September 8, 2010 / 11:39 AM / 9 years ago

Book Talk: Self-help author finds animals give twist on life

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Heard the one about the pair of ducks who moved into a New Jersey home? Or the doe that stopped a woman in the woods as her fawn was stuck in a fence?

Author Jo Coudert, who built her writing career in self-help books, could not resist these heart-warming animal stories so found herself heading into a new chapter in her career.

Her latest and 10th book, “The Dog Who Healed A Family: And Other True Animal Stories That Warm the Heart and Touch the Soul,” consists of 19 animal stories displaying hope, humor, loyalty, compassion, and love, that she gathered over the years.

The title story is about what happens when a family of five adopts three siblings with a troubled past and they adopt a dog, Shaneen, who eventually brings the family together.

Other stories focus on a goose, born without feet and destined for the Thanksgiving table, who is given new life via a pair of Nikes and the cygnet saved from drowning who becomes a pet.

American Coudert, 77, who published her first book in 1963, spoke to Reuters about writing and animals:

Q: How did you get into self help books in the first place?

A: “My first book happened by accident to be a cookbook and the publisher then said he was looking for someone to write a really intelligent book about self help. I said I thought it was a terrible idea but I talked to a very intelligent friend about it and we started talking about how you live a life. I thought that was interesting so maybe you could write an intelligent book about self help. Having argued that I did not have the credentials to write the book, I wrote “Advice From A Failure.””

Q: Did that became your theme?

A: “I read early on in my career that every writer has a theme that runs through their work. I suppose I do and that is how to live a life. The animal stories are a little by the way but I like animals and I like to read and write about them.”

Q: You went from self-help books like “Advice From A Failure,” and “The Alcoholic in Your Life” to animals. Why?

A: “One writes what comes to one’s attention and engages one. I’m working on a book now on aging so that is self help. The animal books in some way were thrust upon me. People had good stories to tell me.”

Q: There are gaps of years between your books.

A: “I am not a particularly fast writer but I wrote the first four books of my 10 books and my publisher went bankrupt so I had no publisher. I then got very caught up in playwriting and was writing a lot of theater but I could not make a living out of it. Then one of these animal stories came up, the one about two ducks. I thought it was a lovely story (so I wrote it for a magazine). People loved it so much that I was asked if I knew any more. I started to ask around and one story after another began to emerge. It was something I much enjoyed doing.”

Q: So the 19 stories in the book were all written for magazines?

A: “These stories were written over about 15 years. I have been writing other things too. The publisher asked me for another one to make it 20 but I said you don’t realize how hard it is to find these.”

Q: How did you find them?

A: “People would see my stories in magazines and then send me clippings from local papers as well about animals or contact me with a story about their own pig or swan. People love to tell those stories so I found it easy to do this.”

Q: Any from friends?

A: “Yes, the story about the fawn who stopped a woman in the woods and asked for help happened to a woman who I sat at dinner with and we were all so moved by this story. That afternoon a deer stood in her path in the woods even though she had a dog with her. It kept looking at her fixedly and also down the path and this woman had a funny feeling it was trying to communicate with her. She tied the dog up and followed the deer which led her to a house with a picket fence with the doe stuck. The deer jeopardized herself to get help for the fawn.”

Q: Any advice to aspiring writers?

A: “It’s a wonderful profession and a terrible one. You have to be able to take rejection and take working by yourself which is not always easy. I am not surprised that a lot of writers end up drinking too much. But it is also extremely satisfying to find a blank sheet of paper turns into something.”

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Paul Casciato

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