Book Excerpt · Four Faults · Pony Jumpers series

Excerpt: #4 Four Faults

While checking some story points for the upcoming prequel JONTY, I came across this little scene from FOUR FAULTS, which made me smile. So in case you haven’t read that book yet, here’s a taste:


“I have a question.”

Bayard looked over his shoulder at me as Rusty strode up the track ahead of us. “Shoot.”

“If you had a crush on someone, but you were too shy to even talk to them, and then one of your friends talked to them for you and found out they’re single, but never even mentioned your name so it’s not like they would even know that you’re the one interested, would you be mad at them?”

Bayard blinked a couple of times, and furrowed his brow. “Huh?”

I nudged Rory up to ride alongside Rusty, even though the sheep track we were following was narrow, and I was making her walk on the uneven edge of the hill. She laid her ears back in displeasure at my decision-making, but did as she was told.

“If you had a crush on a girl, and you told one of your friends, and they talked to that girl for you and found out she didn’t have a boyfriend, would you be glad that your friend had made that effort on your behalf or would you totally freak out and tell them they’re a horrible person?”

“I don’t know.” Bay looked completely flummoxed by my line of questioning. “Why are you asking me?”

“I have no idea,” I said honestly. “Because you’re my only friend right now?”

Bay didn’t say anything in response to that. I sighed and let Rory fall back in behind Rusty again, where she felt that she belonged. She shook her mane triumphantly and shoved her nose up against his scruffy tail, making it clear to me that she was a born follower.

I tried once more, giving up all attempts at subtlety. “One of my friends has a crush on…this guy, and I happened to be talking to him so I asked him if he had a girlfriend and he said no. Then I told my friend that, thinking I was doing her a favour and that she’d be pleased, and she went nuts and told me I shouldn’t have been asking him ‘obvious’ questions like that. But I never even mentioned her name, so I don’t know what she’s so worried about.” I sighed. “I don’t get girls.”

Bayard raised his eyebrows at me as he brought Rusty to a halt at the top of the hill. The ponies puffed heavily, trying to get their breath back after their steep hike.

“You think I do?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Guess not.” I tried to picture him with Mia instead, but I couldn’t. I was finding it hard to imagine him with any girl, really, although I wasn’t sure why.

I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and listened to Rory’s heavy breathing as Bayard swung down off Rusty’s back and started pulling fencing tools out of his saddle bags. We’d come up onto the ridge to fix the Taranaki gate, a colloquial name for a gate made out of a section of moveable wire fence. Everyone hated it, because it was so difficult to open and close, but one of the newer farmhands had taken a mob of sheep through it this morning, then cut his hand badly when he tried to get it wired shut again, and had to go to hospital for stitches. So Dad had sent Bayard up to take a look at it, which I’d assumed would only take a few minutes. But the whole section of fence was decidedly saggy, and when Bayard pulled out the wire strainers, I groaned and flopped forward on Rory’s sweaty neck.

“This is going to take hours,” I complained.

“Nobody made you come with me,” he pointed out calmly.

“Not true. Rory insisted on following,” I replied. “Which she is certainly regretting now.”

Rory lowered her head towards her knees, her heavy breathing proving that she was way less fit than she should be at this point in the show season. I leaned down and tried to pick a dandelion flower from the hillside next to me, but it was just beyond my reach.

“You still haven’t told me what to do about my problems,” I reminded Bay as he started tightening the fence wires.

“I’m still not sure what your problem is,” he replied. “Your friend is mad because you talked to the boy she likes?”

“Pretty much. What do I do?”

He shrugged. “Get better friends?”

I rolled my eyes at him. “Very helpful, thanks. But friends don’t grow on trees and I suck at making new ones, so I would like to keep the ones I have.”

“Then I can’t help you.”

“Hopeless,” I told Rory, leaning down further, and brushing the top of the flower with my fingertips. Rory shifted her weight slightly, but stayed still. “Why can’t you be a girl, so I could talk to you about this kind of thing?”

“If I was a girl, I’d probably be mad at you for no reason as well,” Bay replied, cutting the end of the wire off and testing the tension on the fence with one hand. “You could always ask Hayley.”

“Hah! Only if I felt like ending up friendless and alone,” I retorted. “She’d tell me the worst possible thing to do in an incredibly convincing way, and then laugh her head off when it completely backfired on me.”

“Well, you’ll always have one friend,” he told me, tightening the strainer and making the wire creak.

I rolled my eyes. “Lucky me.”

Bay shot me a hurt look, and I felt bad, because he was trying to be nice, and his friendship did mean a lot to me. But sometimes talking to him was like talking to a brick wall, and although I was infinitely grateful – especially right now – for the complete lack of drama he brought into my life, I couldn’t imagine us ever having an especially riveting or meaningful conversation. Despite the fact that I still considered him to be my best friend, there was something missing. He listened to me, but my words rolled off him like water off a duck’s back, barely touching his consciousness. Bay was so self-contained that the world seemed to be happening around him, and he was just an idle observer, rather than a participant in the swirling madness. I used to find that reassuring, because I’d felt the same way. But lately I felt as though I was being pulled into the vortex against my will, and instead of helping me find solid ground, he was just standing on the edge, watching me be sucked down into the seething abyss.

