Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reviewing The Process Of Dreaming.

I don't know where to begin with this post. I don't know what say or how to say it. I don't even know if anything I have to say is worth saying.

I feel especially low presently.

I was hoping that last week's relaunch of my novel would be some sort of blistering success but it hasn't. In fact, it's been barely noticed. I mused last week about my superstitions with regards to re-doing the cover of the novel & though the notion of bad luck does not fit with my rational mind, I can't help but being drawn back to it.

The book just isn't selling.

I have a number of ways of tracking how much interest my blog has been getting and those methods are useful and encouraging. But they aren't translating into sales of the book and I am starting to sink a little under the weight of my feelings of failure.

I thought I had constructed a solid platform across the most relevant social networking tools I have at my disposal, which most of us authors use - you know Facebook, Twitter, this site, Amazon. I've participated in a number of forums, contributed to dialogue about writing and I've advertised in places where my small budget will allow. But I don't think it's working. And I fear, to be honest, people might be getting tired of the message.

This year, I switched focus from the printed edition of The Hambledown Dream to the digital one for a couple of reasons.

Last year, though I got the book onto the shelves in a number of book shops both locally and interstate, the process burned me out. I spent many hours pounding the pavement, taking my book in to stores, meeting with managers, leaving samples of the book with them, organizing events. The reception from most of the stores I dealt with was less than enthusiastic and in some instances latently hostile. To a certain extent, I prepared for this because I had read a lot about the sales climate in book retailing domestically and I knew it would be a challenge to cut through. To be brutally honest though - some of the dealings I had were a cluster fuck. Though the agreements I forged lead to some successful events and some decent sales, I found myself in the unenviable position of chasing payment from some of the stores some, six months after the books had sold. In one case, the situation became so dire that I had to seek legal advice. It lead to many a sleepless night and a loss of confidence in myself.

In releasing the book last year, I approached a number of people and asked them if they would consider reviewing the book for me. I also had a number of people approach me to review the book. Now, let me preface this by saying that I am prepared to take on anyone's review of my work as it comes and I don't shy away from reviews that are critical of it. This is part and parcel of putting oneself out there. But there was one review in particular that, whilst praising the work for it's story and characterizations, it slammed the work for a number of copy editing flaws (which, I must stress, have since been well and truly addressed). In addition to this, the review went after my publisher in a way that, in my mind, was somewhat vindictive. It was the priverbial shit sandwich that, may or may not have covered up something deeper. The review overall was less a review and more a report card from a teacher grading a student.

And it hurt me. I'll be honest. It fucking hurt. Again - though I had trained my rational mind to deal with and expect this, when it happened, it side swiped me and I didn't quite know what sort of damage it might do. While I tried to move on from it and take on board certain things that I could use to make the novel better, in truth, I lost all confidence in myself and my work and I actually considered whether I should discontinue promoting The Hambledown Dream - especially to book stores.

I have felt this way up until quite recently. 

One of the nicer things to emerge from all of this, however, was a small but loyal fan base who embraced The Hambledown Dream and myself and really championed it. For them, the story was something unique and wondorous, quite unlike the traditional love story. When things for me became quite dark and I felt very low, they encouraged me to push on with it and keep putting it out there. I have had some wonderful support.

I was compelled to push on.

I see immense possibilties with the rise of the digital market and while I haven't abandoned the print version of the novel, I feel that pursuing success in the digital market place is worth a shot. Again, I am influenced in part by some of the major stories coming out of the big book stores in the past few months. Some of these chains are in serious trouble and I feel that, until there is a major shakeup in the retail book landscape then I am not sure that putting my literary egg into that particular basket is a wise one.

I could of course, be totally wrong.

In the past few days I have begun submitting the novel to as many review sites as I possibly can and I have decided to take a crash through philosophy towards it. I have decided that I want to gather as many reviews as I possibly can, good and not so good, and I want to be fearless in this endeavour. If I can get the book noticed in as many places as I possibly can then I am maximizing my my potential for sales.

I don't know if it will work or not. In fact I really have no idea if I am doing anything right. Musing over such things in the middle of the night over the sound of a respirator is perhaps disingenuous.

The internet is so filled with noise that I feel that my voice gets lost in the scream.


Sunday, March 20, 2011


Something (hopefully) big is happening with my novel "The Hambledown Dream" this week. 

I'm pleased to be announcing the launch of a redesigned version of my debut novel for ireadiwrite Publishing. And first up - before we go any further - please enjoy the International Release Trailer for the new version.

