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And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, the Writing Life

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And a Dog Called Fig is the story of one writer’s life with dogs (including a frisky new puppy), how they are uniquely ideal companions for building a creative life, and some delightful tales about dogs and their famous writers

Into my writer's isolation will come a dog, to sit beside my chair or to lie on the couch while I work, to force me outside for a walk, and suddenly, although still lonely, this writer will have a companion.

An artist’s solitude is a sacred space, one to be guarded from the chaos of the world, where the sparks of inspiration can be kindled into fires of creation. But within this quiet also lie loneliness, self-doubt, the danger of collapsing too far inward.

An artist needs a familiar, a companion with emotional intelligence, innate curiosity, an enthusiasm for the world beyond, but also the capacity to rest 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, including Fig, her new Vizsla puppy. Interspersed are stories of other writers and their own irreplaceable Virginia Woolf and Grizzle, Gertrude Stein and Basket, Thomas Hardy and Wessex―who walked the dining table at dinner parties, taking whatever he liked―and many more.

A love song to the dogs who come into our lives and all that they bring―sorrow, mayhem, reflection, joy―this is a book about steadfast friendship and loss, creativity and craft, and the restorative powers of nature. Every work of art is different; so too is every dog, with distinctive needs and lessons. And if we let them guide us, they will show us many worlds we would otherwise miss.

Includes Black-and-White Photographs

272 pages, Hardcover

Published March 8, 2022

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About the author

Helen Humphreys

40 books368 followers
Helen Humphreys is the author of five books of poetry, eleven novels, and three works of non-fiction. She was born in Kingston-on-Thames, England, and now lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Her first novel, Leaving Earth (1997), won the 1998 City of Toronto Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her second novel, Afterimage (2000), won the 2000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her third novel, The Lost Garden (2002), was a 2003 Canada Reads selection, a national bestseller, and was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Wild Dogs (2004) won the 2005 Lambda Prize for fiction, has been optioned for film, and was produced as a stage play at CanStage in Toronto in the fall of 2008. Coventry (2008) was a #1 national bestseller, was chosen as one of the top 100 books of the year by the Globe & Mail, and was chosen one of the top ten books of the year by both the Ottawa Citizen and NOW Magazine.

Humphreys's work of creative non-fiction, The Frozen Thames (2007), was a #1 national bestseller. Her collections of poetry include Gods and Other Mortals (1986); Nuns Looking Anxious, Listening to Radios (1990); and, The Perils of Geography (1995). Her latest collection, Anthem (1999), won the 2000 Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry.

Helen Humphreys's fiction is published in Canada by HarperCollins, and in the U.S. by W.W. Norton. The Frozen Thames was published by McClelland & Stewart in Canada, and by Bantam in the U.S. Her work has been translated into many languages.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 97 reviews
Profile Image for Fran.
661 reviews631 followers
April 5, 2022
"Into my writer's isolation will come a dog, to sit beside my chair or to lie on the couch while I work, to force me outside for a walk...although still lonely, this writer will have a companion."
-Helen Humphreys

Helen shares a blueprint for her writing process, a method enhanced by the presence of a canine companion. "Writing all day was hard, although not as hard as the loneliness that attended it." "At the beginning of my writing, and my life journey, there was a dog."

When Helen's beloved Vizsla, "Charlotte" crossed the Rainbow Bridge, she purchased a new puppy she named "Fig". Helen kept a journal of the ups and downs of training after having had "Charlotte", the dog of a lifetime. Walking with "Fig" through a big field that months before she walked with "Charlotte", "...it wasn't so much a memory as an intersection-the two events came together in the same place and touched one another...".

Helen's words echoed my experience as a dog owner. My fourteen year old Springer Spaniel, "Whiz", was playfully anointed with the nickname "Franklin". What followed was the naming of our newbie, a rescue puppy, "Franklin", to channel our beloved dog. The two "Franklin's" were best buds, the puppy ever so gentle with her frail companion and namesake.

Helen describes a method of writing that works well for her...a structured style. "I read Virginia Woolf...I followed Woolf's example of how to live a writing day...Life for Woolf was a morning of writing and an afternoon of walking with a dog, a routine she maintained for most of her life." According to Helen, "Structure is a novel, and in life, is the perfect balance of order and chaos...the structure of a day could be...four dog walks...creative freedom...in this mix of the expected and the unexpected make for the best writing."

