Book Design · Clearwater Bay series

Judging a book by its cover

judging by cover

I wrote a blog post for Horse Crossings this week that talks about the importance of a good cover. And it got me thinking. While I’m super happy with the Dare to Dream and Pony Jumpers covers, the Clearwater Bay ones leave a little to be desired.

I didn’t design the cover of Flying Changes – I supplied the image and the rest was done for me. When I released Against the Clock, I set up the file to look similar to the first book, to make it clear it was part of a series.

But now I’m thinking of re-doing both covers… like this:


Pony Jumpers series · Six to Ride · writing

Sticks & Stones

sticks stones

The following post contains spoilers for SIX TO RIDE. Consider yourself warned.

One of the best – and sometimes worst – parts of being a writer is being reviewed. Good reviews make your heart sing, inspire you to write more, make all of the tedious hours of self-imposed exile seem worthwhile. Indifferent reviews are can be shrugged off with matching indifference, and while bad reviews are an inevitability, you just have to try not to let them get you down. Not everyone is going to like your books, after all. That’s just life. But every so often a review comes along that halts you in your tracks. I got one of those today.

It started promisingly enough, awarding the book five stars because the reader loves the series (and I’m immensely grateful and happy to hear that). She then went on to explain, at length, what she didn’t like about Six to Ride.

Let me clarify something quickly – I’m not here to complain about this review. I honestly didn’t mind getting it, because constructive criticism is a good thing, and I’m the first person to ask for it. It was a well-written, well thought out review – something else I’m grateful for. But the reason I’m writing this is because this was a review that challenged me, and made me stop and think about what I’d written, what I’m writing next, and where I’m going with the whole series. It forced me to evaluate the path I’m on, and to be sure that I’m heading in the right direction. I wasn’t sure I would ever post this, when I wrote it, but I think it’s important enough to say out loud.

So here goes.

The three key points that the reviewer made in her dissection of the novel related to Tori, Phil, and Katy.


This book barely mentions the new horse and it is relegated to a sub plot role so that Katy can get her flirt on with a boy.

Tori was a tough one to write, because she’s an ongoing plot line for Katy, and this book was mostly providing set-up. I wanted readers to see what she was like, to learn why, and to also understand and appreciate that difficult, psychologically-damaged horses can’t be fixed by love alone, and especially not in the space of three weeks. These things simply don’t happen overnight, unfortunately.

So every section of the book that featured Tori was, by necessity, a down beat, a negative moment. There isn’t a breakthrough and there isn’t a golden moment. So to balance out that negativity, it was important for me to limit these scenes, to avoid the whole book being dragged down into a negative quagmire, and temper it with lighter, more optimistic moments. Usually AJ is a good provider of those, but there’s some distance between AJ and Katy right now, and Katy is feeling isolated from her friend, so that wasn’t going to work. Phil was the obvious choice to shift the mood and provide some lift to the story, while Katy slowly works out that she can’t help Tori without first swallowing her pride and asking for help (and admitting to her father that she couldn’t do this on her own, or right away).


A boy who, lets not forget, was a total a-hole in the last book… I hope Katy dumps his ass in the next book but it seems likely that he will stick around or will dump her instead.

There have been times in the past when I’ve read a book and found myself absolutely and utterly loathing a character that the author was clearly very fond of. A character in whom the writer clearly found some redeeming qualities, but who left me extremely cold.

Phil is not that person to me. As the author, I’m extremely fond of him. But he’s complex. He’s light and dark, sunlight and shadows, and he flickers from one to the other at the drop of a hat. And yes, he will be sticking around. But he won’t be universally beloved by all of the other characters  – one person, in particular, has no time for him at all. Yet despite some of his less endearing qualities, I want him in the story because he has a story to tell. He’s a non-horsey person growing up surrounded by people who are obsessed with horses, and that’s a dynamic that I want to explore.

And now we get to the meat of it.


My main complaint about this book was the set up for Katy to develop an eating disorder – the classic pony box (sic) trope of the already skinny girl who becomes anorexic due to family drama stressing her out. It’s been done to death and does not need to be repeated. 

