Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Pony Jumpers series · writing

Almost Orphans: the absence of adults in YA fiction

almost-orphans

I recently came across a question on Facebook from a reader who wondered why the characters in YA pony fiction, in particular, all seemed to have absent, uncaring or incompetent parents. Describing these characters as “almost orphans”, she wanted to know if this was deliberate on the part of the authors, and whether there was a reason for this trope’s popularity.

She’s not wrong that it is very commonly employed, but why? There are a few reasons, which I will go over here, before looking at how this trope can be subverted by telling stories that involve parents in the narrative, rather than absenting them completely.

Parents vs adventures

Firstly, there’s the obvious reason that is particularly important within the equestrian sub-genre of YA – risk. Riding horses is an inherently risky pastime, and parents are far more likely than their children are to worry about those risks. Any responsible parent is also quite likely to get in the way of exciting adventures by simply refusing to give their child permission to do something, and these days there are a lot of parents who are highly involved in their children’s lives, allowing children and teens to have less independence and personal agency than they would have likely been allowed in the past.

Clearly there is no chance of a protagonist having an adventure with a responsible parent in tow, so parents must be either permanently absent (whether physically or emotionally), or the protagonists must go behind their parents’ backs to undertake adventures. Of course any reasonable parent or adult would refuse to allow their offspring to undertake a midnight rescue mission, or ride that wild horse that nobody else can master, so the protagonist must be able to escape that parental influence, either through subterfuge (sneaking out despite being told not to) or having parents so incompetent or oblivious that they don’t even notice that they are gone.

You’re on your own now

It is difficult, in this day and age, for children to be completely off the radar, so to speak. As my fellow equestrian author Maggie Dana said, when we were discussing this topic, “…these days with every kid from nursery school onward having a cell phone, it’s almost impossible to get them into trouble that they have to extricate themselves from without grownup help!”

That’s a problem in contemporary books that cannot be overlooked, and the rapidity and fluidity with which teenagers can now communicate with one another can make plotting more complicated for an author. Imagine how different the adventures of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five might have been if they were all carrying cell phones, and could just have called the police when they found a cave full of smugglers, then gone back to eating ham sandwiches and making beds of gorgeously springy heather under the stars. If they weren’t too busy Instagram-ing their adventure or scrolling through Facebook while they waited for the chops to cook…

Maggie’s way around this problem is a simple one that is often called into service by authors (pun intended) – “This is why I always point out somewhere in the beginning of my books that cell service on the mountain is unreliable, which it invariably is, in the hills of northern New England.” Having worked in southern New England myself, I can attest to the plausibility of that approach.

Live vicariously

Another theory as to why parents are so often conspicuously absent is that some of the most avid readers of equestrian fiction are those who never had the chance to live the horsey life for themselves, so they live vicariously through fiction. These readers are often far less exacting of details, and far more willing to suspend disbelief that anyone who has actually worked with horses simply cannot do. They embrace the fictional adventures of a young protagonist who is or was just like them, struggling to find a way to ride, dreaming of brilliance and glory, yet held back in reality by their location, or financial constraints, or unsupportive parents who didn’t place (in their mind) sufficient value on the dream of equestrian glory.

For these readers, wish-fulfillment through fiction is a panacea to their own disappointment, and thus unfulfilled or long-lost dreams. A lack of parents here is not a prerequisite, but these types of stories often tell of a character who succeeds despite these obstacles – a lack of parental understanding and financing being just one of many hurdles to overcome.

All by myself

There is also a metaphorical element at play here when it comes to YA, whereby authors are using the lack of parents as a literal embodiment of the loneliness and isolation that teens often feel at this point in their lives. It’s not uncommon for teenagers’ relationships with their parents to break down somewhat during their teen years as they fight for their independence, yet this growing-up process can also be unexpectedly isolating for a teen, especially someone who is used to relying on their parents for guidance.

One of my most popular characters is Susannah, one of four main protagonists in the Pony Jumpers series (Triple Bar and Seventh Place), who was raised by very protective, disciplined parents. Everything from her schooling to her social life was dictated to her, until her parents’ relationship starts to fall apart, and she is suddenly given an independence wholly unfamiliar to her, and one that she is not entirely able to cope with.

I was ready just in time. Dad pulled up as I reached the end of the driveway, and I hurried over to him and pulled the front door of the Audi open, sliding gratefully onto the cool leather seat. I could feel my father’s eyes on me as I pulled the door shut behind me, and I stared straight ahead at the streetlights, avoiding his glare.

“What the hell are you wearing?”

“Can we not do this right now?”

Dad shifted the car into park, and rested his hands on the steering wheel. “I think now is the perfect time.” He sniffed the air, his frown deepening. “Have you been drinking?”

I closed my eyes, not trusting myself to speak.

“I’m talking to you, Susannah.”

“I know. I can hear you.”

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

I took a breath, then let it out again. “Can we just go home? Please?”

I heard my voice crack on the last word, and felt the atmosphere in the car recede slightly. My eye were still shut tight, but I heard Dad moving the gear shift, and the car glided into motion.

“Don’t think this is the end of this conversation.”

I was under no such illusion. Nothing was ever over until my father had had the last word. But I didn’t want to deal with it right now, so I kept my eyes closed and said nothing.

When we got home, I went straight to my room and peeled the dress off, then kicked it across the room. It lay slumped in the corner as I changed into pyjama shorts and a t-shirt, feeling at once more comfortable in my own skin. I went into the ensuite and looked at myself in the mirror. No wonder Dad had flipped out when he’d seen me. My eyes were black smudges against my pale skin, and I turned the hot water on and grabbed a flannel, scrubbing at my face and eyes until I’d removed every last trace of makeup. My eyes were bloodshot and stinging, but I felt like myself again.

– extract from Pony Jumpers #7: Seventh Place (by Kate Lattey)

Whether we want them to be or not, for the majority of teenagers, parents are very much a part of their lives. It may be easier to structure a storyline around a character who is not being constrained by their parents, but doing so is a loss of opportunity to explore the dynamics between teens ad their parents, which are often at a critical point during that time in their lives.

When Susannah’s father does eventually confront her about the party situation, a few days later, the ensuing conversation is a little awkward as they both slowly lower their defenses and begin to communicate with each other.

“I’m sorry.”

“You said you wouldn’t drink. You promised,” Dad said, his voice becoming louder as he warmed to his subject. I wondered if he’d attract Mum’s attention, then remembered that she was out with clients again. Undoubtedly that was part of what had made this seem like the ideal time to speak to me.

“I know. I’m sorry,” I repeated.

“Sorry isn’t good enough,” Dad warned me. “You’re grounded. No more parties.”

“Fine.”

He seemed surprised by my easy capitulation. “That’s okay with you, is it?”

I sighed. “Dad, in case you haven’t noticed, I didn’t exactly have the best time at Callie’s. I’m not in a big hurry to go through all that again, so yeah, it’s okay with me. Ban me from ever going to another party, I don’t care.”

He must have been bracing himself for a fight, because he didn’t seem to know how to react to my compliance. “Well, good.”

He uncrossed his arms and turned to leave, and I picked my magazine up again and looked at the diagrams of shoulder-in exercises, trying to memorise them for tomorrow’s schooling session on Skip. From the corner of my eye, I saw my dad stop and turn back, one hand resting against the door frame.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped.”

I met his eyes, unsure whether he was still talking about the party. I decided it didn’t matter.  “Me too.”

– extract from Pony Jumpers #7: Seventh Place (by Kate Lattey)

On the flip side of the coin from Susannah is AJ, another of the main characters in my Pony Jumpers series, who is the fourth of five children in her family, including an older sister with special needs. Her parents have bought her a pony, but have thereafter largely left the responsibility for his care up to her. It’s not until AJ meets Katy, and discovers what it’s like to have wholehearted support from a horsey parent, that she starts to feel as though she’s missing out. But when she realises that her cheap GP saddle is holding her back from progressing further, her parents are quick to remind her that she can’t expect to be given the world.

