Pooch from past is my hero

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - LINWOOD BAR­CLAY

Chip­per’s story — the one that would be­come “Chase,” my first novel for kids — ar­rived at 2 in the morn­ing. Many of my ideas show up mag­i­cally in the mid­dle of the night and, if one of them is good enough, it will end up as next year’s thriller for my adult read­ers.

I knew right away “Chase” wasn’t go­ing to be one of those books. Star­ing at the dark ceil­ing, I plot­ted it out. What if a se­cret or­ga­ni­za­tion is tak­ing reg­u­lar dogs, im­plant­ing them with loads of so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware and sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties, then set­ting them loose in hos­tile na­tions to see what’s go­ing on? Af­ter all, who’ll pay any at­ten­tion to some wan­der­ing mutt? Ex­cept this mutt un­der­stands sev­eral lan­guages, can read, com­mu­ni­cate, even trans­mit im­ages and video to head­quar­ters through its cam­er­a­like eyes.

Chip­per’s one of these dogs, but he’s not work­ing out. His ca­nine in­stincts of­ten sab­o­tage his as­sign­ments. If there’s a choice be­tween fol­low­ing a spy or a squir­rel, odds are he’ll pick the lat­ter. His mas­ters have de­cided to pull the plug on him, but Chip­per’s smart enough to know what’s com­ing and plots his es­cape. Once he’s on the run, he sets out to find a young, or­phaned boy work­ing at his aunt’s fish­ing camp.

Why has Chip­per fix­ated on some boy that he’s never met? Why is it so im­por­tant that he find him? Is this boy in grave dan­ger with­out even know­ing it?

In the morn­ing, I bounced the idea off my wife, Neetha, a for­mer kinder­garten teacher. “You have to write this,” she said. All kids will love it, she said. But she thought boys, who can be re­luc­tant read­ers, would re­ally eat it up.

Af­ter writ­ing so many nov­els for grown-up read­ers (the 17th, “Part­ing Shot,” comes out in Novem­ber), could I write a book for kids? Well, why not?

My ap­proach wasn’t much dif­fer­ent. The story had to move. There had to be plenty of sur­prises. As many chap­ters as pos­si­ble had to end with a mini-cliffhanger. It needed ter­rific char­ac­ters.

But it would also have some­thing that none of my adult thrillers had: a fort. What’s a novel for kids with­out a fort? And not just any fort, but a mys­te­ri­ous, aban­doned rail­way sta­tion in the mid­dle of a for­est.

It was Neetha who sug­gested I call the dog in my story Chip­per. Not just be­cause it’s per­fect for a dog that’s loaded with com­puter chips, but be­cause it was the name of my dog when I was grow­ing up.

The real Chip­per came into my life as un­ex­pect­edly as the fic­tional one. It was 1966. I was 11, and my par­ents had bought a cot­tage re­sort and trailer park in the Kawartha Lakes area, near Bob­cay­geon.

Chip­per, a true Heinz 57 kind of mutt, was a stray who’d wan­dered into the camp and had been adopted by one va­ca­tion­ing fam­ily af­ter an­other. But one week, as cot­tages changed hands, no one else wanted him.

Ex­cept for me. He was my best friend for more than a decade.

I made the Chip­per in “Chase” a bor­der col­lie. (I needed a dog with a bit more size to fit in all that com­puter equip­ment.)

But what do the two dogs have in com­mon? A thirst for ad­ven­ture and a young boy’s de­vo­tion.

Linwood Bar­clay, au­thor of Chase.

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