Book Excerpt · Eleventh Hour · equestrian · New release · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek · writing

Sneak Peek – Pony Jumpers #11 – Eleventh Hour

CHAPTER 1
HELPING HANDS

A cold wind whipped across the winter-bare paddocks, tangling my hair around my face. I shivered, snugging my scarf up around my neck, and continued the short walk to the barn. I could hear Forbes banging his hoof against his stable door, impatiently demanding his breakfast.

As I unlatched the sliding doors and slipped inside, my dark bay pony laid his ears back at me and snarled up his nostrils, making his opinion of my lateness well and truly known. His bright chestnut stablemate, Skip, greeted me with a hopeful whinny and much friendlier expression. I smiled at them both, feeling my heart lift. I always felt at home in the barn, much more so than the large, glass-plated house that I’d just left behind. The barn was a comfort, drawing me in like an old friend, giving me a place where I felt like I always belonged. The combined smell of horses and hay and shavings and leather was the best perfume I could ever imagine, and I greeted the ponies warmly.

“Good morning to you, too.”

The dark bay pony banged on his door again, louder this time.

“All right, Forbes. You’re not going to die from hunger in the time it takes me to mix your feed,” I told him as I headed into the feed room.

The look he gave me made it clear that he didn’t believe me, and he continued to bang on about his hunger while I added soaked beet pulp to the feeds I’d prepared the night before, gave them a quick stir and took them out to the ponies. Forbes shoved his head into his bucket and started munching like a dying thing, while Skip politely stepped back and waited for me to put his bucket into his stable, then delicately began lipping it up.

I was stuffing a couple of biscuits of hay into the steamer when I heard another whinny from outside, followed by the yeehaw of a small but opinionated donkey. Forbes laid his ears back at the sound as he munched, and I rolled my eyes at his peevishness as I walked to the other end of the barn and let myself out the back door. My retired show jumping pony Buck and his best friend, Emily the miniature donkey, were waiting at their gate, ears pricked and eyes bright. The wind whistled past the barn as I carried their feed buckets out to them.

“Vet’s coming today,” I told Buck as he tucked into his breakfast. “Don’t worry, just for a check up. Just to make sure you’re in the best of health.”

I slid a hand under his cover and across his dark coat, thick and fluffy in this winter weather. Buck munched on, unfazed, and I left them to eat and went back into the barn, where I set to work removing stable rugs and bandages, then putting warm waterproof rugs and turnout boots onto both ponies.

Skip finished licking the last of the grain out of his bucket as I fastened the last strip of velcro around his neck, and reached around to nuzzle my face with his grain-encrusted muzzle.

“No need to share, thanks anyway,” I told him, pushing him affectionately away, then giving him a cuddle in case his feelings were hurt. Skip was a sensitive soul with a kind nature, but his feelings were easily bruised.

Forbes, on the other side of the aisle, was his polar opposite. He was snarky and opinionated, the kind of pony that, if he were human, would spend large portions of his day writing vitriolic comments on Twitter, just to get a rise out of people. I changed his rugs and put his boots on as well, taking a little more care over it as I dodged his attempts to nip me and his propensity to lash out with a hind leg when I put his back boots on.

“I know you don’t like the cotton wool treatment, but you have to deal with it,” I told him. “It’s par for the course around here, and you know it.”

Forbes wrinkled his nostrils at me as I slipped his halter on and led him out into the aisle, then retrieved Skip from his stable and led them both out into the wintry morning.

 

I was halfway through mucking out when Lesley arrived. She breezed into the barn with the casual confidence that I envied so much, her thick mane of auburn hair hanging down her back and veterinary kit in hand.

“Morning!”

“Hi.” I set down the pitchfork and stepped out into the aisle. “How are you?”

“A bit late,” she admitted. “Sorry, but my vet student called in sick this morning, so I’m already behind schedule.”

“Oh no. I hope she’s okay.”

“Probably just hung over,” Lesley said dismissively. “How that girl made it through four years of vet school is beyond me. Now, where’s my victim?”

