How to become an eques­trian writer

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Your Horse (UK) - - Contents - WORDS RACHEL WIL­LIAMS

IF YOU WERE a book­worm grow­ing up, you’ll re­mem­ber some much-loved eques­trian fic­tion he­roes and hero­ines. How about Jinny and Shan­tih, Jill and Phan­tom; Ca­role and Starlight or Ken and Flicka? Those of us who grew up on a rich diet of eques­trian nov­els, cour­tesy of writ­ers such as Pa­tri­cia Leitch, Bon­nie Bryant and the Pullein-Thomp­son sis­ters, may have also read clas­sics like Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. If you did, Gin­ger’s sad demise prob­a­bly haunted you for weeks. Many of these ti­tles went on to be tele­vised, a tes­ta­ment to the ap­petite for an eques­trian tale. The same read­ers that de­voured these nar­ra­tives prob­a­bly moved on to more adult-ori­ented fic­tion as they grew older. Jilly Cooper’s Rid­ers for in­stance, with its racy twists, at­tracted a mass au­di­ence that ex­tended be­yond the world of eques­tri­ans. Sim­i­larly, prize-win­ning page-turn­ers, such as Ni­cholas Evans’ The Horse Whis­perer, have gripped adult read­ers for decades now. The Horse Whis­perer is still one of the best-sell­ing nov­els of all time and was adapted by Robert Red­ford for the sil­ver screen, much like the real-life story of 1930s un­der­dog race­horse, Se­abis­cuit. But then, the reg­u­lar­ity with which eques­trian-themed books hit the shelves seemed to di­min­ish. Ac­cord­ing to Michelle Char­man, a for­mer pub­lisher for Pen­guin, the thirst for pony sto­ries abated. “Fash­ions changed. For a num­ber of chil­dren es­pe­cially, be­ing seen read­ing a pony book just wasn’t cool any­more.” It ap­pears to have been a rel­a­tively short-lived change though, as it seems horsey reads are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing of a come­back in re­cent years.

New wave of nar­ra­tives

Michelle spent 30 years work­ing for the UK’s big­gest pub­lish­ing houses, even­tu­ally set­ting up Fore­lock Books when she recog­nised the gap in the mar­ket for what she calls ‘fam­ily eques­trian fi­fic­tion’. She says people are putting pen to pa­per again as a re­sult of equestrianism’s newly-widened recog­ni­tion as a tough and chal­leng­ing sport. “Rid­ing takes guts and has an el­e­ment of dan­ger as­so­ci­ated with it, so chil­dren are not only read­ing more pony ad­ven­ture sto­ries now, but they’re proud to be seen read­ing it. Hav­ing a pony as a child, or even not hav­ing a pony, has such an im­pact on a per­son too, that of­ten adults are com­pelled to write about a per­sonal ad­ven­ture from their youth or a pony that gave them joy.” Two such people are Bri­tish ac­tress Sue Jame­son – best known for her roles in pop­u­lar TV dra­mas such as the BBC’s New Tricks – and PR worker, Lucy John­son. Both Sue and Lucy have back­grounds in rid­ing and writ­ing but the books they’ve re­leased with Fore­lock are their first ven­tures

into the world of nov­els. Sue’s Pony Tails is a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, each cen­tring around a na­tive breed. “We have a real love of hairy ponies in our fam­ily. The first story was in­spired by one we res­cued from Ireland. My daugh­ter and I de­cided to go rid­ing while there, and this lit­tle pony was not in a good way. He was very thin and con­di­tions were in­ad­e­quate. We couldn’t leave him there. When he was fi­nally de­liv­ered to us and turned out in the field, I re­call the man who brought him say­ing, ‘he must think he’s died and gone to heaven’. We called him Scruffy and the Con­nemara’s story in Pony Tails is a drama­tised ver­sion of what hap­pened to him. The horse world is rich with char­ac­ters and sto­ries. I do a lot of work with char­i­ties for in­stance, so the next story I have in the pipeline re­lates to the work of the RDA.” For Lucy John­son, a search for fic­tion books about rac­ing for her eight-year-old son lead to her de­ci­sion to write her own. “I’d grown up with hun­dreds of sto­ries about girls gal­lop­ing across moors and leap­ing five-bar gates on their feisty ponies,” she says. “I re­ally wanted to find some­thing to en­gage my son in the same way, and so I had the idea to write Pony Racer, which tells the story of trou­bled nine-year-old Tom, his bond with a pony named Leo and his fi­first steps to­wards be­com­ing a jockey.”

A recipe for suc­cess

Sto­ries of years gone by, and more re­cent pub­li­ca­tions from new au­thors like Sue and Lucy, all have cer­tain el­e­ments in com­mon: a cen­tral char­ac­ter with an in­cred­i­ble bond with a horse, and a theme of com­pe­ti­tion, ad­ven­ture or tri­umph in the face of ad­ver­sity. But how dif­fif­fi­cult is it to get busy writ­ing? “The first hur­dle is to stop pre­var­i­cat­ing,” says Sue. “You re­ally must get sat down and have a be­gin­ning and an end in mind. Once you’ve ‘placed’ your story like this, just see how it goes!” Lucy John­son agrees that it’s im­por­tant to have an aim and a dead­line to get you to knuckle down and write. “Pony Racer is only about 30,000 words long. It was hard to find the time to write while jug­gling work and be­ing a mum, but once I started to write ev­ery sin­gle day, it was com­plete in about four months. Be pre­pared for your story to change and never be too proud to delete sec­tions of your work. It’s hard to delete chunks when you’ve in­vested time in them but go with your gut. If it’s not work­ing, delete it.”

In­spired to try?

The old adage is that ev­ery­one has at least one book in them. So what steps should you take to see your story re­alised in print? Lucy John­son says that re­jec­tion is to be ex­pected but don’t give up. “Buy a copy of the Writ­ers’ & Artists’ Year­book, which lists con­tact de­tails of pub­lish­ers and lit­er­ary agents. Get­ting an agent can be as hard as get­ting a pub­lisher and an agent’s fees can be ex­pen­sive, so use the hand­book to find out which pub­lish­ers you can ap­proach as an in­de­pen­dent writer.” From a pub­lisher’s point of view, Michelle Char­man ad­vises do­ing your re­search. “Talk to read­ers, tell them your story and gauge their re­sponse. Or, set up a so­cial me­dia ac­count and post snip­pets about the star of your story to build an au­di­ence. The first ques­tion a pub­lisher will ask is ‘who is go­ing to be in­ter­ested in this story and how big is the po­ten­tial au­di­ence?’ It’s cru­cial to give a pub­lisher an open­ing and syn­op­sis that’ll grab their at­ten­tion and make them want the story, so it’s im­per­a­tive to be­lieve in your story, and be pa­tient.”

The horse world is rich with char­ac­ters and sto­ries

set Michelle Char­man up Fore­lock Books

The key to writ­ing is… to get writ­ing! The fi­first Pony Tails book, writ­ten by Sue Jame­son, was in­spired by her own res­cue pony

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