After a great deal of consideration and discussion over the past couple of months, my publisher and I have decided to redesign the cover art for The Hambledown Dream. Now, I kind of regard myself as a little superstitious. I enjoy sailing and one of the greatest superstitions surrounding sailing is the re-naming of a boat after it has been refurbished or repainted. Historically, it has been considered bad luck to change the name of a boat. 

And, initially, I felt the same way about the novel. I thought of all the horrible things that could happen as a result of doing something I considered to be rather drastic. But after I had my mini-meltdown, I began to look at things through a fresh set of eyes.

The reasons for doing so are fairly simple. When I originally conceived the cover art for the original release of the novel last year, I was really drawn to the simple motif of the rosemary and mint bouquet that features in the story at a fairly critical moment. There is a beauty about the bouquet on the sand and says much about the love story of The Hambledown Dream. However, in discussing the cover and it's impact, we felt that it might be too obscure for the uninitiated audience. Though it is a prominent theme in the story, it is not the central theme. So Michelle and I sat down and began re imagining the cover art in a quest to find something that really typifies the core elements of the story of The Hambledown Dream.

Certainly the guitar was a most important consideration as it is at the heart of both Andy DeVries and Denny Banister's journey. I also wanted to find an image that best represented the duality of Andy and Denny's persona's. An exhaustive search led me to a singular image of a young man sitting in a field of poppies cradling a guitar in his arms as he looks towards the setting sun. From the moment I found that image, I knew it was the right one. It says much about the two young men who embark on a powerful journey towards redemption and salvation in The Hambledown Dream. There is a musical quality to the image - not just.because of the guitar - and there is a romantic quality in the flowers that populate the field, the sun light that falls across the young man's face.

Combined with the bolder color scheme that highlights the title and author text, the result is a more powerful and impactful piece. We are really very proud if the final result.

The other consideration for the novel is the attention to (or lack thereof on my part), the digital market. As an author, one of the greatest satisfactions is being able to hold the print version of you very own book in your hands. However, the growth of eBooks over the past year has outstripped that of print books. To not focus attention of that section of the market just doesn't make sense to me so I am embarking on a concerted effort to promote The Hambledown Dream in the digital market place.

So, having re imagined the presentation of The Hambledown Dream, both ireadiwrite Publishing and myself are pleased to announce the release of this 2nd Edition of the digital edition of the novel. To celebrate, the first fifty copies of the novel have been digitally "signed" by me and are available to purchase today, directly from Dean from Australia Dot Com (See Top Right Of Page). In addition to this, I completed a really enjoyable interview this past week with wonderfully supportive fellow author and Bookanista Carolina Valdez Miller. I'd like to invite you to visit her at Carol In Print and check out both the interview and her take on my novel. I also sat down with books editor Paige Crutcher of America's Examiner Newspaper to chat about The Hambledown Dream and the writing journey.

So this wonderful ride with ireadiwrite Publishing continues - both with this new edition of The Hambledown Dream and the current project I am working on. It's just too good a ride not to be on.


Thursday, March 10, 2011


How did I get here?

The country house stands, overlooking a gently rolling meadow. The lush, green pasture is occupied by a smattering of dairy cows that are grazing in the early morning sun.

I am on my hands and knees on a hillock, not far from the resplendent house. My fingers clutch at the wet pasture underneath. I am breathless, nauseous, sweating and my legs feel like jelly - as though I've just completed an intense sprint.

How did I get here?

One moment I was...well...I can't remember where I was before now. Was I sleeping? Was I running? Did I fall over and hit my head? My sluggish mind refuses to work. I feel something in my throat. It is a scratchiness, as if something foreign is there. I cough without making a sound. I feel as though I have never existed before this moment. Adrenaline courses through me, tendrils of panic suffocate me. Desperately, I try to latch onto reason before it collapses beneath my feet. Groggily, I rise to my feet. I lower my hands and rest them on my knees. I close my eyes and breathe.

The air on the meadow smells sweet and moist. It is tinged with the dew of the early morning. Almost immediately, the tide of my panic loses purchase and retreats as I strengthen my grip on my calm. A peaceful warmth flows through me and I open my eyes once more.

