When I wrote The Midlife of Dudley Chalk I wanted to examine the nature of reality and why some people believe in the paranormal and some people don't. I think that's the main driving force behind the novel -- not what happens but how those events could be interpreted differently by different people. Strange things happen to Dudley and they might be evidence of paranormal activity or they might be mundane. Sometimes coincidence and Angels are one and the same, depending on what you are looking for. Quantum mechanics works on similar principles; a duality.
Two things come to mind that could very easily have been woven into the tale of Dudley's life, except they recently happened to me.
After formatting the novel for both e-book and print I needed a cover. I have two things going for me there -- I have been an illustrator for 20 years and my brother Tony was top banana in the graphics world. Years ago he designed book covers for New English Libraries.
(In fact, in those far flung days of my boyhood, Tone had a friend called Mick Chalk. Mick had a cat called Dudley. At the vet they called out "Dudley Chalk?" and everyone smiled. I liked the name, and almost forty years later the cat was reincarnated as the eponimous hero of my novel).
Tony gave me advice about the novel's cover and together we imagined a deer standing in front of a line of trees. A deer features large in 'Midlife' and so does a forest. I could imagine that deer standing broadside, its head turned toward the viewer, daring them to wonder about its intentions as it then disappeared into the forest.
I wrestled with that image for a while and every attempt looked like a bad paste-up of what I could see in my head. I abandoned the deer and went for a simple image of a forest path instead. The next day I was walking a dog in a tree-filled development in a rather expensive area called Gladwynne. As I walked along the quiet road a full-grown male deer, antlers large and impressive, walked slowly across the road ahead of me, stopped in front of a line of trees and stood broadside to me, its head turned. If I had been a photographer and the deer had been paid to pose, that would have been the book jacket I was looking for. I wondered if it meant something, as Dudley might have wondered too. Standing perfectly still for some time I said out loud "Please make my book a success." The deer moved off into the trees as if carrying my words with him.
Yesterday I woke up knowing that I had made the appointments with the vet and the USDA but I had no ticket. I had to buy one that day. Discovering that the pitfalls of connecting flights were not restricted to fears of losing Tyson, I decided to buy a direct flight and worry about getting from wherever I land to Slovenia. I would rather have two solvable problems than one huge mess. I'm not excited about flying all night then driving across Europe but its not as if I'm swimming the Atlantic. I can sleep on the plane. I just needed to pick the right place.
But where? There are flights to Vienna, Milan, Munich, all within driving distance. As I walked Tyson around the streets of Narberth that morning, I was wondering just that. If this was a movie script it would have me standing in the street, looking up into a rain-soaked sky shouting "GIVE ME A SIGN!" I didn't do that because just before my big cinematic moment, Tyson had a poo. I unrolled a bag, tore it off, bent down to collect it, stood up and saw a powder-blue car in the driveway of the poo-house. In large metal letters on the back of the car it said 'MILAN'. I didn't know there was a car called a Milan, but there it was. The difference between fiction and fact is that fiction has to be believable. If this happened to Dudley Chalk I would have edited it out as being too obvious a literary cheat.
When I got back I spent all morning on the phone trying to get the best deals, times and availability. In the end I spoke to a lovely Italian girl from Alitalia. I had found a cheap flight on one of those myriad of ticketing sites and was asking her if I could get Tyson on the flight to Milan if I bought through a dodgy little web site.
"You can buy the ticket through me, Sir," she said in an accent that made me miss Europe.
Here's the strange thing about airline tickets. Go to the airline web site and look for a return ticket and it will be $800. Change that to a one-way and it will be $2900. Go figure. Dodgy little web sites will sell you a one-way for $600. I explained to the girl that I couldn't afford three thousand dollars buying it through Alitalia.
"Usually it is that much Sir, but for some reason this ticket to Milan is saying $550 and there is room for your dog for $260."
Are there Angels?, or did Tyson poo by a car called a MILAN by accident? I don't know and I don't suppose Dudley Chalk would know either.
I like to think that Dudley Chalk the long gone cat knows. I like to think that all creatures end up as part of the cosmic puppet-master, and it's only us who are alive who don't know what's going on.
Like Dudley Chalk, I'm flying. I leave on November 24th. I have 9 days.
Moving with my dog to Slovenia.