doing is calling its humans back.’
‘I dunno what it’s doing,’ he shrugged as he opened the driver’s door. ‘All I know is it sends me and the wife up the wall. Anyway, give me a bell if you run into any problems Miranda, otherwise…’ he got behind the wheel, ‘…good luck. Take care of yourself,’ he added solicitously as he ignited the engine. ‘You take care now.’
‘Thanks, Clive.’ I smiled. ‘I’ll try.’
Clive swung right out of the Mews onto Regents Park Road, then tooted twice in cheery valediction and was gone. I glanced at my watch—it was ten to four. Daisy would be arriving soon with Herman. She’d been looking after him for nearly a month. She’d been wonderful since ‘it’—as I had now come to think of it—happened. Without her, I don’t know what I’d have done…
As I wiped the paint splashes off the windows I wondered how Herman would react to being with me again. Apart from the odd visit I’d hardly seen him, so he’d probably be cool and remote. He’d make it quite clear that he felt I’d neglected him, which of course I had. But I hadn’t been able to cope. It was the shock. The Never-Saw-It-Coming-in-a-Month-of-Sundays unexpectedness of it all. Not just the end of my relationship but the
it happened—the knowledge that I’d got Alexander so wrong. As an animal behaviourist you have to be able to read
as well, but with him I’d clearly missed something big.
As I scratched at the glass with my thumbnail I glanced at the other businesses in the Mews. There was the cranial-sacral therapy centre at the far end, and that aromatherapist at number twelve. There was an osteopath two doors down,
and a hypnotherapist at number ten. With a chiropractor directly opposite, and a Chinese herbalist at number nine, St Michael’s Mews was an oasis of alternative therapeutics and was therefore the perfect location for a business like mine.
I’d discovered it in late April. Alexander and I had been invited to have dinner with Mark, a TV director friend of his, to celebrate the end of
, a lavish period drama—a bit like
—in which Alexander had had his first starring role. And now I thought, with a dragging sensation, of how it would soon be screened. Would I be able to bear watching it? Would I be able to bear watching
? No. The thought of it made me feel sick… Anyway, Mark had booked a table at Odettes, in Primrose Hill, and Alexander and I had arrived too early so we’d gone for a walk. As we strolled up the hill, hand in hand, we talked about how
might transform his career, then as we walked back down we discussed my work. And we were speculating about where I might have my new animal behaviour practice, and what I might call it, when we suddenly turned into St Michael’s Mews. I was struck by the tranquil atmosphere, and by the fact that it didn’t look polished and affluent, like so many London mews do; it looked Bohemian, and slightly unkempt. Then, above the door of number six, I saw a ‘To Let’ sign. It was as though I’d been hit over the head.
‘This would be perfect,’ I’d said, as we peered through the cracked windowpane into the dusty interior. ‘Don’t you think so?’
‘Well, it’s a good location.’
‘And there’s that pet shop over the road, and loads of people round here have animals, and the Hill’s just a few yards away. This would be the
place for my new practice,’ I reiterated happily.
‘Then you should call it Perfect Pets.’
I hadn’t imagined for a minute, as I’d stood there exclaiming over its suitability and writing down the estate agent’s number, that it would soon also be my home. I’d only recently moved in with Alexander and we were very happy—in fact, so happy that we’d just got engaged. We’d planned to stay in his flat in Archway for the time being, then buy somewhere together, later on. But, just over a month ago, ‘it’ happened, and, overnight, everything changed…
I went back inside, inhaling the citrussy aroma of fresh paint, and continued unpacking. I don’t have much stuff. I’ve no furniture because I’ve never owned my own place; all I have is my clothes, some kitchen things and my books.
From one box I pulled out
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
by Charles Darwin, and Lorenz’s
—a classic text;
Readings in Animal Psychology
by Justin Lyle, and
Why Does My Rabbit…?
by Anne McBride. I unpacked all my thirty or so books on animal behaviour, and all my old veterinary textbooks as well; and as I arranged them on the shelves I thought, yet again, how glad I was that I was no longer a vet. I’d always wanted to be one—from about the age of eight onwards—I never considered anything else. I studied veterinary medicine at Bristol, then practised for five years, but disillusionment soon began to set in. I don’t quite know when it started, but it crept into my soul like damp, and I’d realized that living out my childhood dream wasn’t going to be quite as fulfilling as I’d thought. It wasn’t so much the long hours—I was young enough to cope—it was the constant emotional stress.