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Of Paws and Plots! Sheila Johnston

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Sheila Turner Johnston

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Thirty seconds after this photograph was taken my cat, Fudge, made a bad decision. She decided to do a languorous roll, fell off in a twirl of tail and landed in a holly bush. She extracted herself, shook her ears, sat on a petunia, and began to wash her paw with an “Of course I meant to do that” air.

I was reminded of this when copies of my novel Maker of Footprints arrived in the warehouse. This is the second edition of the novel, wearing a brand new cover and (well, I hope) looking great.

So what does a cat falling off a window ledge have to do with a novel?

It’s about decisions. Good ones and bad ones. All the way through their story, our characters are making decisions. In Maker of Footprints, my characters come to some critical forks in the road and at times I admit I didn’t know what they would do next.
I’m sure I’m not the only writer who can pass half an hour staring at the screen, mentally hunting for the right word or the best image, and finally deciding to put the kettle on and watch a repeat of Cheers instead.

In a critical scene in Maker of Footprints, Jenna is confronted unexpectedly with a formidable emotional situation. Her reaction will change her life. And someone else’s too. She knows it and I know it. What will she do?

I didn’t know.

I tried out various scenarios but none of them were true to the Jenna I thought I had come to know so well. I was getting deeper and deeper into that holly bush. Everything I tried was wrong. The kettle and the television were singing a duet.

Finally I did what I should have done on the first place. I decided to ask Jenna herself what she would do. I sat in a comfortable chair, closed my eyes and became Jenna. I pulled into my head all her experiences, all her emotions, all the relationships that had made her who she was. I set myself on the road she was on, lifted her past and carried it, scooped up her hopes, fears and failures – and let her speak.

When I opened my eyes again, I knew exactly what Jenna would do. And she did. And it changed her life. And someone else’s too. But it wasn’t any of the things I had thought she would do. It was something entirely different but so true to who she was that I was amazed I hadn’t seen it before.

Too busy scrambling out of holly bushes, I suppose!

PS Fudge is seventeen years old, deaf as a door knob and usually to be found sitting on my keyboard, just to make the perfectly reasonable point that she is more important than any other thing, living or dead or dozing, in my life. She has very clean paws.

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