Sheldon - the Border Terrier who has inspired a series of books
- Credit: Irene Hrynknow
The antics of the border terrier from Bardsea has found fame at home and abroad
Denise Le Breton has been drawing cartoons since she was a youngster, but it wasn't until she was made redundant three years ago that she decided to take a leap of faith and turn her hobby into a career. Denise is currently creating her fourth book and says the inspiration behind her success is her bright-eyed mischievous border terrier Sheldon.
'She just feeds me the material for my cartoons. She's eight but thinks she's eight months. In fact, border terriers are a gift for cartoonists. Their little faces are so expressive, and they have so much character. They are affectionate yet tenacious and they do such funny things,' says Denise.
'Maybe not for Sheldon's ears but I have always been a cat person; not a dog person at all. I've always had cats but when my marriage broke up and my children left home, I found myself feeling quite isolated and lonely. I wanted to go out and walk so decided to get a dog. After doing research I found that border terriers could be very lazy or hyperactive and I thought that just sums me up too. I'd never heard of border terriers until then, but she just suits me and has made such a big difference to my life.'
It seems that life with a border terrier is never boring. While Sheldon is going about her important tasks of digging, sniffing hedgerows or investigating rabbit holes Denise makes notes about her antics on her phone and then translates them into pen and pencil sketches before completing the drawings on her iPad, putting in high-lighting and shading.
'Some of her favourite things are sausages and out-staring or chasing squirrels. She's very sociable, is everybody's friend and absolutely loves babies; she became quite maternal and protective when my first grandchild was born.'
Denise, who lives in Bardsea, often walks Sheldon in Priory Woods near Ulverston. It is here, where the dogs greet each other, and owners share tales of canine transgressions and treasured moments, that Denise finds further inspiration. 'It's funny we all know the dogs' names but not the owners' names.'
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Denise, who comes from an artistic family, says she felt she wasn't as good as the other family members, and so from the age of 12 onwards she started to draw cartoons. Although she jokes that cartoonists are just lazy artists, it is clear Denise has a special talent and can skilfully capture the essence of an animal or person, in just a few masterful strokes.
'When I was made redundant from BAE Systems at Barrow it was quite a body blow. My job, in recruitment, was quite a high pressure one so I decided I needed a change of direction. As I'd always dabbled in cartoons and done a little bit of freelance work, I decided to develop my cartooning skills. I'd started putting a weekly cartoon of Sheldon on Facebook and got a brilliant response with people saying they hoped I'd do a book.'
She began work on her first book in September 2017 and found a book printer online and now sells though the internet. That first book was published by Christmas that year and she started work on the second.
'Sheldon is building up a nice little fan club,' Denise says. 'The books sell in many countries and are especially popular in Scandinavia and America. I think my proudest moment was receiving a thank you note from Lorraine Kelly who also owns a border terrier and loved my first book,' smiles Denise.
Sheldon also had a taste of stardom when she appeared on Granada Reports. During recording she seemed quite unimpressed and was lying sleeping on her back until the presenter happened to mention sausages and to everyone's amusement, she sprung to life - it is spontaneous moments like this that Denise captures so well in her witty illustrations.
Sheldon will happily snooze nearby as Denise works, sometimes for six or seven hours a day, but her four- legged friend also acts as a reminder that breaks are needed. 'She keeps me very fit. Dogs are so good for you, both physically and mentally. My partner died suddenly very recently, and Sheldon has become more important to me.'
Denise donates her books to local raffles and a percentage from her books sales to Border Terrier Welfare. She also set up fundraising for the charity on her last birthday. Denise explains: 'They're not a high-profile charity so I like to help and know that it's money well spent.'
Denise is now branching out and creating caricatures of animals and people. Inspired by telling stories to her grandchildren, she also has plans to write a fun children's book. She adds: 'I have come very close to getting a publisher for my cartoon books and hope that will happen soon.'