Exclusive interview with author Pen Farthing and a review of his new inspiring true story about saving the stray dogs in Afghanistan **** 4 stars
By Gabrielle Pantera
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Gosh!TV) 3/10/2011 – “Everything I wrote about actually happened to me while I was there,” says One Dog at a Time author Pen Farthing. “I can still visualize events like it was yesterday. Especially the bad times, we did not all come home. I kept a diary during the tour of duty just for something to do during our limited downtime.”
In a remote compound during his tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007, Farthing was adopted by Nowzad, an earless dog that had been used for dog-fighting. “I was totally at a loss as to how there was any hope I could ever give him a loving home in the West with me,” says Farthing. “I thought he was destined to fight again or starve when nobody was interested in him anymore.”
Miracles begun happening. A way was found to smuggle Nowzad across Afghanistan. “I still had no idea how it would end.” Would Nowzad make it safely to Farthing’s home in the UK?
Farthing shares insights into the harsh realities of war and the living conditions for soldiers trying to survive in a combat zone. You may shed a tear or two, especially over the brutal reality of life for the fighting dogs in this book. Hopefully, the changes for the better in the lives of these dogs can show the people in the Helmand Province that life can change for them too.
As a British Royal Marine deployed in war-torn Afghanistan, Pen Farthing’s main focus is to survive. It isn’t an easy place to rescue stray animals. Farthing and other members of his 20-man Marine platoon risk their lives to save dogs that have suffered a cruel life. This intervention saves dogs from dog fights and other challenges they face to stay alive in Afghanistan. Nowzad, the first dog he saves, was a former fighting dog. Farthing mentions there was another Marine trying to save cats.
At this time, One Dog at a Time is not being adapted for film or television. “Wow, I wish,” says Farthing. “James Cameron obviously has not read his copy yet. And then the question who would play me and Lisa has already been asked by our charity supporters. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston have already made their dog film….maybe Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?”
Farthing’s agent is Mary Pachnos. Farthing bought a list of literary agencies and sent three sample chapters out to everyone who had a connection with dogs. Pachnos got on a train to meet with the author and buy him a beer.
“When I first met this author, I thought he was a gift,” says Pachnos. “Not only was he doing something worthwhile, but he was articulate and talented.” Pachnos invited every major UK publisher in to meet Farthing and make an offer for his book rights. A very unusual approach. Authors are not typically introduced to a publisher until after their book is sold. “Mary made One Dog at a Time reality,” says Farthing.
Farthing’s editor is Charlotte Cole at Ebury. “I met Charlotte over a coffee at Ebury HQ in London,” says Farthing. “She seemed so nice…until the deadlines started arriving in my inbox. Seriously, Charlotte was really great. She always discussed changes and ideas so that the book retained the me and Nowzad context as it had been written.” Deadlines were challenging because Farthing was still serving as a Royal Marines commando and running a charity in Afghanistan.
“I was very excited from the moment I first started to read Pen Farthing’s proposal,” says Cole. “I could see that it had a winning combination of ‘hard military men’ falling for ‘sweet cuddly dogs’. But as I read on, it became clear that One Dog at a Time was much more than this. Pen was a first-time writer with clear ideas about what he wanted to convey. It is an insight into the lives of the armed forces in Afghanistan, about how it seems impossible to win hearts and minds when you can’t even hold a conversation with ordinary civilians for fear the Taliban will punish them.”
“We see the casual cruelty of dog fights, which Pen does not tolerate, but we also see genuine friendships grow over time with translators and individuals in the Afghan police,” says Cole. “Pen has created a dramatic story, to attempt rescue dogs from the middle of a war zone is a bold task that involves a huge amount of organization and quick thinking, and a large dose of luck. His book is a fantastic read.”
Cole says there was discussion about who the audience would be and what direction the cover should take. Would it be Marley and Me, Bravo Two Zero or The Kite Runner? “It has elements of all three,” says Cole. “In the end, it was the dogs who took precedence. Without them, there would be no book. And who is not going to warm to Tali’s puppies on the front cover? The book was a Sunday Times bestseller in both hardback and paperback.” That’s the UK equivalent of a New York Times bestseller.
“The response to One Dog at a Time has been unbelievable,” says Farthing. “The supporters of the Nowzad Dogs charity have proved that anything is possible when we all pull together. Farthing says the non-profit charity Nowzad Dogs (www.nowzad.com) employs full-time staff in Afghanistan and the UK. A percentage of the royalties from the book support running an animal rescue shelter in Afghanistan.
Pen Farthing is a retired Royal Marine. He recently finished writing No Place like Home, the sequel to One Dog at a Time. Farthing says he’s focused on the charity Nowzad Dogs and developing a humane trap neuter release program to implement in Afghanistan this year. Farthing’s next adventure is working as a mountaineering instructor. “Later this year I am going to combine my climbing passion with the Nowzad charity.”
No Place Like Home came out in trade paperback in the UK February 2011.
Farthing lives in southwest England, near Plymouth. He was born in Harwich, a small port town on the south east coast of England. “Sadly it is flat farmland, no mountains and I love mountains,” says Farthing. “So, I don’t go back much.”
One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Afghanistan by Pen Farthing
Hardback, 320 pages, Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
Language: English ISBN-13: 978-0312607746