White Dog: Q&A with Lisa Anson, sister of the late author Rupert Whewell

By   Hannah Bickerton 4 min read

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Can you tell us a little bit about your brother Rupert?

Rupert was a very special person, not just to me as a life-long presence but to his many friends. He had a real presence and a real talent for being in the moment and connecting with people which meant he made a big impact on individuals. He was loved by many. He loved words, children and the mountains – they all raised life above the mundane. Despite his intellect, he rarely talked about plans, work or money – he managed to live his life free from convention, expectation and material possessions. He preferred a life rich with human connection, humour and the big outdoors. He made a particularly big impression on my children – he was the hero uncle leading them like the Pied Piper down mad dashes on the slopes, whilst still being a kid himself. Words delighted him – he would carry phrases that tickled him in the way that others carry grudges! In fact this inspired a new word ‘vocabulous’ to reflect his fabulous vocabulary. Many people remember him at his finest conversing late at night over a single malt.

White Dog is not simply a novel but a tribute to Rupert and the book he never got to finish. What was it that made you decide to self-publish with whitefox?

Rupert always loved writing, and talked often about his desire to write a book. It remained in the background though until his late forties when he put pen to paper in earnest and White Dog was born. His great unfinished novel was often referred to by his friends but no one had ever seen the text, although there was a promise to share the draft after his return from the Himalayas. I found the files on his computer but could not read them. Many months later, I was drawn back to look at his words in a sense that they could not just be left hidden and untouched. Whilst the draft I discovered was rough, about eighty percent written, I did not feel I could leave his voice just sitting there. It seemed important to me to see his story through and share his writing. In large part as a memory and a physical embodiment of his voice – of him – remaining with us. whitefox was referred to me by a friend and after a few conversations we got started. I can see him laughing at the irony that I am the one left finishing his “great unfinished novel”.

What were your thoughts when first reading the manuscript for White Dog?

The raw script was hard to read, emotionally and physically, as there were gaps. There were these brilliant flashes of astute observation and description as we see in the atmosphere of the first chapter with Pavel and the cigar, which could have been one of Rupert’s conversations. These vignettes and words were precious and brought Rupert closer to us again and I felt lucky to have them. We had outlines of the story and each chapter but not all of the connections and no ending. It felt quite daunting to not know what Rupert had in mind. I hope he is proud of how we have filled the gaps – I know John spent a lot of time getting into Rupert’s mindset to try and be true to his style.

What do you think inspired Rupert to write the plot of White Dog and create the main protagonist Ryder, a cynical art dealer who aspires to the heights, yet despises the people who populate those realms?

In Ryder’s simultaneous attraction and rejection of the materialist approach to art, I felt this was a Rupert commentary on the corrupting influence of money on things that had a higher value. He had always loved art and rejected money per se. This felt like Rupert had something to say to all of us about how we live our lives and what we value. With Ryder’s character being cynical and complex, and not particularly likeable, it seems Rupert is challenging us by not making that message too obvious.

The manuscript of White Dog was left eighty percent written by Rupert. What was your experience like working with whitefox to complete and publish the book?

I found whitefox to be extremely helpful – I knew nothing about publishing and they guided me every step of the way. They identified John as a suitable writer and also helped me find the right designer in Dominic Forbes to bring to life what we wanted on the cover. All the pieces of the project came together really well with their support. Whilst the commonality in the name was total coincidence, it might have been destiny!

How did it feel to finally see and hold the published copies of White Dog for the first time?

Actually, reassuring and emotional. There is something about a physical book, particularly a beautiful hardback that is special. In this case it is a physical memory and comfort that Rupert is still with us in voice and spirit. It was a long, hard journey getting the book over the line, but myself, our family and his many friends have all been delighted by the project. It has helped to bind us together and move forward despite the tragedy, which in reality I will never get over and never forget.

Rupert Whewell
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Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.