Stop being so dramatic, I told myself, wondering where those thoughts were even coming from. In an effort to distract myself, I made one more concerted effort to pick the bobbing yellow dandelion that lurked just beyond my reach. Dangling off the side of my pony, I managed to hook my fingers underneath the flower head, and pull it free of its stem. But right at my moment of victory, Rory objected to my acrobatics by sidestepping away, and I lost my precarious balance, slipping ungracefully onto the ground beneath her feet. My pony turned her head and looked at me as though I’d gone mad.

“You’re right, you know,” Bayard said, and I pushed myself into a sitting position and looked at him.

“About what?”

“Girls are weird.”


FOUR FAULTS is available for purchase on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

PJ 4 FF release 300

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!

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!

Eight Away · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

Equine Excerpt : Eight Away (Pony Jumpers #8)

8 Eight Away - DIGITAL 150dpiPony of the Year is approaching fast, and everyone in Tess’s family is determined to see her compete in the prestigious event – everyone, that is, except Tess herself. She has never liked riding the exuberant show jumper Misty Magic, and a crashing fall during training leaves Tess bruised, battered…and terrified of getting back into the saddle.

While her sister Hayley’s future hangs in the balance as she prepares to undergo invasive surgery to try and save her life, Tess is blindsided by the revelation that the one person she thought she could count on may have been lying to her all along.

Can Tess find a way to conquer her fears once and for all, or will she let her sister down when it matters most?


“You made it!”

AJ came bounding across the grass towards our truck as we drove in, dressed in her summer horse show uniform of shorts, paddock boots and a singlet top covered in hay, horse hair and slobber marks. A layer of dirt covered her from head to toe as the Hawke’s Bay sun was out in full force and the recent drought conditions had baked the ground dry. Thousands of hooves had now stirred up the dust, covering horse and human alike. I climbed down from the cab and she threw her arms around me as soon as my feet hit the grass, squeezing me tight. She’d definitely made a full recovery from that broken collarbone, because her hug was as bone-crunching as ever.

“Talked Mum into it somehow,” I grinned.

Actually, Mum had readily agreed to the plan, probably relieved that I hadn’t renounced show jumping entirely, although she hadn’t been so thrilled about Jonty accompanying me, and it had taken another, much longer phone call to Katy’s mum to convince her that I was going to come home with my virtue intact, so to speak.

“You can park in there,” AJ told us, pointing to a narrow space between Katy’s truck and the chain link fence that bordered the car park. “It’ll be a bit of a squeeze, but we figured you only had to get yourselves – I mean, ourselves,” she edited with a wink, “in and out, and not worry about ponies and tack and stuff. So we thought that’d be enough room, and believe you me, we’ve had enough trouble trying to stop people from parking there already, including one enormous polo truck that took like ten horses. No idea how they thought they would fit, but they seemed determined.”

“Thanks for chasing them off,” I told her.

“Oh, that was Katy, not me. She’s surprisingly fierce when she wants to be,” AJ laughed as Katy appeared.

She was still wearing her riding clothes, a hot pink sleeveless shirt and breeches that had probably been white this morning, but were now closer to tan.

“Hey, you mess with the bull,” Katy said, giving me a quick hug that was only slightly less bone-crunching than AJ’s had been. “They tried to park there after dark, the idiots, so after that we just set up a tent and left a small light on inside it all night so people could see it and would be too scared to park there in case they flattened someone’s family member.”

I laughed. “Good job. How’s Misty?”

“He’s fine. Excited, right up on his toes and he can’t wait to jump tomorrow,” Katy grinned. “How’s Hayley?”

“Doing well, apparently,” I told her. “She’s still in Auckland, so I haven’t seen her, but Mum said she’s on the right track.”

“Awesome. I’m so glad.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Jonty had jumped down from the cab and was directing Dad as he backed carefully into the narrow space. Mum usually drove the truck, and while Dad was a good driver used to handling various farm machinery, the truck was bigger than his tractor and much less forgiving of being backed into something.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” AJ said. “This is going to be awesome. Susannah’s parked next to Katy, but I think she’s still out competing. The metre-fifteen has been running for literally hours already. If they don’t get their act together, they’ll have people jumping in the dark like they did last year.”

“And not under lights, like at proper shows,” Katy added with a roll of her eyes. “Literally in the dark, until they had to cancel it for safety’s sake. I had Forbes in one of those rounds and he almost killed me.”

Dad looked relieved as he parked the truck and climbed down, wiping sweat off his brow. “Bloody unwieldy thing,” he muttered.

“Hey, at least it’s got power steering,” I told him. “The first truck you bought us didn’t, and Mum was forever bumping into things and getting stuck.”

“Thanks Tess, I do remember,” he said, coming over to us and saying a quick hello to my friends. “Right, you sorted?” I nodded, and he held out the truck keys, dropping them into my palm. “Don’t lose them.”

“Promise.”

“Okay.”