It is like something out of a Jane Austen novel, a quintessentially English countryside. A meandering brook, lined by weeping willows and a tall oak tree, snakes though the middle of the meadow. I hear the water bubbling and broiling lazily, as if it is inside my head. Though this place is foreign to me, I have a sense of something familiar about it. I have seen it in my mind's eye before. The pasture is greener than any pasture I've ever encountered before. The morning sun rising before me, casts soft yellow shards across the meadow, bathing it in warm hues.

Is this is a dream?

I slow my breathing further, feeling my calm returning. I take in my surroundings more attentively. I hear the sound a church bell ding donging somewhere in the distance. There is the sound of a lawn mower closer by, but as I turn my attention towards the house - the most obvious source - I do not see anyone resembling a gardener in view.

I appraise the country house. It is a noble, three storey, red brick dwelling with crisp white windows, a tiled roof. Perfectly manicured lawns wrap around it and are divided by a wide cobblestone promenade that runs right up to the steps of the house. The promenade is flanked by shaped conifers.

My curiosity replaces my fear and I step forward, gingerly, realising in that moment, that my feet are bare. I am wearing light cotton pyjama bottoms and a navy T-Shirt.

Confusion and bemusement.

What is going on?

Down the hillock and across the meadow, I step cautiously, my feet squelching on the dewy grass. The dew is evaporating beneath my feet and wisps of steam rise. I approach the house cautiously. It appears there are no signs of life in the vicinity of the house. But as I put my hand up to open a large iron gate I hear sounds of laughter and chattering, the clinking of glasses coming from inside the house.

An incongruous image of a flock of flamingos flashes across my mind, but I will it away.

I make my way towards the grand front door of the house. It is clear that some sort of party is in progress - a breakfast of some sort perhaps?

I hesitate before the door, wondering if I should knock. I raise my hand to knock, hesitate again then withdraw. I feel a font of nausea in the pit of my stomach. Something tells me I should leave.

Before I can back away, the door clicks and opens and a kindly faced, elderly man appears.

He smiles warmly at me.

"Oh good!" he exclaims, clearly pleased. "We were beginning to think you weren't coming."

I am too surprised to speak. All I can do is blink.

Do I know this man?

The gentleman immediately takes my arm and gently shepherds me up and into the lobby of the house.

I am confronted by a crowd of people who are assembled in a parlour-like lounge beyond the entrance. The room is populated by exquisite furniture, dark timber fittings. There are paintings on the walls. Portraits of noblemen, dreamlike English landscapes. The guests moving about the parlour are dressed in the luxurious garments from that very Jane Austen period. Women in white, flowing gowns satin ribbons and delicate white gloves. Hair that has been coiffed and primped and decorated with flowers. The men are in jodhpurs and leather boots, navy jackets and ruffles. Everyone smiles and greets me warmly, raising their glasses as the gentleman announces my arrival.

They seem oblivious to my appearance and I frown visibly, confused by their generous greeting. I look down and flinch in shock.

My pyjamas have gone. In their place, I am wearing a gentleman's suit of clothes, like the other men in the room. Leather riding boots, cream coloured riding pants, a generous, mustard coloured jacket over a white shirt with frills that hang down from the neck and dove tail over my chest.

I hear my heart beat in my ears as I try to comprehend what is happening. But I am given little time to process my circumstance as the gentleman host gestures for me to join in the party.

I mingle among the guests, trying to get a sense of who they are and who they think I am, but their conversation gives no clue. A group of ladies who, evidently, think I am very popular draw me towards them. However I immediately notice that their conversation is broken and incomprehensible, like the shards of a shattered mirror. I hear them speak the words but none of it makes sense. Eventually I am 'rescued' by a tall and elegant gentleman with a perfectly groomed moustache and I move to a group of his companions in another corner. They are smoking cigars and sipping brandy. I am given a glass of my own and the man who brought me over hands me a cigar. I hold it in my hand but do not light it. Here, again, I listen to the conversation, but it is nothing but gibberish - words that I understand but they are formed into sentences that make no sense at all.

I feel frustration, anger.

What am I doing? What am I supposed to do?

I look about the parlour as casually as possible, scanning the guests, looking for the gentleman host. In the far corner, among a group of young and beautiful women, one of their number is looking at me.

I am instantly struck.

She is tall, willowy, with flowing auburn hair, delicate ringlets fall on either side of her high cheek bones. Her large and haunting eyes drill into mine and I feel a jolt of electricity as I lock mine with hers. One corner of her lips twitches upwards. She smiles demurely at me from across the room.

Out of the chaotic, incomprehensible conversation that surrounds me, her presence affords an unprecedented clarity. I turn towards her and make my way through the crowd, instantly arousing excited chattering from her pretty companions.