1. b. common or overused theme or device: cliché <the usual horror movie trope>
– Merriam Webster dictionary

This is what really threw me, when I read it. Because I didn’t set out to write a cliché, or to follow a pony book trope. Generally I try and do the opposite – take what you think is likely to happen next, and flip it on its head. But somewhere along the line, I must have missed the fact that this was a pony book trope, because clearly I’m not reading the same books as this reviewer. Aside from Tudor Robins’ excellent Objects in Mirror, I actually don’t ever recall reading a pony book about a girl with an eating disorder. The reviewer did list a couple, which admittedly I haven’t read, but to me, it wasn’t an obvious storyline thrown in there because I couldn’t think of anything better, or to add extra drama. It wasn’t that at all…

Let me explain how it happened. When I started writing Double Clear, I was fresh off the end of First Fence, and ready to step from AJ’s head into Katy’s. It was an easy transition – I felt like I knew Katy already, as she’d turned up even before First Fence, making her debut in a handful of scenes in Dare to Dream, then reappearing in Dream On. She was part of a backlog of characters that I have in my head, ready to be drawn upon when the moment demanded it, and so when I’d needed someone just like her in First Fence, she’d stepped into the story and owned it.

So I started writing Double Clear, with only the vaguest idea of where I was going with her side of the story. I’d written First Fence almost entirely off the cuff, chapter by chapter, literally making it up as I went along. And I started Double Clear the same way. I stepped into Katy’s head and looked around. Where was she? In the yards, in the dark, in the rain, with her favourite pony Molly. Why was she still out there? Because Molly wouldn’t eat her feed. Katy does her best to persuade her, but without success.

Moments later, Katy goes inside the house, refusing her own dinner because she’s feeling overwhelmed with her homework and everything else she has to do. She doesn’t want to take the time to sit down and eat, despite her mother’s nagging. This scene pretty much wrote itself, as it drew a neat parallel between pony and rider that helped to underline the bond between them – because it was this bond that was about to come under serious threat.

But somehow, almost without me noticing, it had become more than that. Because the opening scenes of Double Clear are about not wanting to eat. And that stuck around in my head as I wrote on, and worked my way deeper into Katy’s character. And I started to wonder, and I started to worry. And as I began to worry about her, she resolutely refused to worry about herself.

The plot thickened.

You might assume at this point that I thought “well clearly this character is anorexic, so I should expand on that theme and make an ‘issue’ out of it.” But what I actually thought was “I know how she feels.” Confession: I’ve skirted around the edges of eating issues in my own life, and have been fortunate that I’ve had a strong enough will and family support to always be able to nip it in the bud. But I know what it’s like to be too anxious to eat. To have to force yourself to put something in your stomach, when you know it’s going to make you feel sick afterwards. To experience physical pangs of hunger until the moment food reaches your mouth, when it abruptly becomes almost physically impossible to chew and swallow. It’s not fun. It sucks, and it’s scary, and honestly I hesitated to put Katy through that, because I’m fond of my protagonists and nobody needs that in their life. But by then it was too late. The story was waiting to be told, and honestly, I felt like it needed to be told.

I don’t know how those other books that the reviewer cited depicted eating disorders. I don’t know whether those other authors wrote from personal experience, or because they’d heard that anorexia is an ‘issue’ that many riders face and thought they’d touch on that in the midst of their book series, before moving on to something more entertaining. I do my best to write books that feel real, with characters that seem real, who live in the real world. I look around myself when I’m at shows, at Pony Club, in the equestrian environment, and I write what I see. I write with an eye on the people I know, and I know girls like Katy. I know girls who’ve suffered terribly, and hidden it successfully. Girls who seem to have it all together, but who are fighting a desperate battle on the inside, striving frantically for an unattainable level of perfection. Their self-confidence is all a mask. Deep down, they’re hurting. They just don’t want to let anyone see.