"And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, the Writing Life" by Helen Humphreys is enhanced by black and white photos of dogs that complemented the lives of some famous authors. Emily Bronte's dog "Keeper", accompanied her on walks across "the bleak Yorkshire moors." Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas had three white standard poodles in succession, each one called "Basket". Helen Humphrey's new puppy, "Fig", entered into a continuum of twenty-two years of Vizsla ownership for Helen. As "Fig" matured, would he develop any quirky behaviors? "There is often incongruity in character...sometimes...the most interesting part of someone...an anomaly...a wild card." Dogs live in the moment, perhaps a life lesson to be learned by us humans! A highly recommended read for writers and dog lovers.

Thank you Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews599 followers
April 16, 2022
“There is something always alive in the memory of a dog”.

In Helen Humphreys new memoir, Canadian poet and novelist we are invited to witness a blossoming loyalty between Helen and Fig, her new puppy… 🐾
…. the loss and grief for her previous Vizsla: Charolette….

Lovely transcending thoughts and reflections on writing, feelings of isolation, solitary feelings, family history:
[parents, siblings, grandmother, a great aunt], friendships, reading, book chat, insights …other authors and their relationship with their dogs and writing,
growing up, personal tales, travel (from England to Canada - and a trip to Finland), nature, insights, Fig’s personality and behaviors, and much inspiration makes this a wonderful beloved book.

Journal style writing ✍️….
sweet human & animal connections!

🐾 Paw love 💕
…….welcome *Fig*….
Helen’s Vizsla.
….[ Vizsla’s have high energy, come by their snobbery naturally, need lots of off-leash exercise, can become bored easily, form intense, close bonds with their people]

“Writing is not simply about learning skills. Each new novel requires everything be learned all over again, because no two books are alike, and there are different sets of problems requiring different solutions when creating each one”.
“But at the beginning, there is no way to know this. And at the beginning of my writing, and my life journey, there was a dog”. 🐕

Love the book cover of Fig!
….several great photos included…of other authors and their dogs.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
April 16, 2022
A definite win, win of a book. I love books about dogs and enjoy this author. Telling the story of her writing life, juxtaposed with the dogs she has owned and the new puppy she bought home. In her late fifties she decides to aquire a new puppy, she names Fig. Her preferred breed are Vizslas, a breed of which I had ever heard, but which, I of course, searched on Google. Beautiful animals.

Fig is a challenge in the beginning and she tells of her beginning struggles with this very active puppy. She thinks back to her last dog, Charlotte, and the easy comfort, relationship they had. Of course, Fig progresses and they bond. She uses stages of a dog's life with the stages of writing a novel. She also tells of other famous authors and their relationships with dogs they owned. Photographs included. Helen finds, in her writing life, that a dog is a necessity, for breaks, long walks and of course companionship.

A wonderful book if one loves dogs. Very clever too, I feel, the way this was written. Loved following Figs growth as her personality develops.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,299 reviews450 followers
April 21, 2022
This one was an interesting read because I'm raising a puppy right now too. I totally identified with forgetting how hard it is to be training a puppy and dealing 24/7 with it's energy in your sixties. At least I didn't have to deal with cold weather and snow.
This made me want to look for some of her fiction.

5/20. I have to add this because it was such a coincidental thing happening the day after I finished this book. I took my own puppy to the local dog park where she was alone for about 5 minutes, when what should come along but a very pretty little Viszla, the breed that was written about in this book. It was a beautiful little dog, friendly and active, and the two dogs played and ran together while her owner and I discussed the breed. I left appreciating the breed of dog, and he made note of the book title so he could read it himself. Connections everywhere we turn.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,399 reviews591 followers
February 3, 2022
I have forgotten much about living with a puppy, but I do have a dim recollection that it is all-consuming, and that a quiet, contemplative writing life is almost impossible to balance with the chaotic energy of a young dog. So, I am thinking that while my life is upended by the puppy, it might be a good opportunity to write about that experience — to think about my writing life in relation to the dogs I have lived with, and to explore other writers’ relationships with their dogs. What does a dog bring to the writing life? My writing life has mostly included dogs, but I have never spent time thinking about what this has meant to my creative journey.