I grabbed Buck’s halter from his peg and we went out together to see him. Buck’s dust allergy had caused breathing problems and recently forced him into early retirement. I held him while Lesley listened to his heart and lungs, took his temperature and checked him over thoroughly. We both knew that this check was simply a routine measure — I knew enough to be able to spot anything untoward — but it made Dad feel better to have Buck regularly looked at, and Lesley was always very thorough.

“He’s doing well,” she declared after recording his temperature in her notes. “Keeping him out of the barn is clearly working, and he’s coping well with the colder weather.”

“He’s happy,” I said, rubbing Buck’s forehead. “I’d wondered if he’d mind being retired, since he always seemed to love being ridden, but he’s happy as.”

“They usually are,” Lesley said with a wink. “Horses are far less ambitious than their riders.”

I smiled bashfully as I removed Buck’s halter. He didn’t move, staying with his head resting against my arm.

“He’s a sweet boy,” Lesley said. “You’re lucky to have him, and he’s lucky to have you.” She sighed, then looked down again at her tablet. “Right, onto the next one.”

“Do you have a busy day planned?” I asked her as Buck returned to his freshly steamed hay.

“Frantic. And now I have to do it alone. Unless…” She looked at me, eyebrows quirked. “You said you’re not doing anything today?”

“Um, no. Well, I have to exercise the ponies, but other than that…”

“Wanna come with me and help out? It won’t be anything complicated, just holding horses, handing me bandages, that sort of thing, but since you’re mad enough to want a career doing this, you might as well tag along. If you’re up for it.”

I grinned at the vet. “Absolutely!”

 

We’d seen our first case of the day, a horse with a cut heel that needed its wound dressed, and were on our way to the second when Lesley abruptly slowed the ute and swung it into a driveway almost obscured by trees.

“Sorry,” she said lightly as I was flung sideways in my seat by her sudden change of direction. “I just remembered that I promised I’d drop in on Faye this weekend, and since we’re going past…”

We bumped along a narrow, pot-holed driveway, and I gritted my teeth against the ute’s lack of suspension. Tall trees on both sides cast a dark shadow overhead, and we turned a corner and arrived in the middle of a dilapidated yard. A long, low brick building with barred windows and a door at one end squatted in front of large slab of cracked concrete, and a shabby cottage with weed-filled flowerbeds lurked on the opposite side. Lesley parked the ute as a cacophony of barking started up from the brick building, which sounded as if it was filled with dogs.

“What are we here to—” I started to ask, then saw the thinnest, most miserable horse I’d ever seen in my life. Her hips and ribs protruded starkly through her dappled grey coat, her spine was clearly visible along the ridge of her back, and her dark mane couldn’t hide the painful thinness of her neck. She stood in a tiny, muddy paddock with more weeds than grass, her head down as she munched slowly at the meagre rations. “Oh my god!”

“Bit of mess, isn’t she?” Lesley agreed, opening her door and jumping out of the ute. I followed suit, and walked around to the front of the vehicle to stare at the unhappy horse. She lifted her head and watched us, pieces of grass falling from her lips as she chewed.

“What is this place?” I asked, looking around in disbelief.

“Animal rescue. Faye has dogs mostly, but she’s somehow ended up with this mare, too.” Lesley gave a rueful smile. “She’s obviously not set up for horses, but this is what comes of an utter inability to say no to people. Her heart’s in the right place, though, and she does her best. I do what I can to help her.”

I walked closer to the fence and the mare raised her head warily. Her chewing stopped.

“Where did the horse come from?”

“No idea, to be honest. You’d have to ask Faye.” She looked around, then her expression brightened. “And here she is.”

I turned to see a stoutly-built woman with wispy grey hair and mud-encrusted gumboots trudging towards us.

“Morning!”

She clasped Lesley’s hand warmly, then turned to me with a smile. Her face was weatherworn, with prominent crow’s feet around her brown eyes, but the warmth in her expression was genuine, and I found myself smiling back as I shook her head.