And that brings me back to Phil, because that’s also why he’s in the story, and why he’s so important. He, too, has pain he can’t express, and no outlet for it. Like Katy, he’s battling against the tide of others’ expectations, only he’s stopped trying to prove himself, has quit trying to fight back. It became too hard to care, so he gave up. A nonchalant shrug and a closed off expression. Keep them at arm’s length. Pretend everything’s fine.

But he’s been friends with Katy for too long to really be able to hide from her. And he can see through her as well. Slowly, tentatively, they’re opening up their wounds and trying to heal each other.

I hope Kate Lattey reconsiders where she is going with Katy’s story because this book was disappointing.

Sorry, but I can’t. I’ve set these characters on a path, and it’s too late now for them to turn around. They’ve got a story to tell, and a reason to tell it. And I’m not going to change that.

Because when I think about those girls I know, who have battled silently, struggling along thinking everyone else had it together and they were the only ones who were getting it wrong, I want them to know the truth.

That they’re not alone. That we’re all fighting our own battles, and that there is hope. There is a way forward, and there is a way home.

Be brave. Keep fighting. Keep moving forward, because it’s not over until you’ve given up.

This is their story…Katy’s story…my story…your story…our story.

And it wants to be told.

Deleted scenes · Pony Jumpers series · Six to Ride

SIX TO RIDE – Deleted Scene Unlocked!


You did it! SIX TO RIDE now has 10 Amazon reviews, and 9 of them are five-star reviews, which is just awesome. Thanks so much to everyone who has reviewed!!

So as promised, here is the first full deleted scene from the book. It’s not long, but I still like it and thought it was worth sharing 🙂  Enjoy!

“I can’t believe I don’t get to come!” AJ scowled at me from her seat on the couch.

“I know, it sucks,” I said sympathetically, tucking my feet up underneath me. It was a warm afternoon, and my bare legs were sticking to each other.

“Do you want to know what actually sucks?”

We both looked over at Anders, who was half-sitting, half-lying on the other couch in the Macleans’ living room.

“Let me guess. Being you?” AJ asked him.


“Tragedy,” AJ told him, pulling a mournful face and tracing a line down her cheek from the corner of her eye.

“Cow,” he muttered.

AJ looked slightly affronted. She stabbed an accusing finger in his direction. “Cripple.”

“What does that make me?” I asked quickly, trying to ease the tension. I felt bad for Anders, who wasn’t coping at all well with being immobile. He’d been in a foul mood for the last few days, lying idly on the couch with his busted leg stretched out in front of him, propped up by multiple cushions and pillows.

“Trouble,” Anders said swiftly, then winked at me and making me even hotter than I was before. I hoped he couldn’t tell how much my face was flushing.

“Whatever. As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted, you’ll text me as soon as you know, right?” AJ asked. She turned towards me as she spoke, which had the simultaneous effect of turning her back to Anders. He closed his eyes, ignoring us both.

“As soon as what?”

She rolled her eyes. “As soon as Tess tells you anything.”

“Oh! Yeah, definitely.”

“Don’t you think that if she wanted you to know, she’d tell you herself?” Anders asked, his eyes still closed.

“Don’t you think that if we wanted your opinion, we’d ask for it?” AJ retorted.

“You’re not exactly being quiet,” he snapped back. “And I can’t get up and walk out of the room, as much as I want to right now.”

AJ stood up. “Fine, we’ll get out of your hair. C’mon Katy, let’s leave Grumpy McGee here to his moaning and complaining.”

I opened my mouth to say that I didn’t mind when a sharp knock came at the front door, making us all jump and sending Dax, their German Shepherd guard dog, into a frenzy.

“And so you should,” AJ told him, speaking loudly to be heard over his frantic barking. “If anyone else in the world slept on the job as much as you do they’d be fired.”

I listened to her following the dog down the hall, telling him to shut up and sit down, then the front door opening and a voice that sounded vaguely familiar. I glanced at Anders for confirmation, but he had his eyes closed again. Moments later, AJ came back into the room with Harry by her side and Dax on their heels.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Harry went to see Anders, standing awkwardly in front of him with his hands in his pockets and shoulders slightly hunched.

