Into the writer’s isolation comes a dog, to sit beside the chair or to lie on the couch while the writer works, to force them outside for a walk, and suddenly, although still lonely, the writer has a companion
An artist’s solitude is a sacred space, one to be guarded and kept apart from the chaos of the world. This isolation allows for uninhibited wandering, uninterrupted meditation and the nurturing of sparks of inspiration into fires of creation. But in the artist’s quiet there is also loneliness, self-doubt, the possibility of collapsing too far inward.
What an artist needs is a familiar, a creature perfectly suited to accompany them on this coveted, difficult journey. They need a companion with emotional intelligence, innate curiosity, passion and energy and an enthusiasm for the world beyond, but also the capacity to sleep contentedly for many hours. What an artist needs, Helen Humphreys would say, is a dog.
And a Dog Called Fig is a memoir of the writing life told through the dogs Humphreys has lived with and loved over a lifetime, culminating with the recent arrival and settling in of Fig, a Vizsla puppy. Interspersed are stories of other writers and their irreplaceable companions: Virginia Woolf and Grizzle, Gertrude Stein and Basket, Thomas Hardy and Wessex—the dog who walked the dining table at dinner parties, taking whatever he liked—and many more.
It’s a book about companionship and loss and creativity that is filled with the beauty of a steadfast canine friend and the restorative powers of nature. It is also a book about craft, divided into sections that echo the working parts of a novel—Beginnings, Character, Pacing, Setting, Structure, Process, Endings. Just as every work of art is different, every dog is different—with distinctive needs and lessons to offer. And if we let them guide us, they, like art, will show us many worlds we would otherwise miss.