As I approach, she steps towards me gracefully, confidently. She is holding a champagne flute in her hands, from which she sips.

She smiles flirtatiously as I stop before her.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" she greets me in a precise British accent. I am instantly relieved to be able to understand somebody - anybody.

"I'm not used to large crowds," I reply cautiously, searching for the right words to enter the dialogue as casually as possible. "Especially in a place I'm not familiar with."

Her eyes narrow, almost imperceptibly.

"Oh come now," she scolds coquettishly. "You've no need to pretend with me. You've been coming here for years - every summer holiday, since you were a small boy."

I have?

I search my memory for some remembrance of any occasion I've spent here. But there are none.

She must have me confused with someone else.


I am unable to finish my question. Flashes of light erupt before my eyes and needles of white hot pain assault me then disappear as if they have never been. I have entered the realm of my memories. I see images of her face before me, moving and shifting as though manipulated by someone unseen. 

We are walking in the meadow outside the house, taking in the beautiful morning. We are laughing and chatting like old friends - dear friends. Then we are holding hands. We stop underneath an oak tree. She gazes into my eyes and I see her love for me in return. I am drawn to her. I take her hand then we kiss softly, lingering in each others presence. Then, we are laying together in a bedroom, naked. We are holding each other, skin to skin, making love before a crackling fireplace. I feel the side of her foot sliding softly up my leg as I watch the glow of the flames dance across her body. I savour her touch, the feel of her skin. I cup her breast in my hand and gently devour her erect nipple. We are consumed by passion. Then, I am outdoors again. I am standing on the cobble stones. I see her, astride a mighty horse, preparing to ride away from me, a stiff breeze whips at a long scarf around her neck, threatening to pull it from her completely. She is looking at me with a stony expression. Eyes filled with torment. Tears stream down her face. I wither in her disappointment yet I know not what I have done.

The flashes stop abruptly. I am disoriented for a moment as I am brought back into the moment. Once again, I am in the parlour. But I am completely alone. No one is here, not even her.

Confusion again as I look around, searching. 

I prepare to step forward when the gentleman host taps my shoulder from behind me and I wheel around to face him.

His comforting smile settles me somewhat and I let my defenses fall.

"Come on," he cajoles. 

The gentleman host leas me through the parlour and into the long central hall of the house to the back door. 

"Everyone is waiting. Come outside and ride my horse for me."

We step out through the back door and onto the rear lawn of the grounds. The guests from inside have gathered on the grass, some distance from the house before a group of six horses, five of which have riders astride them. A man holds the reigns of a sixth steed, a beautiful chestnut mare - the same mare from my memories.

Evidently, I have been invited to participate in a contest. A single long course has been prepared beyond the rear fence of the country house. As I walk out among the group of guests, I search the gathering for her and find her standing with her friends once more, a little way off from the rest of the guests. She does not acknowledge me as I approach the animal. I pause to look at her - the cacophony of images of us together echoing in my memory - her expression is like stone. It is devoid of emotion. She is looking in my direction but her eyes pass straight through me. It is though I am not even there.

It chills me.

I turn to the horse. Its large eyes focus upon me and widen as I step forward. Without warning, the steed issues a guttural screech and rears up on its hind legs, tearing the reins from its handler who panics and furiously shoos me away. The mare’s nostrils flare and steam issues forth from them. It kicks and bucks wildly. planting its hooves into the ground before me, leaving deep impressions there. I look down to find blood bubbling up from them, staining the pasture. The mares screeches pierce my ears and I reflexively block them with my hands.

I back away from the frightened animal, into the throng of guests who, in turn, recoil from me simultaneously with thinly veiled disgust. They stand around me and I am separated by a wide circle. They fix me with disapproving glares. They shake their heads slowly. I feel the pressure of their distaste weighing me down, making my movements sluggish. Nausea foutains in the pit of my stomach. Acid creeps up my gullet, burning at the back of my throat.

The gentleman host is suddenly beside me. An expression of sympathy in his kindly features gives me a momentary comfort. He takes my arm firmly, but gently and leads me away from the group.

"Come on son. Come to the house. It wasn't to be."

I look for her in the gathering of guests. I find her and am stung. She is looking at me through anguished, tear filled eyes. Hurt dictates her posture - something akin to betrayal and my heart aches with the shame for that which I have not done. I try to go to her but the gentleman host won't let me go. His grip is too strong.