After losing her last dog Charlotte suddenly (Charlotte being that one “perfect dog” the author has known in a lifetime of good dogs), Helen Humphreys decided to get another vizsla puppy and record her experience. The result, And a Dog Called Fig, serves as a “highlights-reel” type of memoir for Humphreys (she gives an overview of her upbringing and adult life, touches briefly on each of the books she has written, and describes what dogs she knew along the way; never getting too personal), and along with a day-by-day account of her and the puppy Fig getting to know one another and live together over the first couple of months, Humphreys shares brief stories of other famous authors and their canine companions, drawing some insightful conclusions about how having a dog complements the writer’s life. This wasn’t a deep or complicated read, but it was easy and enjoyable to this dog lover and I very much appreciated learning what Humphreys chose to share with me. (Note: I read an ARC through NetGalley and passages quoted may not be in their final forms.)

Just as a dog has no trouble moving from one scent trail to another, twisting easily from the path she is on with no backwards glance, so a writer needs to be able to take off on another trail of ideas without worrying that they are heading in the wrong direction. To a dog, there is no wrong direction. There is just this moment and these interesting smells and sights, and then this next moment with more fascinating experiences. A dog is constantly in process, and I have learned much from their approach.

At nearly sixty, Humphreys decided to waste no time in getting another dog in the wake of her beloved Charlotte’s passing, but between the puppy Fig’s uncontrolled emotions, constantly nipping needle-like teeth, and the deep freeze of a Canadian winter that forced them into close quarters, it’s no wonder that Humphreys initially feared that she had made a terrible mistake. But between getting to understand this new companion’s personality (as novelists must do with each new character) and learning how best to pace and structure their days together (as, again, novelists must decide with every plot), Humphreys soon realised that Fig was not Charlotte and she was then able to approach her new adventure as an unwritten page full of new possibilities. And just as Humphreys has always delighted in taking her dogs out to nature for walks as part of her writing process — to clear the mind and work over phrases and possibilities away from her keyboard — so too does she share stories of other authors and how their dogs fit into their routines: of Thomas Hardy and his territorial fox terrier Wessex; Emily Brontë’s giant mastiff/bulldog, Keeper, who kept her company on walks upon the moors; apparently, one can rub the bronze noses of Brom and Khina, the dachshunds that yet stand guard outside the former Moscow home of Anton Chekhov. And I was interested in all of it; read in a few pleasant hours as my own dog settled against my body and the snow fell outside.

When you know a dog well, and they know you, much is understood between you. It’s not telepathy but something else, some deep understanding that is perhaps the place that human language is always aimed towards but never really arrives at.

I don’t know if I really learned anything earth-shattering or essential with this read, but it was a pleasurable experience — combining two of my favourite interests, dogs and bookish things — and three stars shouldn’t be taken to mean that I didn’t like this very, very much.
Profile Image for Literary Redhead.
1,732 reviews515 followers
March 14, 2022
A lovely memoir on writing and the author's many dogs, including her beloved Fig seen on the cover. I really connected with Helen as she describes the impact her dogs have had on her life, and on an assortment of writers whose dogs meant much to them, including Emily Brontë, Agatha Christie, Maurice Sendak, and others. A delightful read for dog lovers, writers, and those who seek a comforting book on an inclement day.

Thanks to the author, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for the ARC; opinions are mine.

#andadogcalledfig #helenhumphreys #FarrarStrausGiroux #netgalley
Profile Image for Alan Teder.
2,062 reviews109 followers
June 10, 2022
... And a Writer Named Helen
Review of the HarperCollins Publishers hardcover edition (March 8, 2022)
I started Early - Took my Dog -
- Emily Dickinson
- epigram used for And a Dog Called Fig
I remember an elderly friend of mine telling me with great authority that when you are young, you like the bright lights and excitement of a city, but when you get older, the excitement at the bird feeder is more than enough. I laughed at the time, but I can see that the dog walk might devolve into a similar kind of contentment for me. - pg. 151 excerpt from And a Dog Called Fig

I very much enjoyed Helen Humphreys' non-fiction/fiction mashup Machine Without Horses (2018) a few years ago. So when I saw her latest non-fiction/memoir And a Dog Called Fig I snapped it up immediately. Reading it, I discovered that I had somehow missed the historical fiction Rabbit Foot Bill (2020) in the interim, so will have to catch that up.

In And a Dog Called Fig Humphreys describes her first few months with a new Vizsla puppy, especially the 'teething' pains i.e. biting. All her adult life, Humphreys has had a Vizsla as her canine companion and as she raises Fig, she also reminisces about previous dogs, esp. her favourite Charlotte. Interspersed throughout the book are anecdotes about famous writers and their dogs, usually accompanied by a black & white photograph.

