Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · Thoughts · writing

Let’s hear it for the boys

for-the-boys

It is a truth universally acknowledged that although a majority of top professional riders are male, equestrian sports in general are dominated by women. Perhaps as a reflection of that, the majority of equestrian fiction, especially juvenile or YA equestrian fiction, is told from a female perspective.

As someone who has read countless pony books over the years, and with over 200 volumes on my bookshelf with an almost comparable number on my Kindle, I can think of fewer than 20 that are told from a male perspective. From classics like Walter Farley’s Black stallion series and Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka trilogy, through to contemporary novels such as Sheena Wilkinson’s brilliant Taking Flight and Grounded, there are some excellent equestrian novels with a male protagonist, but they remain the exception, rather than the rule.

Boys don’t ride

Even in looking for an image to use on this blog post, I discovered that typing “boy+horse” into a free photo search engine brings back markedly fewer results than “girl+horse” does. Why are boys so outnumbered? At my local Pony Club, we currently have eight boys enrolled, ranging in age from six to seventeen. That seems pretty good, but when you take into account that we have fifty-five riders enrolled at our branch, that’s a fairly low ratio! Most of those boys are under the age of ten, and it will be interesting to see how many of them choose to continue riding as they get older. (We did have one sixteen-year-old boy last season who has since decided to focus on soccer instead of show jumping. Just as girls often leave the sport for boys, boys leave the sport for, well, sport.)

In my experience, boys are more likely to start riding because they genuinely want to ride, rather than because their friends are doing it, or because they think horses are pretty. And if they persist through to their teenage years, they reap rewards that they perhaps weren’t going in for in the first place – being one of only a few boys in a swarm of teenage girls is not a bad spot to be, so they tell me.

Jonty was sitting on the fence watching me, giving me an encouraging smile when I rode past, but not offering much else in the way of support. I supposed that with Katy on one side of him and Susannah on the other, he was a little distracted. It was annoying me a lot more than it should have, but it was probably my fault for bringing him along. Teenage boys were pretty thin on the ground at horse events, and while Jonty wasn’t necessarily pin-up material, he was far from unappealing. I was just glad they weren’t going to see him ride, because his skill in the saddle was easily one of his most attractive traits.

excerpt from Four Faults (Pony Jumpers #4)

What’s the difference?

What is the difference then, between female and male protagonists – especially when it comes to a mainly female-dominated genre? Are most pony books written from a female perspective because the majority of riders and readers are female, and they want to read about people like themselves? Is it because the majority of writers in the genre are female? (Of the 21 books listed at the bottom of this post, only two were written by men.) Is it because horse books are often, essentially, romances – but between a girl and her horse, rather than a girl and a boy?

Boys tend to be slightly less soppy about their horses, less likely to shower them in kisses and have feelings of romantic attachment towards them. They are less inclined to declare their desperate love and obsession for their horse, but that doesn’t mean to say that they don’t feel that way.

My favourite pony book written from a male perspective is Pony from Tarella, by Australian author Mavis Thorpe Clark, and it is a story of a young man’s desperate love for a headstrong mare. Although this was published in 1959 and is now out of print, it’s well worth reading if you can get your hands on it.

For a second he stood very still, then his two fingers went up to his mouth, and the shrill insistent whistle floated across the hill. The horses kept on galloping, enjoying their game. Again he whistled. Sunflower was nearer this time.

Did she hesitate just a second? Did her ears lift?

His clear note echoed above the thud of the hooves. She was close this time, but still travelling fast. Another whistle. Her stride faltered, she eased the pace. She seemed to listen. Sandy’s heart bounded. She had heard him…

 excerpt from Pony from Tarella, by Mavis Thorpe Clark

Minority report

Even less common than a straight male protagonist is a gay male protagonist, and of the list of books below, only two of them feature a gay male as their lead character (Mary Pagones’ Fortune’s Fool and its sequel Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion, which share a protagonist, so possibly only count as one gay male voice).