All at once, the brilliance of the colours of the meadow around us fade and turn a ruddy grey. The lush green of the pasture and the foliage in the tress wilt as though someone has taken a bucket of dirty water and splashed it over everything. The warm hues from the sun become a stark and garish white, causing shadows from the house, the trees and the contours of the meadow to lengthen and take on a foreboding malevolence. A coarse wind whips up. It stings my cheek. Dark clouds gather across the sky which choke the sun, choke the light.

Fingers of tightness begin to wrap themselves around the inside of my chest and I struggle once more to draw breath. The gentleman host leads me up the stairs and into the house where he gently deposits me into a lounge chair in the parlour. He leaves the room.

I can feel the panic beginning again. Waves of panic roll towards my shore, gathering height and breadth, overwhelming my senses. I look down at my hands. They are quivering uncontrollably and I shake them furiously, trying to rid them of their incapacity. My heart thuds in my ears, softly at first, then louder and louder on the back of rolling thunder that creeps across the sky outside the house.

What is happening?

I squeeze my eyes shut in a vain attempt to refocus, to try and close out the chaos. When I open them, I jump in my seat. The guests have filled the parlour once more. They are all standing around my chair staring directly at me. Their expressions are blank, lifeless. All of them hold the shattered remnants of their champagne flutes by the stem. Ruby red blood drips from their hands, curls around the broken glasses and falls to the floor.

She kneels before me now. Her delicate fingers have intertwined in my own and she holds them tight. Her anger and disgust have gone. Love and warmth radiate from her and it washes across my being, colliding with my fractured state, beating the waves back. Chaos and anarchy hold on, refusing to give ground, but they are rendered impotent by her strength. The thunder collapses. It is reduced to a low thrum, a distant protest. The howling wind is consumed. Quiet is restored. All that remains is the soft, slow beating of my heart. I gaze at her and feel her glow. She has salvaged me.

Suddenly, from outside the house, a chilling, animal scream erupts through the gulf of silence, rattling the glass panes of the parlour windows, threatening to shatter them. Every single guest in the parlour gasps without making a sound. Every hand relinquishes its grip on the champagne flutes. They clatter and shatter silently to the blood stained floor.

There is a guttural gurgling that follows for several seconds after the scream dissipates and the sound of something breathing heavily, forcing air noisily through its nostrils.

I move as though I am underwater. Releasing my grip on her fingers reluctantly, I struggle in the chair, eventually rising to my feet. I am no longer dressed in the clothes of a gentleman. Instead, I am wearing a ripped and torn navy T-Shirt and blood spattered pyjama bottoms.

She and I go to the front door of the house. The gentleman host follows. Together, we step out onto the stoop. The gathering clouds have blotted out the sun completely. Harsh shards of light pierce through the clouds, striking silently upon the ground. The meadow has completely disappeared now. The landscape has transformed from soft, rolling pastures to harsh rocky scrub. Brittle trees. Spinifex grass. Quartz topped boulders. There is dust everywhere.

My love is beside me, tightly holding onto my arm.

The bone chilling scream shatters the tranquillity again, shaking me to my bones. I search desperately for the source of the sound. It seems to be coming from all around. Then my eyes flick to my right, just in time to see a huge African elephant thundering towards the house in a full gallop. It bobs its head, as charging. Its long tusks scrape the earth, causing sparks to fly off agates of exposed quartz. Blood seeps heavily from a ragged gunshot wound in its left ear. It is a gaping hole through which I can see daylight.

Time slows...

The elephant slowly thunders past me, its monstrous form eclipsing the sun. There are grievous wounds all over its back and down over its flank. Blood drips freely from them, staining its hide. The broken ends of long poles - spears perhaps - jut outward from some of those wounds, quivering in the air. The elephant swings its damaged trunk, similarly injured by heinous wounds, as it passes by and rounds a bend, disappearing from view.

My jaw falls open in unmitigated horror. I cannot breathe, the scene before me has sucked all the air from my lungs. I cannot comprehend what I have just witnessed.

Once again, for a third time, the demonic animal scream assaults my ears. I am momentarily confused, thinking that it was coming from the elephant.

But it is not.

Hooves strike the gravel and rock. Air blows through flared equine nostrils, the metal components of a bridle clink loudly. The chestnut mare hooves into view, galloping crazily towards me, veering sickeningly from side to side, completely out of control.

Time slows...