Photograph of Helen Humphrey's previous dog Charlotte circa 2012. Image sourced from Chatelaine.

The book is structured in sections (titled Beginnings, Character, Structure, Process, Setting, Pacing, Endings) which describe the early life and the gradual bonding of the puppy with its human. Each of these sections also allows Humphreys to draw parallels between how she raises the dog with how she writes a book. These are often very interesting and practical tips on writing, which I think many would-be-writers would enjoy and from which they would perhaps even gain a few insider tips. Such as:
Another example of the way a dog tells us what to do with them, and if we’re paying attention and not fixated on having our way, by listening to what they’re trying to communicate, we could get along with them better. This is not dissimilar to writing, where it is more effective to listen to intuition instead of trying to force your will upon a piece of work. - excerpt from pgs. 183-184 about SETTING from And a Dog Called Fig
Pacing in a book is what moves the story along. In poetry, I learned that a line will carry the rhythm of the body and will break where the poet takes a breath. Prose doesn’t have the same parameters as poetry, but I believe that its lines also echo the rhythm of the writer and that the metre of the prose holds within it the breath and heartbeat of the writer. That becomes the natural pacing of a story, and sometimes that is adequate, just to go with how a narrative moves organically. Sometimes, though, it is necessary to manipulate the prose, to alter the pacing. If a story is without much action or drama, a writer can speed up the pacing to give the narrative more tension and urgency, to literally make it go faster. This is done by shortening the sentences, chopping things up, rushing the rhythm along. This can also be done by cutting out some of the linkages. A writer once told me to delete every third sentence, as this will remove some of the natural transitions and enliven the language. Though it seems an odd thing to do, it actually works surprisingly well. - pg. 200 excerpt about PACING from And a Dog Called Fig
I enjoyed And a Dog Called Fig immensely and I think fans of books and writers and dogs will also have the same reaction.

Other Reviews
Pick of the Litter by Michael Strizic, Literary Review of Canada, June 2022.

I don't know if this list covers all of the writers and dogs mentioned, but based mostly on the photographs alone they were: Virginia Woolf and Grizzle, Thomas Hardy and Wessex, E.B. White and Minnie, James Thurber and Muggs, Gertrude Stein and Basket, Maurice Sendak and Herman, Emily Bronte and Keeper, Zora Neale Hurston and Shag & Spot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Flush, Emily Dickinson and Carlo, Mary Oliver and Percy, Anton Chekhov and Khina, Alexander Pope and Bounce, Margaret Wise Brown* and Crispin's Crispian, Agatha Christie and Peter, J.R. Ackerley and Queenie, Alice Walker and Miles.

* It was rather wonderful to read that: "Also interesting is the fact that she wrote her most popular book, Goodnight Moon, as a homage to her literary hero, Gertrude Stein, using some of the experimental writer's rhyme schemes. Her last book, Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself, was inspired by her pet terrier, Crispin's Crispian."
268 reviews6 followers
January 23, 2022
Author Helen Humphreys has crafted a warm-hearted book about the dogs in her sixty-year life and how they have affected her writing. She has lived with vizslas for over 22 years and has found that though writing can be lonely, just getting out to walk with the dog clears her mind and structures her writing day. Ms. Humphreys also tells of other well-known authors and their dogs and focuses on her most recent puppy, called Fig. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
915 reviews
June 30, 2023
I am glad that I read "And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, the Writing Life" by Canadian author Helen Humphreys. She invited the reader into the solitude of a writer's life and shared many precious gems about good writing.

It has been years since I had a dog, but my grown children have dogs, as do many of my friends. While reading about the author's relationship with Fig her new puppy, I thought of my friend Jane and her beautiful, energetic puppy, Louie.
Along with telling of many authors and poets and their relationships with their dogs, including pictures, Helen Humphreys writes about the connections each dog has/had with its owner's writing life.

Here are quotes that I noted:
"Writing is not simply about learning skills. Each new novel requires that everything be learned all over again, because no two books are like, and there are different sets of problems requiring different solutions when creating each one."

"I followed Woolf's example of how to live a writing day - working in the morning, walking in the afternoon, writing letters or listening to music in the evenings. That was the template I was working from when I was trying to be a writer in England in my early twenties, and I've always found it to be a good fit for my writing life."

"When writing characters, it is okay to create something in them that is a bit of a wild card."