In my book, Jonty is already well-established as a loyal boyfriend to Tess, another of the series’ rotating protagonists, so there is no question of his sexual orientation. But one of his closest friendships in the novel is developed with Frankie, a young gay man in his late twenties, who teaches him a lot about riding, horsemanship, and taking care of the people around you – often before you take care of yourself.

Frankie unclipped the lunge rope from the bridle and patted Last Chance’s sweaty shoulder. “Come on mate. Be a good lad, and we’ll find you a nice home with a teenage girl who’ll kiss you all over your face and give you all the treats you can eat.”

“That’s the dream,” I told the pony, and Frankie pulled a face.

“Maybe for you.”

excerpt from Jonty (Pony Jumpers – Special Edition #1)

Books for boys

But the question remains valid – as most of these books have been written by women, are they actually being written for boys? Do these horse book boys actually behave like boys, or are they teenage girls’ idealisations of boys, or boys who act and think rather more like girls?  (This is not to say that women cannot write books that appeal to a male audience, because that is of course completely untrue. S.E. Hinton, whose Taming the Star Runner I have listed below, has written from a male perspective in all of her novels, and done so very successfully.)

Writing from a male voice is not just about swapping out pronouns; boys think differently, and see the world in a different way to girls. I have spent a lot of time around teenage girls, and understand them pretty well, but I’d never even considered writing from a male perspective before Jonty came along. If you’d said to me “write a pony book with a male protagonist”, I would’ve struggled to know where to begin. But when Jonty was first introduced in Four Faults, he stepped into the story with such a sense of surety and self-determination that I always wanted to know more about him, and see further into his life. A few books down the line, I felt that he was familiar enough now for me to be able to write in his voice. And he hasn’t let me down. I thought I might struggle, but the hardest part of writing Jonty has been keeping the word count down – the only reason that it hasn’t ended up being the longest book in the series so far is because I deleted an entire chapter from the end! (Six to Ride still holds the dubious honour of being the longest, but Jonty is only around 1000 words behind it, and both books are more than twice the length of First Fence.)

There are a few female characters in the book – Jonty’s three sisters, his mother, and his neighbours Hayley and Tess are the primary ones – but the main characters that he interacts with during the course of the novel are male. From his alcoholic father to a grumpy old retiree, from a taciturn local farmer to a disreputable horse trainer, Jonty learns a lot from the men around him, lessons both good and bad.

And not too far down the line is another Special Edition in the Pony Jumpers series, which also has a male protagonist. Once you start something…


SE1 Jonty 150

Jonty is now available for purchase on Amazon – click here to find it online!


Books with boys

Are you looking for YA equestrian fiction with a male protagonist? Check out this list of recommendations below:

Taking Flight – Sheena Wilkinson

Grounded – Sheena Wilkinson

Boys Don’t Ride – Katharina Marcus

The Boy with the Amber Eyes Katharina Marcus

Moonstone Promise (Diamond Spirit #2) – Karen Wood

The Boy Who Loves Horses (Pegasus Equestrian Centre #2) – Diana Vincent

Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe / Joe and the Lightning Pony / Joe and the Race to the Rescue – Victoria Eveleigh

Fortune’s Fool / Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion – Mary Pagones

Out of print

Pony from Tarella – Mavis Thorpe Clark

Patrick’s Pony – Josephine Pullein-Thompson

Show Jumping Secret – Josephine Pullein-Thompson

Classics

Taming the Star Runner – S.E. Hinton

My Friend Flicka / Thunderhead / Green Grass of Wyoming – Mary O’Hara

The Black Stallion series – Walter Farley

The Red Pony – John Steinbeck

(Note: I have chosen to list books where the primary protagonist is male, and haven’t included ensemble books with a good mix of male and female characters. I have also left off books such as Caroline Akrill’s Flying Changes, because while a large part of the story focuses on a male rider’s career, it is never told from his point of view.)

Did I miss any? Comment your recommendations below!

