A bit of background information about me…
I live in Waikanae, New Zealand and despite my parents’ initial hesitation, started taking riding lessons at the age of 10. I was lucky enough to get my first pony Whisper two years later, who was followed by Tess, Minnie and Caddie. I competed regularly as a teenager in show jumping, eventing, show hunter and mounted games before selling Caddie and heading to Massey University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English & Media Studies in 2002.
In the years since, I’ve never been far from horses, and have worked in various jobs including as a livery yard groom in England, a trekking guide in Ireland, a riding school manager in New Zealand, and a summer camp counselor in the USA, where I worked at the wonderful Road’s End Farm for five summers.
During my time there, I wrote several short stories about the farm’s horses, which were a huge hit with the campers, and their encouragement inspired me to continue writing. I also had the joy and privilege to meet some amazing girls, and one incredible horse named Bittersweet (pictured in pink). We shared a bond deeper than words, and although she has since passed away, her memory will stay with me forever.
I am currently the Head Coach of Waikanae Pony Club and keep myself busy training my horse JJ for show jumping and show hunter competitions.
I have been reading and writing pony stories ever since I can remember, and have ideas for many more.
I wrote my first novel Flying Changes after spending nine months working in England, where the young girls who kept their ponies at our livery yard had all of the fun of riding without doing any of the hard work! There, it was quite normal to pop down to the stables once or twice a week and ride your pony, while someone else fed, mucked out, exercised and groomed your pony for you. My experience growing up with non-horsy parents was very different – I had to do everything myself, and it was hard but I learned so much from it.
One of the main themes of Flying Changes is Jay’s gradual realisation that “Nothing worth having comes easily” – a lesson that we all eventually learn in life, and one that will resonate with teenagers. One of the biggest and often hardest steps in growing up is discovering that there really is no substitute for hard work – and one of the many joys of life is the revelation that success is sweeter when you can look back and say “I did that myself“.
My second novel, Dare to Dream, is a wish-fulfillment story with a twist. Marley has a dream, but her biggest battle is against the reality of the world she lives in, where even when if you can achieve what you have always dreamed of, there is often a harsh reality at the end of the day. It is a story about the bond of family, the relentless struggles that life brings, first love and grief. I wanted to write a story that would keep readers guessing what would happen, right until the end.
I wrote Dare to Dream after I hurt my back while working in Ireland. Feeling useless, I directed my energy into Marley’s story after feeling inspired by a YouTube video of Amanda Wilson & Showtym Viking, who won Pony of the Year together only 6 months after Viking jumped his first cross-bar. (The hallway that Marley runs down in the opening scene of the novel is based on the hallway of the house I lived in at the time!) I didn’t intend to write a whole novel, but when one of the amazing girls I had the privilege of spending time with and watching grow up at summer camp in America had a fatal car accident, I renamed the story’s lead character Marley, in her memory. That simple change had a huge effect on the book – the character came alive, it blossomed into a story, and I couldn’t stop writing. I do believe that I didn’t write this book alone, and I know that Marley’s spirit has travelled with it, touching everyone who has read the book.
Before I even published Dare to Dream, I wrote an epilogue for the sequel. I remember it clearly – lying in bed on my stomach with pages of notes strewn around me, I scrawled out what happened next. And as I wrote, I started to get teary. The feeling didn’t go away…and when I read the words back over to myself, I properly began to cry. My own writing has never done that to me before (or since), and I decided that I should share that epilogue with other people. But it had to come at the end of another book, and writing a sequel seemed a daunting proposition.
But I wanted to do it. I loved Marley, Van and Kris, and I wanted to explore what happened next. So I wrote Dream On. It was a little while before I got the story nailed down, not only Marley’s adventures with Majestic but what happened next in Kris and Van’s lives as well. New characters came in, and made themselves at home, and steadily the book progressed. Then it was ready…and suddenly I was nervous. Dare to Dream has had such a positive reception that I wanted to be sure that Dream On would live up to it, and I went over and over it, trying to make it as perfect as I could. Ultimately, I had to trust my instincts that it was a good book, and let it go into the world.