He gave me a hug, told me to behave myself, said goodbye to Jonty and walked towards the gate, where Hugh was going to meet him with the ute and give him a ride back home.

AJ and Katy almost immediately fell into an argument about whether we should go and see if Susannah had jumped yet, or whether mucking out Katy’s yards and feeding her ponies took priority. By the time we’d collectively decided to go and watch Forbes jump now then all pitch in and do the mucking out later, Susannah had appeared.

“Did we miss it?” AJ demanded. “We were just coming to watch!”

Susannah pulled a face and dismounted. “I’m glad you didn’t. It was horrible. Hi Tess, hi Jonty,” she added as she ran up Forbes’ stirrups.

“What’d he do?” Katy asked as the four of us followed Susannah curiously back to her truck.

She tied Forbes to the ring on the side of it and unbuckled his girth. “Usual shenanigans. Napped at the gate going in, threatened to refuse at every jump that had fill in it, and took three rails. On the bright side, he didn’t rear, so…” She shrugged as she pulled the saddle off his sweaty back. “He was just fed up. The class is running so late, and someone fell off when I was three away and it took her about ten minutes to decide to stand up and walk out of the ring.”

“Ugh, I hate when people lie there like they’re dying for hours and then just get up and walk off,” Katy grumbled uncharitably. “Like you’re either fine or you’re not, and you know that when you hit the ground, so don’t flail around down there wasting everyone’s time.”

“You’re both horrible people and I’m ashamed to know you,” AJ said breezily, rolling her eyes at me. “I hope you both fall off tomorrow and learn a valuable lesson about empathy.”

“Thanks best friend, it’s nice to know I can always count on your support,” Katy replied.

“Anytime,” AJ assured her. “Come on then, let’s go get those yards mucked out like you were so desperate to do a few minutes ago.”

We left Susannah to untack Forbes and walked over to the yards to see Misty, Molly and Puppet. Misty’s head was buried past his eyeballs inside his hay bag, snuffling out every last piece of hay.

“He’s such an egg,” I said, smiling at him. “Misty, you weirdo. What’re you doing?”

At the sound of my voice, he lifted his head. The hay bag was caught on his halter, and it stayed over his muzzle, muffling his welcoming whinny. He shook his head firmly, the hay bag fell away and he paced to the corner of his yard and stared at me as though he could hardly believe I was there.

“Aw, he’s missed you!” AJ beamed.

“Apparently,” I replied. “He’s never looked pleased to see me before in his life. Funny he should start now.”

“Not really,” AJ said. “He’s been away from you for over a week, and probably thought you’d sold him or something.”

I reached Misty’s yard and ducked under the railing. He bunted me hard with his head, then proceeded to search me thoroughly for apples or carrots. It didn’t take him long to sniff out the peppermints in my pocket, and I fished a couple out for him. He snatched them off my palm with a sharp nip that made me wince.

“You bully,” I told him, looking at the blood blister that was forming. “You ever hear about not biting the hand that feeds you?”

Misty was typically unfazed by my scolding, pushing past me to greet Jonty at the gate and molest him for treats as well.

“Get out of it,” Jonty told him affectionately, pushing him backwards as he brought the muck fork and skip bucket in. “I see your manners haven’t improved while you’ve been away.”

Despite his antics, Misty genuinely seemed pleased to see us. He chewed at my hair while I struggled to untie the hay bag that Katy had secured to the rail with about ten thousand knots, and I had to offer him another peppermint to convince him to let go of my ponytail once I was done.

“Demon child,” I told him fondly as Jonty and I exited his yard.

Misty batted his eyelashes at me and I rubbed his broad forehead before following AJ back to the truck to fetch another bale of hay.


Enjoy reading this excerpt? You can grab the full story right here on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

“The Pony Jumpers series gives you thoroughly enjoyable, character-driven stories loaded with authentic content: just what we have come to expect from this author.”
– Jane Badger, author of “Heroines on Horseback: The Pony Book in Children’s Fiction”


And while you’re here, why not read some equine excerpts from other authors?

Equine Excerpt – A Dollar Goes a Long Way

Equine Excerpt – B&B

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.”

Eight Away · Pony Jumpers series

Pony Jumpers #8: Eight Away

PJ 8A release

Pony of the Year is approaching fast, and everyone in Tess’s family is determined to see her compete in the prestigious event – everyone, that is, except Tess herself. She has never liked riding the exuberant show jumper Misty Magic, and a crashing fall during training leaves Tess bruised, battered…and terrified of getting back into the saddle.

While her sister Hayley’s future hangs in the balance as she prepares to undergo invasive surgery to try and save her life, Tess is blindsided by the revelation that the one person she thought she could count on may have been lying to her all along.

Can Tess find a way to conquer her fears once and for all, or will she let her sister down when it matters the most?

“The Pony Jumpers series gives you thoroughly enjoyable, character-driven stories loaded with authentic content: just what we have come to expect from this author.”
– Jane Badger, author of “Heroines on Horseback: The Pony Book in Children’s Fiction”

Click here for a preview and here to purchase!

Eight Away · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

Eight Away: Sneak Peek!