 

“Honey, I understand that you want to have nice things,” Mum said, missing the point entirely. “But riding is already an expensive hobby, and we’ve just forked out a lot of money for Squib’s new shoes. We just don’t have the spare change to be spending on a new saddle when the one you’ve got is perfectly serviceable.”

“But…”

Dad spoke up before I could continue. “How much would a new saddle cost?”

I shrugged. “It depends on the brand, and how old it is. I don’t need a brand new one,” I quickly pointed out. “Second hand is fine, or third hand. Just as long as it fits both me and Squib.”

“Ballpark figure,” Dad insisted.

“Two thousand?” I suggested. “Maybe fifteen hundred if it’s a good quality second-hand one…” I could see that I’d already lost them, and I was being conservative in my estimates.

“That’s what we paid for your pony!” Mum pointed out. “How can a saddle cost more than a horse?”

She looked at my dad, baffled. He shrugged, because he didn’t know any more about horses than she did, then spoke, each word making my spirits sink lower.

“We made the deal with you when we bought you a pony that we weren’t going to spend thousands on showing him,” Dad reminded me. “You told us then that you were happy just to ride, and go to Pony Club. Having a fancy saddle and going to lots of big shows wasn’t ever part of the plan.”

“I know. But Squib’s so good. I mean, he’s really talented. He could go all the way to Grand Prix, jump in Pony of the Year.” I could see the scepticism on their faces. “Katy says so, she says he’s got talent to burn and it’s a total waste not to shoot for it. And you’re not even paying for his grazing anymore, because Deb doesn’t charge us anything, remember? And she takes me to shows for free, and gives me lessons, and they have lent me heaps of gear.” They had no idea how cheap this whole thing actually was for them. “And I paid for Squib’s registration out of my savings, and his entry fees come out of my pocket money…”

“AJ, I don’t think you’re hearing what we’re saying,” Mum said, addressing me by my actual name for once, which meant that things were getting serious. “We are not prepared to spend thousands more dollars on your pony. It’s not fair on your brothers and sisters for us to put more money into your hobby than theirs, just because yours is more expensive. Now if Squib is sick or injured, we’ll pay for the vet bills. But outside of an emergency like that, the money just isn’t there to be spent. It’s not a matter of us sitting on it and refusing to hand it over – we simply don’t have it to spare. You know that.”

Dad tried to be less deflating. “You are more than welcome to sell the saddle you currently have, and put that money towards a new one,” he said, thinking he was being generous.

Mum beamed at him, as though that was an excellent suggestion, not understanding that my saddle wasn’t worth much at all. But I knew it was pointless arguing, so I just nodded.

“Thanks.”

I tried not to sound too depressed. I wanted to get mad and yell at them, the way that Katy would yell at Deb if she’d put her into this situation. But Deb never would. She’d go without groceries for a month to buy Katy a saddle if she thought she needed it, because their entire lives revolved around the ponies. I wished my parents were like that, but they weren’t, and no amount of sulking was going to change that fact. I was just going to have to accept it.

– extract from Pony Jumpers #5: Five Stride Line (by Kate Lattey)

With freedom comes responsibility

Of course, not all protagonists are ‘almost orphans’ – some are literal orphans, or as good as, with parents who are either deceased or almost permanently absent.

While not strictly a pony book, Monica Dickens’ World’s End series is a great example of this – the parents are almost always entirely absent through most of the four-book series, leaving the kids to run the household, scrounge up enough money to eat, and raise one another. To Dickens’ credit, and part of what makes the books so memorable, is that she never portrays her characters’ lives as remotely easy, but is still able to celebrate the great amount of freedom that they enjoy, which children growing up in more normal, civilised environments can only dream about. With freedom from parental supervision often comes hardship and responsibility, and the World’s End books (and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders) were particularly inspirational to me while working on my Dare to Dream books.

The three sisters in Dare to Dream and its sequel Dream On are literal orphans, living on the edge of solvency while trying to raise each other and still find the time and money to compete a string of show jumpers. (This is not as impossible as it seems in New Zealand – entry fees and the costs of keeping horses are far more affordable here than in many other countries.) The girls are often forced to sell their favourite mounts to make ends meet, and when one pony suffers a career-ending injury, difficult decisions must be made about quality of life – not just his, but theirs.

The absence of parents in this story works in a variety of ways. Firstly, it puts the responsibility for keeping the farm going solidly on the shoulders of the sisters themselves, with no other adults to save them. Extended family are sympathetic, but unwilling to finance the girls’ riding careers, and they are, by and large, left on their own. This adds a gravity to the story that might not otherwise have existed – when youngest sister Marley faces the threat of having to sell her favourite pony, there is no parent who just doesn’t understand that is going to change their mind and let her keep him. By putting the responsibility for that decision onto the shoulders of her sisters, who are as horse-crazy as Marley and deeply empathetic to her plight, her refusal to concede to her sisters’ wishes drives a wedge between three very close siblings who need to work together if they are going to be able to stay together.

A scene where the eldest sister and primary caregiver Kris is speaking to the family’s social worker outlines some of the hardships that this family is facing:

“As for Vanessa,” she continued. “Isn’t it about time that she got a proper job?”

Kris was resolute. “Van’s an adult now,” she told Camilla. “What she does with her life is up to her, I’m not legally responsible for her anymore.”

“She lives under your roof,” Camilla replied. “She eats your food and uses your amenities, and as far as I can tell, doesn’t pay any rent.”

“She’s my sister.”

“So is Marley, and she’s the one you need to be providing for. I understand that your injury means that you can’t work, but Vanessa is fit and healthy and more than capable of finding a job. However…”

Kris was well aware of the point the woman was trying to make, but didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of leading her to it, so she sat silently until Camilla was forced to continue her own sentence.

“However, her options are limited, given that she left school without any qualifications,” she told Kris, clearly relishing the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’. “But I took the liberty of having a look around for her, and there are a few positions available at the moment that I think she should apply for.”

She slid a piece of paper across the table to Kris, who accepted it with a frown. Glancing at the list, she couldn’t help smiling ruefully.

“Waitress? Checkout operator?” she shook her head. “Van would be useless at those jobs.”

“She’s well capable of any of them, if she decides to apply herself,” Camilla argued. “There’s only so long that you lot can keep going on the taxpayer’s dollar, you know.”

Kris bit her lip, the ache in her back intensifying. She wanted so badly to argue, to tell this woman to stop being so rude and judgmental, but the words wouldn’t come. If Van had been there, she would’ve leapt down Camilla’s throat and given her a piece of her mind. If Marley had been there, she would have told Camilla to get lost and stormed out of the room. But Kris had never been any good at confrontation, and without her sisters to back her up, she stayed silent as the criticism washed over her like waves, slowly eroding her self-confidence.

Van’s response was exactly what Kris had predicted.

“Doubt it,” Van said, tearing the list in half and tossing it in the bin. “What business is it of hers if I have a job or not? Isn’t it Marley that she’s supposed to be pestering you about?”

“Don’t worry, I got an earful about her too,” Kris assured her sister.

“What does she think I do all day, sit around watching TV? Keeping this place going is a full time job.”

“I know.”

“Which reminds me, what time are we going to transport those yearlings for the Andersons tomorrow?”

“Not ‘til half ten, they’ve got church in the morning.”

“Sounds good, I’ll have time to work a couple of horses before we go. See, we’re making money. Camilla can go take a running jump. The world would be much better off without her poking her nose into our lives. We’re doing fine!”

