The Writer's Pet: Grant Hayter-Menzies and Woo

Grant Hayter-Menzies on his dog, Freddie, and his biography Woo, The Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr.

Writer Grant Hayter-Menzies' dog Freddie
Freddie. Photo: Collection of Grant Hayter-Menzies.

No. 2 in the series The Writer's Pet by Zazie Todd, PhD

In Woo, the Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr: A Biography, Grant Hayter-Menzies tells the story of legendary Canadian painter Emily Carr and her pet monkey Woo from a contemporary perspective. The book is described by Anny Scoones as, "Truthful and tender, a meticulously researched and fine reflection on the connection between art and animals."

Hayter-Menzies told me about the book, his dog Freddie, and how his pet influences his writing.

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Cover of Woo, the Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr

What is your pet’s name?

Freddie came to us from the BCSPCA, a rescue from a B.C. interior puppy mill, with the name Frederick. But we’ve always called him Freddie.  (He has cute nicknames that he’d be embarrassed to have made public!)

Type of pet?

Freddie is a purebred Pomeranian; for his size (17 lbs), that makes him a Spitz, the type of Pom favoured by Queen Victoria.

What do you love most about your pet? 

I love Freddie’s courage. I also love his willingness to give love despite the way his life started, in an unloving setting.

"Behind the Pied Piper of Victoria fairy tales was a drama filled with inspiration and tragedy"

What makes Freddie happy? 

Salmon sticks, bacon, cream cheese, bread products of any kind. And sitting or sleeping between his dads.

Does Freddie help or hinder your writing? In what way?

Writing is an activity in which I prize being alone and undisturbed and yet am inspired by the quiet, loyal presence of my little dog - what Edith Wharton called “the heartbeat at my feet.” Freddie has placed himself beside me through six of my ten books. He’s lovely company. His ability to trust and love despite what was done to him prior to his rescue is my best inspiration and led me not only to some wonderful book subjects but also the decision to donate almost half my royalties to animal welfare charities that help dogs, cats, equines and others in need.

Grant Hayter-Menzies and his dog Freddie at a book signing
Photo: Collection of Grant Hayter-Menzies

Tell me about your book

I wanted to tell the truth about Emily Carr and her animals, specifically about Carr and this extraordinary being, her Javanese macaque, Woo. Behind the Pied Piper of Victoria fairy tales was a drama filled with inspiration and tragedy: Woo’s effect of freeing the wildness in Carr, Carr’s maternal devotion to her monkey companion, and the terrible decision pressed on her when illness and family advice forced her to give up her animals and send Woo, whom nobody would take, to the Stanley Park Zoo. So much goes into artistic creation, but above all an artist cannot be afraid. Woo helped Carr divest herself of doubt and become everything she could be, as artist and person.  Animals do this for us all.

"It is vital - is morally necessary - to take all our animal family seriously."

How has Freddie influenced the writing of Woo? And has he influenced any of your other books?

Freddie accompanied me on many of the research trips I made around the province in search of spots Woo and Carr would have known. For the first time in any of my books, he’s included in the narrative of Woo. It was his courage and trust in us his adoptive dads that moved me to write my books “From Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division” (2015, Potomac Books: see the WW1 hero dog featured in BC biographer's new book) and “The Lost War Horses of Cairo: The Passion of Dorothy Brooke” (2018, Allen & Unwin UK); the latter includes Freddie in the author dust jacket photo. And he influenced my current project, a life of Muggins (1913-20), the famed fundraising dog of WWI Victoria, scheduled for 2022 from Heritage House Publishing. 

What do you want the reader to take away from "Woo" or your other books celebrating the human-animal dynamic?

That it is vital - is morally necessary - to take all our animal family seriously.

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

Bolen Books, virtually across the street from where I live.  I've launched two books there, twelve years apart.

Woo, the Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr: A Biography is available in my Amazon store and was included in my 2019 summer reading list. Hayter-Menzies is donating 40% of the royalties from sales of this book to Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, ON, Canada

Grant Hayter-Menzies, author of Woo, the Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr

Grant Hayter-Menzies: For over a decade, Grant Hayter-Menzies has specialized in biographies of extraordinary women, publishing the first full length lives of stage and screen stars Charlotte Greenwood and Billie Burke, Chinese-American author Princess Der Ling, diarist Sarah Pike Conger, wife of the American ambassador to China and friend to the controversial Empress Dowager Cixi of China, Pauline Benton, the American-born master of Chinese shadow theatre, and Lillian Carter, mother of President Jimmy Carter.  In 2015, Grant published a biography of Rags, the mascot terrier of the First Division in France during WWI, and his biography of Dorothy Brooke, the Englishwoman who in 1930 Cairo, Egypt discovered and saved thousands of elderly and abused warhorses, mules and donkeys abandoned by British forces at the termination of WWI, was published in the US and UK 2017 and 2018.  His biography of Woo, the Javanese monkey companion of Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr, was published in March 2019 by Douglas & McIntyre; He has contributed to numerous collections and anthologies and serves as literary executor of playwright William Luce (1931-2019), award-winning author of The Belle of Amherst. Grant lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with his dog Freddie and partner Rudi.  

You can find more information on Grant Hayter-Menzies website and you can follow him on Twitter.

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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