8A

Phew! It’s just past midnight on the second to last day of July (which I guess technically means it’s now the last day of July) and I’ve just finished final edits on PONY JUMPERS #8: EIGHT AWAY!

I’ve got a bit of work to do tomorrow to get the preview chapter of the next book sorted, and then EIGHT AWAY will be ready to release. But before then, here’s a sneak preview from Chapter 10:


The ponies strolled up the road, even Squib’s walk having slowed slightly after several hours of work. The dogs jogged ahead of us, lying down occasionally to wait for us to catch up, then trotting on. The sun baked down, making Susannah complain that she’d forgotten her sunblock and was going to be burned to a crisp in the morning. Katy took her helmet off and shook out her sweaty hair until Misty shied at a pothole and she hastily put it back on. AJ sat sideways in her saddle, one leg hooked over the pommel and her stirrups dangling against Squib’s round sides as she chatted to us behind her. The road stretched out ahead of us, shimmering in the hot afternoon sun, and I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around Rory’s neck, my cheek pressed against her sweat-encrusted coat.

“You’re the best,” I told her, and she bobbed her head agreeably. We were both tired, and I closed my eyes and let her smooth, relaxed stride lull me as we walked on and on down the road.

“Are you asleep?”

“Yes,” I told Susannah, then winced as her metal stirrup collided with my ankle yet again when Forbes shot sideways into Rory. My patient pony swished her tail and pulled a face at Forbes, but he was distracted by the monstrous irrigators in the crop paddocks across the road, which had just turned on. I tilted my wrist and checked the time – it was later than I thought.

“We should get a move on,” I told the others, stretching my back muscles as I sat up. I was out of shape as well, but I wasn’t going to admit it. “Anyone’s pony got energy left for cantering?”

It was a rhetorical question, really. Squib and Misty were dead set on racing all the way home, Forbes was desperate to escape from the ticking irrigators, and even Rory picked up the pace when she thought she was being left behind. We let the ponies canter down the side of the road, jumping back and forth across the drainage ditches to amuse ourselves as we went. And I finally, finally felt comfortable in the saddle again.

Eventually we eased to a trot, and then back to a walk, patting our blowing ponies.

“Squib’s going to sleep well tonight,” AJ declared, clapping his neck. “We need to do this again sometime.” Her eyes lit up as she turned towards me. “Can we camp out overnight?”

Susannah looked startled, but Katy was immediately keen. “Yes! After Horse of the Year. Let’s do it. Ride all day and sleep out under the stars – it’ll be perfect!”

I nodded slowly, thinking. “Yeah, we could do that. If we rode the fences right out to the south boundary it’d take us most of the day, and we could camp there. There’s an old dairy shed in one of those back paddocks that we could sleep in if we needed shelter.”

AJ scoffed. “No way. No tents either, we’ve gotta build a campfire and hunt and gather our food…”

She rambled on as Susannah looked increasingly alarmed by her propositions.

“If you want to go full Paleo, you go right ahead,” I told AJ. “But I’m bringing food, and a gas stove, and possibly a tent. We could always drive out there the day before and leave our gear, so we wouldn’t have to carry much with us.”

“That sounds like heaven. I’m so in,” AJ said. “What about it, Susannah? You game?”

She nodded, though she looked a bit hesitant. “Sure, why not? Although I might bring Skip next time, if Dad will let me,” she decided as Forbes took exception to Thor crossing the road in front of him and shied into Rory for what must’ve been the tenth time at least.

“Oof, sorry Tess! Honestly, Forbes, would you get a grip?”

“It’s okay. And you can always borrow Misty,” I offered, laughing at the expression on her face. “Or we’ve got a few farm hacks that are pretty solid, but I can’t promise you’ll get the smoothest ride.”

“She’ll be fine, she just needs to harden up,” Katy said dismissively. “And don’t think you can back out of it, Susannah Andrews. We’ll drag you here kicking and screaming if we have to.”

AJ turned in her saddle and grinned at us. “Isn’t friendship great?”

Pony Jumpers series · Six to Ride · Thoughts

First world problems

First world problems banner

Just a quick blog post to share this message I received on Facebook during the week:

Just was thinking about why I liked your books so much and I realised it was the ‘real life’ issues which are rarely mentioned in other books. In book 6 with Katy in it I think, the part about world crisis and how you can often feel that you are overloaded and just don’t care anymore, I could really relate to that.

So for anyone who hasn’t read book 6 (SIX TO RIDE), here’s the conversation between 16 year old Katy and her neighbour Phil:

“Do you ever feel like it’s just too hard…to care? Like, when bad things happen around the world – suicide bombings and terrorist attacks and people getting beheaded and there being millions of people living in rat-infested refugee camps and it’s so awful and you feel so bad about it, but then you still have to get up every day and go to school and live your life, and your own problems seem so little and petty but then they’re also like, huge, because they’re the only problems that you’ve got. And then you get upset about stuff, and people are like um at least you’re not living in a rat-infested refugee camp and you know that’s true and you try to see that perspective but it’s so…exhausting,” I told him, my words tripping over each other as I tried to make him understand.