Van drained off her cup of tea and stormed out of the room, slamming the back door behind her. Kris sighed as she stirred sugar into her tea, listening to her teaspoon clink against the edge of the chipped mug. Eventually she was going to have to face up to the reality of their situation. Money was running out, and fast. Van hadn’t sold a horse in months, and right now, it was Marley who was keeping the family afloat. Kris’s eyes lifted to the photo of her father that sat on the top of the cabinet, smiling down at her with crinkly-eyed confidence, and she knew she had to do whatever it took to keep them going. He’d always had so much faith in his daughters, and she wasn’t about to let him down.

– extract from Dare to Dream (by Kate Lattey)

Fortunately, for the most part, the three sisters in Dare to Dream get along. Sure, they do have some almighty dust-ups, but the bond between them is an integral part of the story structure and it is ultimately her sisters’ best interests, not just her own, that Marley has to face up to. And it is the bond between them that keeps them together, despite the adversity they face.

“Why does [life] have to be so hard for us, when so many other people have it so easy?” Marley asked angrily.

But Kris shook her head. “Don’t underestimate anyone else’s pain, Mar. Everyone goes through hard times. Life’s thrown us a lot of challenges, but we can’t back down from them. We’ve just got to keep going. Keep fighting, keep living, keep having fun and working hard and always doing the best we can.”

Van pulled Marley in closer to her own side as she made eye contact with Kris. “We’ll be okay,” she reassured her sisters. “As long as we stick together.”

Marley nodded, dropping her head onto Van’s shoulder as Kris leaned in tightly on her other side. Marley closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the warmth and strength of her two sisters, always there beside her, holding her up and keeping her strong. Their courage and determination, the sacrifices they had made and the love they shared for one another lifted her spirits in a way that nothing else could, and slowly the ache in her heart started to subside.

The girls sat still for a long moment, watching the sunset reflected in the gently rippling water below them. And as they wondered what the future held for them, all three were comforted by the knowledge that whatever was coming, they would face it together.

 

– extract from Dare to Dream (by Kate Lattey)

The search for support

Ultimately, my personal view is that while it is often easier to have parents or parental figures in YA be largely absent, doing so is a missed opportunity to tell a more interesting story. Absent or inadequate parents have become such a convention in YA that they’re almost a cliché by now. More challenging, but more rewarding by far, in my opinion, is exploring the stories that each of those parents have to tell. There is a rich web of storytelling on offer, if writers take the time to use it. This blog post is already long, yet I haven’t even talked about Tess, whose mother is a bully and whose father is so busy working that he barely notices; or Jay, who grew up far away from her father but has to learn to live with him, a confirmed bachelor, after her mother’s death; or Jonty, who is struggling to cope with an alcoholic father and a mother who refuses to leave him, despite the havoc it is wreaking on their family.

Not all parents are created equal, and that has to be shown in fiction as well. But whether a character’s parents are good, helpful people or not, there is one thing I try very hard not to do, and that is to ever leave a teenage character in a situation where they have literally nobody to turn to for support. In my mind, that is the most terrifying scenario of all, and one that no young person should ever find themselves in. Whether it’s a sibling, or a coach, or a friend, there should always be always someone out there who cares, and who is willing to help. They don’t have to save the day – it’s often far more compelling if they don’t – but to ignore the vital role that mentors and support people play in the lives of young adults is to set a dangerous precedent, in my mind. Young readers are easily influenced by their heroes and heroines, and nobody has ever succeeded without getting support from someone, somewhere, at some stage in their life. Writers of YA fiction are road mapping scenarios for young readers, giving them examples of trials and tribulations and ways to overcome them, whether by using realism or fantasy. Life was not meant to be lived in isolation, and the world is not out to get you on a personal level. Sometimes as a teenager it’s hard to realise those things, but for fiction to imply otherwise is, in my mind, quite simply wrong.


Do you want to read pony books where the parents (or parental figures) are not conspicuous by their absence or incompetence? Check out these recommendations below:

Young Adult:

Pony Jumpers series – Kate Lattey – click here to download #1 First Fence for free!

Dare to Dream – Kate Lattey

The Perfect Distance – Kim Ablon Whitney

The Island Trilogy – Tudor Robins

Junior / Middle Grade:

Timber Ridge Riders – Maggie Dana

Blue Ribbons – Kim Ablon Whitney

The Riverdale series – Amanda Wills

Any I’ve missed? Do you agree, or disagree with my post? Leave a message in the Comments below!

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Dare To Dream · Dream Once More

A Christmas bonus…

Merry Christmas / Meri Kirihimete / Happy Holidays!

I posted on Facebook yesterday that I would have a Christmas surprise…well as usual, life got into the way a little bit and I spent time with whanau (family). I’m also off to Pony Club Camp tomorrow for a week, and I haven’t even *started* packing.

But I do love and appreciate my readers, and I hate to break promises so here’s a little bit more of a sneak peek into Dream Once More, book #3 in the Dare to Dream series. Which I am planning to release for Christmas 2016! There’s more, but I haven’t had time to finish it so I will try and get it online next week, after camp.

In the meantime, enjoy, and thanks SO MUCH for your loyal readership this year x



DARE TO DREAM #3

DREAM ONCE MORE

 

CHAPTER ONE

Dawn was breaking, sending shimmers of golden light across the hills and through the wavering branches of winter-sparse trees. The world was yawning, stretching, coming awake. A building chorus of native birds heralded the promise of a new day, and the dusky morning sky hinted at the possibility of blue. At the top of a hill, in a paddock that lay close enough to the ocean that the smell of salt lingered in the air, a pinto pony was dozing. His eyes were half-closed and his head low as he stood peacefully, resting a hind leg. Another pony lay nearby, flat on his side and fast asleep, his round dapple grey belly flecked with dried mud. Sparrows hopped across the soggy ground between the pair, seeking out worms raised by last night’s heavy rain, which still dripped in gathering droplets from overhead branches and surrounding wire fences.

Then the call came from the gate at the bottom of the hill, and the ponies woke. The dapple grey raised his head halfway up, looked vaguely towards the gate, then lay back down, clearly preferring to lie-in. But the pinto pony with the splash of white on his nose and the lightning-bolt shaped scar between his eyes stood suddenly alert, and he whinnied a warm welcome to the teenage girl who was striding towards him across the grass, then began to make his way down the hill to meet her.

Marley’s paddock boots were battered and cracked, and the short walk from the house to the hill paddock had already left her with wet feet. She hadn’t bothered putting socks on – what was the point, when they’d only have to be wrung out and rewashed when she went back inside? She’d built up callouses to deal with the insistent rubbing of her little toes against the edges of the ill-fitting boots, and she didn’t notice any of the discomfort, anyway. She only had eyes for the pinto pony as he picked his way down the steep slope, broke into a rhythmic trot when he reached the bottom, then halted neatly in front of her with his ears pricked, Good morning written as clearly in his expression as if he’d said it out loud.

She smiled. “Morning, Cruise.”

The pinto pony butted Marley with his nose, and she gave him a chunk of carrot to crunch on before wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning her cheek against his thick coat, closing her eyes and breathing in his warm scent. The events that had first brought them together, then torn them apart, and then ultimately – and miraculously, Marley still felt – seen them reunited all lay behind her in a haze. She had her pony back, and every morning on which she could scramble out of bed and go straight to the paddock to give him a hug was one to be savoured.

