Interview with Author Bradley Trevor Greive

by Mary Haight on November 16, 2009

As you may know, I was really taken with the book “why dogs are better4090496230_1d9eb5fc23_o[1]BTG than cats”, and had an opportunity to interview the author, Bradley Trevor Greive.  We spent a very generous hour talking, and I could not have hoped for a more open, flowing conversation.  I had wondered if he was as curious and witty in daily life as he was in the book–it turns out he is! 

How long did it take to write this book?

It was fast, only a little over a year from beginning to end, and an extraordinary project throughout. Andrews McMeel publishers said yes to everything I asked for.  An environmentally sensible use of materials, a great designer, Jana Murphy, came into the project and created a wallpaper to use throughout the book. The brief to her was this enormous project done in three months with the sense of a cross between the most sumptuous place imagined and sitting in your favorite living room.

We have an obligation not to bore ourselves. It is the same for readers. There is an author-to-reader conduit where each reader takes what they will.”

I mentioned the historical, psychological, cultural and other interests the book connects to the topic of dogs. Greive responded,

There is something for everyone in a book that is written to surprise with layered themes, but the book itself is also a beautifully layered work with a specially designed cover and interior wallpaper, sumptuously thick pages, combined with stunning photography and hopefully great writing.

Greive was generous in his praise of Rachael Hale and the book’s designer as well as the excellent work done by the editors in Australia, the UK and US.

Tell us a little about what your path to becoming a writer looks like.  And what was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book.

When I finished the Blue Day book series, it was the 8th book I wrote before getting published.” The 8th book and 9 years!

And to explain a little about how he got from the military to being an author, he said

When I left the military, I became a cartoonist…a visual medium that makes words complete the picture.

For the Blue Day book, since most people are visual, I talked about[the process of] seeing a thing, then writing about it and then having a picture to explain it. I asked people to draw a cat and the result was that everyone had drawn a different cat. No one sees the same thing. Those differences–nuance makes things special and more meaningful.

I only write about things I know and wanted to write a book on dogs. I did not want to waste pulp on topics where others had already gone, and done a better job.

By way of explaining the circumstances around how he came to his idea, Greive offered,

I hurt myself many times over playing sports and seeking adventure. Because of that I’ve had 15 operations and have lots of metal parts in my body…and while I was recuperating from the latest operation, I started reading and thinking about things to write. I had been sent Rachael Hale’s work…she’s one of the top three photographers in world with the success to back up the claim.

I was being encouraged to do something on the history of the connection between humans and dogs. I’m a knowledge monster and when I came across the enormous disparity in population between cats and dogs…200 million more cats in the world than dogs, a colossal number…I thought, yes you can blame a lot on capacity to reproduce but the rest of it is a reflection of society and what we look for as a pet or an important part of their lives. The book is an essay on friendship and values.

You can say a lot of things with a laugh and people will forgive you, and I write as if I’m having a heartfelt conversation with a friend of mine. My agent, Al Zuckerman…a PhD, taught at Yale, was an Ambassador, and is a cat lover. And he has a great huge cat, a Maine Coon named Rufus who was raised by wolves and is the size of a pony—and Al forgives me…in fact, it was Al’s idea that I write a book about dogs.

Greive added that his walk through the history of the selection of dogs as a companion also revealed a popular trend in what animals can actually be “pets.”

“The word “pet” is being so misapplied, the meaning so abused in popular culture.”

He said that a companion animal needs to act as a companion to have that place in our lives.

I heard you say in one of your recent speaking engagements that your travel informs your writing…can you give us an example of that?

I’m very grateful to be in a position to go out and see the world. I need dirt in my boots to write—and that point of view comes from time spent in the military (paratrooper): Part of taking the objective is that you have to be there.

I went to Antarctica …a fascinating, extraordinary experience, a place like nowhere else…a place where mountains breathe…I saw a huge colony of penguins, which was so breathtaking, but no one had prepared me for the stink of penguin poop! No one tells you about that–and my experience of that sight and smell was so much the richer for it!

I went to Seattle to see the Experience music museum, really about Jimi Hendricks where they built the monument to his music’s chaotic rise and fall with drugs. I expected the sheets of his handwritten music would reflect the drugs. Yet when I saw the lyrics written in a beautiful, distinct, very deliberate style, it transformed the way I thought of him.

Greive’s point may be well taken…with all the time that’s eaten daily being on the computer, what’s important is to get out and experience life—it can change everything.

You’ve got to be there to experience life–as much as it interesting to see things through a computer screen, you have to participate, show up in the world, then turn around and share the experience.

