The Writer's Pet: Aislinn Hunter and The Certainties

 Award-winning Canadian writer Aislinn Hunter on her gorgeous dogs and her latest book, The Certainties.

The Writer's Pet: Aislinn Hunter's 3 dogs and her latest book, The Certainties
Photo: Aislinn Hunter

The first in a new series of The Writer's Pet, by Zazie Todd PhD.

Aislinn Hunter's latest book, The Certainties, is a bestseller that is described as "a wonderful mystery, a masterful piece of storytelling that will grip you the first time you read it, and a work of careful art that will reward you when you read it again" (Jon McGregor). 

For this first post in the series, Hunter told me about her book - and, of course, her pets.

I loved The Certainties and will be giving a copy away on Twitter to celebrate the launch of The Writer's Pet. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and enter for a chance to win. I'll draw the winner on 22nd September (now closed).

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The cover of Aislinn Hunter's book The Certainties

What are your pets’ names?

Cooper, Juniper, and Clara. 

Type of pet?

Border collie, Border collie, English setter.

What do you love most about your pets? 

Their depth, complexity and intelligence. The collies are brilliant: they have epic vocabularies and skills that range from sheep herding, to odor detection, to search and rescue work. Clara, who’s 3 1/2 is constantly wagging her tail: she’s goofy, affectionate and sweet (and pretty smart because she was raised by collies). 

What makes your pets happy? 

The collies love work of any kind, and swimming and frisbee. Clara likes to tromp through the woods, and in the evenings to be nestled up against me.

Aislinn Hunter's three dogs, and her book The Certainties
Photo: Aislinn Hunter

Do your pets help or hinder your writing? In what way? 

They help! There’s a steadiness and calm to their being in the study and around me when I’m writing. It feels like a tether somehow, when the mind has sort of left the building. (Right now Clara’s on the dog bed under the desk and her chin is hooked over my foot and Joon’s stretched out behind my chair.) I also love their alertness… if there’s something I need to pay attention to (like the time they had a barking fit because there was a deer looking into the living room window from the front yard) I’ll definitely know it. I’m a recent widow (my husband of 25 years, Glenn, died just under 2 years ago) and the dogs' presence makes me feel less alone in the act of writing and less alone in the world. It’s amazing really - the collies can be very demanding dogs but they really get it when I’m in the writing zone and respect it.

Tell me about your book.

The Certainties is a novel set in 1940 in Portbou Spain and in the 1980s on an Atlantic island. It’s a story about two different kinds of refugees, one under house arrest in a Spanish hotel, and the other living on a remote island where a shipwreck occurs. It’s a plot-driven book but it’s also a kind of meditation on belonging. I’m interested in the notion of witness and bearing witness so I set my story partly in the exodus that occurred in 1940 when the Nazis moved into Paris and a mass migration of millions of French citizens ensued. My protagonist is a philosopher of sorts, so there’s some wonderful thinking in the book – he’s an observer of the human condition and he has great affection for the world. It was so nice being in his head for all those years! I miss him.  

Aislinn Hunter, author of The Certainties, and her dogs
Aislinn Hunter, author of The Certainties, and her three dogs

How many animals are in the book?

Oh, there’s lots! A border collie, a terrier, a white cat, a grey cat, a large number of foxes, a stag, a mouse. I love writing animals. In this book I make it a point never to use ‘it’ for an animal, so the animals are either gendered or called by their name or species. I did research on Victorian pet culture during my PhD and many of the questions around animal rights (such as: is an animal a being or a thing?) which were divisive then are still prevalent in the culture now. I believe saying ‘it’ about a being means we see that being as a thing more than a being so I try to avoid this. 

"It’s a plot-driven book but it’s also a kind of meditation on belonging."

If you weren’t a writer what do you think you’d be?

A dog walker! I get confused for one all the time because I have 3. Seriously, though, when I was a kid my mom and I dreamed about opening a dog rescue on 10 or more acres. The collies are both from rescues and over the years my hubby and I fostered 7 dogs who all landed great homes. I don’t idealize rescue work but there’s something animals give me, something they exude that reminds me of a better, more harmonious way to be. 

Name your local/favourite independent bookstore that has your book for sale.

32 Books here in North Vancouver is a fantastic bookstore.  

The Certainties is available in my Amazon store and was included in my summer reading list.

Aislinn Hunter, author of The Certainties

Aislinn Hunter
is the award-winning author of eight books including The World Before Us: A Novel (a NYTimes Editor’s Choice book and winner of the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize) and her most recent best-selling novel The Certainties (Knopf, Penguin Random House). She teaches creative writing part-time at KPU and at SFU’s Writers Studio. She lives in BC.

You can find more information on Aislinn Hunter's website and you can follow her on Twitter too.

To see all of the featured authors, see The Writer's Pet. And if you're a traditionally published author and think your book would be a good fit for this series, see the guidelines for The Writer's Pet.

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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