“Like it’s just too hard to care that much about everyone all at once, so you just ignore it as much as possible. Until something really bad happens, something terrible and cataclysmic, and everyone gets really worked up and it’s all over Facebook and there are hashtags and memes and everyone changes their DPs and you do it as well because if you don’t then it looks like you don’t care about other people’s plights, and then someone posts something about how the media is misinterpreting what’s going on or how you’ve only been shown the stuff they want you to see, and that hundreds and thousands more people are dying that you never even hear about. So then you feel shallow and you have to feel bad for those people too, for their problems and because they’re being ignored by the media, and it makes you mad that you’re being manipulated into caring more about some people than others, and you try and wrap your head around how it must feel for people to be in those kind of horrific situations, seeing their families get killed and not being able to go to school for fear of their lives, and you think how grateful you are for where you live and what you get to do in your life.

“But then your mum yells at you for not keeping your room clean, and teachers tell you off for not studying hard enough and it’s like sorry but I have the weight of the freaking world on my shoulders right now, except that I don’t. Not really. Because all those problems are other people’s problems, and my problems are whether I’ve done my homework and whether my room is clean and how my ponies are going and whether my dad just spent a stupid amount of money on a horse I can’t ride. I can’t do anything about whether someone decides to strap a bomb to themselves and kill innocent people. All I can do is write a hashtag and change my profile picture and feel guilty for having a better life than millions of people who are living in rat-infested refugee camps, and then I hate feeling so bad about something I can’t change and I can’t fix and it’s just so…it feels like such a burden, except it’s not, because look at everything we have, and how trivial our problems are…”

My words petered out at last, my tongue finally tying itself in so many knots that I had to stop. I wondered what Phil was thinking. Probably that I was crazy. I shouldn’t have said anything, should’ve quit while I was ahead, but it was too late now. My guts were officially spilled, and Phil still hadn’t spoken, so I sat up and looked at him, trying to gauge his reaction.

He didn’t meet my eyes. Instead, he was focused straight ahead, his expression tight and his jaw clenched. I thought he was mad, at first, until I realised that his eyes were shinier than usual. Was he…but boys don’t cry. It was the first thing that came into my head, and I shoved it away immediately. Of course they cry. Everyone cries. It’s perfectly normal, and healthy, and I was not going to judge him for it. But it made me uncomfortable. Not because he was a boy, but because crying people always do. I never know what to say to them, and my hugs always seem insincere, no matter how hard I try to make them feel comforting. I wanted to be AJ just then, because she would’ve known what to say and how to reassure him, or how to lighten the mood and stop him from crying, because I knew he didn’t want to be doing that in front of me. He was looking away now, trying very hard not to blink.

“You okay?”

He nodded, then raised a surreptitious hand to rub at his damp eyes. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I leaned into his shoulder again, because it was all I could think of to do, and felt him lean back into me, reciprocating my touch. “Never thought anyone would be crying over my first world problems,” I teased, trying for some levity.

“Don’t say that.” Phil’s voice had changed, gone deeper, and I sat up again.

“What? Why not?”

He glared at me, that deep line reappearing between his eyebrows. “That first world problems crap. Because that’s part of the problem. It’s exactly what you’ve just been talking about. Everyone’s problems are their problems, and they still hurt, no matter how big or small they are. They still hurt. So saying your problems are not real problems because there are bigger problems in the world is so unhelpful. Everyone has things in life that suck, it’s just the scale of it that changes. Sometimes people can’t get out of bed in the morning because their arms and legs have been blown off. And sometimes people can’t get up because they just…can’t.”

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First 8 covers 150dpi

Pony Jumpers series · Seventh Place

Pony Jumpers #7 : Seventh Place

AVAILABLE NOW from Amazon online stores!

Susannah is halfway through her best show jumping season yet, and when the opportunity for selection on an international tour comes along, she’s determined to prove her worth to the selectors. But she quickly discovers that not everyone is willing to forgive and forget what has gone before, and a place on the team is far from assured. When an error of judgement that leads Susannah down a path she never thought she would tread, she finds herself right back where she started – on the outside, looking in.

But that all becomes insignificant when something goes wrong with Buck, her veteran show jumping pony, and nobody seems to know how to make him better.

Can Susannah figure out how to help her pony before it’s too late?

7 Seventh Place - DIGITAL 150dpi

 

 

 

Pony Jumpers series · Seventh Place · Sneak peek

#7 Seventh Place | Preview

7P

I’m so very aware that I am really behind schedule with releasing this book, and I’m really sorry about that. Life, as they say… well, that’s my excuse anyway. Busy busy busy! But most of Seventh Place has been written, so to tide you over and thank you for waiting, here’s the opening of Chapter 3:


CHAPTER THREE
~ PRACTICE FENCE ~

“Who d’you reckon they’ll pick?”

“For what?”

“Duh. The young rider team that’s going to Ireland.”

I turned my head slightly, my attention arrested by the conversation, and I drew Buck to a halt. Pretending to be running over the course, I shamelessly eavesdropped on their conversation.

Grace shrugged, plucking idly at one of Summer’s plaits. “Not me, anyway.”