Humphrey learned from her dogs that to have traits that are admirable is as good as having traits that are likeable. She remembers this when she creates a character. Also, she tries to find something in common with her characters, whether they are real or imagined, as it makes it easier to relate to them, to inhabit them.

"Writing is very much about the life of the mind."

"Structure in a novel, and in life, is the perfect balance of order and chaos.… A novel could be structured around 52 sections, each one representing a specific week of the year. This is a fairly strict structure, and yet what happens within those individual sections could be wildly diverse. I believe in the creative freedom inherent in this mix of the expected and the unexpected makes for the best writing."

"Structures is about setting rules for a story and then following them. But first, one has to decide what those rules will be. Does it make sense to impose a rigid structure on a novel that is more experimental in nature? No, better to have a looser hold on the narrative there, let it drift around more naturally. Structure is a kind of discipline and not everything needs the same kind of treatment."

"In writing, structure holds the story in place."

" Perhaps one of the hardest things to learn about writing is that it is a continual process. Fixing words to a page doesn't mean that they are permanent and inflexible. You haven't arrived anywhere, even though it feels this way. For writing to have energy it has to remain energetic, and this means that it has to be able to move and change. After finally deciding on a train of thought, a line of words, it is an effort to shift direction...a writer needs to be able to take off on another trail of ideas without worrying that they are heading in the wrong direction."

"Good writing feels alive because it is alive – the writer hasn't been afraid to scrap a line or alter direction to find out what is happening in their story at the same time as they are writing it down on a page. It is exciting to write like this, to always be in motion. To be alive itself is to be "in process.""

"Knowing this park as I do has made me think of how important setting is in a novel. Not so much what the setting is, but more what the characters know about it. What of a place is public, and what is private? What can be seen by everyone, and what is known only to a few people? My surroundings could be identical to my neighbour's surroundings, but if we are noticing different things about them, are using them in different ways, then we are actually living in different places from one another."

When writing, it is more effective to listen to intuition instead of trying to force your will upon a piece of work.

"Pacing in a book is what moves the story along. In poetry, I learned that a line will carry the rhythm of the body and will break where the poet takes a breath. Prose doesn't have the same parameters as poetry, but I believe that its lines also echo the rhythm of the writer and that the metre of the prose holds within it the breath and heartbeat of the writer. That becomes the natural pacing of a story, and sometimes that is adequate, just to go with how a narrative moves organically. Sometimes, though, it is necessary to manipulate the prose, to alter the pacing. If a story is without much action or drama, a writer can speed up the pacing to give the narrative more tension and urgency, to literally make it go faster. This is done by shortening the sentences, chopping things up, rushing the rhythm along. This can also be done by cutting out some of the linkages. A writer once told me to delete every third sentence, as this will remove some of the natural transitions and enliven the language. Though it seems an odd thing to do, it actually works surprisingly well."

"A fast pace in a story will move that story along at a clip and move the reader with it. Murder mystery writers are usually very good at pacing, knowing what to portion out when."

" If one is set on a writer's life, it is a good idea to be able to pace yourself – do not work too hard or too much, to make sure you have enough physical and social activity, to try and cultivate healthy habits.

"Writing can always be improved, and we could spend all of our time aiming towards a perfection of expression that is impossible to achieve. This is what makes it all consuming, and also isolating."

"Every time I write a book, I have to discard everything I think I know about writing a book. What worked for one book usually doesn't work for another, and the freshness that is needed for the approach depends on feeling that the book you are working on is, in a sense, the only important book. It is where you will say everything you need to say, and there is nothing to say beyond it. That's how you have to think about it in order for the writing of it to be new and full of energy."