I am transfixed by the mare. Like the elephant before her, she has angry welts and vicious cuts all over her back. They weep blood, which falls to the earth - leaving a trail behind her. My horror is complete. Everything moves in slow motion. The galloping mare. Her breath, visible in the air around her snout. Her head is in shadow as she approaches me. I notice she is shaking her head in panic, as if trying to dislodge some sort of irritant.

And then I see why.

The mare passes in front of me, out of shadow, into full view. Her eyes have been hollowed out. I can see clear through to the other side - ragged fleshy cavities are all that remain. Blood streams down over her snout where some has clotted and hangs in string like crude vestiges, drying in the air.

I fall to my knees on the stoop of the country house. I want to vomit but I can't. My loves hand falls to my shoulder while, her other hand rises to cover her mouth. Grief floods through both of us as the stricken steed careens into to the trunk of a tree, glancing off it violently before continuing on its crazed trajectory, away from the country house.

My paralysis consumes me. The sky grows dark. Angry forks of lightning pierce the black clouds. Night falls like a blanket over everything. The scream of the mare rings hollow in my head, taunting me as it grows distant, ever distant. My throat burns and I choke on something foreign that wasn't there before. I can no longer see...

I am falling through an inky blackness, tumbling and falling. I try to open my eyes but I can't. Beams of light puncture the darkness, blinding me. I hear the screeching of tires on a wet road, as though they are far away from me. Headlights splash across a country house. The desperate sound of an air horn. The scream of an animal.

And then I land on something soft - a bed? Motion ceases. Sound ceases. Everything ceases.

I try once more to open my eyes and, with a supreme effort, I prevail.

A bed. A dark room. Soft lights. The sounds of beeping - methodical, rhythmic beeping.

Sounds of mechanical breath. A tube of some sort hangs right in front of my face and, through the subsequent haze I become aware of, I realise the tube is going into my mouth, down my throat. A hand holds mine. Delicate fingers entwined in my own. Slowly, I blink. A crusty grit is in my eyes.

I turn my head slightly, slowly.

She is here, sitting beside the rail of my hospital bed. Love and warmth radiate from eyes that are filled with tears. I look at her and try to speak, but she gently 'shushes' me and raises her other hand to stroke my brow.

A man steps into my field of view, coming up beside my love. A kindly faced, elderly man. He wears a white coat. A stethoscope hangs around his neck. He holds a clipboard under his arm. 

My eyes widen in recognition. Panic assails me again and I try to speak. But the breathing tube down my gullet prevents me from doing so.

The doctor leans down, close to my love and speaks softly into her ear. I crane my neck to hear what he says.

"I'm very sorry Ma'am. I've just had word..."

My grief and my anguish are absolute in that moment of pause.

"...The mare did not survive."


Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Fourteenth Year.

I can still vividly remember the first day I met him.

My wife and I - then young lovers - were spending one of those particularly romantic days together, when we were first courting. We had just moved in together and were out and about shopping for things to make our home "ours". It was an extremely carefree and gushy time so bare with me here. We saw everything through rose colored glasses. We couldn't stop kissing or smooching and I don't think we spent many moments not holding hands. It was young love writ large.

I don't think we had actually discussed the idea of "expanding" our little household, although it had come up casually in conversation in one form or another at different times. So full of limerance as we were, when the opportunity presented itself, it was an opportunity that was too cute to pass up.

We were in the shopping mall, armed with homeware purchases and grocery items, strolling towards the exit, when we heard him. It was unmistakable - a loud, high pitched "yap, yap, yapping" My then serioso looked at me with those eyes that said "Awwwww!"

The pet store was just ahead of us, a small store front that was a kind of 'blink-you'll-miss-it' affair. That was where the yapping was coming from. At the time, I was the more reluctant of the two of us. I mean, we had just moved in together and were still finding our feet with one another. But I couldn't resist her eyes. They were one of her most attractive features.

I was lead towards the the pet store and inside, it was a cramped space, occupied mostly by bird cages and fish tanks. I remember looking around for the cat and dog cages, thinking 'are we in the right place?' But the yapping started up once more and I knew, we couldn't be any place else.

So we find our way to the very back of the store and found the source of the noise.

There on a wall occupied by cages of cats and dogs and other mammals, at eye level, was one particular puppy. It could only have been him.

