Uncategorized

My home away from home

I was going to start this by saying “Everyone has a home away from home, a place where they feel that they belong, where they travel in their mind when they think of their ‘happy place’…” but then I wondered. Does everyone have that place?

Perhaps not, but for hundreds of lucky women – young and old – around the world, there is a place where they belong.

A home away from home.

REF logoI went to summer camp to broaden my horizons and for a bit of an adventure. I can honestly say that my time working at Road’s End Farm in NH, USA has changed my life.

I can’t remember now what I expected from that place, but what I got was a slice of heaven on earth.

herd run 2

There are so many things that I would never have known, horses I’d never have ridden, people I’d never have met, lives that would never have touched mine, had I not turned up at the end of the road 11 years ago with a backpack and a dream.

I would never have known that home could be half a world away, yet feel like I’d been there forever.

house

I wouldn’t have known the joy of a herd in full flight.

Herd running

I would never have met the other half of my soul in equine form…

bitslove

Or have had the chance to meet my special little ponygirl, sassing her way through life with a spring in her step and flowers in her hair.

alice mane

I would never have met these amazing, inspiring, wonderful people who I am so lucky to call my friends.

faves     session 2 08     wednesdays

And I wouldn’t have found my second family.

tom alicia me

Road’s End Farm is a magical place that has changed me for the better in more ways than I can count.

It’s truly my home away from home, and yet it’s more than that. It’s a place where I feel free.

And I’m not alone in that. Those of us who have been there, spent time there, know how its magic works. We know what kind of a place it is.

It’s a place where we run and jump and ride and love on our horses.

Where we dress up in stupid outfits and read silly fiction and write funny stories for reading at night.

Where we share our deepest, darkest secrets in whispers after lights out, or on the back field, sleeping out under a blanket of stars.

Where we laugh, and hug, and work, and play; where we learn about values and respect and hard work.

Where a week can pass by in the blink of an eye, and a summer at the drop of a hat.

Where we dance while we do the dishes, and sing on the way to swimming, and where many hands make light work.

Where we climb mountains, and paddle down rivers, and haul hay, and lug water buckets.

Where we find our kindred spirits, our soul sisters, and without even realising it at the time, we find ourselves.

We meet ourselves as we truly are, as we are meant to be. Free to be ourselves, unfettered by social convention and others’ opinions.

And we drag our feet to slow the circles down.

The farm is half a world away from where I am and yet I am always there, watching the horses run, reveling in their freedom as I continue to pursue my own…

Knowing that I can always go home, to the farm at the end of the road.

herd running

If only everyone in the world could have a place like this, what a place this world could be.

http://roadsendfarm.com/

Advertisements
Uncategorized

Blog hop : Latest Book Excerpt

Taking part in another Blog Hop, this one from Christine at Horse Country Book!


From Chapter 3 of my upcoming novel Five Stride Line (Pony Jumpers #5):

5 Five Stride - DIGITAL (E1)

“There’s a Pony Club rally tomorrow,” I told Katy the following afternoon as we groomed our ponies before our ride.

“Ugh, I know.” She ran her body brush over Molly’s gleaming hindquarters. “Mum’s trying to make me go because they have some coach coming to do a desensitising clinic and she thinks it’s the perfect time to take Rascal back to his owners and show how much improved he is.”

“Rebel,” I corrected her for the thousandth time. “His name is Rebel, not Rascal.”

Katy looked at me. “What?”

“The roan pony that you’re schooling,” I clarified, and she nodded. “His name’s Rebel.”

“No it’s not.”

I grinned. “Yeah it is. Squib used to graze with him, remember?”

“Really?” Katy looked confused, then shrugged. “Oh well, same difference. Either way it’s a stupid name for such a well-behaved pony. I’ve got no idea what those muppets who own him were on about when they said he’s naughty. He hasn’t put a foot wrong since he got here.”

“Nervous riders make nervous horses,” I said, remembering how petrified Alyssa was of her pony.

“If she doesn’t want her pony to go forward when she puts her leg on, she should buy a tricycle,” Katy said. “I can’t stand kids who scream and grab at the reins the second their ponies move faster than a snail’s pace. Poor Rascal, having to go back to them.”

