Martin McKenna, author of The Boy Who Talked To Dogs
Tell us about your latest creation:
Hi, I’m Martin McKenna, otherwise known as The Dreadlock Dog Man. I’m Australia’s best-known dog communicator and give out a lot of free advice to dog lovers all over Australia. I particularly like helping rescue dogs. The Boy Who Talked To Dogs is my new international memoir. It’s about how I first learned the language and customs of dogs as a boy – and in a very unusual way.
I was an Irish street kid and lived rough with a pack of six dogs for three years. I lived in Garryowen, a small countryside suburb nailed to the outskirts of Limerick City. I was thirteen was when I ran away. It was a hard age for me. I was severely hyperactive. So illiterate I couldn’t even read and write my own name properly and teachers bullied me for being unable to learn. I felt like a freak because I was one of identical triplets. My beloved mother was German, so it didn’t take long before my brothers and I were jeeringly called ‘Hitler’s little experiments’. I’m from a large family of ten and my mother Sigrid was an amazing, lovely woman – but our charming Irish father could drink for Ireland and often became violent. One night I decided I’d had enough of complicated humans. I climbed out my bedroom window, shimmied down the drainpipe and started running down the road, heading to where the stray dogs of Garryowen hung out.
If you read The Boy Who Talked To Dogs you’ll find out about the six extraordinary dogs I hooked up with. They became my best friends, family and even my teachers – showing me during the three years I lived rough with them the incredible ways of the Dog World. It’s this knowledge and wisdom I share out in two funny cartoons every evening on my Facebook and Twitter pages. They’re developing quite a following!
Where are you from / where do you call home?:
I grew up in Garryowen, which is a small suburb nailed to the edge of Limerick City in Ireland. When I was old enough, I joined the exodus of young Irish people looking for work and ended up traveling around the world. When I arrived in Australia, I met and fell head over heels in love with my future wife Lee. We have four amazing children together and live on a small farm in Nimbin in northern NSW with a pack of six rescue strays. I’ve now lived longer in Australia than I have in Ireland but am always proud to call myself Celtic Irish.
When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?:
As a kid I might have experienced a lot of fun adventure and freedom, but my main goal was to stay alive. Not many people thought I’d be still standing here today – but I am – alive and kicking!
What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:
This is my fourth book and definitely my best. My last three books are about dog language and what life lessons dogs can teach us – but this book is very special and I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s my personal story of how six ordinary stray dogs saved my life and soul. Writing it brought back a lot of powerful memories and reminded me how much I owe to dogs for bringing me true friendship when I needed it most. Thirteen is also the age of real adventure if you have a rebel spirit!
Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:
Writing for me is all done outside on my farmhouse verandah. I have a great old carved chair and matching carved round table, all chewed around the edges from the hundreds of rescue dogs I’ve had stay over the years. My wild garden is what I look out on to. Dogs laze around, birds take shortcuts past my ears, lizards run across my bare feet, the occasional python winds past the roof beams looking for a better sunning spot. I scribble – very messily – in exercise books and am always, always looking for a pen.
When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:
When I’m not writing – and I write hours of poetry a day – I listen to ABC radio, the BBC and NPR to feed my mind. However, I keep flicking through my battered copy of the Tain, which is a translation of a very famous epic ancient poem from Ireland. It features the most famous Irish hero Cuchulainn. It’s still so fresh and contemporary sounding. Celtic women were feisty and could be warriors and power brokers. The ancient Celts were articulate, courageous and exciting. Look them up and enjoy a feast of a new world if you’re not familiar with them – especially the poems in true translated form. If you’re a poet they’re a must to read!
What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:
I couldn’t even read or write my own name properly in school, but I knew and loved the old Celtic mythical stories from hearing people talk about them.
If you were a literary character, who would you be?:
Huckleberry Finn grabs my imagination. He inspires me to lie back and sometimes let life wash over me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up my freedom either!
Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:
I strip off my shirt and plant my feet on the edge of the verandah and roar out my lyrics so they echo around the hillsides. I’ve made up a new style of punk music called RAW. No instruments – just my voice and a hell of a lot of energy! I live in the country so I can really let rip.
What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:
I love a big cooked Irish breakfast at any hour of the day or night – and drink tea by the bucketful. I put a chunk of fresh ginger in my mug – and it’s amazing – try it.
Who is your hero? Why?:
Cuchulainn of ancient Irish myth. He liked women, dogs, horses, poetry, battles and had good friends and bad enemies. He was courageous and superstitious. He was incredibly hyperactive like me – and no one had a problem with it. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century. I was born to be an ancient Celtic warrior.
Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:
I think books are about to enter a new Renaissance because the authors are finally going to step forward and become glamorous celebrities. People will recognize their faces. Know their backgrounds. Legends will grow up around them. Humans are addicted to great stories – and always will be – so I think storytellers are about to step out of the shadows and take center stage again. If you’re an author, it’s going to be quite intrusive sharing so much of your private time being on social media – but that’s going to be the new game – adapt or go do a normal job. The good thing about social media is if you kind of fall into it willingly – it’s rather like being invited to the world’s biggest and most interesting cocktail party. You can wander around introducing yourself and chatting to the most unusual people around the world. People holding guns in Arkansas or a nun holding a baby in downtown Delhi or a rainforest head clan man on a laptop computer in Brazil. Fascinating!