Matt Dunn’s Inspiration for Pug Actually

To celebrate the release of Matt Dunn’s new laugh-out-loud romcom Pug Actually, we asked him about the inspiration behind this new novel. Grab a cuppa and settle in to find out about this PAWsome book…

The Inspiration Behind Pug Actually

A question novelists often get asked the most is, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ And while I normally reply with a throwaway, ‘There’s a website called ideasforbooks.com – you can just pick whichever you fancy!’, of course that’s not true. That page doesn’t exist. Unfortunately.

In reality, the idea for a novel can come from a variety of sources. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation, a throwaway line, something read in a newspaper. Or even a glimpse of something unusual through a window. Often it’s something the author’s experienced or that their friends have been through. Perhaps magnified and embellished for comic effect (and sufficiently distorted or distanced from the original for legal reasons!). But always, it has to be something that catches the author’s imagination, and makes them think ‘Hey – that’s interesting. There could be some mileage in that idea. And if I tell the story from that point of view…’

For example, my first novel, Best Man, was inspired by a friend’s cold feet before his wedding. My second, The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook, by someone I overheard in a coffee shop explaining how devastated they were at being dumped. My eleventh, 13 Dates, came from my interest in what the backstory might be behind a regular feature in a national newspaper. But for Pug Actually, the idea was a lot closer to home.

Our family dog, Patch, was something of a character. Part Fox Terrier, other parts unknown, it was rumoured he was descended from a dog once owned by Harry Houdini. Given his flair for escaping from the garden, then taking himself off to the local rec or down to the beach, negotiating several busy roads on the way.

His sleight of hand – or rather, paw – was legendary too. Many was the Christmas we’d walk into the front room to see a foil wrapper – still swinging – hanging on the Christmas tree where a chocolate had once been, Patch in the opposite corner of the room with a ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt’ expression on his face. And chocolate around his mouth. No one ever saw him do it. Or could work out how on earth he’d unwrapped them so deftly.

On top of that, he had a unique talent. Whenever my sister brought a new boyfriend home, if Patch didn’t think much of them, he’d make his feelings known. As they lounged on the sofa, he’d sit beneath their outstretched legs and growl softly yet menacingly up at them to show his disapproval. Interestingly, he usually turned out to be a much better judge of character than she was, and why not? If, as they say, you can tell a lot about a person from how they treat animals, surely you can also tell a lot about a person from how animals respond to them?

In time, this became known as the ‘Patch Test’. Fail it, and you could put money on the relationship lasting about as long as one of those aforementioned Christmas tree chocolates.

I was reminded of this recently while clearing out my parents’ house. My father died a few years ago, and my mother had just moved to a care home. So yours truly was tasked with sorting through the fifty-plus years’-worth of accumulated family detritus. Along with what seemed like a million-or-so old family photographs. Pride of place amongst these were the family portraits we’d take every year, fourteen of which included a certain black and white dog. I found myself remembering fondly the numerous ‘Patch Test’ incidents, and what a character he’d been. Then it suddenly occurred to me he might be a character again. Not in a ‘Jurassic Park’ kind of way, where I’d attempt to resurrect him using some of his DNA from the collection of old dog toys my parents had for some reason kept in a shoebox in the shed – but in a book.

I got to thinking, what if I took the ‘Patch Test’ a step further. What if I wrote about how someone’s pet dog actually tried to intervene in their love life? After all, you hear stories of hero pets who rescue their owners from burning buildings. How far-fetched would it be for a dog to rescue their owner from a relationship that was going up in flames?

I knew my hero had to be a dog. Not just because of my own experience with Patch, but also because dogs are colour-blind, and Doug’s lovelorn owner needs guidance from someone who sees things in black and white. The fact that he was also a ‘rescue’ dog made sense too. Especially since he understands that being a rescue works both ways. And once I’d decided a pug was the breed to go for, given their intelligence, loyalty, stubbornness (and capacity for over-eating!), it took me no time to find his voice.

As to whether a dog can play the – ahem – lead in a romantic comedy, remember not all heroes wear capes.

Some of them wear collars.

Pug Actually is available to download now.

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