It’s the story of a dog – told in her own words.
What Heidi Knows, self-published by South Surrey writer Gemma Tamas, is a tribute to her beloved Rottweiler.
And when Heidi passed away just over a month ago, it became a fitting memorial to a special pet.
But it’s also an unflinchingly honest narrative, seen through canine eyes, of the chaotic patchwork of triumphs and trials that is known as life.
There’s no shortage of drama. Abuse, anger, addiction, the problems of human relationships, injury, illness – even death – all play a role in the fact-inspired story
But, most of all, What Heidi Knows is a touching paean to the incredible bond that frequently develops between humans and animals; a mutual love and understanding expressed in looks and gestures that seem to speak as clearly as words.
Anyone who has ever loved a canine friend will know what Tamas means when she says she didn’t write the book.
“I’m only a humble scribe who put the story on paper word by word,” she said.
“It’s a tribute to Heidi and her friend, Checkmate, a Basenji, who passed away two years ago.
“It was written from my head, and their heart. I wanted to show people the good qualities a dog can have, the unselfish love and the knowledge to go ahead and accept life as it comes.”
Tamas said it always amazed her that the 85-pound Heidi had no hesitation in accepting the 20-pound Checkmate, who was adopted after Checkmate’s owner – a friend – died suddenly.
“They were both Alpha dogs and not young, but they accepted each other from the first moment,” she said.
“They were lifelong friends who never bullied each other and accepted each other as they were.”
A photograph of both dogs adorns the cover of the paperback, which is also illustrated with the evocative line drawings of South Surrey artist Akiko Michael, who illustrated Tamas’ earlier No Is Not My Name, a guide to naming dogs.
Although the Hungarian-born freelance writer becomes Gina in the telling, everything else about the story is barely fictionalized, she said.
“It’s very much as it happened. I didn’t change anything except some people’s names and a few dog’s names.”
Since her first book was published in 2003, Tamas has been selling short stories to various magazines, and her prose and poetry has been featured in a variety of anthologies (one of her stories is soon to be published in one of the popular ‘Chicken Soup…’ series).
The decision to tell the story in Heidi’s (and for a section, Checkmate’s) words evolved naturally, Tamas said.
“Because I loved Heidi so much to begin with, it was easier for me to write it through her eyes. It was not at all difficult to find her voice, since we’re both a little bit similar personalities – in our stubbornness and going over any obstacle in our paths.”
She also planned the book so that each chapter could stand on its own as a separate story, she said.
“Young people can read it chapter by chapter, or parents can read it to their young ones.”
And while the book encapsulates much of the apparent randomness of life, a message emerges that is particularly valuable for younger readers, Tamas said.
“This book teaches love, tolerance and courage, not to fight, but to stand by a moral principle,” she said.
“It doesn’t sermonize but it shows a way to live a better life.”
A portion of sales of her book is also donated to a dog rescue site, she noted.
A dog lover all of her life, Tamas admits she has written an account based on the lives of two dogs she owned before Heidi.
“The manuscript is ready – perhaps it will be published,” she said.
But in the interim, she’s doing readings and signings to promote the book, and she’s enjoying the positive feedback from other dog lovers – the elderly lady who attended one book signing, for instance.
“She said ‘I want to buy your book,’” Tamas said. “I asked her to whom I should address it, and she gave me her name and then another name. When I asked her who that was, she answered ‘he’s my dog and we’re going to read it together…’”
What Heidi Knows is available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com and as an e-book.