Cruise licked his lips, delicately snuffling at the pockets of Marley’s jeans as her arms stayed fixed around his solid neck. As dedicated to Marley as she was to him, the pony was always pleased to see her, always whinnied out a greeting whenever he spotted her anywhere on the farm. He never missed an opportunity to remind her of his presence, a habit which had caused her considerable agony only a few months ago when he’d been at shows with his new owner. Losing her pony had been hard enough, but to have him call out to her whenever she walked past had been heart-wrenching, especially as she’d rarely been able to bring herself to stop and talk to him, scarred by the knowledge that he was no longer hers. But those days were behind them now, because Cruise hers once more, and hers forever. And this time, when the talented pony went out competing again, Marley would be the one loading him onto her truck. She would be the one to ride him, feed him and muck him out every day; she would be the one grooming him and saddling him and screwing in his studs, warming him up and cooling him down, hosing him off, wrapping his legs and rugging him up; lying on her stomach on the warm, dry grass and watching him graze peacefully nearby at the end of a long, exhilarating show day. She couldn’t wait – but she would have to. The show season was over, and months of cold, wet weather lay ahead as winter settled in across New Zealand.

“Why does the season have to be so far away?” Marley mumbled into Cruise’s thickening coat, still slightly damp from the night before. “Months of this. Months and months of rain and mud and not getting to ride you.” She stepped back and looked her pony in the eye, and he reached out and licked her hands eagerly, searching out more treats. “Greedy,” she told him affectionately, then scooped another piece of carrot from her pocket and fed it to him, loving the feel of his whiskery lips against her palm.

The offseason was always particularly trying for Marley. With shorter, darker days, a long stretch of several months without so much as a single public holiday to break up the tedium of school, and the incessant rain that turned everything to mud, it was, in her opinion, the absolute worst time of year. The competition ponies were turned out for eight long weeks and left almost entirely to their own devices, other than being checked on daily and fed extra rations of hay. Their holidays came unmolested by halters and brushes and brought them out the other side of the winter months looking like shaggy bush ponies. They grew out their coats, manes and tails were left to become straggly and dreadlocked, wispy beards grew under their chins and tufts of hair emerged from their ears. Bridle paths disappeared, shaved tails grew out into bristly bottlebrushes, and hairy fetlocks abounded. Marley ran her hands down Cruise’s white legs, checking for any heat, swelling, cuts or scabs. Mud fever was always a concern at this time of the year, and although most of their land was on sand that drained well, any of their ponies with pale skin under white legs or socks were kept in the driest paddocks to lessen the risk of infection on their sensitive skin. Cruise turned his head and watched Marley as she made her careful inspection of his well-being, patiently waiting as she checked him over and declared him to be injury-free.

Marley looked up the hill at Seattle, who was still lying on his side and ignoring her presence.

“Sea!” she yelled. “Are you going to make me come up there?” The pony lifted his head a mere fraction and gazed down at her idly. “No carrots for you if you do,” she warned him. Seattle flickered an ear back and forth, then resumed his slumbering position, apparently resigned to a carrot-less fate.

“Lazybones,” Marley muttered, beginning her march up the hill to check on him, because God knew that if she didn’t do it, he’d turn out to have some kind of gaping leg wound that required urgent attention. He wasn’t really a lazy pony; not when she was on his back and there was a jump in front of him, anyway. Then he was transformed into a bouncing ball of enthusiasm, flinging himself over the jumps with room to spare, and was just as likely to use up any excess energy in attempts to buck her off, if the moment inspired him. But if ever given the option to be ridden or left alone, he would always choose the latter, due to his deep suspicion of hard work.

“Welcome to the real world,” Marley told him as she clambered up the steep hill with Cruise following puppyishly on her heels. “Hard work is all we’ve got, so you’d better get used to it.”

Seattle closed his eyes as she approached, still feigning sleep. Marley grinned at his round, mud-flecked belly as it rose and fell. “Brat. You’re going to have so much winter weight to work off when spring comes around.”

Despite his reluctance to get up, Marley was able to reassure herself that there was nothing wrong with the pony other than his indifference to her, and she knew him too well to take that as a personal slight. Stretching her arms in their threadbare jacket over her head, she gazed down at the small farm house that she’d grown up in. She knew every inch of it like the back of her hand, knew every floorboard that creaked, every window that jammed, every door that swelled in the damp and had to be kicked open and shut. She had spent her entire life there, and had never even considered leaving. It was her home – their home, hers and her sisters’. At least, it always had been. But things were changing. Van had left, gone off to America to work at a flashy show jumping stable in Florida, and Seamus had been installed in her stead. Van’s absence wasn’t permanent, of course, but Seamus’s addition was, now that he’d married Kris and settled himself into their house. Dad’s bedroom had become their bedroom, and Kris’s room was being prepared as a nursery. Marley shook her head slowly as she looked at the tightly-drawn curtains in the master bedroom. It’d been almost two months since her eldest sister had broken the news to her that she was going to have a baby, but it still seemed incredible to Marley. Not that she doubted Kris would make an excellent mother – after all, she’d had plenty of practice, having dragged Van and Marley up after their father died several years ago. Kris was the closest thing to a mother that Marley had ever known, as their own mother had died only hours after she was born, and yet thinking of her as a married, pregnant woman was still a little jarring.

“Things are changing a bit too fast around here,” she told Cruise as she started back down the hill towards the house, with the pinto pony on her heels.

 

Kris forced her eyes to open, and stared blearily at the alarm clock next to her bed. 6:55. Five more minutes. She closed her eyes again, and snuggled deeper underneath the warm covers. The bed creaked as Seamus rolled over, then the warm weight of him rested against her back and she felt his arm slide across her waist.

“What time is it?”

“Five to seven.”

Seamus groaned. “Is it really? I’ve to be up at the stud by eight, and that’s a half hour drive.”

“You better get up then,” Kris replied without opening her eyes.

“Five more minutes,” he whispered, leaning over to kiss the edge of her cheek.

Kris smiled, but only for a moment. Pushing back the covers and flinging Seamus’s arm off her, she got quickly to her feet and stumbled blearily towards the door, overcome by a sudden bout of nausea. Seamus sighed as she left the room, rolling onto his back and resting his hands behind his head as he stared contemplatively up at the cracked ceiling. Nothing he could do about Kris’s morning sickness, other than feel guilty for being (in some way) the cause of it. He’d have taken it on himself if he could, but bereft of that option and having been firmly shooed away when he’d offered immediate comfort, he was left to wait it out, and hope that it would abate soon. Unable to lie in bed and listen to Kris’s predicament, he tossed off the blankets and picked up his jeans off the floor by his side of the bed, pulling them on and distracting himself by mentally running through the list of horses he had to shoe that day.

Kris pulled a face at herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth, doing her best to ignore the dark circles under her eyes that wouldn’t go away. She needed to wash her hair, she decided. She’d feel better after a shower, but first she needed a cup of tea. Grabbing the dressing gown off the back of the bathroom door, she wrapped herself up in it, then headed down to the kitchen to boil the kettle, one hand still resting on her uneasy stomach. The kitchen door was standing open, and Kris was only half-paying attention as she walked into the room, until she saw something that made her stop in her tracks.

“What the hell!

“Don’t yell, you’ll spook him,” Marley said, sitting at the table with a heaped bowl of cornflakes. Across the table from her, standing right in the middle of the kitchen with his head in his own bowl of cereal and his tail in the sink, was Cruise.

“Get that pony out of the kitchen.” Kris’s voice shook with barely suppressed anger. “Right now, Marley!”

“He’s fine,” her sister said, waving her spoon lazily in the air and spattering droplets of milk across the tablecloth. “He’s on his best behaviour, I swear. He followed me down to the house and when I said he couldn’t come in he gave me this look and I couldn’t resist.”

Marley beamed across the table at the pony, who swished his tail, and the frying pan on the draining board slid dangerously towards the edge of the bench.

“Well I can,” Kris asserted. She was feeling sick again, and desperately impatient with her headstrong little sister. “I mean it. Get him out of here!”

Behind her, she heard footsteps, and she stood a little straighter as Seamus came through the doorway behind her. Backup, she thought, but her relief was short-lived. Seamus put a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze as he walked past her into the room.