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Jonty · New release · Pony Jumpers series

New release: JONTY

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Jonty Fisher hasn’t grown up with horses. Hasn’t grown up with much of anything, tell you the truth, except a love for being outdoors and a restless energy he can’t quite contain. The unexpected arrival of a bedraggled black pony on his eleventh birthday marks the beginning of a new direction in his life, setting him on a path that will determine what he can make of his future.

But as Jonty’s desire to prove himself builds, the school of hard knocks never fails to keep pushing him back down, and it will take a lot of courage, resilience and heart for him to find a way to follow his dreams.

Still, if life was meant to be easy, everyone would do it…


Buy now on Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAmazon.com.au

jonty-advance-reviews

 

Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

Sneak peek: JONTY

From the upcoming PONY JUMPERS novel – Special Edition 1: JONTY.

JONTY banner 150 small

“I’ll do it Nate, I swear to God. I’ll take the kids and leave you behind!”

I jumped up onto the front step of the cottage and froze at the sound of my mother’s voice. It was mid-August, had been raining all day, and was still coming down heavily in the pitch dark. Raindrops battered against the corrugated iron roof as I leaned against the door frame and pulled my muddy boots off.

“You think I’d care if you left?” Dad yelled back. His voice was slurred slightly, and I knew he’d been drinking. “You think I’d give a damn? You can piss off out of here, see if I’m bothered. But you’re not taking my kids anywhere. They stay with me.”

“Like hell they do. You think I’d leave them here with you? You’re an unemployed drunk!”

There was a heavy thud, and the floorboards shuddered under my feet as I grabbed the door handle and pushed the door open. My parents were facing off in the middle of the living room with an overturned kitchen chair lying between them. A bottle of liquor dangled from my father’s fingertips, and I glanced towards the door to my sisters’ bedroom. It was shut tight, but I had no doubt they were wide awake and listening to every word.

“And whose fault is that?” Dad demanded.

“Not mine!” Mum cried. “And it’s not theirs, either.”

Dad took a step towards her, then another until they were standing face-to-face. He leaned in towards her, slowly lifting his free hand with his palm open.

“Whose fault is it?” he asked her again.

Mum looked away from him for a moment and noticed me, standing in the doorway with my wet hair dripping down my face. Her eyes went wide, and I was jolted into action.

“Don’t you dare touch her,” I warned my father as I came into the house, slamming the front door behind me.

They fought a lot, my parents. More and more every day. But he’d never hit her, at least not that I was aware of. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to stand here and watch it happen.

“Jonty, where have you been?” Mum demanded, stepping away from my father. “It’s almost nine o’clock and it’s a school night!”

I kept my eyes on my father, waiting for him to lower his hand. He met my gaze for a long moment, then shrugged and turned away, taking a swig from the bottle as he sat down on a nearby chair.

“Well?” Mum asked me.

She picked up the chair and pushed it back up against the table, acting as though nothing had happened.

“Sorry. We were clipping Toto and it took forever,” I told her, trying to keep my voice calm as I remembered the advice I’d been given. Nervous horses need calm riders. My mother was like a skittish horse, looking at me for reassurance that everything was okay. There wasn’t much I could give her, but I could give her that.

“You and that bloody poofter,” Dad said scathingly. “Spending enough time together lately, aren’t you? Too much, if you ask me.”

“Not as much as you and that bottle,” I replied, giving him an equally scathing look. “Go to bed, Dad. You’re drunk.”

Dad stood up, his eyes flashing. “And you’re a sanctimonious little…”

I could feel all of the blood surging around my body, almost daring him to start something again. This time I wouldn’t stand idly by. This time… but Mum moved quickly, stepping between us.

“That’s enough.” She put a hand on Dad’s arm, caressing it gently. “Come on. Let’s go to bed, eh?”

I swallowed hard, feeling my hands clench into fists as she led him across the room and into their bedroom. Watching her act as though nothing was wrong, as if he just needed to go to bed and sleep it off. As if everything would be fine in the morning. I wished that was true, but I knew him too well. I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath, then tapped on the door to my sisters’ room.

“You guys okay in here?” I asked, opening the door and peeking in.

I’d barely got the first two words out before Phoebe was scrambling out of her bed and flinging herself at me, wrapping her arms around my legs and pressing her face against my stomach.