“They might,” her friend said loyally. “More likely to pick you than me, anyway. Especially after Flame stopped twice yesterday.”

I glanced at her, recognising her as the girl that had been hanging out with Grace last night. I didn’t know her name, but I knew her pony. Flamethrower, a flashy chestnut mare with white stockings up to her knees, that until a few weeks ago had been out competing with Anna. I wondered when the kid had bought her, and why. It was a hot pony, not an easy ride and certainly a lot of pony for a young girl, especially one who was even tinier than Grace.

“You’re still getting used to her,” Grace reassured her friend. “You’ll be fine.”

“I wish they were taking a proper pony team, like they did two years ago,” the girl complained. “Anna did it, and she was telling me all about it. They had under twelves, under fourteens and under sixteens. We might be in with a shot if they were doing that again. But if they’re only taking two under sixteens for the pony classes, we’re screwed.”

The steward sent her into the ring then, and I nudged Buck up alongside Grace and gave her a friendly smile as she turned to look at me.

“Oh, hi.”

“Hey.” I pretended to watch her friend in the ring for a moment. Flame jigged across the grass, tossing her head restlessly. “I didn’t know Anna had sold Flame.”

“Yeah, Issy got her for Christmas.” Grace was still a bit awkward around me, and I wasn’t sure whether she was shy or just didn’t like me. Usually I’d assume the latter, but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

“Tough pony.” I bit off the second half of that sentence. For a kid.

Grace glanced at me again, her dark eyebrows knitting together. “Yeah, I guess.” She glanced at Buck, then back at me. “Are you really retiring Buckingham this season?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe.” We both watched as Buck decided to make friends with Summer, reaching over and sniffing her with his nose. She laid her ears back and tossed her head at him, and he decided to mind his own business again. “So what’s this about the young rider team?”

“Didn’t you hear?”

“No. Must be out of the loop.”

Grace looked a bit cagey, but nodded. “It’s for a team competition in Ireland, in June. You have to be under sixteen to make the team,” she added, looking at me through narrowing eyes. “At least, for the Juniors you do. They’re taking two under eighteen riders as well, and two under twenty-one. At least, that’s what Mum said.”

“Connor planning to go?”

She shrugged. “Mum wants him to, but he’ll have hockey then and he doesn’t want to miss any tournaments.”

“I didn’t know he played hockey.”

“Yeah, he’s on the national Under 20s squad. He does heaps of training for it. That’s why he’s only got two horses this season. Doesn’t have time to work any more than that.”

“Right.” Everyone had a life outside of horses, it would seem. Everyone except me. I cast my mind back over what she’d said. “When in June is it?”

“Right at the start, I think. Just before the school holidays start.”

Good to know. I wouldn’t be sixteen until the end of June. I was about to ask more when Jordan turned up at the gate to check that Grace knew the course. She said a brief hello to me, and I wished Grace luck as she rode Summer into the ring, then turned Buck away to finish his warm-up.

I knew that Dad would be all over this team thing as soon as he found out about it. His biggest ambitions for me all revolved around getting into a New Zealand team. He wanted so desperately to see that silver fern patch stitched onto the front of my competition jacket, and he’d been gutted when I’d never made it into the Children’s FEI Final.

I’d never been to Ireland. I wondered what it was like, and who I would be up against to make it into the team.

~  *  ~

Katy, for starters. She sent me a text that afternoon to find out if I’d heard about it, and whether I was planning on putting my name forward.

Yep. Just sneak in age wise it ends a week before my birthday! Dads all over it like a rash haha. I hope we both get to go!!

I sent the text and shoved my phone back in my pocket, then finished buckling Forbes’ open-fronted tendon boots on. Straightening up, I gave him a slap on the shoulder and looked him in the eye.

“Right, boy. You ready for this?”

Dad had his head bent over his paperwork as I stepped up into the truck to get my jacket. Despite last night’s chill, it was blisteringly hot today, and Forbes was sweating just standing around. I’d left it as long as I could before I tacked him up for the class, but he preferred a long warm-up, and I wasn’t going to change our routine now. I’d just work him a little slower than usual, that was all. I grabbed my favourite burgundy jacket and slung it over my arm. Time enough to put that on when I was about to go into the ring.

“Coming?”

Dad wrote something else on a piece of paper, then set down his pen. “You ready to go?”

I nodded. “Yep.” My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I pulled it out and read Katy’s text as I went back down the steps and over to my pony’s side.

Yeah thatd be sweet! Saw results on FB this morning, good work Skipper! What happened to Buck tho?

I smiled at the first part, then cringed at her second question. Skip had jumped a super double clear to pick up another second placing and secure us the top spot on the overall leaderboard, but Buck had had a refusal at the wall, putting himself out of contention.

Had a stop. Not sure why. Its stinking hot down here tho and the grounds hard as rock so prob just feeling it on the old joints. Have scratched him from the rest of the show and will get him looked at when we get home

Dad made an impatient noise in the back of his throat as I sent the text, then shoved my phone into my pocket and kicked my left leg up for a leg-up. I waited for him to say something, or make me hand my phone over to him, but he didn’t.

