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Matt Dunn on the inspiration behind Pug Actually, and why he’s eschewed the standard girl-meets-boy format for something that’s more girl-meets-good-boy

Matt Dunn on the inspiration behind Pug Actually, and why he’s eschewed the standard girl-meets-boy format for something that’s more girl-meets-good-boy

Back – way back – when I was a teenager, our family dog Patch was quite a character. Part Fox Terrier, other parts unknown, we were sure he was descended from a dog once owned by Harry Houdini, given his flair for escaping from the back garden. His sleight of hand – or rather, paw – was legendary: many was the Christmas we’d walk into the lounge to see a foil wrapper swinging on the Christmas tree where a chocolate had once hung, Patch in the opposite corner of the room, a ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt’ expression on his face, and chocolate round 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 boyfriend home for the first time, if Patch didn’t think much of them, he’d show his disapproval by sitting at their feet and growling softly yet menacingly up at them. Usually he turned out to be a much better judge of character than my sister was, and why not? If, as they say, you can tell a lot about a person from how they treat animals, then 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’ – failing it meant the relationship would probably last about as long as one of those aforementioned Christmas tree chocolates.

Reminded of this when going through old photographs at my parents’ house, it suddenly occurred to me Patch might be a character again. Not in a ‘Jurassic Park’ way, where I’d attempt to resurrect him using some of his DNA from the collection of old, half-chewed dog toys my parents 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, and wrote about how someone’s pet dog actually tried to intervene in their love life? After all, you hear stories of hero animals who save people from burning buildings – how far-fetched would it be for a pet dog to rescue their owner from a relationship that was going up in flames?

I decided a pug was the breed to go for given their intelligence, loyalty, and stubbornness. 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 Julie needs guidance from someone who sees things in black and white. The fact that he’d come from a shelter made sense too; more often than not, being a ‘rescue’ dog works both ways. And once I’d named him ‘Doug’ – there really wasn’t an alternative – it took me no time to find his ‘voice’.

As to whether a dog can play the – ahem – lead in a romantic comedy, so far readers seem to think so. And why not? After all, not all heroes wear capes.

Some of them wear collars.

Pug Actually was published by HQ on 14 October 2021

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