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BLOG HOP: My best class ever

Over at Rodney’s Saga, there’s a discussion on the best class anyone has ever had at a horse show, so here’s one of my stories:

JJ warmup

In the first year that I owned my horse JJ, I took him to maybe three shows. Mostly that was fine – he was very green and I was still quite nervous in a competition jumping environment, so we took everything slowly. But as we progressed, I wanted to get him (and me) out more.

We had the talent (well, he did) and I had the determination, but unfortunately, what we didn’t have was transport. We were limited to the shows that were held at the park where JJ is kept (very convenient and lucky that they hold shows there!) and the occasional times we could beg a ride off someone.

I was very lucky that I kept finding generous people who were prepared to take me to shows – I am grateful to each and every one of them. Some came out of their way to collect me, others cooked me breakfast and treated me like part of their family when I was on the road with them. My ride to Horowhenua Circuit Finals in early 2013 came from one of the event’s show jumping judges, who offered to “hitch the float” onto the back of her car and take me and JJ along, since she was going up anyway to judge. Considering how much more time, effort and petrol it would take to drag a horse (and rider, and groom) to and from Foxton rather than just driving up and back, that was a hugely generous offer and one I willingly accepted. I can’t remember the particulars, but I hadn’t been expecting to be able to go – I guess I just couldn’t find a ride – and the offer came literally the day before the show, so it was a quick decision to go along and enter on the day.

JJ warming up at Circuit Finals

This was the early days of JJ’s Show Hunter career, and while he’d shown some promise, we were a long way off being consistent. Six weeks earlier, I’d been asked to proof-read the show programme and had seen that the winner of the Equitation would take home a rug – not a cooler, but a wool-lined canvas rug worth at least $300. That was a prize well worth winning, but what were my chances? I’d never ridden in an Equitation class in my life, and wasn’t sure that JJ and I could pull off one decent round by fluke, let alone doing it when it counted.

The day started well. JJ was a bit quick in the first round, attacking his fences with great enthusiasm, but he still placed 2nd. Then he jumped a super round in the next class and won it! I was overwhelmed…it was JJ’s first win in a Show Hunter class and I was thrilled with him.

JJ ribbon 1
JJ picked up 2nd place in his first class of the day!

Equitation was up next, and it was a testing course, including a trot fence, flying change, halt to canter transition and a rollback turn. I studied the course, watched a few riders go, practiced a trot fence, then went into the ring with a smile and a determination to do our best. JJ was good – not perfect, but he did his best and I couldn’t have asked for more. I dismounted and stood at the ringside holding him while the last few riders went, noting all the things they did well and how likely they were to beat me. One of the best and most consistent riders in the event went out and had a gorgeous round…until she forgot where she was going and jumped the wrong fence!

JJ jump
Competing in the Equitation round

When the results were announced, nobody was more surprised than I was to hear my name called in first place! I was thrilled – not only was it my first Equitation win, but my first time winning a triple-wide sash, not to mention the rug! I reckon JJ was pretty pleased with himself too…

JJ very proud
JJ isn’t the most gracious of winners…

All in all, it was a show well worth going to, even if it was a last-minute decision. And just in case the success of two firsts and a second from three classes went to my head, I then went into the ring for my last class of the day and jumped an absolutely horrendous round in the Final, taking a rail and finishing with no score. I was kicking myself, because it was entirely my fault. But that’s horses and the horse show life for you!

JJ end of day
The happy end to a very successful day

(Photos used with permission, many thanks to Ella’s Equine Photography.)

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One out of the box

PJ box set 1
Ever since I started the Pony Jumpers series, I’ve been quite keen on the idea of packaging up the books into groups of four and seeing how well they sell in a ‘box set’. Partly because I think the graphic looks cool, partly because it’s a good bargain that will hopefully get readers into the series, and partly because it’s a pretty effective marketing tool. After all, if you want to grab someone’s attention, bright colours and a bargain deal are two of the most sure-fire ways to succeed!

I don’t spend a lot of money on advertising – actually, to be honest, I basically spend nothing on advertising. Facebook and word of mouth have been my go-to advertising methods up until now, but I’m starting to branch out a little. On a Facebook business page, you can pay a few extra dollars to “Boost” a post, which not only ensures that more of your followers will see it, but that people who don’t follow you but who fall into the location/age/interests that you specify will also be advertised at.