“I’ve been better,” Anders said, trying to sound casual. “You keeping fit?”

Harry nodded. “Running eight k’s a day, and my times are getting better.”


AJ sat down next to me again and rolled her eyes. “Sports talk,” she muttered. “That’ll keep them busy for a while.”

I nodded. Anders was the captain of our school First XV, and he took his job seriously. If he couldn’t train and stay fit himself, he’d at least be making sure that his team was.

Deleted scenes · Pony Jumpers series · Six to Ride

SIX TO RIDE – Deleted Scenes


The process of editing means that there is always plenty of material that gets tossed onto the cutting room floor. It could be because the story changed and the scene no longer fit, or because the timeline changed, or the scene had to be moved to a different location or incorporate different characters, or because I wrote myself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to move forward from there, or because, quite simply, it sucked.

I’m not letting you read those ones, but there are a few scraps from SIX TO RIDE that I actually quite like, so I’m going to share them here.

Yay, right? But there’s a catch. Right now, SIX TO RIDE has 4 reviews on Amazon (one on .com, two on and one on When it gets to 10 reviews (across the board), I’ll post a deleted scene here. And ditto when it gets to 20, and to 30. (And then I will have run out of deleted scenes.)

For now, if you’ve already posted a review, flick me an email and I’ll send you the deleted scene ahead of time! If you haven’t, please do (then you can email me too).

And just to get you going…here’s a snippet from the first one, which was cut because it was repeating information I’d told in a different scene, and because I had to move it to a different (earlier) place in the book than this scene was. But I still really like it, because AJ and Anders are just always fun to write when they’re in a room together, bickering like mad.

“I can’t believe I don’t get to come!” AJ scowled at me from her seat on the couch.

“I know, it sucks,” I said sympathetically, tucking my feet up underneath me. It was a warm afternoon, and my bare legs were sticking to each other.

“Do you want to know what actually sucks?”

We both looked over at Anders, who was half-sitting, half-lying on the other couch in the Macleans’ living room.

“Let me guess. Being you?” AJ asked him.


“Tragedy,” AJ told him, pulling a mournful face and tracing a line down her cheek from the corner of her eye.

“Cow,” he muttered.

AJ looked slightly affronted. She stabbed an accusing finger in his direction. “Cripple.”

“What does that make me?” I asked…

Want more? Get reviewing! (Please. And thank you.)

And when you have reviewed, email me!

Pony Jumpers series · Six to Ride · writing

Putting yourself out there

putting yourself out there

It’s always exciting to release a new book, but it’s a little nerve-wracking as well. It’s putting yourself out there, and every time I write another book, I get a little big nervous about how it’s going to be received. Especially when I’ve written something a bit different, or covered a different topic to something I’ve done before. SIX TO RIDE takes a firm step into serious YA territory, and SEVENTH PLACE is following hot on its heels. Without revealing any spoilers or giving too much away, it will suffice to say that this series is going places that your average pony book doesn’t. Seems to be a hallmark of my writing…unfortunately for my poor characters, I don’t like things to be too easy or predictable. There’s no fun in reading a book if you know what’s going to happen in the end, right?

I’ve never subscribed to the belief that pony books should deal with ponies alone, and ignore or gloss over the other details of life. Otherwise all of your drama and tension has to come from the horse storyline, and there are only so many injuries or colics or evil competitors that you can write about without ending up repeating not only yourself, but a hundred other writers of equestrian fiction out there. That’s one of the beauties of being self-published – there’s nobody to tell me that ‘you just can’t do that in a pony book’. I can write, essentially, whatever I like!

6 Six to Ride - DIGITAL (E1).jpg

Of course, that’s both a blessing and a curse. The difficult part comes in releasing a book that nobody (literally, nobody) else has read until the moment that it goes online. For my longer novels (the DARE TO DREAM and CLEARWATER BAY books), I have a group of beta readers who give me feedback before I release them, but none of the PONY JUMPERS books have been treated to that scrutiny. I write them, I read back through them (rarely more than once) to tidy up the spelling and grammar, then I release them into the world – and get cracking on the next one. (NB: If you spot a typo in one of my books – email me and let me know! I won’t be offended…in fact, I’ll reward you with a free e-book for your troubles.)