“Aw, Phoebs. It’s okay.”

I stroked her soft hair, feeling her trembling against me. She hated it when they fought. We all did, but she seemed to take it the hardest. I leaned down and picked her up, holding her against my shoulder as I stepped into the small, sparsely furnished bedroom. Phoebe wrapped her little arms tightly around my neck, and I rubbed her back gently as I nudged the door shut behind me with my heel and carried her back to bed.

Bella was lying on her stomach in the bottom bunk bed, reading a magazine in the light of a dim keychain torch and pretending that nothing was wrong. Morgan was sitting up on the top bunk, her arms wrapped around her legs and her chin resting on her knees, watching me with owlish eyes.

“Is she really going to leave him?” she asked as I sat down on Phoebe’s bed, which sagged under our combined weight.

“Of course not,” Bella said, her eyes still fixed on the page in front of her. “She just says that so he won’t hit her.”

The matter-of-fact way she said that alarmed me, but I couldn’t argue with the truth.

“If he does, we’re all leaving,” I told them as Phoebe wrapped her arms around my neck and curled up on my lap. “End of story.”

Bella just flipped the page of her magazine, pretending not to care. Morgan bit her lip, looking troubled.

“They were fighting about you,” she told me. “That’s what started it.”

“Me?”

“Because you hadn’t come home, and Mum wanted to go and look for you, but Dad said you’d be fine. He said some other things,” she said warily. “Do you want me to tell you?”

I shook my head. “No, it’s okay. I’m sure I can guess.”

Phoebe’s arms tightened around my neck. “It’s not your fault Jonty,” she said. “You didn’t mean to make them angry.”

The door opened then and Mum looked in. “Aren’t you girls asleep yet?” she asked irritably. Her eyes flickered onto me, then away again, unwilling to meet my gaze. I refused to look away. “Come on, into bed and lights out. You too, Bella.”

Bella switched off her torch and put it on the floor with the magazine before rolling onto her side to face the wall, ignoring all of us. Morgan slid under her covers, watching me try to prise Phoebe’s arms away from around my neck.

“Come on Phoebs, we’ve all got to go to bed now,” I told her.

“Can I sleep on the couch with you?”

“No way, Jose. You’ll take up too much space, and probably push me onto the floor in the middle of the night.”

“I won’t, I promise,” she pleaded as I finally extricated myself from her grip.

“Still not a risk I’m willing to take. You’ve got a nice bed here to sleep in, you don’t want to share a couch with your smelly brother.”

Phoebe pouted as she crawled under the scratchy wool blankets. “You’re not smelly.”

“Yes he is,” came Bella’s voice from the bottom bunk. “I can smell him from here.”

“That’s why I’m going to go have a shower now. I might even use some of Bella’s strawberry shampoo,” I told Phoebe, tucking her into bed as Bella warned me not to dare to even touch her stuff. “Na-night Phoebs. Sweet dreams.”

“Na-night Jonty.” She curled up into a ball, her arms wrapped around her orange stuffed monkey and her eyes wide open, staring straight ahead into the darkness.

Mum went into the living room as I pulled the bedroom door ajar behind me, leaving a sliver of light for Phoebe. She’d always been afraid of the dark. Mum crouched in front of the fireplace and added another log of wood to the crackling fire.

“You don’t need to do that,” I told her. “I’m going to bed in a minute anyway.”

She said nothing, just stayed there for a moment longer, staring into the flames.

“If you want to make him sleep on the couch, I can find a spot on the floor,” I offered, but she shook her head and stood up.

“Don’t be silly,” Mum said lightly. “If anyone’s going to be sleeping on the floor, it should be your father.”She looked at the old couch that had been my bed since we’d moved here. “But you’re all right on the couch, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

“This won’t be forever, Jonty. You know that, right?”

She said that a lot, and I always pretended to believe her. But I was getting tired of the lies we told ourselves.

“It’s been three years, Mum. Don’t you think that if things were going to change, they’d have done it by now?”