“Mornin’,” he greeted Marley with a nod, and she mumbled a response through a mouthful of cornflakes, watching intently as he approached Cruise. Without batting an eyelid, he slapped the pinto gelding gently on the rump. “Shift over, you.” Cruise obediently shifted his hindquarters, and Seamus flipped the switch on the electric jug, then looked back over at Kris. “Cuppa tea?”

Her frustration now at boiling point, Kris hovered for a moment between yelling at the pair of them and just walking out of the room and going back to bed.

Marley looked at her sister’s expression, then shovelled another generous spoonful of cornflakes into her mouth and gazed lovingly at her pony, who was lipping up stray cornflakes off the scarred wooden table. But Seamus had caught Kris’s eye and decided to go into bat for her.

“Go on now, do as your sister told you and get this great lump out of the kitchen before he leaves us with an unwelcome calling card,” he told her.

Marley sighed. “Okay, fine. Cruise and I were getting bored of your company anyway.” Standing up, she tipped her bowl and drank the remaining milk before setting it down on the table and clicking her tongue at the pony. “C’mon then. Let’s leave the old people to their civilised breakfast.”

“Thanks, much obliged,” Seamus replied cheerfully as he poured boiling water into the mugs he had set out.

Marley stopped in front of her sister. “You’re in the way.”

Kris shuffled sideways, letting Marley pass. “Don’t do that again.”

Marley rolled her eyes. “Okay okay, but you have to admit that it’s funny.”

Kris glared at her sister, but the corner of her mouth twitched involuntarily. Marley noticed it, and grinned.

“Just get him out of here,” Kris said, then as Cruise lifted his tail suddenly, added with greater urgency, “Now!”

“Close call,” Seamus observed as he splashed milk into the mugs, watching Marley through the rain-streaked kitchen window as she led Cruise by the forelock into the back yard, where he promptly relieved himself.

Kris shook her head and sat down. “Just when I think she’s finally starting to grow up, she goes and does something like that.”

“I’m not sure she’ll ever properly grow up,” Seamus told her, setting a mug of tea down in front of her. “You fancy anything to eat?”

She shook her head. “I’ll eat later, when I feel a bit more up to it. I might take this back to bed,” she added as he pulled a frying pan out of the cupboard and set it on the stove. The very thought of bacon and eggs was making her nauseous, and she wasn’t sure she could sit in the room while Seamus cooked them. The cold floor was making her toes curl up defensively, and she thought longingly of her warm blankets. She shouldn’t do it, she knew. There was too much to do to waste any more time lying in bed, but her resolve had been wavering these past few weeks, and now it was utterly spent.

“Sure?”

“Yeah. Have a good day, I’ll see you tonight.” And she left the room, her hands wrapped around the hot ceramic mug and stomach still gurgling uneasily.

Kris’s slipper-clad feet scuffed against the threadbare carpet as she made her way back upstairs. Her bedroom door was open, the bed still rumpled and inviting, but she walked past it. A trail of muddy footprints led her on, past the room that had once been hers and would soon be the nursery, and on to the door that was tightly closed. She reached out a hand and brushed her fingers over the handle, then gripped it firmly and opened the door.

Everything in here was exactly as she’d left it. The bed half-made, the clothes strewn across the floor, drawers half-opened and a broken suitcase discarded in the corner. Van had packed the same way she did everything – like a whirlwind, moving at full pace and never mind the consequences. Kris had planned to come in after she left here and tidy up, but somehow she couldn’t bring herself to do it. The sense of chaos that her sister had left behind was a strange comfort to her, and Kris sat down on the narrow single bed and leaned back against the peeling wallpaper, looking around at the life Van had left behind.

We miss you.

As Kris gazed around the room, her eye caught a picture that had been torn from a magazine and tacked above the desk – a horse soaring over a water jump, with blue skies and palm trees in the background. Florida. Leo Valdes. Grand Prix rider, top notch trainer. Van’s new employer. And Kris closed her eyes and rested her head back against the wall, the mug of hot tea held against her grumbling stomach.

We miss you, but you’ll be having way too much fun to be missing us.

*   *   *

The horse’s hooves pounded out a staccato beat across the arena surface. The reins were slick with sweat, and the bay gelding’s breath was coming in heavy pants through the muggy air. Van eased the big Warmblood back to a trot and clapped his sticky neck before glancing across the ring towards Leo. He had his back turned, watching one of his students ride. He seemed relaxed in the insistent Florida sun, but Van still wasn’t used to the heat. There were a lot of things she still wasn’t used to.

There was no denying that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to ride in America, to work for a successful Grand Prix rider, to learn what it took from the people who were actually doing it – it was everything that an ambitious but underfunded twenty-year-old could’ve dreamed of. She’d never expected it to be easy. She’d come here to ride and work and learn as she’d never ridden and worked before. But the reality of life as a groom and catch rider in Florida wasn’t quite living up to Van’s expectations. Long days – check. Hard work – double check. That was fine – she’d never laboured under any assumptions that she was going away on holiday. She hadn’t expected days off, or decent pay, or to be handed rides on Grand Prix jumpers. She’d known, before she’d arrived, that she’d be up at dawn and done at dusk, that she’d be at the bottom of the pecking order, having to do as she was told, when she was told – a change of pace for someone used to doing everything herself, but one she was willing to accept. Because she’d come here to learn the things she couldn’t teach herself, the things Kris couldn’t give her, not that she’d ever have expected her to. Her sister had done enough for her, for all of them, and it was time that Van grew up and was more independent and gave Kris the chance to live her own life.

Van swung her leg over the gelding’s back and loosened his girth, then led him over to the exit gate. Sweat trickled down the small of her back and made her underarms itch. Dust coated her skin and irritated her eyes, and she almost didn’t see the tall chestnut horse in tight draw reins that was being cantered past the gate.

“Watch it!” The rider snapped as Van came to a sudden halt, stopping the big bay next to her in the nick of time before they had a collision.

The gelding threw his head up in surprise and Van took a step back to avoid having her face kicked in by the rider’s stirrup. The bright sunlight glinted off the spur that was jabbing into the chestnut’s sweat-soaked flank, and Van couldn’t help turning her head to watch the horse as he horse cantered past. His head was held tightly down to his chest, an expanse of white foam issued from his straining mouth and flecked his narrow chest. Van bit her tongue, wishing she could close her eyes. The rail cleared, and she led the bay horse out of the ring and along the palm tree-lined path towards the air-conditioned barn, both of their steps quickening as they approached the cooler building.

More to come! Check back in a week, and leave your comments below x 

Dare To Dream · Dream On

Two more paragraphs…

The pinto pony butted Marley with his nose, and she gave him a chunk of carrot to crunch on before wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning her cheek against his thick coat, closing her eyes and breathing in his warm scent. The events that had brought them together, torn them apart and then seen them – miraculously, Marley still felt – reunited all lay behind her in a haze. She had her pony back, and every morning that she could get out of bed and find him in her paddock, waiting for her, was one to be savoured. She would never, ever let him leave her side again.

And Cruise was equally dedicated to Marley, always pleased to see her, always calling out to say hello whenever he spotted her anywhere on the farm. He never missed an opportunity to remind her of his presence, a habit which had caused her considerable agony only a few months ago when he’d been at shows with his new owner. Every time Cruise had seen Marley, he had whinnied out a welcome, and had seemed disappointed when she’d been unable to bring herself to stop and speak with him. Seeing him belong to someone else had just been too hard for her, but those days were behind them now, because Cruise was back to stay. And this time, when the talented pony went out competing, Marley would be the one loading him onto her truck. She would get to ride him, feed him and muck him out every day; she would be the one grooming him and saddling him and screwing in his studs, warming him up and cooling him down, hosing him off, wrapping his legs and rugging him up; lying on her stomach on the warm, dry grass and watching him graze peacefully nearby at the end of a long, exhilarating show day. She couldn’t wait – but she would have to. The show season was behind her, and months of cold, wet weather lay ahead as winter settled in across the country.

Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Dream On · writing

Finding a way to the finish

As originally posted on Horse Crossings.Clearwater Bay covers 1&2

Today has been a big day. I have finally finished, and published, my fourth full-length novel. It wasn’t supposed to be my fourth novel – it was intended to be my second. But my best laid plans didn’t quite turn out the way that I’d expected…

After I wrote and self-published my first novel Flying Changes in 2011, I started work on the sequel right away. Partly because I wanted to, and partly because I was told to. Don’t stop! everyone said. Keep the momentum going. Don’t be a one hit wonder.

Small chance of that. Everything I write is part of a series. I can’t seem to do it any other way, even when I want to.

My first book was optimistically labelled Clearwater Bay #1. It was always going to be part of a four-book series. I had titles for four books, and I had commissioned four cover photos. I knew what happened in book 3. I knew what happened in book 4. (I’ve had the final chapter and epilogue of the last book written for at least two years now.)

There was just one problem. I didn’t know what happened in book 2. Other than the fact that it was called Against the Clock, it was a blank slate, a page without any words.

Looking back, no wonder it was hard to write.

Just skip it, suggested my mother. Move on to the story of book 3. Make it a trilogy instead.

Not terrible advice, except that there was no way I could do that. For the events of book 3 to have emotional resonance, there needed to be time and character development from book 1. I needed Jay, my protagonist, to grow up a little bit more before I could throw her into the dramatic events of book 3. But I was struggling. I looked over the first draft and knew that it wasn’t great. The story leapt all over the place, characters turned up for a few chapters then vanished without any resolution to their part of the story, and the whole plot just meandered along vaguely.

Eventually, I was so disparaged that I couldn’t even look at it, so I decided to write something that would just flow. Something that I had no stakes in or expectations of, just pick a scene in my head and start writing, and see where the storyline would go. I clearly recall sitting in my bedroom in Ireland, visualising that house’s cluttered front hallway, and starting to write.

She ran down the hall, bare feet slapping against the dusty floorboards.

I kept writing, intrigued, as my new heroine ran into the kitchen to find her big sister sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by overdue accounts.

“Nimble’s caught in the fence! Van cut him out but he’s gushing blood all down his leg, and you have to call the vet.”

It was supposed to be one scene, a writing exercise full of action that would break me free of the net that I was trapped in. It wasn’t supposed to turn into a book, but those characters moved into my head and took over. A year and a half later, I had completed a novel called Dare to Dream.

I released it into the world, and went back to working on Against the Clock. Armed with more skills and experience and the newfound realisation that even pony books can’t be all about ponies all of the time, I started hacking storylines and characters out of the first draft. But then the story just lay there, apathetic and dull and uninspiring. I fumbled around for ideas, and found a few. I added them to the story, watched them settle in and become part of the fabric of that world. They worked, but they were small character moments, not big plot moments. And the plot itself was still feeble. It still didn’t work.

Meanwhile, Dare to Dream was gaining traction. It sold well, and consistently. It got five-star reviews. Readers loved these characters, loved this storyline, and wanted more. And the characters themselves wouldn’t go away either. They wanted their story to be continued. I knew what happened after the events of Dare to Dream, but nobody else did. I wrote the epilogue to the sequel, and it made me cry. So I decided that everyone else should get to read it too. I put Against the Clock aside once more, and started writing Dream On.

Just under a year later, Dream On was released to rave reviews, and I went back once more to Against the Clock. This time I was going to make it work. Armed with yet more knowledge and writing ability, I stripped the story right back to its bare bones, then slowly pasted the character moments back in around the plot. Slowly, slowly, it started to form into a proper novel. It fell into place, just needing me to write some additional scenes and trim back or rewrite a few existing ones. It was almost ready.

There was only one problem – I was really struggling to let go of Dream On. I don’t usually like reading my own work, but I kept going back and re-reading that book, just so that I could live in that world a little longer. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go back to Clearwater Bay and deal with Jay’s smaller, more trivial problems. I didn’t want to go back into first person and not be able to explore different viewpoints, or jump to another character to keep the pace going. And I love the girls in Dare to Dream and its sequel. They’re the kind of people I’d be friends with (are in fact loosely-based on actual friends of mine) and I was still missing them. They’re sisters, with a strong sisterly bond, and I felt as though they were part of my family. It was really hard to walk away, but I made myself do it.

I made myself step back into Jay’s life and take her hand and guide her along the path towards book 3. And eventually she stopped snatching her hand away from me and telling me that her story was stupid and boring and I shouldn’t really bother, and we started working together. And when it got hard and stagnant and I wondered why I was bothering, the voice of one of Jay’s good friends in the book came into my head, as it does hers when things get tough in the narrative.

“Suck it up, buttercup.”

We both took his advice.

Against the Clock is done now. It got auto-delivered to the lovely people who have pre-ordered it on April 19th, and I can sit back and cross my fingers and hope that people enjoy it as much as my beta-readers (fortunately) did. So far, so good.

And so, on to book 3 in the series. I’m looking forward to this one, although it’s going to require a lot of research and a hefty dose of imagination. There are some dark moments in this book, and while I can’t wait to explore them, it’s going to take some work to get myself into the heads of these characters. Because the thing with writing a series in first person is that there are only so many things that can happen to and directly affect one character. For Jay, her journey is as much about learning from other people as it is about herself. It’s about learning to recognise other people’s problems, and understand their opinions, and expand her own view of the world through the framework of how others also perceive it, and how she perceives other people. I’m excited to explore that, and I can’t wait to get to the end. I’m on a roll now, and Jay has decided that yes, she does want her story told. It also helps that the next two books will involve more outside characters, and less internal monologuing. And in those moments that still creep in, when I’m feeling particularly dispirited and wondering if I can be bothered writing these books, I re-read the last chapter of book 4, and I know that it will all be worth it when I get there.

In the meantime, to stop myself from stalling when Jay has a tantrum and refuses to be written (it happens), I’ve started a new series. (Yes, I’m crazy.) I didn’t mean to do it, but I wanted to know how fast I could write a novel. Dream On took the shortest length of time, and it was still almost a year. So I set myself a challenge over Easter to write a novel in four days. Astonishingly enough (even to me!) I achieved it in three days. It’s short – only 30,000 words – but I’m intrigued to see if I can keep it up. To write short, complete novels in very short periods of time is a good exercise for me, and I already have characters and storylines for the next three novels. And these girls all desperately want their viewpoints shared. (Characters can be so bossy!)

You can read First Fence, the first book in the Pony Jumpers series, for free on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/story/35897826-first-fence-pony-jumpers-1) and it will soon be available on Kindle as well, with a sneak preview of the upcoming sequel at the back. I hope to have the sequel out by the end of this month (the first two chapters are up on Wattpad, but the whole book will only be available on Kindle), and the third book in the series out by late May.

As for book 3 in Jay’s story, I’ve already got some scenes written. In fact, I wrote one last night, and it’s included at the end of Against the Clock to whet readers’ appetites for what’s to come. I’m excited to get going on it, because I’ve been wanting to write about these characters and tell this story for years. And now I feel as though I’m ready. It’s their time.

Trouble is, there are a few others out there who want their books written too, and they still won’t shut up…

Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Dream On · writing

You only know you love them when you let them go

After I finished writing Dream On, I knew that was the end of that series of novels. What I had to say about Marley and her sisters was done, and there is no third book in the series. (If there ever is anything, Van might get herself a spinoff, but it’s so vague in my head that it’s not something I’m planning on writing at this stage.) So when I finished the book and loaded it on Amazon and sent it to print, I knew that I was saying goodbye to the girls for a while.

