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Courage as a ‘controlling idea’

Last week we were away staying in a friend’s cottage in mid Wales. On one of our walks we had to cross a fast flowing river by way of some strategically placed stepping stones. Marc and I and one of the dogs went over without thinking about it, but our other dog , Phoebe (normally very placid), balked on the river bank,  clearly frightened by the thought of slipping on the wet stones and falling into the river. We were reluctant to carry her (also frightened by the thought of slipping and falling into the river!) so we tried some bracing encouragement while she trembled on the bank with her little claws spread in resistance.  Eventually we decided to walk on a bit to see if she would come. Sure enough, surreptitiously glancing over our shoulders, we saw her summon the courage to make the first crucial jump. After that she was fine, she hopped across the rest of the stones easily and rejoined us, clearly somewhat embarrassed by our fulsome congratulations.

Here’s a question. Which dog displayed the most courage?

I have always been interested in the concept of courage and its various manifestations. There has been a lot in the news this week about the people of Malta being awarded the George Cross in April 1942 for their ‘heroism and devotion’ in resisting four months of intense Nazi air-raids. The stories of incredible courage and personal sacrifice reminded me of the research I did (and am indeed still doing) for my series of novels set in wartime London.

Quite early on I realised that courage was going to form the basic theme (or ‘controlling idea’ as they call it in the film world) of my novels. Having a ‘controlling idea’ really helps in the writing process, keeping an author on track, giving the novels a point of focus. And the concept of courage was a great theme to explore.

I was fascinated by the accounts I came across of people going out on a limb, putting themselves at risk, physically or emotionally, for a variety of reasons, patriotism, duty, love, or to save or protect someone else, as when a terrified young woman crawled through the collapsed cellar of a bombed house to rescue a child trapped under unstable rubble next door.  Certainly of all the examples of bravery and heroism I came across, the ones I found most moving are the ones where ordinary people (or dogs) first had to overcome a very real fear in order to take the necessary action.

Courage takes all forms and guises and can be found in so many situations. It takes one form of courage to charge a machine gun post or parachute into Nazi occupied France, quite another to go to the doctor when you find a lump. Even writing a poem or a novel takes courage – it’s just one more way of laying yourself on the line.

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