3.8 rounded up to 4 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Profile Image for Kathrin Passig.
Author 47 books409 followers
September 20, 2022
Hundebücher sind vermutlich als Genre einfach aussichtslos, ich hätte es ahnen können. Aber ich war gerade so begeistert davon, Helen Humphreys entdeckt zu haben, und das Buch fing gut an. Es sind ein paar interessante Gedanken drin, aber viel ärgerliches Füllmaterial über andere Autorinnen und Autoren, die auch mal einen Hund hatten, so als hätte Humphreys ihrem eigenen Material nicht ausreichend vertraut.
Profile Image for rosie.
11 reviews
August 16, 2023
this book was made for me. my dog’s name is fig. fuck whoever decided that it would be ok if any dog ever died ever
Profile Image for Shannon.
4,524 reviews225 followers
April 30, 2022
This was an interesting (and somewhat self-indulgent) look into Canadian author Helen Humphrey's life as a Vizsla dog owner and writer. I really enjoyed hearing about her writing process and past books but I will admit parts of this book had me zoning out as she waxes poetic about her Vizslas. It was an interesting concept for a book - to look at writers and their pet dogs over the years but overall it was just an okay read. Dog lovers and die-hard Helen Humphreys fans will definitely not want to miss this one.
Profile Image for Meg Androsiglio.
1 review3 followers
August 20, 2022
Wonderful book. I was ugly crying with the last 20 pages. My dog licked my tears which had me crying harder.
Profile Image for Alison.
2,397 reviews38 followers
April 17, 2022
I enjoyed this book very much. Dogs were everything to the author as she grew up, and this memoir tells us about her life throughout the years, through the dogs that became part of her and her families lives.
Fig, is the most recent dog that she has owned and the same breed as one that had been very special to her, a Vizslas. Having this new puppy has been quite a trial as there is a lot of training to do, before she will become the perfect authors dog, who will sit by her side as she writes.
The bonus for her has been needing to break up her routine for dog walks, as they both loved to be in nature, and it was a good way to recharge before writing.
The author also gives us a look into other authors and there dogs, with there own set of challenges.
I have read one of the authors novels and have 2 more waiting to be read, so I am looking forward to that.
I would like to thank NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for a copy of this book.
Profile Image for June Price.
Author 5 books56 followers
January 13, 2022
This book is a delight. It has all the warm coziness of curling up in front of a warm fire, book in hand, hot tea or coffee handy, and a warm dog on your lap. It is, as the book blurb says, "A love song to the dogs who come into our lives, and all that they bring --sorrow, mayhem, meditation, joy -- this is a book about the beauty of a steadfast canine friend and the restorative powers of nature. Just as every work of art is different, every dog is different -- with distinctive needs and lessons to offer. If we let them guide us, they, like art, will show us many worlds we would otherwise miss."

When I laughed aloud of her recounting of the story of Thomas Hardy's dog Wessex, who seemed to have the run of his home, walking along the tabletop and helping itself to whatever took its fancy at dinner parties, my own dog gave me a quizzical look. I was reminded of that later in the book when I encountered Humphrey's mention of one of her own dog's looks. The look of "What are you doing? I didn't say you could do that." Yes, Humphreys knows dogs and says elsewhere that dogs "represent balance, serenity and is a sound creature in a crazed world." How true that is.

"And a Dog Called Fig" should be on every dog lover's shelf and be read and read again and again. While Humphreys writes of her own writing journey and that of other writers, it's the story of her connection to her dogs that supplies the connection. We learn from them just as they learn from us. In return, they offer unconditional love, even if they do offer up the occasional questioning look or side-eye. Bottom line, if you love dogs, you need the book.

Thanks so much #NetGalley and #FarrarStrausAndGiroux for giving me the chance to read this wonderful book. I will definitely be on the look out for #HelenHumphreys' other work.
Profile Image for Catherine.
894 reviews
April 24, 2022
I loved this beautifully written book about writing, writers and dogs.
36 reviews
April 11, 2023
A beautiful escape into nature through the companionship of dogs. Definitely recommend for a peaceful meditation on life :)
Profile Image for Teresa.
67 reviews3 followers
July 20, 2022
I enjoyed this book, both the writing and the story. I love dogs and so appreciate that the author cares so deeply for her dogs (and all life) and seeks to further understand them.
693 reviews3 followers
November 6, 2022
Such a delightful book, clever too, the author writes about training her puppy alongside explaining the process of writing and crafting a book. In-between she talks about other authors and the dogs that have been important to them with excerpts from their work and photos.
Profile Image for Jen.
254 reviews1 follower
December 14, 2021
Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for my digital copy of And a Dog Called Fig. I was drawn to it because it's a personal tale about dogs and writing. The author alternates between a diary of her experience with her new puppy and stories about her life, her dogs, and famous authors' relationships with their dogs. Just some of the authors included were Virginia Woolf, Maurice Sendak, Emily Bronte, Margaret Wise Brown (who had beagles!), Agatha Christie, and Alice Walker. The book included photos not only of the author's dogs, but also of some of the historical dogs. Somehow seeing these old photos of authors with their dogs made them more real.