Fortunately, if the first reviews are anything to go by, I didn’t need to worry. So far the reviews have been unanimously positive, and the epilogue has done its job too, evoking the same kind of response in other readers as it did for me, over a year ago, lying in bed on my stomach and making myself cry.
I had been trying to finish Clearwater Bay #2: Against the Clock for some time before I finally managed it. Originally intended to be my second release, it ended up being fourth. It wasn’t a particularly easy book to write, and it took a long time and a lot of careful editing before I was happy with it. Jay’s voice and her journey was much less epic than what I had been writing in Dare to Dream and Dream On, and I had become so fond of the Carmichael sisters that it was very difficult to let them go.
However the book finally took shape, and has turned out well. I am excited to continue exploring Jay’s journey as the series progresses, with the third book High Jump due out in late 2015.
Over Easter weekend 2015, I decided to see how short of a time it would take me to write a short novel. I set myself four days and a 30,000 word target, and got to work. Surprisingly, I finished the book in just three days. Even more surprisingly, it came out really well, and spurred me to write a short series.
The first book, Pony Jumpers #1: First Fence follows AJ and her pony Squib. AJ doesn’t come from a horsey family but she is a quick and keen learner, and she quickly becomes firm friends with Katy, whose experience and knowledge give AJ the help she needs to produce Squib as a potential show jumper. This book also introduces AJ’s family – her parents and four siblings – including her older brother Anders, who Katy quickly develops a crush on, and sister Alexia, who has Asperger’s Syndrome.
The sequel to First Fence is Pony Jumpers #2: Double Clear. This book is told from Katy’s perspective, and she was a character who quickly revealed herself to be far more complex than even I initially realised.
Katy’s primary struggle in this novel revolves around the potential sale of her beloved lease pony Molly to another young rider who Katie loathes. Not to mention a string of injuries to her other ponies, the return of her estranged father into her life, her conflicted feelings about AJ’s brother Anders, and developing anxiety issues. But Katy is determined not to give up without a fight, and despite everything going on, she maintains her friendship with AJ and manages to continue to be a successful competition rider.
The third book in the series is Pony Jumpers #3: Triple Bar. This book is from the perspective of Susannah Andrews, a character who first appeared in Dare to Dream and subsequently featured in Dream On as well. She is not a likeable character when she first arrives on the scene, but I was fascinated by her backstory and always wanted to tell her side of events. In Triple Bar, Susannah struggles with the ongoing bullying she has faced since the events of Dare to Dream, not to mention the return of her difficult older brother, and she has to fight to keep her family together.
JJ (show name: Fox in Socks) is a 15.2hh Welsh Cob x Thoroughbred, who has just turned 9 years old. I have had JJ since he was 6, and have produced him slowly and carefully. He is a very cute, very careful jumper with excellent form and nice paces, which has made him very successful in the Show Hunter (Hunter Jumper, if you’re American) ring. He had 10 wins from approx 30 starts in his first full competition season, and also show jumped competitively to 1.05m, with scope to go much higher.
Unfortunately last season he had a paddock injury in mid-August 2014 which resulted in a partial ligament tear. He has made a full recovery and managed to get to three shows before the season finished, notching up an impressive 9 wins and 2 seconds from 11 starts. So far in the 2015-16 pre-season (our show season spans September to April) he has jumped in 9 classes for 2 wins, 4 seconds, a 3rd and a 4th against some tough opposition, including placing 2nd to the National Amateur Champion!
JJ’s favourite things in life are jumping big fences, eating (he has particular preference for carrots, apples, pears, and peppermints, but he’ll try anything), going on beach rides, splashing himself in water, being ridden bareback and bridleless, and amusing himself by pretending to bite me. AJ’s pony ‘Squib’ in the Pony Jumpers books is very much based on JJ’s personality.
Here is a video of some of the highlights of our time together so far.
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