As to the human dislocation to the easy, cheap, superficial, and transient throughout societies [it’s symptomatic]–the whole world has commitment issues, and that’s why we have the cat!

Your collaboration with Rachael Hale has been a real success. I heard that you basically ordered photos to match what you wrote…that must have been a mammoth undertaking–what resources were used, where did she get the cats?

Greive described the nature of the collaboration and the how and where it took place, giving us an inside view of what his working life is like.

The border of Queensland’s gold coast is much like Honolulu…after I left hospital I flew to Queens and spent time with parents, nieces and nephew(s), and wrote the first three chapters of the book in bed while recovering from my knee and shoulder surgery. The publishing team was scattered. Hale was in Uganda with chimpanzees…and the rest of the team were in France, New Zealand, England, Australia and the US…we sent emails back and forth and made calls where we could. I flew to my hometown in Hobart, Tasmania, followed by a quick trip to LA, went back to Hobart and got through the first draft.

Hale flew from New Zealand, made notes on what photographs were needed, called breeders and [Auckland’s] SPCA–everyone leaptat the opportunity to offer cats and dogs and wild animals for photographs . It didn’t hurt that I had been a sponsor at [Auckland’s] orphan zoo…it was heartening to get all their help. I drove from Hobart to the farm and photographed my dogs on the beach.

The baby Weimaraner seen carrying the newspaper is Brian my good friend Andrew Hopwood’s eight- week-old genius…Brian already loves to go out and get the paper!”

Photographs were taken all around Tasmania, and then I went back to write another 13 drafts, flew to Sydney to check out how the book design was coming. The publishers committed to an extraordinary book, and let me go for broke.

 I hope this approach nets a huge profit. As a book lover, it was a real pleasure turning those beautiful pages!

Tell us a little about your Great Danes who were so well photographed at the beginning of your book.  And how is it when I was reading the book that I got the distinct feeling you were part of the sheltering community?

I recently entered Princess in a show. Dog shows are great fun for dog lovers. She really loves the spotlight and she won them over. The Romanian judge went for her and she was named Best Female in show!  We had a good laugh.

I’m hoping she’ll have pups next year with the current Harlequin champion to give to friends who I know have the time and place to meet their needs. Did you know there’s no show section for dogs who have had pups? It’s a shame.

Great Danes have a life expectancy of 7-9 years, but with a little bit of trouble you can push it up to 10 to 12 years. You want to know as much as you can…about the dog and the agency they are coming from.

The downside to bad breeding is well-established…in LA someone bought from a pedigree breeder at great expense to get crooked eyes that were too small and hips that were in trouble… people get sucked in. Dogs should be selected for intelligence first. Obsession with the superficial is dangerous [I had mentioned Crufts and the horrible disservice to breeds that has occurred]. Over-breeding/inbreeding left Red Setters with a reputation for being stupid. Diversity strengthens bloodlines and due diligence is required.

As I’ve said I’m a real knowledge monster. I was really worried about people running out and buying a dog and that’s why I wrote the epilogue focused on adopting, but only if you can make the commitment.

Who has been the biggest influence in your writing?

Gerald Durrell’s ”My Family and Other Animals” was the first book that made me laugh out loud. It is hilarious and has inspired my entire career. I’m the life benefactor of the Jersey-based Durrell’s Wildlife Conservation Trust in the UK’s Channel Islands—I’m passionate about conservation and biodiversity.

The Conservation Trust are the green berets of conservation: They send in small teams to work with people around the world doing things most don’t care about, like looking  at  the  [Jersey] zoo as an ark [the animals there as ambassadors of the wild], and bringing species back from the brink of extinction. I look at the world as a web–one thing touches another, when you pull on one thread it affects so much else.

He has a passion for wildlife and wild places. Greive added that James Harriot was another writer whose influence has been one that has shaped his work.

How long before another book comes along?

I’m working on something that’s a lot of fun. I started buying up all these 17th century engravings… it’s not good luck to talk about a project before it’s set so that’s all I’ll say. 

We have something more to look forward to!

How long will you be in the US and where’s your next talk? Is there a schedule or a site we can go to?

There’s a website. And I’m on Facebook.  And Dancing Dog Blog has the featured review spot at btgstudios! (go to “books”)

Okay–now that’s pretty cool:))

You can follow Greive on Twitter and Facebook via the btgstudios site, and there are videos available from some of his speaking engagements.

I had a great time with this interview, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  One thing is certain–I will never look at another gathering of penguins in quite the same way again…

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