She looked away as the rain eased abruptly, and the house fell silent. Well, almost. I could hear my sisters whispering in their bedroom, telling each other to be quiet and go to sleep. I lowered my voice, looking into Mum’s eyes. We were the same height now, I realised. When had that happened?

“We could leave him, you know. If we really wanted to.”

My heart twisted as I spoke, hating the thought of leaving the farm, of waking up in the morning to a busy city street instead of looking out across endless rolling hills and paddocks. But I meant it. We all have to make sacrifices for the ones we love.

“But we don’t want to,” Mum said firmly, dismissing my concern. “We’re doing fine as we are.”

“Are we?”

“Jonty.” Mum put a hand on my cheek and smiled at me. “You worry too much. We’ll be fine. It’s just a rough patch.”

I took a breath, and nodded. She stepped back, lowering her hand, then sniffed the air and crinkled her nose. “Go and have a shower before you go to bed, eh?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, peeling off my wet jacket and watching her walk back to her bedroom.

Dad was sitting on the bed, the bottle on the floor between his feet, and his elbows resting on his knees. He looked up as she entered the room, and as she pulled the door shut, I knew she would forgive him. Again.

 

I was almost asleep when small footsteps came pattering softly across the floorboards. They stopped in front of me, and I heard Phoebe breathing close to my face.

“Jonty?”

I groaned. “Go back to bed, Phoebe.”

Her voice was little more than a whisper. “But I can’t sleep.”

I sighed heavily and opened my eyes. I could just see her outline, backlit against the dying firelight. Her big dark eyes were staring into mine, and she shivered, her monkey clutched tightly to her chest. The fire crackled as I slowly lifted the edge of my blanket, and Phoebe crawled underneath it, curling up into a ball next to me. She pressed her cold, bare feet against my knees, and I pulled the blankets back over us, letting the steady rain lull us both to sleep.


Due for release early September 2016. Sign up to my mailing list to be notified as soon as it’s available!

Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

JONTY – Sneak Peek!

I’m 23,684 words into Special Edition #1 (or Book #8.5, whichever you prefer) in the PONY JUMPERS series – JONTY. This is Jonty’s backstory, starting when he’s eleven and gets his ugly, feral little black pony Taniwha for his birthday, and following him through the next four years, up until he joined the story at the beginning of book 4, FOUR FAULTS. It’s a story told in five parts, and I haven’t even got to the end of Part I yet, so there’s a bit of work ahead of me… but I have a quiet weekend planned so hopefully I can get the book finished within the next week or so. Here’s hoping!

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek at a scene from the end of Part I, when Jonty takes his pony Taniwha to their first gymkhana, and finds himself riding against Hayley and her speedy gymkhana pony Pink…


The next game was the Postbox race, another one I’d never practiced before, although I had plenty of experience at shoving newspapers into letterboxes from all the times I’d used Taniwha on my paper run. But Hayley didn’t make any mistakes this time, and we finished a close second in the final to collect our first blue ribbon for the day. Hayley was pretty smug about it, but I just shrugged it off when she tried to gloat.

“Thought I’d better let you win at least one,” I told her. “Wouldn’t want you getting embarrassed in front of your family.”

“At least my family’s here to watch me. Where’s yours?” she fired back, making an exaggerated show of looking around for them.

“They don’t bother coming to little shows like this,” I told her. “They’re waiting for when I’m riding at the Olympics.”

Hayley laughed out loud. “I’d like to see that.”

“You will someday,” I promised her, and I meant it. At the tender age of eleven and three-quarters, I had no idea what it took to ride at the Olympics, only that it was something that only the very best riders got to do, and I was determined to become one of them. I would be a better rider than Hayley one day, be better than anyone here. I only had to look back at how far I’d come already, and how much I’d improved in such a short time.

“Yeah right. You’re delusional,” Hayley told me.

“Just you wait,” I replied. “Someday soon you’ll be begging me to ride your horses for you.”

Hayley raised her eyebrows. “Not on your life.”

Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · writing

When characters write themselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Done. Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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