So a few days ago, I bit the bullet and paid a few dollars for a Facebook ‘boost’. And my sales did spike, although I’m as yet not clear whether that’s actually because of the advertising or not. (I’ll have to run a few more ads and watch for sales trends before I can be sure that it’s had an effect.)

Here’s the ad that I posted, and what Facebook is telling me about it (this after the first couple of days).

box set ad

(Amazon advertising is a LOT more expensive, so I’m holding back on that one for now, but definitely considering it later on.)

Finding the right balance of what to post and how often to post it on Facebook is a challenge… I don’t want to post so much that I annoy people, or be constantly pushing my own books on people, but I also want to have a presence and for my followers to have a good idea of who I am and what I’m about (within and outside of my books). Hopefully I’m getting the balance right – if you do follow me on Facebook (or Instagram) please send your feedback!

And if you’re not following me on Facebook yet, what are you waiting for? Follow Kate Lattey – NZPonyWriter on Facebook and @kate_lattey on Instagram, and join my mailing list!

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New release: FOUR FAULTS

PJ 4 FF release 300

Tess Maxwell never really wanted to be a competition rider, and she certainly never wanted to inherit her sister Hayley’s difficult Grand Prix pony. But nobody listens to what Tess wants, and despite her resolution never to ride Misty again, she finds herself back in the saddle as he continues to tear her confidence to shreds.

When her parents decide that Misty will be sold after Christmas unless Tess changes her mind, she has more to contend with than just surviving the next seven weeks. Because Hayley is determined not to let her beloved pony leave the farm, and she doesn’t care what will take to change her sister’s mind…

PJ 4 FF expt 1

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An exercise in prolificacy

As originally posted on Horse Crossings (4 May 2015).

First 4 covers 200dpi

I’ve got a new toy, and I can’t stop playing with it. Over the long Easter weekend, I decided to see how quickly I could write an entire (albeit short) novel. I had a rough story outline and no other commitments, so I gave myself four days, sat down at my laptop, and started to write. To keep myself honest, I first declared my intentions on Facebook. I put each chapter up on Wattpad as I wrote it, so that people could check in and follow the story in real-time. It was a challenge, and it was fun. And even better, people really liked the story.

The characters were a mix of old and new – some who’d shown up in my previous books, some who’d never been heard of before – but they all leapt off the page, and the writing just flowed. I don’t want to say effortlessly, because let’s face it, writing is never effortless. But I didn’t get bogged down or stuck in the story, I just wrote and wrote and wrote. Posted another chapter, and wrote on. And so on, until suddenly on Sunday afternoon, I was done. And with a whole day to spare!

What else to do, then, but start the sequel? Or even better…make it into a series! After all, if I can write one short novel in a weekend, I should be able to get one book done each month, right? Well, life’s nothing without challenges, so I put my thinking cap on, came up with a concept that I loved, and the Pony Jumpers series was born.

PJ 1 out now Kindle

The first book, First Fence, is told from the perspective of a character named AJ, who is struggling with her pony until she befriends Katy, another young rider who has a wealth of experience. Katy and her mother Deb give AJ the help she needs to get her pony on track for a successful competition career, something AJ, who comes from a completely unhorsy family, has only ever dreamed of before.

PJ 2 DC release

The sequel Double Clear is then told from Katy’s perspective – and while she turned out to have a strong voice and plenty of storyline, she also turned out to be a far more complex character than I’d ever anticipated. It was almost as though once I got inside her head and she started to trust me to tell her story, she realised she didn’t have to put a brave face on all the time, and everything that was bothering her just came pouring out. Katy has a lot of issues to work through, and at times the book was heart-wrenching to write. But there are so many threads to her storyline – outside of the pony-centric A-plot there are at least five other sideline plots to follow through with in the upcoming novels. I’m excited to see how she progresses over the course of the series.