But it’s not just the threat of hidden typos that makes me nervous when I unleash a new book onto the unsuspecting public. It’s the fact that while I’m in the writing process, and even before that, in the drafting and imagining processes, I can change the story as much as I like. I’m constrained only by what has gone before, but going forward, I can do anything. I have a lot of plot points figured out, but I’m not married to any of them. I could change them all, completely, and nobody would be any the wiser. But once a book is published, the words on the page become real. Become canon, to borrow a term. Now that other people have read it, it has become a part of the story, and there’s no going back. I suppose it’s a bit like making pottery – you mould it and mould it until it’s the shape you want, and then you fire it in the kiln, and if you get it out and discover that it has lumps and bumps and uneven patches, you’ve just got to learn to live with it.

SIX TO RIDE both does, and doesn’t, feel like that. I’m sitting here second-guessing myself about a few things, but for the most part, I’m happy with the way the book turned out. (I don’t know whether I’ll ever be completely happy with a book – there’s always room for improvement – but I didn’t want to throw the laptop across the room when I was reading it back, so that’s something.) Are there lumps and bumps and uneven patches? Probably. Undoubtedly, in fact. Those things are natural byproducts of writing. The biggest challenge right now is to keep all of my facts straight, and I can’t tell you the number of times I had to open one (or all) of the previous books in Word and search for a name, or a reference…knowing I’d mentioned that character before, hoping like heck that I hadn’t said something that was going to negate what I’d just tried to write, and crossing my fingers constantly that I haven’t inadvertantly contradicted myself at any point. I do have a file that outlines every character and their physical characteristics, their behavioural quirks and prior descriptions, their backstory and their family’s names, and any tidbits of information I threw in there at random that might become important later.

With 20 books planned for the series (and 14 of them still to write) it’s becoming more and more important that I not only get these details right, but continue to plan ahead. When I wrote FIRST FENCE, it was on a whim. DOUBLE CLEAR was supposed to be a one-off opportunity to see Katy’s side of the story, and then I couldn’t resist writing from Susannah’s perspective, and so TRIPLE BAR came along. But from then on, it spiralled out of control, and now I have not only plots for those remaining 14 books, but all of the titles, covers and blurbs as well. (I just bought the cover images for books 7 and 8 today, and have been having fun designing back covers for when I get around to setting up CreateSpace and making copies available in paperback.) And I have notes. Countless, endless notes – some on my computer, some on my phone, some scrawled on the back of my shopping lists or in that 2013 diary that I never used.

First 6 covers 150dpi

And still, every day, something new comes to me. Some new storyline or scene springs to mind. Some books are clearer than others – I’m still very fuzzy on book 9, and I’m just hoping to have some inspiration by the time I get to it. Book 11, on the other hand, I could write tomorrow (and actually already have some scenes penned). A new character turned up today who will feature sporadically from book 7 onwards to the end of the series, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she’ll be around a lot more than even I’m predicting. Characters have a habit of taking control of their own narrative, and steering the story in directions that I never expected them to go.

But that, after all, is the fun part. I just hope that my readers are enjoying the journey, and are willing to continue the ride.


Pony Jumpers series · Six to Ride

New release – SIX TO RIDE

PONY JUMPERS #6: SIX TO RIDE is finally out! Click the cover to read a sample of the book.

6 Six to Ride - DIGITAL (E1)

Now that Katy’s father has returned, he wants to be more involved in her life. Although she’s reluctant at first to welcome him back, her head is turned when he offers to buy her a new horse for Christmas. And not just any horse – a talented youngster with all the scope and talent to take her to the top.

But Katy is finding her dream horse a challenge to ride, and as the pressure to succeed mounts from all sides, she can feel herself starting to crack…

Purchase on for US$2.99