“So he is going back?”

“Yeah, I’m sick of riding him and I think they’re sick of paying me when every time they ring up to find out how he’s going I just say the same thing. As well-behaved as he was the day he arrived. Which he has been, but as soon as they get him back and he puts a toe out of line, they’re going to accuse me of lying or being a useless trainer, and send him to someone else, throwing more money at the exact same problem. Yet somehow buying the kid some lessons never crosses their mind.”

“The funny thing is, her little sister would be able to ride him,” I said, thinking of Carrie’s bubbly enthusiasm. “But Sandra would never allow it.”

“Ugh. Parents are stupid,” Katy muttered, just as her mother appeared around the side of the building, leading the roan pony we’d been discussing. I’d have been mortified if my mother heard me say anything like that, but Deb seemed to take the insults for granted.

“I hope you’re talking about your father, not me,” was all she said as she tied Rebel to a ring in the wall and started taking his covers off.

“Actually I was talking about the people who own Rascal,” Katy told her mother.

“Rebel,” I said, but my correction fell again on deaf ears.

“They’ll be here in half an hour,” Deb told Katy, who looked stunned.

“What? Who?”

“Rascal’s owners. They’re coming to have a ride and see how Alicia gets on with him, if there’s any improvement. I told you that last night.”

“It’s Alyssa,” I interjected, but neither of them heard me.

“You did not! You said I had to take him to Pony Club, not that they were coming to ride him.”

Deb sighed and started explaining that the owners thought they might want to take him to Pony Club themselves, and she’d had to convince them to come and ride him again first. Katy made a lot of grumpy interruptions and I just listened wryly to their argument as I finished picking out Squib’s hooves, checking carefully around his white line for any embedded stones. Katy’s arena had quite a bit of fine gravel mixed into the surface, and it was notorious for getting trapped inside Squib’s white line, which could cause bruising or abscesses if I wasn’t vigilant about it.

Once his hooves were done, I lifted Squib’s saddle onto his back, setting it too far forward and then sliding it back to make sure the hairs under his saddle blanket didn’t get ruffled the wrong way. Reaching under his belly for the girth, I pulled it up snugly but not too tight, then gave his solid neck a firm pat.

Deb went off to get some brushes for Rebel, and Katy looked over at me with a pained expression.

“Ugh. Now we can’t go over to the Fitzherberts’ today, because we won’t have time to ride there and back before these people turn up to see Rascal or Ratbag or whatever you said his name is.”

“Rebel.”

“Rebel,” she repeated, looking at the pony with some scepticism. “I’m never going to remember that. I guess we’ll have to ride these two in the arena.”

I pulled a face at her. “Squib wanted to go for a hack.”

“Well, tell him that we can’t always have what we want,” Katy replied curtly. “Sometimes life just bites you in the butt and you have to get used to it.”

“Speaking of that, have you heard from Tess?” I asked, but Katy shook her head.

“Nope, not since Dad dropped her home a fortnight ago. You?” I shook my head as well, and she looked concerned. “I hope she’s okay.”

“Yeah, me too.”

We were quiet for a while then as we finished tacking up our ponies, both lost in thought. Tess was another rider who competed at lots of the same shows as we did, usually riding her sister Hayley’s outgrown show jumping pony Misty. Misty was even more of a handful than Squib on his worst days, and Tess didn’t look like she had much fun riding him, but she’d been bullied into it by her sister. I didn’t have much time for Hayley, who had a mean streak, but she’d started having unexplained seizures lately and I knew Tess was worried about her. Personally I thought it might provide a good wake-up call for Hayley to have to deal with her own weakness, since she was always so busy calling everyone else out on theirs, but I didn’t want to say that out loud and appear heartless.

“You forgot your martingale again,” Katy told me as she put her helmet on and snapped up the chinstrap.

“I thought I’d try riding without it today,” I replied, keeping my voice casual. I’d never ridden Squib in anything other than a snaffle bridle until I’d first met Katy, and although the martingale and copper roller bit that she’d added to my tack had helped me keep my pony under control, I didn’t want to rely on them forever.