So, the series. I can’t say for sure how many books I’m going to write, but I have the basic plots and timeline sketched out to get myself as far as (brace yourself) twenty novels. Ambitious, for sure, and whether I ever find the time to write them all, I can’t say. But I have committed myself to the first eight by the end of the year.

Why eight? Well, after Katy’s story is told in book #2, I’m switching it up again to a different protagonist for book #3, Triple Bar. Not that she’s entirely new – Susannah has been showing up in my books for years, and has appeared already in the first two books in this series. If Katy is a complex character, Susannah is a veritable kaleidoscope. There is a lot going on behind closed doors in her life, and I’m looking forward to exploring her side of the story, since we’ve only seen her through other people’s eyes up to now.

PJ 3 TB release
NB: This book is not actually released yet – it is due out in late May.

And then there’s book #4, Four Faults, which will shift perspective yet again to get a fourth character’s perspective. This character has turned up already in the first two books, and will have been introduced sufficiently by this stage however that hopefully the reader will be intrigued to find out what’s really happening in her life as well, before book #5 shifts back to AJ, and the cycle begins again. (If I only write the first eight, then I’ve at least written each character twice, see? But I would really love to manage all 20 books – that’s only five each, after all…)

PJ 4 FF cover2If this sounds incredibly complicated, it gets worse. Not only will each of these books tie into each other, but as mentioned, Susannah has turned up in my books before. As has Katy, for that matter. So they have fixed backstories, and part of my challenge is to keep track of their history as well as planning out their future. (I already almost tripped myself up badly until I went back to check my references to Katy in Dream On and discovered what was at the time a throwaway line that completely contradicted some of what I’d written in Double Clear, so I had to go back and fix that one.) I have a complex spreadsheet that keeps it all straight and explains the timeline, which I have simplified into a graphic on my website, since I’ve failed at writing the stories chronologically as I originally intended and I was getting readers confused. (Hey, it all makes sense in my head!)

So it’s complicated, but it’s also fun. For years, I wanted to write for television (I would still love to, in fact). I love the episodic nature of television drama, so this series of books is like my version of a TV show. Some episodes might be stronger than others, some will necessarily be more dramatic, there will be cliffhangers and there will be little, subtle moments. (And lots of dialogue, because I always write a ton of dialogue. Perhaps that’s the TV writer in me trying to get out!)

I also – and this sounds completely nerdy but it’s true – love episode titles. Some of my favourite TV dramas have great episode titles, whether they’re a play on words or a quote from Shakespeare, or just really gorgeously poetic. And you’ve probably noticed the theme that I’ve already started with my new series of numbering the books within their titles. (Four Faults will be followed by Five Stride Line, then Six to Ride…and so on. I had so much fun coming up with them, and yes they go all the way up to 20.) I designed and created the covers myself, using Adobe InDesign. The cover photo of First Fence is an iStock photo and Four Faults‘ cover image comes from Shutterstock, but the cover images for Double Clear and Triple Bar were taken by a friend of mine for a school assignment several years ago and she has generously allowed me to use them. (I also used my borderline Photoshop skills to swap out the background on Triple Bar which was originally shot on carpet, not wood. Hopefully you can’t tell!) I have placeholder images for the rest, mostly from Shutterstock, which will be purchased as required. And the colour theme of purple for AJ’s books, yellow for Katy’s, pink for Susannah’s and green for Tessa’s will continue throughout the series.

And so this is my ultimate challenge: to write 20 books of fewer than 40,000 words, that all fit into a fixed timeline and don’t contradict each other, told alternatively from the perspective of four very different characters leading four very different lives, bound together by their passion for show jumping. And each novel also has to have a strong A-plot that carries the reader’s momentum forward throughout, combined with several interesting B-plots, like whether AJ can find a way to get along with her autistic sister, whether Katy can forgive her father for abandoning her, or whether Susannah can find a way to integrate her brother back into her life after her parents disowned him. Oh yeah, and to also integrate each character as seamlessly as possible into each book, whether or not it’s their turn to be the protagonist…

Not for the faint of heart, then, but I’m loving it so far. And I have had so many comments from readers saying that they love the way that the books tie into each other, which is really encouraging. But it means that I have to have these characters straight in my head, starting with their disparate writing styles – details that range from the language and euphemisms they use, to their level of introspection, to precisely how they tend to structure their sentences. Not to mention the names of their family members, their pets, their nicknames, what subjects at school they’re good at and what they struggle with, their favourite foods, whether they’re a heavy sleeper, what kind of music they like, their hair and eye colour…and of course, every little detail about their ponies…

It’s a good thing I thrive on a challenge! And so far, it seems to be working. As a friend told me this morning:

“I feel like these kids actually exist and I’ll get to meet them all someday…like I’m just reading an account of their lives. An excerpt from each of their diaries or something. It’s heartbreaking to realise they’re all fictional.”