If you're a dog owner, you'll probably relate to a lot of what Helen Humphreys goes through with her dogs over the years- when your beloved dog passes away, you bring a new dog into your home, and they feel like a stranger; how we learn from dogs; how they force us to take breaks when we're working from home; how we love them unconditionally, and they love us right back.

I like this quote about the joy we get from our relationship with dogs. "It is such a simple thing, walking with or after the dog, watching them take in all the smells and sights of the day. I'm not sure why it conjures up such happiness in me. But like all the happy times I can remember in my life, it is about a sense of being notched fully into the present moment, with no thought or desire outside of that."

I haven't read anything by Helen Humphreys before now, but this book has made me want to. And a Dog Called Fig will be published on March 8, 2022. I recommend it!
Profile Image for Prakarsha Pilla.
114 reviews6 followers
March 24, 2022
As the name suggests, this book is about the author's adventures, accidents and memories with her dog, Fig. It also includes her experiences with her adult dogs and short stories of various famous authors and their dogs.
Reading this felt like having a conversation with the author.

The author keeps it as real as possible. She gets a puppy at 60. She wanted an adult dog all the while but fate had other plans. Fig was naughty and full of energy, like a pupper should be. She always grew up with dogs around. Each of them was special for her and fresh in her memory. She narrates how life was with them and how it is at present, with little Fig.

Numerous writer like Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf have had dogs. So the author narrates what they have said about dogs and their role in a writer's journey. She offers great insights of literature.

Human-dog relationship is a topic to be explored deeply. The author takes us through the same from different perspectives.

The author talks a lot about her writing journey too. The book is voluminous so pick it when you are in the mood for a long story. People with dogs, especially those who raised multiple dogs of various breeds or age groups will relate to the book. Dog lovers will have a great time throughout.
Language is simple and pace is slow.
I got an advance review copy and I'm posting the review voluntarily.
Profile Image for Ali Ives.
Author 2 books3 followers
June 28, 2023
This was an interesting read, in which Helen Humphreys relates the story of her life as a writer through the lens of the dogs she's owned over the years, as well as the troublemaking puppy that is her current companion. Interspersed amongst the chapters are anecdotes about other famous writers and their dogs (most of which sounded to be plentiful in personality and honestly quite horrible for anyone other than that particular author to be around).
I think what I enjoyed most about this book was how it made me ruminate not only on my own experiences as a writer, but on my own dogs and how they've shaped my life. As Humphreys told her stories of canine companionship, I dwelled on the dogs of my household, past and present, and what they mean to me. I reckon it's nice when a book sparks so much introspection (and often, in this case, discussion with people around me).
I did find her strict adherence to only one breed of dog (as well as what occasionally felt like a slightly down-the-nose view of other people's pets) harder to relate to, as a big fan of mutts myself, but overall it was an enjoyable book.
Profile Image for Lisa.
167 reviews13 followers
February 22, 2022
The writing life is often a solitary endeavor. Unless you happen to enjoy years with beautiful, intelligent, stubborn vislas. The story of Fig from puppyhood into maturity is a great foil to the life and challenges of writing - routine, patience, determination all are needed. As a dog owner for many years I can relate to the difficulties and joy of having a loving companion. Dogs enhance any life and career, as well as provide needed laughs when you least expect it.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Robyn Roscoe.
157 reviews1 follower
August 8, 2022
I have read (almost) everything fiction and non-fiction that Humphreys has written, and each book has been wonderful. Back in 2018, I read her Machine Without Horses, an interesting combination of novel and writer's memoir, and I enjoyed the memoir part and noted that it could have been longer. Et voila - an entire book that is a memoir of a writing life. Plus dogs!

Humphreys uses the framework and period of time where she has acquired a new puppy - Fig, a female Vizsla. The book follows the first few months of life with her new companion, and weaves in reflections on her life of writing, going back to her first novels through to the present. Interestingly, throughout she maintains an awareness of writing this book, so there is often a sense of being present that is unusual, almost like reading a diary as it is being written. The main thesis is that writers benefit from having dog companions, partly for maintaining balance and connection to the non-writing world and partly (or perhaps mostly) because a writing life is solitary and lonely. She includes several examples of other writers for whom dogs were omnipresent and important in their work and life.