He was six weeks old. He was born in June. A small bundle of black and white fur, with mottled socks on his front legs and overtly tall, pointed ears. His eyes were huge, almost too big for his face. And, as we approached the glass he instantly stopped his ultimate fighting contest with the ball of newspaper, sat down on his hind legs, wagged his tail furiously and looked straight at us. He yapped twice then got up, turned his rear end to the glass and promptly shat on it, a liquid stream of poo that made me flinch reflexively. My rose colored glasses cracked a little.

I noticed then that his enclosure was kinda filthy with poo and under normal circumstances I probably would have baulked right away. But this observation was almost completely usurped by the fact that the puppy occupying the enclosure was so damned cute. Even though we hadn't even made a decision yet, I knew we weren't going to be leaving the store without him.

He was six weeks old. He was a cross breed, a mixture of Border Collie and that quintessentially Australian cattle dog - the Blue Heeler. We were told he had been born in a litter of pups from the Southern Vailes of South Australia, down among the wine barrels of the McLaren Vale Wine Region.

My then serioso was sold on him the moment she laid eyes on him. I, although a little concerned about the amount of shit he had produced in those first few minutes, was reassured after the pet shop owner told me that he had just finished a course of routine antibiotics which was the cause of his "squirts".

Cut forward to us driving home from the mall. We'd purchased a bottle of Bleasedale Caberbet Sauvignon to celebrate...it seemed appropriate.

...On my serioso's lap, was a large cardboard box. The pup lay sleeping inside, evidently worn out after the whole ultimate fighting thing and the subsequent liberation from the two feet by four feet enclosure. Though we had no idea of the concept, we felt complete. Niether of us could take our eyes off the box. We were hoping he would wake up so we could interact with him.

"What shall we name him?" my serioso asked.

We ran through a bunch of names, from the usual, dumb pet names to the more sensible ones. None of them seemed to 'fit' however. This little pup seemed to possess something special - something different. He wasn't an average pooch at all. As we mulled it over, the pup awoke to the sound of our voices and popped his head out of the top of the box, yawning generously.

My serioso gave him a loving soft nose rub.

"What do you think of Sam?" I suggested, thinking that he looked noble enough to be a Sam.

"Hmmm" my serioso mused, a note of hesitation running through her voice.

"Okay..." I continued. "How about...Simon?"

We both looked at our new puppy. There was a moment of quiet between us, then my serioso nodded.

"Simon...that's it. Simon"

It fit.

Simon from then on, has become an inextricable part of my life. I regard him as, quite possibly, my best friend. We have grown up together, an unshakeable bond has grown between us.

Simon has been there during the best parts of my life - when my serioso and I were married. I actually wanted him to wear a golden bow tie and be a part of the wedding but I was talked out of it - probably for the best. The morning walks my wife and I used to go on religiously when we lived in Adelaide Hills - Simon was there. I'm sure he woulda put his own leash on if he could. I mean, he would actually bring it to us so we could put it on him. Whenevee the very word 'Walk' was uttered he would bolt straight for the leash, hanging on a hook outside. And he wouldn't so much walk along with us as he would attempt to pull our arms out of our sockets. Thank god we could let him off occasionally. Simon was particularly spoilt - by myself. He always got one of the sofas to himself and especially loved our movie nights, especially when we got our first home theater. He is an avowed Star Wars fan - like his 'daddy' - although I think he secretly leans a little more towards the works of Tarrantino, especially recently. Simon loves popcorn - MAJORLY - and we would usually end up surrendering at least half of a bowl of hot buttered heaven to him alone. He loved the drives and the day trips we used to go on and he always had his favored position in the back seat. No one would dare get in the way of his spot on the back seat. When my wife and I moved to the city, to our new house, he didn't once fret or struggle with adjusting to the new environment. He is and always has been adaptable.

A number of times, Simon has flirted with disaster. Chewing the cords of my Playstation controllers aside, Simon once brought down some loose house bricks on one of his front paws in an attempt to get through the side gate and he did a pretty decent job of breaking it. For weeks after, he sported a bright blue plaster which he wore, reluctantly. He hobbled around like a senior citizen and made it known that blue is definitely not his color. But the paw healed and he didn't suffer any long term after effects as a result of his injury. We once brought him home from the kennel we used to favor after an overseas holiday to find a really nasty hole in his equivalent of his groin. The wound must have been sustained from him being impaled by something sharp and it became badly infected. Subsequently, Simon became very ill and it was touch and go for some time. Again, he pulled through as if nothing had happened. We never took him back to that kennel.