I took that as a huge compliment. When people believe in my characters that hard, I must be doing something right.

But for now, I have a third book to finish…

First Fence and Double Clear are now available for purchase on Amazon at US$2.99 each. The first chapter of Triple Bar is also included at the end of Double Clear to give readers a taste of what’s to come!

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More Pony Jumpers coming soon

3 Triple Bar - DIGITAL (E1) I’m trucking along with the next book in the Pony Jumpers series, TRIPLE BAR, and it’s proving to be a fascinating book to write. I’ve always had a soft spot for the misunderstood characters in stories, and this book is a further step along the redemption arc that I’ve been playing out for the protagonist, Susannah Andrews, since her debut in Dare to Dream. In that book, she was far from the most likeable character. In fact, she was pretty much an out-and-out villain. I hit every cliche under the sun for her – spoiled, wealthy, vile, a hard, unsportsmanlike rider. Everything you would expect from a stereotypical pony book villain, and the absolute opposite of Marley, our heroine in that story.

Susannah’s introduction arrived early – in Chapter 1 of Dare to Dream as the Carmichael family sat around their kitchen table and discussed the upcoming show season:

“Did you hear that the Andrews family have bought Buckingham?”

Marley rolled her eyes. “So that precious darling Susannah can win Pony of the Year,” she grumbled. “As if she deserves to even come close.”

“She might now though,” Van said. “That pony’s a machine. Never seen it put a foot wrong in its life.”

“Poor pony,” Marley sighed. “Imagine belonging to that family.”

“Competitive?” Mike asked, not knowing them.

“Beyond the realm,” Kris said. “I wouldn’t want to be one of their ponies.”

“Or one of their kids,” Van agreed. “I like to win as much as anyone else, but I couldn’t stand it if I got yelled at every time I failed to meet up to someone else’s expectations.”


And when Susannah herself stepped into the story, she was utterly vile:

Marley looked up to see Susannah Andrews approaching them, and stifled a groan. At barely thirteen years old, Susannah was younger than most of the other Pony Grand Prix riders, but her parents had spared no expense buying her the best ponies on the circuit. Their belief that their daughter was the best thing since sliced bread had built up Susannah’s dangerously high self-esteem. Good sportsmanship was not part of the family’s vocabulary, as far as Marley could tell, and she pitied the girl’s ponies, who shouldered all of the blame for any mistakes that Susannah made.

She stopped near Marley to talk to a friend, her voice pitched to carry, and Marley’s couldn’t help overhearing Susannah mentioning her name.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard,” Susannah was saying. “I mean, who puts a pony into a paddock with a barbed wire fence? That’s just stupid.”

Marley got to her feet and stepped up behind Susannah. “Say that to my face.”

Susannah turned around and met Marley’s eyes, her face impassive. “I said, I can’t believe anyone would be stupid enough to put their pony behind barbed wire, then to expect sympathy when he mangles himself getting caught up in it.”


So there we have a character that absolutely nobody is going to be rooting for. But there is a common denominator going on in both of these scenes, both placed there very deliberately.

“I couldn’t stand it if I got yelled at every time I failed to meet up to someone else’s expectations.”

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

So much of who Susannah is comes from exactly that – her parents. Not that they’re necessarily atrocious people. They, too, are a lot more complex than they first appeared. Because Dare to Dream was told from Marley’s perspective. Not from Susannah’s. We didn’t see the inner workings of their family, although we got hints of it from time to time, including when we first met Susannah’s older brother Pete.