Being a dog person myself (albeit not for a while) there was much about her perspective on the love, challenges, and joys of dog companionship that I could relate to. Her immediate experiences with the puppy and her reminiscences about dogs past and passed were very familiar, and typical of Humphreys she can put into vivid words what those times and experiences feel like. She also very deftly connects those feelings to the writing experience, providing ample anecdotal evidence for the benefits of dog walks and other distractions to enhancing the work of writing. I recognized a connection here to my own work and the guidance I give others: with or without a dog, all work benefits from regular breaks (see Pomodoro technique):

On structure (and in a variation on Hericlitus): “Structure in a novel, and in life, is the perfect balance of order and chaos. The structure of a day could be the four dog walks undertaken at regular intervals throughout that day. But no walk will be the same at the next. Each one, even if it happens along the exact same route as the previous walk, will yield up a different combination of sightings and experiences.”

About dogs, on being present (in a variation on Seneca): “…their ability to be entirely inside a moment and then to switch easily, and without regret, into another moment…To a dog, there is no wrong direction. There is just this moment and these interesting smells and sights, and then this next moment with more fascinating experiences. A dog is constantly in process…”

Humphreys does an excellent job of blending the work and details of life with a puppy with the stories of the lives of other writers, with plenty of reflection of her own journey as a writer and her words of wisdom. As always, her writing is clear, lyrical where appropriate, well paced, and satisfying. Even the somewhat abrupt ending is good, making perfect sense (there's only so much to say about puppy training).

"Happiness is a hard thing to describe, because even though the circumstances of various joys are different, the feeling is much the same and there is something oddly banal in attempts to translate it into something that can be explained to others. But happiness, true happiness, is also fairly rare in life..."

"It is easy to distrust what comes easily, to think that more effort is required to make something worthwhile...There is no shame in giving up what isn't working. It is often a better solution than hammering away at something that isn't going to be very good."

I take away from these that happiness comes unbidden - not engineered but experienced, sometimes only recognized when it is happening but more often in retrospect. It is ephemeral, unique, personal, and typically defies description or rationale. Perhaps because of that, letting go of things that are not working, whether a piece of work or writing, a job, a relationship, a path in life, can sometimes be better than trying to force it to work or confirm to an ideal. After all, we all only have so much time - an amount that is always dwindling - and experience should teach us to make the most of the moments we have left, and to savour the happiness we have and have had.
Profile Image for Yvonne.
428 reviews
November 2, 2022
What a marvellous read, full of insight, and wisdom from dogs and humans. I found this book a comfort. I loved reading the authors observations about grief, about nature, about writing, about changing as we get older and most, about living your life with a dog.
After having to euthanize the dog 'love of her life' due to heart cancer, Helen Humphreys bravely embarks on another life journey with another dog. Same breed, a female Vizsla, whom Helen names Fig. Fig is brought home to Helen's house in December, a 7 week old puppy. Winter is a hard season with which to have a puppy as there isn't much outlet for their all encompassing energy. And it's a very cold time for little pups to be taken outside for bathroom breaks.
"Vizlsa's are not known for being calm dogs and I fear that Charlotte, in her divine calmness, was an anomaly, but I am ever hopeful. We choose the puppy that seems the quietest and is keen to make eye contact with us. The other two are busy wrestling, and the breeder has already referred to one of them as a 'firecracker', which is not appealing. Because the vizsla is a finely turned hunting dog, they can be neurotic and the line between 'high strung' and flat out nuts is quite thin. I am confident that I can provide a peaceful environment for a dog, but it helps if the puppy I'm starting out with is not too hyperactive."
The book is scattered with tidbits about famous writer's dogs, like Virginia Woolf's dog Grizzle, or Emily Dickinson's Newfoundland dog Carlo. These little stories are fascinating and fit in nicely with the main stories of other dogs, namely Fig, but also others.
By the middle of January the puppy is no longer so babyish. "There's been a change in Fig on the morning walk. She is no longer so focused on me and her attention has turned to the larger world. She sniffs a branch, eats a piece of ice, carries a pine cone around for a while, lurches after a squirrel. She has started behaving like a big dog. And now in the car, on the drive over, she is large enough to sit and look out the window."
Helen is a writer, and she writes about structuring her writing life around her puppy and past dogs. It's clear that having a dog and writing for a living can be integral, working beautifully, intertwining and complimenting each other. She follows Virginia Woolf's favoured method of writing - write early in the morning hours and have long afternoon rambles with the dog.
One of my favourite quotes from the book is by the poet, Mary Oliver (Rest In Peace) who wonderfully says "Because of the dog's joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift."
This is a book to treasure and come back to.
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