For Sidnie, the smart, handsome (if not quite prize-winning) cocker spaniel, life at home in Australia is just fine. But when Mum decides to spend a few years living on Sidnie’s human dad’s Christmas tree farm in America, he has to go along too.
Through his own words, with Mum’s help, Sidnie tells of the thrills, struggles and delights of moving to the other side of the world.
In among the Christmas trees, he runs into intimidating stags and gun-toting deer hunters, plays hide-and-seek with the friendlier wildlife, and chases squirrels as they gather nuts for winter. With gusto, he throws himself into his first American Christmas party! And even an urgent dash to the vet’s after helping himself to chocolate cupcakes doesn’t diminish his enjoyment.
With the humour and wisdom you’d expect of a cocker spaniel, Sidnie keenly observes the antics of the ‘choose and cut’ Christmas tree customers, ponders the attitudes of New Jersey’s two and four-legged inhabitants, and illuminates the joys and challenges he and his human mum encounter in the land of Uncle Sam.
Let's talk about it
1. Tell us something about yourself that not many people know
I harbour a deep desire to tell my story. I found being truthful about Sidnie’s life and some of my experiences around that tale very releasing and would like to complete that journey with a story about my life. As new immigrants to Australia my parents had many challenges, some of which I took on board. I had cancer at 33, something particularly my work colleagues were never privy to, and thus some of my hurdles and joys in life, are what I would like to share.
2. Why did you choose the themes in your book and were you aware of them from the start?
Looking for a new identity after a mainly corporate career and finding transition from full trim work to retirement challenging, I chose the themes in my book because I was actually experiencing them in life with my beloved dog in America. It was all new to us, and finding the American culture so surprisingly different from Australia, I thought it would be fascinating to explore them through Sidnie’s eyes. I wasn’t aware of them from the start but they evolved logically into seasonal themes captured within his whole life story.
3. How difficult was it for you to write this book? Did you face any obstacles?
The book took eight years to write. AS a new author, I found the work very challenging and wrote and rewrote the book as it slowly evolved. With fortunate mentoring from an editor in the US and then additional editing from the producer of my work in Australia, the difficulties kept being overcome and the final product emerged. The main obstacle I faced was when Sidnie was diagnosed with cancer when we had returned to Australia. For the two last years of his life I had writer’s block, but when he died I was compelled to complete the work to honour and pay tribute to my wonderful companion.
4. Do you always write in this genre or do you like to break out of the box?
As a first-time non-fiction writer, I enjoyed this genre and would like to continue to write in the memoir genre. I would now like to translate my dog’s voice into my own.
5. What are your writing habits or idiosyncrasies?
Writing became part of my daily routine. In the morning I would exercise and do my chores, but settled down to write in the afternoon. I didn’t put a time limit on either my writing or my completion, but wrote as and when I felt I wanted.
6. What would you do differently next time?
I would probably design the structure of my book first, rather than having it evolve. The structure of Sidnie’s book took a long time to become clear and correct, but in my next book, which I already have in my mind’s eye, the structure would be like a map for me. If it then evolves, fine, but I now have a structure that I would like to use in my next book.
7. With hindsight, what would you say to yourself as a fledgling writer?
Patience and time paid off in the end – to see my work as a printed, published novel makes me proud to call myself and author.
8. If you worked with a professional editor, what was the experience like?
Brilliant! The constructive feedback I received from my US editor propelled my work forward. I took on board her guidance and positive comments which gave me the impetus to continue. Additional editing in Australia as the work came to its conclusion finessed the outcome.
Karen Waldman has lived in Sydney, Australia, most of her life. Her career began in the construction industry, after qualifying with Bachelor degrees in Science and Architecture. Following eight years in project management in her own company, she undertook a Master of Business Administration and moved into the public sector. In New South Wales and Queensland, Karen held operational and corporate roles in the water and energy industries, progressing to the position of Chief Executive Officer.
She always envisioned a time when she would turn her journal writing activities into a creative writing career. Newly retired, in the United States, her experiences provided the perfect platform to write about the adventures she shared with her beloved dog Sidnie, who had also made the journey with Karen and her husband.
Karen has two adult daughters living in New South Wales, so Australia will always remain her home. Prior to Sidnie, Karen had three other Cocker Spaniels and has always been a dog lover, so it was only fitting for her canine companion to be the focus of her first book. She recently became mum to a Cocker Spaniel puppy, who, following Sidnie, has ‘big paws to fill’.