The plan is to go back to Jay and finish Against the Clock, book 2 in the Clearwater Bay series. I have that book mostly written, and the next two planned out and pieces of them written, including the conclusion to the series. I know where it’s going and what I’m working towards.

But I can’t let go.

I don’t usually like reading my own books. It took me months to be able to sit down with Flying Changes and read it without cringing. I loved Dare to Dream when I wrote it but I couldn’t read it easily. When I released Dream On, I was reading it on my Kindle the next day. And the day after that.

And the day after that.

It’s not that I think it’s the best book ever, or that I don’t find errors in it when I read it back (I do…I’ll fix them soon). But I’m not ready to stop living in their world just yet. And I know what happens next. I know what Marley does next, and Kris, and Van. I know where they go and what they do and the good and bad things that happen to them in the next year or few years. There’s not enough there to write more books about, and I’m not planning on doing so. I need to walk away and leave them be, but I’m struggling.

I need to move on.

And there’s a lot coming up for Jay. There are conflicts and issues and problems and resolutions to discuss. There are relationships to delve into and out of, there are storylines to cover, new characters to introduce and familiar characters to reconnect with. There are even familiar characters to discover…people who have already turned up in Dare to Dream & Dream On who will also be part of Jay’s story. I’m looking forward to that – I want to tell those stories.

And yet…

I still can’t let my girls go.

Dare To Dream · Dream On

X-ray enabled

There’s a feature on Amazon’s Kindle books called X-Ray. It isn’t available on every book, and it’s not something that you have the option of adding to your book when you load it onto Amazon, but for some reason, it has turned up on my novel Dare to Dream. I don’t know whether it requires a certain number of downloads, or a certain number of highlighted passages, but whatever the reason, Dare to Dream now has it. And it’s fun.

X-Ray is a feature that allows you to “see the bones of the book”. When you click on the X-Ray tab, it pulls up a list of People and Terms (51 and 10 respectively for Dare to Dream, although some of those “people” are ponies and dogs) and shows you in a wee bar chart where they appear in the book with a black line.

Marley Carmichael is the first name on the list, and her bar is a solid line of black, meaning she appears on pretty much every single page of this book.

Van Carmichael is next, with only a couple of small white spaces where she apparently is less prominent in the story for a while.

Kristen follows, somehow losing her surname, and having a handful of places where she is missing from the story (although I suspect that if Dream On ever manages to get X-Ray enabled, those roles will be reversed – there is more of Kris than Van in the sequel).

Cruise Control is next, and the list goes on.

When you touch on each of these characters’ names, it gives a full list of quotes, showing every time the name is mentioned in the book. Obviously for characters like Marley and Cruise, this happens hundreds of times. For others, who are only mentioned once or twice, the list of quoted passages is much shorter. One of the cool things about it is that it helps if you forget who a character is. For example, when I highlight Laura Buckeridge in the epilogue, it pops up with an X-Ray box reminding me of the last time Laura had shown up in the story:


Laura Buckeridge
“I’m glad you caught him,” Laura said. “He was so scared, he might have busted through the ring ropes.”


When you’re in the main X-Ray box, for each character that you click on, it gives you a quote from the text at the top of the page, providing a quick insight into who this person is. For the characters who turn up regularly, like Marley and her sisters, it’s simply the first time they are mentioned in the text. But for others, who aren’t quite so prominent, it doesn’t seem to pick up just the first one, and it’s quite neat flicking through and getting the X-Ray descriptions of each character.

Here are a few of my favourites:


Cruise stood patiently, alert but relaxed, as she unclipped the lunge line and coiled it up.”


Pete had been a fierce rival of Van’s back in her pony riding days, but unlike his snotty little sister, he’d always been nice to Marley.”


“Their belief that their daughter was the best thing since sliced bread had built up Susannah‘s dangerously high self-esteem.”


“But some of them have been exceptional, she thought, and none more so than Nimble. She’d known from the start that he was special, and he’d definitely proven himself to her last year when he’d beaten all comers at Nationals to take out the Speed Pony Championship.”


Ajax’s muscles were bunching under his shining coat, his mane and tail were like silk and his eyes were bright and alert.”


Breeze flattened her ears at this unflattering analogy and sulked off to stuff herself with more grass.”


Buck fought for his head, trying to see the jump. Susannah gave him just enough rein at the last possible moment, and the honest pony found his stride and cleared the jump.”


“But Dad was always with her, and his touch was everywhere around the farm. He had built this place for his family, and the barn and yards and arena were all testament to his devotion to his three horse-crazy daughters.”


Dottie, an aged spaniel lying on a rug in the corner of the room, lifted her head and whimpered softly.”


Katy O’Reilly was lying on her stomach tearing blades of grass out of the ground and listening to a story being told her by a girl with curly red hair, about staying with her cousin in England.”


If you’ve read Dream On, that last one was for you.

Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Dream On

Finding your story and setting it free

I’m sitting in the middle of Chapter One of Dream On, methodically making my way through as I check for typos, sense, flow, and other little bits and pieces that will make the story read more smoothly.

In the back of my mind as I read are the bigger questions – does this scene need to be here? What is this particular scene contributing to the larger story? (Hint: If the answer is nothing, delete the scene. If it’s not driving the story forward, it doesn’t belong in the book.)

In an even further back place in my mind, there is another question hovering. Why am I telling this story? Or, why am I telling this story? What do I have to say to the world at large, that I am using this story, this book, as a medium for? (Hint: If you can’t answer that question, you lack theme. Then you’re writing a story, but you’re not saying anything…and although the story might work on its own, with a beginning, a middle and an end, it won’t leave the reader with anything to take away. It won’t have resonance. It won’t matter.)

The stories we love, the ones we remember, are the ones that matter to us. The ones that challenge us, that confuse us, that make us reconsider the world and our place in it. One of my favourite reviews for Dare to Dream made this very clear:


This book is really the best book I have EVER read in my whole life! It is a mix between romance and action. I loved it. I cried at the end and it made my think of how lucky we are to have things like food and a roof over our heads.
–  Avery Kasper, via Amazon.com


I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I read that review. Quite aside from everything else, it was those four words that made my day: It made me think.

But it doesn’t always come easy. The problem with my original draft of Against the Clock is that it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have that elusive something that makes it powerful, that makes it important, that will hopefully make the reader stop and think. How would I feel if I was in that situation? What would I do, when faced with that dilemma? When given that choice? As a reader, your answers to those questions might be completely different to the choices that the characters make, but that doesn’t really matter. The point is that it makes you stop, makes you think, makes you reconsider.

That it has something to say.

I read a blog post today by Hugh Howey that resonated with me. He wrote that:


When writing is going well, it feels more like reading or discovery than it does writing or creation. It feels as though the story could go no other way than the way we’re writing it. Like it existed before us.


I think – I hope – that all writers have had that feeling. Sometimes it’s one that develops slowly as you work through the book, as you get to know the characters. Sometimes characters leap off the page and you feel as though you’ve known them forever – others are more shy, and it takes time to get familiar with them. (Of my characters, Marley falls into the first category. Her sister Kris falls into the second – but we’ve become very close since I wrote Dream On.)

But that’s when writing is going well. What about when it’s not? Howey reckons that when your writing just won’t flow, it means that there’s something wrong. Somewhere along the line, you’ve taken a step onto the wrong path, and you need to go back and try again. Sci-fi and fantasy author extraordinaire Robin Hobb said something very similar at a book signing that I went to recently. When I get writer’s block, she explained, I know it means I’ve gone wrong somewhere. So I just go back a few pages and pick up the story again from there, and this time, take the characters down a different path.

