The Story of a Growly Dog and a Not-So-Growly Writer

One of our current students in the Story Genius novel writing workshop is a successful indie non-fiction author. Beverley Courtney is the author of seven books dedicated to improving communication between owners and their dogs, including Why is My Dog So Growly? and the amazon bestselling book, Calm Down! Step-by-step to a Calm, Relaxed, and Brilliant Family Dog. 

Beverley first caught Jennie's eye in the Facebook group for our workshop when she introduced herself,: “Hello everyone! I'm very excited to be here - and very nervous. Glad to see so many of you have dogs! I'm a force-free dog trainer and have a dog training school and also an online dog training school where I specialise in aggressive and "growly" dogs. I've published four non-fiction books on dog training and three more should be out in a few weeks. I enjoyed writing them so much, I'd love to write fiction too.” 

Something about her statement captured the yearning so many of us feel about writing – and the doubt and the joy! Creating anything is hard work, and doing it time after time after time takes a lot of courage. Switching to a totally new genre is like doubling down on the hardest aspects of the work. We love seeing writers who lean into their fear like this -- who decide that it is, at long last, time to write.

So those few weeks have passed and Beverley's new books are out. Jennie asked her to answer a few questions about the two sides of her writing life – the very well established one and the one just getting off the ground.

Jennie: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Beverley: Like most of the rest of the population, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I tried, as a child, but had no clue how to make sense of it. I tried putting a sheet of paper in my lovely antique typewriter and writing Chapter 1 at the top. But nothing emerged. So I thought I wasn’t good enough. Studying English Literature at school only made me feel more distant from these creators.

Jennie: What inspired you to write your Growly Dog books?

Beverley: It was only a few years ago that a close friend (who’s not very familiar with my dog training business) said “You should write a book!” So I inspected rather more closely why I immediately responded “Oh, I’m not good enough”, and realised that there was a specific area with a specific audience where I could fit! I could fill a gap in the market at the same time as giving huge value to people. So my first four non-fiction books were born -- and enthusiastically received by a regular stream of readers.

Jennie: So you leaned into that work and built a platform of people with growly dogs!

Beverley: As I transition my dog training school online, with courses, books, and an active blog, I’ve developed a following of about three thousand so far. I’m proud of being an Indie Author.

Jennie: Who is your ideal audience for the Growly Dog books?

Beverley: With my dog books, I’m writing for a specific audience of pet-owners (as opposed to performance and working dog owners) who have no idea how to change their errant dog’s behaviour, but do know that they don’t want to use nasty gadgets nor abuse their dog, whom they love. The latest ones are for “Growly Dogs”, who are reactive, fearful, or aggressive, with dogs and maybe people. As How-to books, they take the reader by the hand and lead them through the steps, with lots of troubleshooting of common pitfalls, to the new relationship they seek with their dog.

Jennie: How will you define your ideal reader for your novel?

Beverley: The novel will be a very different kettle of fish! 

The audience there will be … people like me. I don’t mean dog trainers. I mean people who work their passage through life trying their best - and often wondering why on earth it doesn’t seem to be working. People who are perhaps confronted with problems that even experts have to work hard to solve, and who have no idea how to deal with these problems while remaining true to themselves. 

Alan Bennett says, “The most a writer can hope from a reader is that he or she should think, ‘Here is somebody who knows what it’s like to be me’.” Those are the people I want to reach with my novel. I’d like to do a little leading by the hand if I can, to help them through their struggle.

Jennie: Will you continue doing what you have been doing to reach your audience?

Beverley: I’ve just released three more in that [Growly Dog] series and -- apart from weekly posts on my own blog and guest posts on some major sites, I’m focusing now on writing my first novel. I envisage using similar techniques to build a readership for my fiction

Jennie: You’re enrolled in Author Accelerator’s current  Story Genius workshop , which is a 10-week intensive fiction writing course (intensive being the operative word!) How has that been going?

Beverley: This time round, I have fantastic guidance through Story Genius: no blank sheets of paper! I’ve worked out quite a lot about my story and the people in it -- and no mention yet of “Chapter 1”!

Jennie: Yup – that’s the Story Genius way! How is this process different from preparing to write non-fiction?

Beverley: Structuring my non-fiction books was quickly and easily done with a mind map. I simply needed to include everything I already teach my “live” students, get it in the right order, and answer all the questions that I know will come up.

I’m so glad I have Lisa [Cron] and Jennie guiding me with my novel! It’s not done the same way at all, and their favourite cry is “Deeper! Dig deeper!” My characters are revealing themselves to me and emerging as real people. It’s astonishing! And while knowing what I wanted to teach made writing the dog books straightforward and fluent, knowing what my characters truly are is making that writing flow too. 

Jennie: Will you be writing any more dog books?

Beverley: There are a couple more dog subjects I’d like to write books on, to bring that series up to nine. But my writing focus is now firmly on fiction. I’ve waited 60-odd years since that first sheet of paper -- let’s hope it measures up!

Where to Learn More About Beverley Courtney and the Growly Dog Books