Katy rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself.” She swung gracefully into Molly’s saddle, used her foot to push her offside stirrup down then leaned down to tighten her girth. “But don’t come crying to me when you have pick his mane out of your teeth.”

“We’ll be fine,” I assured my friend, rubbing Squib’s head affectionately as I tightened his girth another hole and picked up my own helmet.

There was no malice in my pony, just a lack of training. And as his owner and rider, it was my job to train him so that he didn’t need any artificial aids to keep him under control. Horses are remarkably sensitive animals, and I’d watched countless videos in the past few days of riders who’d trained hot, excitable horses that were considered unruly or dangerous and made them into balanced, relaxed and willing partners, simply by removing unnecessary tack items. Squib butted me with his nose, and waited as I swung myself into the saddle and followed Katy into the arena.

*   *   *

The full novel will be out on 8 August 2015. In the meantime if you haven’t already read books 1-4 in the Pony Jumpers series, you can get all 4-in-1 in a discounted box set on Amazon!

PJ box set 1

Uncategorized

BLOG HOP: My best class ever

Over at Rodney’s Saga, there’s a discussion on the best class anyone has ever had at a horse show, so here’s one of my stories:

JJ warmup

In the first year that I owned my horse JJ, I took him to maybe three shows. Mostly that was fine – he was very green and I was still quite nervous in a competition jumping environment, so we took everything slowly. But as we progressed, I wanted to get him (and me) out more.

We had the talent (well, he did) and I had the determination, but unfortunately, what we didn’t have was transport. We were limited to the shows that were held at the park where JJ is kept (very convenient and lucky that they hold shows there!) and the occasional times we could beg a ride off someone.

I was very lucky that I kept finding generous people who were prepared to take me to shows – I am grateful to each and every one of them. Some came out of their way to collect me, others cooked me breakfast and treated me like part of their family when I was on the road with them. My ride to Horowhenua Circuit Finals in early 2013 came from one of the event’s show jumping judges, who offered to “hitch the float” onto the back of her car and take me and JJ along, since she was going up anyway to judge. Considering how much more time, effort and petrol it would take to drag a horse (and rider, and groom) to and from Foxton rather than just driving up and back, that was a hugely generous offer and one I willingly accepted. I can’t remember the particulars, but I hadn’t been expecting to be able to go – I guess I just couldn’t find a ride – and the offer came literally the day before the show, so it was a quick decision to go along and enter on the day.

JJ warming up at Circuit Finals

This was the early days of JJ’s Show Hunter career, and while he’d shown some promise, we were a long way off being consistent. Six weeks earlier, I’d been asked to proof-read the show programme and had seen that the winner of the Equitation would take home a rug – not a cooler, but a wool-lined canvas rug worth at least $300. That was a prize well worth winning, but what were my chances? I’d never ridden in an Equitation class in my life, and wasn’t sure that JJ and I could pull off one decent round by fluke, let alone doing it when it counted.

The day started well. JJ was a bit quick in the first round, attacking his fences with great enthusiasm, but he still placed 2nd. Then he jumped a super round in the next class and won it! I was overwhelmed…it was JJ’s first win in a Show Hunter class and I was thrilled with him.

JJ ribbon 1
JJ picked up 2nd place in his first class of the day!

Equitation was up next, and it was a testing course, including a trot fence, flying change, halt to canter transition and a rollback turn. I studied the course, watched a few riders go, practiced a trot fence, then went into the ring with a smile and a determination to do our best. JJ was good – not perfect, but he did his best and I couldn’t have asked for more. I dismounted and stood at the ringside holding him while the last few riders went, noting all the things they did well and how likely they were to beat me. One of the best and most consistent riders in the event went out and had a gorgeous round…until she forgot where she was going and jumped the wrong fence!

JJ jump
Competing in the Equitation round

When the results were announced, nobody was more surprised than I was to hear my name called in first place! I was thrilled – not only was it my first Equitation win, but my first time winning a triple-wide sash, not to mention the rug! I reckon JJ was pretty pleased with himself too…

JJ very proud
JJ isn’t the most gracious of winners…

All in all, it was a show well worth going to, even if it was a last-minute decision. And just in case the success of two firsts and a second from three classes went to my head, I then went into the ring for my last class of the day and jumped an absolutely horrendous round in the Final, taking a rail and finishing with no score. I was kicking myself, because it was entirely my fault. But that’s horses and the horse show life for you!

