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How an author’s dogs inspired her psychological thriller

Barbara Copperthwaite’s dogs inspired her novel The Girl in the Missing Poster

Caroline Abbott

Posted 3 months ago

by Caroline Abbott

Many dog owners say their pets inspire them in some way. Without her canine best friends, author Barbara Copperthwaite probably wouldn’t have written her psychological thriller The Girl in the Missing Poster – a novel in which her dogs have been immortalised.

The main character, Stella Hawkins – whose sister Leila is the girl in the missing poster – uses her job as a dog behaviourist to weed out those who are lying to her, and the book features a number of dogs including Barbara’s own three: Buster, Scamp and Buddy.

Barbara said: “I wanted more than to simply capture the sweet relationship between dog and human. I wanted to use my (and Stella’s) love of canines to actually push forward the narrative.

“In her working life, Stella spends her days watching the body language of dogs and their owners in order to solve behavioural issues, which means she is sharper than most people at picking up human cues. She can tell better than most if someone is lying.”

Barbara’s career started in journalism, writing for national newspapers and magazines. For more than 20 years, Barbara interviewed real victims of crime – and also those who carried out crimes. She is fascinated by complex characters and what it takes to push a person over a line.

The Girl in the Missing Poster, published by Bookouture, follows Barbara’s other psychological thrillers: Invisible, Flowers for the Dead, The Darkest Lies, Her Last Secret and The Perfect Friend.

When she’s not writing at her home in Birmingham, she’s often out walking Scamp and Buddy.

Barbara says this quote from The Girl in the Missing Poster sums up her own thoughts on her relationship with her dogs:

“’Pet’ doesn’t come close to describing the deep connection of the soul that happens between a person and their animals. They are best friend and family all rolled into one. They never judge or criticise, never steamroller over ideas, and never lie. There is no cruelty there. They simply live in the moment. They are utterly innocent.”

Barbara said: “They can make me smile no matter how low I am, they will love me even if no one else in the world does, they don’t care what I wear, how much I weigh, or if I have dodgy taste in music.

“But doggy devotion isn’t what makes me fall in love with dogs – it’s how much they can teach me. My dogs inspire me to be a better person.”

Her dog Scamp is a seven-year-old cockapoo. “She has numerous allergies that often make her life more difficult than it should be,” said Barbara. “Yet she’s always wagging at me, or nuzzling a tennis ball into my lap when I’m writing, or even throwing it up into the air herself to catch and chase. She loves life and never stops smiling. Her attitude makes me face my own chronic health issues with a greater positivity, and on days when everything seems too hard, one look at Scamp makes me more determined. She’s a role model in a fur coat.”

Her dog Buddy, a cross-breed with “a dollop of terrier somewhere in him”, was born on the streets of Gran Canaria before being caught and put in a kill station when he was only around one year old.

There, he was attacked by another dog, leaving him with a scar on his left ear, a broken tail and blind in one eye. He was spotted by rescue group Foreign Furries and then went to live with Barbara.

She said: “Despite that terrible beginning, Buddy is the gentlest soul I’ve ever come across. He doesn’t have an ounce of anger or bitterness in him. Instead he brims over with patience and love and you should see his joy when he’s off his lead and running around the park with his friends! If anything can inspire a person to leave the past behind and live in the moment, appreciating every second, it’s Buddy. It’s a lesson I need reminding of sometimes, but all I have to do is look at him, and I renew my efforts.”

Buster, who also features in The Girl in the Missing Poster, passed away around eight years ago, but Barbara still remembers the life lessons he taught her. She said the Shih Tzu/poodle cross had “the kind of zen that Buddhist monks take a lifetime to achieve”.

She said: “People who didn’t like dogs would take one look into his eyes and find themselves declaring: ‘I don’t normally like dogs but Buster is amazing. There’s something really special about him.’ They weren’t just being polite, either, as they showered him with love. So often when I was stressed with life, Buster would work his zen power over me.”

Barbara said writing about a canine behaviourist seemed the perfect opportunity to immortalise her best friends.

She said: “No matter what Stella is tussling with, her dogs are always by her side. I loved being able to immortalise Scamp, Buddy and Buster in The Girl in the Missing Poster. They inspire me every day, so it only seems fair.”

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