I tightened my girth while he shut the truck door, then walked alongside me to the ring. We passed the Campbells’ truck, and I waved to Grace, who was sitting on the ramp with her friend Issy. Had I ever been that little? Not that I was tall now, but they looked like they should still be pottering around on twelve-twos, not competing in the Grand Prix classes on full-height ponies.

“Any further thoughts about that bay mare?” Dad asked.

I kept my tone ambivalent. “Jumped well this morning,” I said. “I watched her go.”

Actually, well was an understatement. Anna had worked out how to ride the mare now, and she’d jumped a tidy clear first round in the metre-twenty. Star had cleared everything with room to spare, and there’d been several people on the sidelines admiring her. She’d been quick around the jump off too, just taking one rail at the second to last fence. I’d seen it coming as Anna had turned the corner, letting Star get a bit quick and not sitting her back on her hocks enough. She’d underestimated the length of the little mare’s stride, and by the time she’d realised her error, she’d been too close to the fence. Star had given it everything, but she’d rubbed the back rail of the oxer as she angled over it. She’d given Anna a good couple of bucks on landing, telling her off, and Anna had corrected her ride to finish the course, but it meant no ribbons for them. And with yesterday’s result added to today’s, they wouldn’t be qualified for the Final tomorrow.

Dad echoed that result as we reached the warm-up. “Nigel said they’ve late-entered her into the metre-twenty Non-Championship class tomorrow afternoon, since she didn’t qualify. Offered to let you take her round.”

I hesitated. “Maybe.”

“What d’you mean, maybe?” Dad was frowning at me now, and he’d stopped in the gate of the warm-up, putting a hand on Forbes’ rein to hold me there. I glanced behind me, but there was nobody coming. “I thought you liked her.”

“I do. I just don’t…” I ground my teeth together, then confessed. “I don’t want to screw it up.”

“You won’t.” Dad was so certain of that. I wished I shared his confidence in me. “Rode her beautifully yesterday, didn’t you?”

“She went okay. But it’s different in the ring. Everyone will be watching, and…”

“So? You’ve got to get over that,” he told me. “Besides, it’ll be good practice for you, competing a horse you’ve hardly ridden. You’ll have to do that in Ireland, you know.”

“I haven’t made the team yet,” I reminded him, but he scoffed.

“Bruce is a selector. He knows you, knows how well you ride,” Dad said, his voice assured. “I’ll have a chat with him, make sure he knows how badly we want it.”

I saw the look in his eyes, and knew that if money had to change hands, well, he’d make that happen too. But I didn’t want to make the team if that’s what it would take. I wanted to be selected on merit, not on bank balance, and I was about to tell him that when we were interrupted.

“You’re blocking the gate.”

I looked up to see Anna in front of us, waiting to get out of the warm-up and into the ring.

“Oh, sorry.” I wondered how much she’d overheard. Judging by the look on her face, quite a bit. I wondered if she was going to put her name forward for the team. Chances were high. Her parents were wealthy and she was ambitious, and she already had a couple of international team competitions under her belt. She was almost a surety, and I hoped Katy made the team. I didn’t want to be on it if she didn’t.

As Anna rode her leggy chestnut horse past me, Dad released Forbes. I rode my pony forward, sending him straight into a trot and away from my father. Dad was right, as little as I liked to admit it. I did have to practice riding unknown horses and ponies before the team event. And that was one thing Katy defeinitely had on her side. She’d grown up riding different ponies, picking up catch rides all the time, and everyone knew that she could get anything to go well. Forbes was the only tricky pony I’d ever had – everything else was fully trained before I got it. And if I was being honest, despite his few quirks, Forbes had been very well schooled by Katy before he came to me.

The class was running in reverse order of points, which meant Forbes and I were jumping last. It was the last class of the day, and the warm-up cleared out as I worked my pony in. He liked a good long warm-up, and always jumped better if he’d done lots of schooling first. It was a little tedious sometimes, but worthwhile in the end. I wondered, as I rode another trot serpentine, whether that had been part of his problem with Katy. She’d always been in such a hurry with her big team of ponies, and rarely gave any of them more than ten or fifteen minutes to work in, sometimes even less than that. But Forbes took a good half-hour to get really switched on. I had to be careful today though, as despite the later hour, it wasn’t getting any cooler. The sun baked down onto the scorched earth, and Forbes was sweating heavily as I brought him back to a walk and gave him a pat.

Dad was over at the practice fence, putting the vertical down to a crossrail and motioning to me to come and jump it. In a burst of defiance, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, wanting to check first whether Katy had replied to my text.

Aw poor old man. Give him a hug for me, and tell skip to kick ass tomorrow !!!

I slipped it back into my jacket and picked up my reins as I rode past the practice jump, ignoring Dad’s glare. There were a handful of other riders still in the ring, and I counted them quickly. Three left, and I knew the chestnut-and-white pinto would be going in right before me, because I remembered it being next to me in the presentation yesterday. The liver chestnut was third, I was pretty sure, and the roan fourth, which meant it would be next to jump.