JJ end of day
The happy end to a very successful day

(Photos used with permission, many thanks to Ella’s Equine Photography.)

Uncategorized

One out of the box

PJ box set 1
Ever since I started the Pony Jumpers series, I’ve been quite keen on the idea of packaging up the books into groups of four and seeing how well they sell in a ‘box set’. Partly because I think the graphic looks cool, partly because it’s a good bargain that will hopefully get readers into the series, and partly because it’s a pretty effective marketing tool. After all, if you want to grab someone’s attention, bright colours and a bargain deal are two of the most sure-fire ways to succeed!

I don’t spend a lot of money on advertising – actually, to be honest, I basically spend nothing on advertising. Facebook and word of mouth have been my go-to advertising methods up until now, but I’m starting to branch out a little. On a Facebook business page, you can pay a few extra dollars to “Boost” a post, which not only ensures that more of your followers will see it, but that people who don’t follow you but who fall into the location/age/interests that you specify will also be advertised at.

So a few days ago, I bit the bullet and paid a few dollars for a Facebook ‘boost’. And my sales did spike, although I’m as yet not clear whether that’s actually because of the advertising or not. (I’ll have to run a few more ads and watch for sales trends before I can be sure that it’s had an effect.)

Here’s the ad that I posted, and what Facebook is telling me about it (this after the first couple of days).

box set ad

(Amazon advertising is a LOT more expensive, so I’m holding back on that one for now, but definitely considering it later on.)

Finding the right balance of what to post and how often to post it on Facebook is a challenge… I don’t want to post so much that I annoy people, or be constantly pushing my own books on people, but I also want to have a presence and for my followers to have a good idea of who I am and what I’m about (within and outside of my books). Hopefully I’m getting the balance right – if you do follow me on Facebook (or Instagram) please send your feedback!

And if you’re not following me on Facebook yet, what are you waiting for? Follow Kate Lattey – NZPonyWriter on Facebook and @kate_lattey on Instagram, and join my mailing list!

Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · writing

When characters write themselves

WCWT bannerHave you ever watched a TV series and found yourself rooting for a couple that aren’t the ones who are “supposed” to be together? That despite the storyline that the writers have planned, the chemistry between the actors (or lack thereof) creates a dissonance for the viewer and they lose interest in whether or not they will end up together, because in actuality the prospect of two different characters uniting is far more entertaining? (Dawson’s Creek is one such example. Veronica Mars is another. I’m sure you can think of more.)

This gets particularly awkward when the couple you’re rooting for do get together, but you just know that the writers don’t want it to end up that way. That their pairing is supposed to be a bump in the road, or the-one-along-the-way on the path towards true love, not the happily ever after, and you have to watch as they throw obstacle after obstacle in their way…

Well, the reason I’m waffling on about this is because it just happened to me. Only I wasn’t watching a TV series…I was writing a novel.

As I finished Triple Bar, I knew I had to get the first two chapters of Four Faults written before it was released, so that it could tag along at the end and (hopefully) inspire readers to look forward to the next in the series. This one was particularly important for two reasons: a) readers didn’t know Tess nearly as well already as they had done for Katy and Susannah in books 2 and 3, when I’d formerly employed this tactic, and b) I was about to go on a three week holiday to America and I knew that it was going to be a longer wait than usual between books, so I wanted readers’ appetites whetted.

So I started writing Four Faults. I wanted to set the story on a big working sheep farm, because I hadn’t done that yet. I love farming and the rural lifestyle, and my goal is always to give people reading from overseas an insight into the New Zealand way of life, and to give the Kiwi readers something they’ll recognise. I put Tess on the top of a hill, looking out over the family farm. I journeyed there in my mind as I wrote, watching as Tess patted her pony, swigged some water, talked to her dog, then looked back to see someone riding up behind her…

Sidenote: When I started writing Four Faults, I was chatting to a friend on Facebook and I mentioned that this book had another “farm boy” in it. (She’d just been saying how much she likes Alec, from the Clearwater Bay series, who is your quintessential farm boy.) She responded enthusiastically, and asked his name. I said “Bayard”. She approved. I went offline and continued to write.