He’d always been much more personable and good-natured than the rest of his family. Always very protective of his sister though, Marley recalled, and his next words backed that up. “She’s got things tough, you know. Try cutting her a bit of slack.”

Even as he continued to be the friendlier of the siblings, the issues around his family and the immense pressure they were both under quickly became clear.

“Civil engineering,” Pete said. “Dad wanted me to get a Law degree, but I flunked out. Huge waste of money and a massive disappointment, that’s me,” he added, trying to sound casual but unable to mask the bitterness in his voice.

“In my family it’s win or nothing, and a round like you just jumped would bring the wrath of my father down on Ajax’s head.”

I won’t say any more, in case you haven’t read Dare to Dream yet. (You really should. You’ll get a lot more out of Triple Bar if you have the prior knowledge.)


Although Susannah was somewhat redeemed in the end of Dare to Dream, when she returned in Dream On nobody was pleased to see her, and they made their feelings quite clear.

The show grounds were buzzing with the news of her presence, and when Susannah knocked three rails in her first class, at least five separate people came by to tell Marley that Susannah had ridden terribly, that she’d been booed when she went into the ring, and that everyone had applauded when she’d ridden out with twelve faults.

and

“Hey, did you hear that Susannah Andrews fell off in the metre-ten this morning? We gave her a standing ovation.”


But I no longer thought of Susannah as a villain. In Dare to Dream, she was a spoiled child, thoughtlessly repeating her family’s mantra and doing her best to live up to their expectations. Like many young teens, she still looked to her family for guidance in life, and she still believed that her parents knew best. But by the time she returned in Dream On, she was a different person. And Marley is the only person who seems to be big enough to put the past behind her. One of my favourite scenes involving Susannah is this one:

The girls looked at one another for a moment, then Marley spoke. “Well done today.”

Susannah nodded. “Thanks. Same to you.”

Marley couldn’t tell if she was sincere, but Susannah had never been very subtle before, so she decided the other girl probably meant it.

Susannah tied Buck to the railing and reached for the hose. “That mare of yours can really jump.”

She’s not mine. “Yeah, she sure can,” Marley agreed. “I just wish she wanted to.”

Susannah looked at Maggie for a long moment. “I don’t suppose she has a choice.”

She turned her back to Marley, running the cold hose over Buck’s legs, and Marley clicked her tongue to Maggie and led her away.


Susannah’s family was now fractured, and tension was building amongst them. No matter how hard she tried, no matter how much her riding had improved, nobody was willing to cut her any slack. Nobody cheered when she won, and almost nobody believed that she’d truly changed.

And that’s a sentiment that carried over into First Fence and Double Clear, as evidenced by Katy’s reaction to Susannah in both of those books, particularly when Susannah looks like taking her pony away from her in Double Clear:

Mum looked unconvinced. “She’s riding a lot better these days.”

“In public,” I agreed. “She has to. She could hardly come back out and ride the way she used to after everything that happened. But what about behind closed doors? What’s going on there?”


You’re about to find out.

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PONY JUMPERS series debut

First 3 covers
Preliminary covers for the first 3 books in the new series!

Over the long (four-day) Easter weekend, I suddenly realised that I had no commitments. No horse shows to ride or judge at, no Pony Club rallies to organise, nothing that was going to stop me from sitting down all day and writing.

So I decided to set myself a challenge. I was at the point where I’d finally finished Against the Clock after literally years of working on it. By my reckoning, I started the first draft in 2009…so April 2015 seemed like a ridiculous finishing point, although I was super glad that I had finished at last, and the beta readers were enjoying it very much.

At this stage, the shortest time it had EVER taken me to write a complete novel was one year (for Dream On). So I decided to challenge that record, and see if I could write a short novel in 4 days. I set myself a 30,000 word goal, declared my ambition on Facebook so that I would be held accountable to it by friends and followers, logged onto Wattpad so that I could upload my progress in real time, and set to work.

I posted the first four chapters on Good Friday, and another five on Saturday. On Sunday afternoon, I posted Chapter 12 – and that was the END.

Admittedly, I didn’t quite make my word count goal – I think it finished out around 29,800 words. But I figure that’s close enough.

