Guide Dogs and Ghosts Royal

Guide Dogs, writing, and the Royal Family

Elaine and Guide Dog Issi.

Elaine Harris and Guide Dog Issi.

Guide Dog handler Elaine Harris is certainly no stranger to the world of writing, and has had her fair share of articles, poetry and fiction featured in print and online publications. But it’s only this year that the Burnie resident has released her first book, Ghosts Royal.

Below, Elaine explains how being vision impaired has never stopped her from doing what she wanted, and how dogs – in particular, one very loyal Guide Dog named Issi – and writing come together.

You can meet Elaine, and her faithful companion Issi, this Saturday (December 10) at ‘Not Just Books’ Burnie (52 Wilmot St, Burnie) from 10am.

­Although I was already a fully-fledged broadcaster, public-speaker, writer and theatre performer by the time I arrived in Tasmania in early 1996, almost no-one except my husband knew of my varied and very public past. Hence my radio programme Producer, (now a close friend) felt the need to ask: “Are you a writer, broadcaster or performer?”

Me: “All of the above.”

And so it has proved.

I worked in broadcasting for over 33 years, invariably with a dog at my side.

I have performed two seasons of a sell-out one-woman cabaret as well as other theatre engagements, and have always written, including for the theatre. My early written work was inevitably welcomed warmly but not always as well-polished as it is today. Writing was a daily part of work as a broadcaster, too, but I wanted something less ephemeral, something you could hold in your hand and say, “I did that.”

I acquired my first two regular columns for a children’s online magazine in 2007 and have since written numerous articles, along with poetry and fiction, for both print and online publications. In 2011 I scooped up a national non-fiction prize for an article on two dogs, one of them Roselle of Guide Dogs Tasmania fame. Roselle (Rosi) also “wrote” one of the two columns each month for that first online publication, no longer in existence, and accompanied me on numerous outside broadcasts and speaking engagements.

I have work included in six print anthologies, comments and editing credits in various other publications, and now, at last, the first book in my own right.

Ghosts Royal is the story of the 1936 Abdication of King Edward VIII, told from the point of view of the ten-year-old Princess whose life it changed forever. It is published in Tasmania by Forty South. Much of my writing is about dogs but there is only one minor canine character in Ghosts Royal, and not a very friendly one at that.


A book signing of Ghosts Royal

Guide Dog Issi and Elaine at a recent book promotion in Devonport.

Various technologies have played a crucial role in my writing in the past. Today I work mainly with a desktop computer, a refreshable Braille display and a laptop, also with Braille, serving as note-taker, dictionary and thesaurus.

If new technology was acquired during the tenure of a Guide Dog, it was often resented, but both Roselle and current working dog Issi (often known as Whiz) came to the job when the machinery was already in place and just accepted it.

Elaine might use technology to assist with the writing process, but nothing could replace the companionship that Guide Dog Issi provides.

Elaine might use technology to assist with the writing process, but nothing could replace the companionship that Guide Dog Issi provides.

I usually work with any speech turned off so there is little for them to hear except when I use the much noisier electronic Brailler or an even louder Braille embosser. The laptop is also useful for reading books in text format and there are times when Issi deems it necessary for it to give way to her when she needs a cuddle; it always does.

Since training with my first Guide Dog, Kati, in the UK, I have always worked with dogs at my feet, including all working dogs and our two German Shepherds in the past. Both my husband Chris and I have doggy quilts beneath our desks in our separate studies. However, for Issi my room the Scriptorium has a much more tempting prospect. Not Chris’s “Brag Wall” of photos from the past, or the display of works on the bookcase. She ignores all those trappings completely.

Good sitting on bed

Issi keeps Elaine company in her writing space, the ‘Scriptorium’.

Sometimes she will lie on the carpet beside my chair. However, far more often she prefers to lie by the front glass door which gives her a terrific view of our tiny street. She would be the best asset to Neighbourhood Watch if she told tales.

The Scriptorium also houses the home gym and Issi will usually lie beside me as I pedal away on the exercise bike. It is a rower-cycle combined so very low to the ground which means I can stroke her while doing my work-out. Walking round the house and especially my study in bare feet is not advisable. Those well-chewed toy bones are not kind to naked toes and there is usually one to be found in my room, along with other assorted toys.

I talk to Issi when on walks together, commenting on what she does, offering constant praise and singing her songs with her name in every line.

Guide dog in harness

Issi guides beautifully.

She wags as we walk and loves the stream-of-consciousness monologue as well as her songs. It is one of the few times during the day when I rarely think about writing, though have been known to have ideas and make mental notes.

Issi is not at all fazed by public appearances and her beautiful soft colouring will match just about anything I wear. She tends to focus on me and my emotions rather than any audience reaction. How lucky am I to be so well-matched and thoroughly bonded! We are a team in every sense of the word.

For more information on Elaine Harris and her book Ghosts Royal visit