As well as using a farm setting, I also wanted to throw a bit more of a romance into it. I knew that the main story points for Four Faults weren’t necessarily pleasant ones – Tess is being bullied into riding a pony she’s afraid of, her sister is being nasty to her, her friends are mostly oblivious to her, and then Hayley starts having unexplained seizures, and everything is turned completely upside down. So I needed something that would lighten the story, that would make you smile and make Tess happy, so that she didn’t spend the whole book being pushed around by other people and/or wallowing in self-pity (which nobody likes reading about, no matter how true to life it is).

But I struck a roadblock really early on, because Bayard wouldn’t play ball.

Often when I write a book, I start with a rough outline of a character – their basic looks (hair, skin and eye colour, physique, etc) and their essential personality – then build on it as I go, learning more about the characters as I write. Because I write the Pony Jumpers books so fast, and because the first two chapters of the books are always written well before the rest of the story, I’m writing those initial scenes completely off the cuff, without much prior planning. I’m also usually writing fast, because I’ve got the previous book finished and I want to get it released sooner rather than later!

Writing the first two chapters of Double Clear was easy. I already knew Katy well, as she’d not only been around since Dare to Dream but I had other stories already squirreled away in my head with her name on them. I was familiar with her personality and her lifestyle and the story I was going to tell. (Well, mostly. Katy definitely surprised me when I wrote Double Clear, but I’ll explain more on that when I have written book 6, I think.) Susannah was obviously another well-known character, if not well-liked, and she was really interesting to write. Both of those girls flowed easily off my fingertips, surprising and impressing me by turns, but never giving me pause or making me wonder if I was telling a story that would be true to them and worthwhile reading.

But I got myself into a pickle when it came time to write the first two chapters of Four Faults, because Bayard wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do. And I wanted Tess to be equally frustrated by him, to be trying to get his attention because maybe he was just oblivious to her and I could work with that, but nope. She wasn’t remotely romantically inclined towards him either. Bayard had been her best friend for a long time and she had never thought about him differently.

The pair of them were doing my head in. Alongside that, another strand of the story that I’d been planning to write, which had sounded awesome in my head, was not transferring itself to paper at all. I couldn’t make it work, so I removed it entirely. Problem was, that was supposed to be the part of the story that helped Tess out and made her a braver rider, which was what the book as a whole had to achieve. So now I was really stuck, and getting grumpier and more frustrated by the minute.

I shut my laptop and cleaned the kitchen. It’s amazing how sometimes doing something simple and menial can help. I was home alone, so I was talking to myself (I do this constantly – at home, in the car, while riding my horse…it is my favourite and most successful way to come up with characters and storylines). And out of the blue came the idea to have Tess realise that she liked Bayard, because there was someone else trying to get her attention, and only in first accepting and then rejecting that would she and Bayard see what was lacking between them, and close that distance.

Jonty sprang into my mind almost immediately, his name already picked out, confident and sure of his proper place in the story. I knew his personality at once, although his physical appearance flickered for a while before it resolved itself vaguely in my mind. (I didn’t care much about that anyway – it’s only important so that I don’t change his hair or eye colour halfway through. I never bother too much with physical descriptors, preferring to leave it up to my readers to use their own imagination and preferences). I finished washing the floor and went back to my room to meet Jonty and introduce him to the story. Opened the laptop, mulled him over in the ten or so minutes it took my old computer to boot up Word, and threw him into the story.

In those first two chapters, Jonty appears very briefly, standing in the doorway of his house in a pair of rugby shorts and nothing else. He waves to Tess, who ignores him and rides away.

Done. Right?

Not quite. I’d also dedicated a page or so to explaining who Jonty was and why he was there. I established that Tess didn’t like him because he was cheeky and gregarious and hung around when he wasn’t wanted. He had a pony called Taniwha that he used to ride when he was younger, and three little sisters that he complained about, and he lived in a rough house because his family were poor and his dad lacked ambition to better their circumstances.