One of the benefits of writing so fast on a holiday weekend was that as I uploaded each chapter, I got almost immediate feedback on it. People enjoyed it, chatted to me about it, shared it to their friends, and encouraged me to write more. I was able to do something fun and nice for people over Easter, and I discovered that I can write a LOT faster than I thought!

Since then, several people have read the book as a complete novel in one hit, and all have enjoyed it (well, those who have let me know their thoughts have, anyway). It was a great exercise in free-flowing writing, just letting characters dictate the story without too much structure, letting it happen in ‘real time’. I had a basic idea of where I was going with the plot, I had a good idea of who the characters were and what their personalities and motivations would be. Some things surprised me, others didn’t. I followed my instincts with characters like Anders, AJ’s brother, who started out as a throwaway line and ended up being a fairly important part of the book.

Knowing that I can write so quickly (and hopefully I can keep it up!) is hugely motivational. I have a full length novel in the works for this year, which I hope to have out by Christmas, but in the meantime I’m planning to get one of these Pony Jumper books written every month for the rest of the year. I have titles (if not quite story ideas) for up to 20 books in the series (yikes).

AJ is the protagonist of First Fence, with her cheeky Connemara pony Squib, and her new best friend Katy is our secondary heroine. Katy will take over first-person narration for the second book, Double Clear, and two more characters (both of whom have cameos in First Fence, so see if you can guess who they are!) will narrate books 3 and 4, before AJ returns in book 5, Katy for book 6, and so on. I have the first three covers done, and although I don’t have a cover photo purchased yet, I can tell you that book 4 will have a green banner at the top and be titled Four Faults. (Yes, there’s a numerical theme!)

I can’t wait to have time to write more of this series, I’m genuinely super excited for it!

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Be in to WIN a free digital copy of DARE TO DREAM

Free D2D

Your chance to read DARE TO DREAM for free is now live on Instagram! Just follow me @kate_lattey, then Like and Comment on this post to go into the draw to be given a free digital copy! Double your chances by tagging someone else – if they start to follow me, then you go into the draw twice.

About the book:

Inspired by a remarkable true story.

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

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

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

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

Dare to Dream is set on the NZ PGP circuit, has over 50 five-star ratings on Amazon and is a bestseller in Teen Equestrian fiction on Amazon in the USA and UK.

Conditions:

One winner will be drawn for every 10 entries so the more people enter the more chances to win 🙂 Only condition is that you review on social media once you’ve read the book! Entries close at midnight on Sunday 29th March 2015. Giveaway is for a digital copy only, which will be emailed in either PDF or .mobi format (for Kindle/Kindle app). Winners are requested to read the book and post an honest review on social media.

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On writing ‘Strong Female Characters’

I wrote this for the Horse Crossings blog a couple of weeks ago, and will repost it here for anyone who missed it on the other site.

On writing “Strong Female Characters”

What is a Strong Female Character? There’s a lot of debate and discussion going on about that right now across the internet. What constitutes a Strong Female Character? How do you make sure to write one (or several)? There is of course, no hard and fast rule, but let’s start with a definition.

One of my favourite definitions comes from this blog, which quite simply points out that “A female character should have the wits and a big enough part in the story to propel and shape the plot significantly of her own accord. We all enjoy seeing women kicking ass, but we’d enjoy even more watching a woman whose decisions are important and taken seriously by the characters around her.”

This goes for girls too.

Many girls around the world love ponies, and they love to read stories about ponies. The success of the “pony book” genre has hinged for many years on the relationship between a girl and her pony, that unbreakable, magical bond that they share. One of the most popular and enduring pony book series in the English language is Ruby Ferguson’s “Jill” series, which contains plenty of wit, charm and realism, and a wonderful protagonist in Jill Crewe. And although written and set in the 1950s, one of the most endearing things about this series is that Jill herself possesses a great deal of agency.

What is character agency? There are boundless definitions, but here’s one that I particularly like:

The character makes things happen. They move the plot forward. They make choices — even if they are bad ones — that propel the story. They make a difference. They do not wait for the story to happen to them. They do not wait to be rescued. They do not let somebody else handle the hard stuff. If your character is sitting around the house gnawing their knuckles and hoping everything will work out okay, you need to punt them into the middle of the action.