I get the feeling that American poet Robert Frost knew that too.


Two paths diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.


What I particularly liked about Howey’s blog post was that he also talked about that moment when you recognise the story you need to tell. When you have that lightbulb moment, and you know that you’ve just stumbled upon something great. And how it feels when you do. Non-writers might be surprised to hear that it doesn’t feel as though you’ve made it up…as he says, it feels like you’ve remembered it.


Ever had the feeling you were forgetting something as you left the house? You walk around, wracking your brain, trying to figure out what it is. Exhausting every option, you decide your intuition is wrong. It isn’t until you’re half an hour away from the house that the missing thing percolates up to the conscious level.

This is writing. You know what happens next. The challenge is remembering.


I can still remember exactly where I was when I discovered the key turning point in Dare to Dream. I suppose it could be described as the whodunnit? moment. (If you’ve read the book you’ll know what I mean – and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) I was writing the story, putting it together slowly, like a complicated jigsaw puzzle that I just knew had a horse in the middle of it, but was missing some crucial pieces around the outside. A bit like one of those Wasgij? puzzles, where you sort of know what you’re making, but you won’t be able to truly see it until you get to the very end. Then one morning I was driving to work, along State Highway One just south of Waikanae, under the rail bridge and approachin the 80km/h speed zone, and all of a sudden I realised that I knew who’d done it. What’s more, I knew why. The story fell into place that day, and I couldn’t wait to get to a computer so I could write it all down.

It might sound crazy to be writing a story and still putting the pieces together – especially such crucial pieces as that – as you go. But sometimes that’s how it works. And looking back, it wasn’t until I had read that first draft, which I thought was complete and perfect, from go to whoa on a plane to New York, that I realised the story had a problem. I wasn’t making a puzzle that had a horse in the middle of it after all. So I went back to the drawing board. I deleted and rewrote and added scenes and refined the book, until I had the picture – the story – that I needed.

Because ultimately, Dare to Dream isn’t a story about a pony. It’s a story about three sisters.

The reviewer from NZBooklovers saw it too:


It is the relationships in this book that make Dare to Dream special. Lattey has done a wonderful job at crafting a unique relationship between the three sisters – they each have defined personalities, and often clash with one another, but the love they have for each another shines through. It is the excellent relationships that Lattey has cultivated that made the book so emotionally poignant.


And once I realised that, I could write Dream On easily.

Well, not easily.

But well.

Dare To Dream · Dream On

Work in progress

If you’re waiting patiently (or impatiently) for Dream On, this is good news for you. (If you’re waiting – patiently or otherwise – for Against the Clock, this might not be such good news for you.)  But I thought I should update you all with Dream On‘s progress. I’ve managed to spend a good few hours the last couple of weeks working on it – my new Thursday night ritual of going to the library after work to make myself write without any distractions seems to be working!

So now that I seem to have the plot nailed down (finally) and balanced properly between the A-plot (the “pony” part of the story) and the B plots (the “people” parts of the story), I’m going through what I’ve already written, and filling in the missing scenes. (This is because my writing technique is to write the most exciting and interesting parts of the story first, then come back and fill in the more day-to-day stuff later. For example, Marley’s final show jumping rounds with Cruise in Dare to Dream were written long before the scene between Kris and the social worker – that only came into the story in the second draft, when I read the first one and realised that there was way too much pony and not enough people in the book!)

I’m trying not to do too much editing at the moment, because that’s a really easy way to lose momentum, and to start second-guessing your writing. Some nights I sit down feeling super inspired and ready to go, and other nights I sit down with a scene outline and write a badly directed scene full of uninteresting dialogue. But I write it, and that’s the main thing. Right now, in the first draft stage, it’s not important that the dialogue is witty or that the prose is perfect – just that the scene is written down so that I know what happens and can build on that in the following scenes. I’ll come back to it at a later date and either tidy it up, rewrite it completely or delete the whole thing, if I decide that I don’t need it or can’t make it work. But I just need it written, for now. It’s like filling in the boring parts of a jigsaw puzzle – the plain blue piece that is part of the sky doesn’t look very exciting, but it’s got to get in there to complete the picture. (And just like a puzzle, often it’s those little scenes that are the hardest to do.)

So it’s back to the grindstone, but before I go, here’s a little excerpt from where I’m up to in the reviewing stage. Please note that this little extract is still in its first draft, and may or may not make the final cut, but it made me smile when I read it so hopefully you’ll enjoy it too.

And now…to work.

 

Short extract from first draft of “Dream On”:

“I’m starving!” Marley announced, throwing her schoolbag onto the floor and flinging open the fridge door. “Ooh, you’ve made casserole!”

Kris looked up from her seat at the table. “Don’t eat that! I’m saving it for dinner.”

“I’ll just have less at dinner time,” Marley told her, pulling the dish out and setting it on the table.

“No you won’t. Have some toast or something if you’re hungry.”

Marley pulled a face. “Toast isn’t a proper meal.”

“It’s four o’clock, it’s not time for a proper meal.”

“It is according to my stomach.”

“Nobody asked your stomach,” Kris replied as Van walked into the room.

“There’s a can of baked beans in the bottom of the pantry,” Van told Marley. “Heat them up. I’ll have some too.”

“No there isn’t, they’re in the casserole,” Marley pointed out. “I can see them.”

“So just eat the casserole.”

“Kris won’t let me.”

Van raised her eyebrows at Kris, who grabbed the casserole dish and put it back in the fridge. “Nobody is eating any of this until dinner time. We have company coming and there has to be something left to feed him.”

Marley’s head shot up. “Wait, who’s coming to dinner?” she asked.

Dare To Dream

Dare to Dream – now available in print!

Print version of "Dare to Dream"
Print version of “Dare to Dream”

“Dare to Dream” is now available in print for a LIMITED TIME ONLY! I have done one short print run and copies are selling fast, so be in quick to order yours! Email nzponywriter@gmail.com to place your order. Ships within NZ only (sorry but postage rates are insane).

If you want to buy it as an e-book, there are a range of places you can find it, including:

Barnes & Noble:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dare-to-dream-kate-lattey/1116758423?ean=2940045223294

INDIGO:
http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/dare-to-dream/9781301911639-item.html

SONY E-BOOKSTORE:
https://ebookstore.sony.com/ebook/kate-lattey/dare-to-dream/_/R-400000000000001107689

SMASHWORDS:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/348275

THE STORY OF “DARE TO DREAM”:

“Saying goodbye to the horses they love has become a way of life for Marley and her sisters, who train and sell show jumpers to make their living. Marley has grand ambitions to jump in Pony of the Year, but every good pony she’s ever had has been sold out from under her to pay the bills.

Then a half-wild pinto pony comes into her life and Marley knows that he could be the superstar she has always dreamed of. As Marley and Cruise quickly rise to the top of their sport, it seems as though her dreams of winning the Pony of the Year might come true after all.

But her family is struggling to make ends meet, and as the countdown to Pony of the Year begins, Marley is forced to face the possibility of losing the pony she has come to love more than anything else in the world.

Can Marley save the farm she loves, without sacrificing the pony she can’t live without?”

Dare To Dream

Entering phase two…

My new book, “Dare to Dream” (formerly known as Cruise Control), is home from the publishers with a very polite “thanks but no thanks”.

Full credit to the publishers though, they did seriously consider the book and made some very positive comments – “plenty of action and drama”…”a wonderfully developed and strong cast of characters” and “very relevant issues addressed” but have regretfully declined the book as being too much of a ‘niche’ topic (show jumping) for their broader readership.

Which is disappointing, but understandable (and food for thought). So I’m now looking at e-book publishing options for the book, as I don’t think it’s really able to have the show jumping edited out without losing the essential plot, so watch this space…