That was the Jonty I was planning on writing. He was going to turn up and annoy Tess, who would end up riding with him over the farm on a regular basis (because reasons), and he would help her to overcome some of her fears by simply challenging her more than Bayard did. Tess would start feeling braver and more confident in her own life as her confidence grew with Misty, and start finding Jonty more appealing than she did before. At this point, Bay had to swing into action and get a little jealous, and Tess would roll her eyes and fend him off until Jonty did something that put her into danger, at which point Bayard would be there to pick up the pieces, and she would discover that she liked him better anyway…

That was the rough outline. I was prepared to make changes along the way – I always do, no matter how thorough or vague my outlines are. But I was not prepared for Jonty, because he clearly never read a word of it.

Jonty never once did what I expected him to do. He rewrote his own character at a rate of knots, and no matter how hard I tried to make Tess get snarky with him, or for him to annoy her, he would not stop flirting and she would not stop fancying him. And Bayard was just sitting in the corner, switching from being oblivious to outright sulking, but never doing a darn thing to try and change the situation.

So the story changed. I gave up trying to make Jonty into the character I’d first seen him as, and let the reins fall loose. Tess dropped back a little, unsure, but Jonty took the bit and ran with it. He knew who he was and what he wanted out of life, and his calm self-confidence and empathetic approach helped Tess exactly the way I wanted it to in the first place. Bayard went from being my intended romantic hero to shuffling around in the background, which irritated me for a while – but I got over it. (I’ve got plans for him down the road, don’t worry. He’ll be back.)

Some planned scenes stayed in but were adapted. When Jonty’s recklessness led to Tess getting hurt, Bayard didn’t swoop in to rescue her. Well, he tried. But he was well and truly fended off, because that scene had turned into something else altogether…

Four Faults ended up being a very different story from the one I’d planned to write. I wonder if this is why it ended up being a lot longer than the previous Pony Jumper books (which clocked in at 31k, 37k and 38k respectively – Four Faults was 55k by the time it was done!). It just took me that much longer to get my head around these characters, and I knew that the slow-burn between Tess and Jonty had to be slow enough to make it count. No insta-love around here!

But I am so happy with the end result. Jonty is one of my favourite characters, and he helped me build Tess into the person I wanted her to be. It’s so strange how easily what you thought you knew when you started can change. For me, that’s a big challenge of writing the Pony Jumpers series, because often even I have no idea where it’s going when I start. And it’s not over yet, because before I could release Four Faults, I had to write the first two chapters of Five Stride Line and that did the same damn thing.

Once again, I had bullet points. I had story and I knew where it was going, and that much of it did. AJ was familiar territory, as were Katy and Anders and Alexia, because I’d written them all before and I wasn’t anticipating any surprises. But I had another new character to bring into the story, and like Jonty before him, Harry ended up being nothing like I’d originally expected him to be.

But you know what? That’s a good thing. It’s a really good thing, actually, because sometimes when you let characters have a looser rein, they fill out into real people. They go from being an idea (or an ideal, which is a death trap in my opinion – idealised characters are dull to read about) to being a person, and now that Harry is ten times the smart aleck that I ever thought he’d be, the progression of his storyline is going to work even better than I’d imagined. So I’m excited.

I’m also excited to go back to Jonty and Tess later on, and I’m excited to move forward with Katy’s storyline too, and Susannah’s. I have rough outlines for several more novels, planning out each character’s complete arc, and all of the books so far are steadily building towards them. I’m sure to hit a few road bumps along the way, when more characters refuse to do what they’re supposed to, but you know what?

I can’t wait to find out where they end up.

Uncategorized

New release: FOUR FAULTS

PJ 4 FF release 300

Tess Maxwell never really wanted to be a competition rider, and she certainly never wanted to inherit her sister Hayley’s difficult Grand Prix pony. But nobody listens to what Tess wants, and despite her resolution never to ride Misty again, she finds herself back in the saddle as he continues to tear her confidence to shreds.

When her parents decide that Misty will be sold after Christmas unless Tess changes her mind, she has more to contend with than just surviving the next seven weeks. Because Hayley is determined not to let her beloved pony leave the farm, and she doesn’t care what will take to change her sister’s mind…

PJ 4 FF expt 1