Do you have a favourite character in the book?
Almost all of the main characters have been inspired by people I got to know or heard about on Skye – Yvonne, the vet, Calum, etc. – and my affection for the real people is, I think, present in how I've written the characters. Josh is more of an invention, but one very much based on my experience with patients who have been traumatised by the loss of their mother early in their lives.
What was your inspiration to write this story?
It was a late night conversation in Skye, between the old Skye vet, Neil Stephenson, and my friend Joe, that gave me the idea for a boy who was inspired by a vet to take care of small injured animals on the common. The book developed from this.
What is your favourite scene or moment in the book?
It's all my baby so there is much about the book I love, but the moments I find most emotionally satisfying are those in which Josh makes an emotional connection with people – Yvonne, his mum, and the final big scene with Calum, where he really begins to grow up.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I've written since I was a boy – at first, rather unoriginal versions of comic books I'd read, e.g., about a man with superpowers who wore tights etc. I co-wrote a play with a friend at age ten which we put on in our class at school and then sold. I became editor of my high school newspaper, and at university I wrote a number of plays which won awards at the University of Michigan. So writing, in different forms, has been part of my life since I was young. The idea of writing for children only occurred to me when I had a child myself!
What keeps you motivated as a writer?
I have a writer's group – Candy Gourlay, Cliff McNish, and Christina Vinali – which meets monthly which helps keep me writing. But mainly I like perfecting my craft.
What’s your favourite book, and why?
I used to reply Catch 22 to this question, but I’m not all sure now.
Do you have a routine when you’re writing (i.e. silence, a particular genre of music, only working in the morning, only working in your underpants?)
My week is divided between my "day job" and my "writing days". On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday I see patients (I'm a psychoanalytic psychotherapist) and on Wednesday and Friday mornings I walk our golden retriever, perhaps see a couple with a colleague, and then settle down to write. No music, just me and the computer in my study (which also serves as a spare bedroom).
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer?
Write and don't be precious about it. Somehow, over the years, I've managed to learn how to structure stories, create characters, etc. but it took a lot of writing (and reading, and sharing my writing with others) before I had much idea of what I was doing.
How easy was it for you to find a publisher?
I was very lucky with my first series, Boobela and Worm, in that a bedtime story I told my daughter was liked by a friend in the publishing industry who sent it to Fiona Kennedy at Orion. That series got me an agent, Lindsey Fraser, who found Birlinn for The Secret Dog.
What’s the best experience you’ve had while writing a book?
I loved doing the Boobela and Worm books and discovering how stories got turned into books.
Who are you generally writing for?
Originally, my daughter, but now, I think, for myself.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Of course, I'm not just a writer, I work with individuals and couples as a psychotherapist, and also am involved in training people to become psychotherapists – I'm currently chair of the Philadelphia Association Psychoanalytic Training.But if I wanted to add something else to this mix, I'd do more storytelling and improvisation.
What one thing would improve your life?
Sadly, writing doesn't pay very well. So I wouldn't mind a bestseller.
Where would you like to be right now, anywhere in the world?
Most of the places I truly love are somewhat wild and off the beaten track. But as I'm writing this in the middle of a rather grey London winter, some warmth and sun wouldn't go amiss...
Are any or your characters based on yourself or people you know?
As I said in question 1, most of the characters are based on people I've met in Skye, combined with friends, aspects of myself, and patients.
If you could swap lives with one of your characters, who would you choose and why?
This is an interesting question. My first thought was the vet, but then I thought of the day I spent following a vet around, and the places they had to put their hands... I think Josh has a pretty good life.
Have you ever regretted how you ended a story and wish you could change it?
Not so far.
If you weren't a writer, what would your 'dream' occupation be?
For the most part, I can't complain about my life – I do work I enjoy, work for myself (and as I've matured I've become a more caring and generous "employer"), and have time to do things I love.
If your book was a film, who would you cast for the lead character?
I'm hoping to get a chance to do this! The boy in Boyhood has now grown up, but I think he would have done rather well eight years ago!
Why are books important in your opinion?
I think books saved my life when I was a young, sick child (I had severe asthma). Reading them transported me to different worlds.
What are you reading right now?
I'm reading Jenny Alexander's Writing in the House of Dreams, some psychoanalytic texts in preparation for some seminars I'm doing next month, and Helen Peter's The Farm Beneath the Water. (Helen used to be in my writer's group until she moved to Brighton, and I saw drafts of early chapters of this book.)
Which authors do you particularly admire?
I admire authors who can turn their hands to different genres successfully. I'm still working on this!
If you had a superpower what would it be?
I'd love to fly like Superman...