The famous statue of Greyfriars Bobby that sits proudly at the top of Candlemaker Row, on that sharp corner where it meets George IV bridge, is firmly embedded in my Edinburgh childhood. I would beg my dad to retell me the story every time we passed him on car journeys through the centre of town. If visitors came to stay, my parents would include Bobby on tours of the city, alongside the Castle, the Scott Monument and Holyrood Palace. We would talk of Bobby sitting on his master’s grave, in Greyfriars Kirkyard, his loyalty and love making him a local legend.
Whether the story is true (or a tiny bit embellished as has also been suggested), the love for this wee dog endures. Everyone loves Bobby! Now, folk from all over the world gather around Bobby’s statue for selfies, and rub his nose for ‘good luck’: a relatively new ritual which unfortunately leaves him with a polished nose. Poor Bobby!
When approaching Greyfriars Bobby as a picture book concept, I knew that his story had been told many times in beloved children’s books. But to be honest, I wanted to avoid the sadness of losing his master, so instead, I began to play around with ideas of his younger days – a tale untold! I remember pitching my idea to Sally Polson of Floris Books suggesting this energetic wee pup running around the old town of Edinburgh having adventures! Maybe getting into scrapes! And then, perhaps of how he came to meet his future owner, John Gray in the first place: a prequel, if you will, to the familiar story.
My imagined tale of a puppy’s adventure in this Victorian city would reveal that evolving loyalty we admire, first to local street urchin, Sandy who longs to play with the school boys of nearby George Heriot’s school, to John Gray, night watchman: Bobby’s destiny.
Illustrator Elena Bia has captured Old Town Edinburgh with such vibrancy and energy, so far removed from notions of a dull grey, Auld Reekie. Her illustrations make my heart sing for the Edinburgh I know and love. But my favourite is the spread of Candlemaker Row, with lines of washing hanging between the old buildings. There, sits puppy Bobby, a wee premonition of the statue that would be such a draw for dog lovers around the world, around 160 years later.
As a dog lover ( I have three!), I knew I would enjoy writing Greyfriars Bobby, A Puppy’s Tale, I didn’t know how much that wee dog would get under my skin. Special? Loyal? Oh yes all of that. But he was, in my mind, a truly special soul: one in a million, that simply sought to love and be loved. Our loyalty never wavers either. We love you, Bobby.