Anyone who has read any of the Jill books can scarcely imagine their heroine sitting around waiting for everything to work out, and it is Jill’s tenacity and determination to get things done that make these books so timeless, despite being set in an era that many of today’s readers won’t recognise.

As Ada Hoffman succinctly pointed out on Twitter: Agency is not about characters being good or bad characters, it is about what the characters are given the opportunity to do.

As a writer of YA fiction, I am very aware of my target audience. (Sure, the books are read and enjoyed by many adults as well, but that’s not really who the books are “for”. Their enjoyment is, in some ways, incidental to my purpose.) The young women of today are growing up in a tumultuous, unnerving and difficult world that is quite different from the idyllic lifestyle that Jill and her friends enjoyed in Ruby Ferguson’s series. Today’s girls are hyper-aware of what is going on around them, of what other people think of them, of society’s expectations for them. They are viewing themselves and the world around them through a lens that is at once incredibly narrow and unbelievably wide.

They are looking for characters that they can relate to.

They are looking for role models.

They are looking for strong female characters.

So there’s that question again – what is a Strong Female Character? How do you know whether or not you’ve written one? This blog provides a useful checklist to consider:

  1. Give her a goal and a reason for having that goal
  1. Give her flaws
  1. Let her change
  1. Have her act under her own initiative.

Notice that none of the above has the slightest thing to do with being physically strong. That’s not what it’s about, although it can be an element.

A quick comparison:

Van, one of the characters in my novel Dare to Dream, is described as physically strong. At eighteen years old, she does the heavy lifting around the family farm, building fences and fixing water troughs and riding horses that others have consigned to the scrap heap for being too unruly and difficult. She’s also emotionally sturdy – stubborn and often tactless, determined and passionate, argumentative and resilient. One of her sisters is warned against ever telling Van that she can’t do something, “because she’ll kill herself proving you wrong” (which interestingly enough, is one of the most highlighted passages in the Kindle book).

Her older sister Kris is the opposite of Van in many ways. She’s physically weak, after a riding accident left her with a back injury that severely limits her capabilities. But more than any other character in that book, Kris is possessed of a great deal of emotional strength. Far more world-wise than her twenty-one years, she has given up on her own dreams to raise her sisters after their parents’ death. She struggles on, day after day, complaining as little as possible, selling the horse that she built her own dreams on in order to help her sisters’ dreams to continue to come true. Kris is a pillar of strength, although she never sees herself that way, and (for me at least) is one of the most inspiring characters I’ve ever written.

I want people to read my books and be inspired. Not just because of the way the characters treat their horses, but because of the way they treat one another. In the sequel Dream On, youngest sister Marley is witness to the ongoing bullying of a rival competitor. Marley has ample reason to despise this rival, because the prior actions that she now is being stigmatised for affected Marley more than anyone else, but she believes that this girl has seen the error of her ways, and doesn’t participate in the bullying tactics. And when she eventually sticks up for her rival and helps her out, she is immediately chastised by one of her friends, who calls Marley “naïve” for thinking that the other girl could’ve turned over a new leaf. Marley’s response is, in my mind, one of her greatest and proudest moments.

“Maybe I am,” Marley conceded, starting to walk away. “But I’d rather be that than a bully like you.”

If any of the young readers of this book felt inspired in that moment, if it gave them pause and made them also feel proud of Marley, and think that “I could do that”, then I have succeeded.

It’s about agency, and it’s about emotional strength, and it’s being unafraid of the opinions of others. I do a lot of work with young people and I see a lot of what they are thinking about and worried about on a daily basis. Being an individual, being confident enough to have different opinions and tastes from other people, being resilient enough to keep getting up when you get knocked down, knowing who your friends are and being self-reliant enough to walk away from bad relationships. Teenage girls are not worried about being able to beat up the world, they just want to be strong enough to live in it with confidence.

The people that young women surround themselves with will have huge impacts on their lives, and this goes for the characters they read about as well. Whether male or female, the characters we write do not have to be physically strong in order to be role models. But if their actions can make us smile, make us cheer, make us want to step inside the book and give them a pat on the back, then I reckon that we’re on the right track.