Simon has also been there during the worst parts of my life - my darkest hours. When my marriage broke down and I was, literally, totally alone in this city that is far from the place where I grew up, Simon was my confidant, my one unwavering support, my only friend. He was with me when I had to move all of my furniture out of the house and into a shed that would become my home for 6 months while I built a new house. There were many of those trips at really odd hours to move my life out and Simon subtly moved from the back seat upto the front passenger seat to keep me company. For a time, my wife and I had joint custody of Simon and we made an honest attempt at sharing him. But it was doing us no good. In the ensuing train wreck that inevitably happens with a marriage breakdown, I feared I would lose Simon. And I was prepared to give him up too if it meant that he would be settled and happy. Fortunately (and I was to be forever grateful for this) my wife decided to surrender him to me.

For a time it was just Simon and me. And we were comfortable - if a little homeless. I battled depression - severe depression - and Simon was there to help me pick up the pieces. Much to my shame he did a lot of picking up after me but never once did he turn away. Eventually, I met someone new and with Emily came new love and new possibilities. The house was built - back in the Adelaide Hills that we both loved so much. Simon was kitted out with a brand new kennel and our new life began. There were new places to explore, new roads to walk and new air to breathe. 

With the passing of years, I sometimes wondered how long would Simon be around for. I mean, I know dogs have a different lifespan to humans and inevitably, I knew time would catch up to Simon. But I was amazed - constantly - watching him as he passed through his tenth and eleventh and twelfth years of life effortlessly. He witnessed the birth of our first child and took to Xavier without difficulty at all. In fact, he seemed tailor made for children. When Lucy was born, Simon seemed to be just as excited when we brought her home as Xavy was. He has watched them both grow and they have have grown to love him as a part of the family. Simon has slowed down somewhat. Arthritis has collected in his hips and it's made things a little more challenging for him to do, but it hasn't prevented him from enjoying an active life and playing with the children in the garden.

Simon has given so much joy but perhaps the most rewarding thing Simon has given me was the basis for an in-story characterization of him in my novel "The Hambledown Dream". During the months I spent writing the novel, Simon was with me a lot of time, sitting on the floor of my little den, snoring away as I wrote on rainy afternoons or out on the patio with a glass of wine and the bird song to keep us company when the sun was shining. It was somewhat inevitable that I would feature him in the story. I didn't count on his role being such a popular one. People who have read the novel have told me how much they loved Simon's appearence in it and how they loved his contribution to the emotional finale. He really is that wonderful character. He has such personality and a wisdom that he conveys through his eyes and his big smile.

Last week, we received some fairly shattering news.

For the past couple of months, Simon has been visibly struggling with walking and, initially, we thought it was an exacerbation of his arthritis. It's been really distressing for him - given that he has been such an active dog - and it's been distressing for us, not really.knowing what to do to make it better for him. Things however, took an alarming turn a couple of weeks ago when, as if from no-where, a large lump developed on his hind leg which seemed to irritate the hell out of him. Alarms bells went off and we promptly took him to the vet for an examination.

Simon has been diagnosed with cancer.

Without going into the specifics of the type of cancer that he has - it's a particularly nasty one - we've been told that the prognosis is poor and that his remaining time here with us is uncertain. Painful as the decision was, we've decided that treatment is not an option. There are too many risks for an older dog like Simon and the outcome would most likely be the same. For now, we've opted to treat him conservatively - to clear up the infection in his leg, manage the tumor, treat his arthritis with steroids and make him as comfortable as possible.

Our little family has been rocked to it's core. Xavier has some basic idea of the significance of the diagnosis, while Lucy is far too young to comprehend it. Both Emily and I are struggling to comprehend it ourselves. Suffice to say we are devastated.

For now, the steroids have actually helped Simon a lot and he has regained some of that characteristic spark that so endears him to everyone. He seems more comfortable and moves much more easily. Just today, he was playing soccer with Xavy and I in the garden and he was mixing it up quite skilfully - if a little gingerly. He hasn't lost his appetite and still eats like a horse - the steroids no doubt have helped that. So long as he has that kind of quality of life, then I am happy. 

He will celebrate his fourteenth year of life on June the 26th this year. I don't know yet, if he will make it to that date. After much discussion, anguish, soul searching and tears I've decided that once his quality of life deteriorates significantly, then I will make that one final journey to the vet with him.

Simon has made an indelible mark on my life for a full third of my life. I can't imagine how my life would have been without him in it. I can't imagine how life will be once he is gone.

Simon is my friend.