Sure enough, it got called into the ring by a large, bossy steward at that moment, and the kid trotted over to the gate as a young girl with blonde hair pulled back into a tight ponytail came over to the crossrail and started adjusting it back into a vertical. Dad quit glaring at me and directed his annoyance towards her instead.

“Hey, leave that alone, we’re using it.”

The girl looked at my father with a frown, and I recognised her in a vague sort of way. She had just started show jumping this season, but after a couple of shaky rounds early on, she’d hit her stride recently and was climbing up the Pony Grand Prix leaderboard with a succession of recent wins. Of course, she had a pair of very experienced ponies that could probably jump clear rounds with their eyes closed, but then who was I to judge?

“Emmalee wants to jump it,” the girl, whose name I still couldn’t remember, told my father. She seemed slightly cowed by Dad’s aggressive tone, but she was standing her ground. “She’s next to go in, and she has to do a vertical first.”

Dad folded his arms across his chest. “My daughter hasn’t even jumped yet,” he countered. “You’ve had ample time to jump the vertical, now it’s Susie’s turn.”

I saw the girl’s eyes flicker towards me, then back to my father. “But…”

“But nothing. It’s not your turn.”

She opened her mouth to say something, then clearly thought better of it, and walked back over to a group of people standing by the gate. I nudged Forbes into a canter, cringing inwardly but trying to project outward calm. I knew Forbes well enough to know that if I got wound up, he’d sense it and start getting wild and unmanageable, and I didn’t need that today.

I cantered him over the crossrail once, then turned to come the other way over it. But when I came to reapproach, I realised that Dad was standing in front of it, his arms still folded, while another man yelled at him, arms waving angrily.

I brought Forbes back to a trot and circled him, trying to concentrate on steadying my breathing, and not letting any of the tension in the air transmit itself to Forbes. But it was too late. He tossed his head, tugging at the bit, then spooked sideways as the roan pony came cantering past me.

“It’s okay, buddy.” I reached forward and gave Forbes a pat, then glanced back over at my Dad, who was still engaged in a stand-off with the other father.

Just put the jump back to how it was, I wanted to tell him. The next rider to go into the ring had priority of use over the practice fence. Everyone knew that, and I wished Dad would just back down and accept it. The blonde girl was standing over by the gate, looking a bit emotional about being yelled at by my father, and I remembered her name at last. Lily Christianson. One of the women there had her arm around her shoulders, and they glared at me as they saw me looking at them. I looked away, pushing Forbes back into a canter and focusing on my pony. There was nothing else I could do. If I went over there and told Dad to give in, he’d never let me hear the end of it. He was already grumpy with me, and I didn’t need to give him any more fuel for his fire. He hated it when I disagreed with him in public, even when he was clearly wrong. I just had to get Forbes into the ring and jump a clear round, and a quick jump off, and Dad would forget to be angry with me.

But that was looking less and less likely to happen, because I couldn’t stop myself from tensing up, and Forbes couldn’t handle it. He got quicker and quicker as we cantered around the warm-up, and when I tried to slow him down, he flung his head from side to side and lifted his back, threatening to buck.

The call came from the steward, sounding terse. “Emmalee, the judges are waiting for you. You need to get over to the ring right away. Isaac, you’re on straight after her, and Susannah’s last to go.” She looked up from her clipboard and saw the stand-off happening in front of the practice fence, and a frown crossed her face. “What’s going on?”

I drew Forbes back to a walk, bracing myself as the small group at the gate quickly filled her in. The steward looked furious as she slapped her clipboard against her thigh.

“Right. Emmalee, you need to get into the ring right now or they’ll scratch you for not turning up. I’ll sort this out.”

Emmalee’s mother started arguing that her daughter needed to jump the vertical before she could go into the ring, but the steward wasn’t having a bar of it. Defeated, Emmalee rode her pretty liver chestnut out towards the ring, and her mother followed with a scowl as I halted Forbes and checked my girth. Any excuse to keep my eyes down and avoid looking at anyone. I could hear the conversation as it carried across the dusty warm-up, both men talking on top of each other, much to the steward’s obvious irritation.

“All right, settle down for a minute. Derrick, has your daughter jumped the crossrail yet?”

“Once,” Dad said. “She needs to do it again before I put it up, and if these people had just let her go ahead, we wouldn’t be standing here having this argument.”

“Let her jump it again. Once,” the steward said, having obviously worked out that it was easier to just let Dad have his own way and be done with it. “Then it goes up to a vertical. No arguments, and I don’t care if she knocks it down. Jump it once, then it goes up.”

She strode away, the other man hot on her heels and still arguing, as Dad turned towards me with a victorious expression.

“Okay Susie, it’s all yours.”


7 Seventh Place - DIGITAL 150dpi

PONY JUMPERS #7 : SEVENTH PLACE

Susannah is on her way to the National Championships, but without the friends she is now accustomed to having by her side. When her attempts to make new friends, both in and out of the jumping arena, repeatedly end in disaster, she starts to wonder whether her dreams are still worth fighting for.

But everything changes when one of her ponies falls dangerously ill, and suddenly winning doesn’t seem to matter at all…