“This is Susannah, she’s helping me out today,” Lesley introduced me. “We don’t have long, because we’re supposed to be at our next appointment ten minutes ago, but we were coming past so I thought I’d pop in. How’s she doing?”

“Better, I think.” Faye frowned as she considered the mare. “She’s still terribly thin, of course, but you said not to feed her too much.”

Her expression was worried as she returned it to Lesley, and I could tell that she was anxious about doing the right thing.

“Slow and steady is the key with rehabs,” Lesley confirmed. “In her condition, if she gets too much feed at once, she’s at high risk of colicking, and that’s the last thing we want. But she’s at the stage now when you can give her as much hay as she’ll reasonably eat.”

Faye looked perplexed. “I meant to ask you about that. I’ve got a couple of bales left, but hay is hard to come by, and everyone else I’ve talked to wants an obscene amount of money for it.” She opened her hands in a helpless shrug. “Fifteen dollars a bale can’t be right, can it?”

“We had a drought over summer,” Lesley reminded her. “Good hay is expensive this year, but whatever you can get is better than nothing, as long as it’s not mouldy or stale.” She patted Faye’s shoulder reassuringly. “I’ll see if I can track some more down for you. Have you had any luck catching the horse?”

Faye shook her head. “I’ve tried, but she won’t come near me. Not even for carrots. I ended up throwing them out into the paddock, but she seemed to have trouble eating them.”

“Probably needs her teeth done,” I said, and Lesley nodded.

“And her hooves trimmed,” she added, and I looked at the mare’s feet and winced. “They’re starting to split, and they’ll cause her some serious issues if those cracks get too wide. We can sedate her for that if necessary. I’ll give Barry a call, see if I can tee something up with him during the week.”

Faye smiled gratefully. “I really appreciate you taking such an interest,” she said happily. “I wouldn’t know what to do without your help.”

“You need to find someone else to take her on,” Lesley said matter-of-factly. “You’re not set up for horses here, and you’ve already got your hands full with the dogs.”

“I know, but how would I know that whoever took her would take proper care of her?” Faye sighed, rubbing her hands on her dirty cargo pants. “Well, I suppose I’ll keep trying, and keep you posted if I have any luck.”

Lesley glanced at her watch. “Tell you what, why don’t I come and see how Sprocket’s getting on after his surgery, while Susannah has a go at handling your mare.”

“Uh…” I wasn’t sure how good my chances were, but I couldn’t say no without trying. “I guess I could attempt it.”

There was a tattered halter and lead hanging on the gate, and I let myself into the paddock while Lesley followed Faye towards the brick building to see the dogs. When the barking doubled in volume, I knew they’d gone inside, and that the grey mare and I were alone.

My boots sank into the gluggy mud in the gateway as I hitched the gate shut. The horse watched me suspiciously as I walked in her direction, but waited until I was a few metres away before turning around and walking into the far corner of the small paddock.

“Hey, girl. Come on, now. Let us help you. We both know could use it.”

I spoke softly to her as I approached on an angle, knowing better than to walk towards her head on. The mare kept a close eye on me, stepping away as soon as I breached the large personal bubble she had around herself.

I stopped, and so did she.

I stepped forward, and after a moment, she did too.

We moved in a slow dance, a step at a time, while time seemed to stand still around us. Slowly, gradually, the distance between us decreased until I was close enough to reach out and touch her. I moved carefully, slowly extending my arm to brush my fingers against her thin neck. The mare flinched away from my touch, tripping on her overgrown hooves. She was standing against the fence, and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on her in case she panicked and ran into or through it. So I lowered my hand and stepped back, waiting for her to relax a little before I moved closer again. This time she stood still, and I was able to run a hand down her thin neck.

But the moment I lifted a hand to the lead rope over my shoulder, she burst past me in a flurry of speed, almost knocking me down in her desperate panic to escape. I watched her stumbling across the uneven ground, and a desperation to help filled me.

“You have to let someone help you,” I told the horse. “You can’t do this by yourself.”

Once she’d stopped moving, I began the process over again. This time, when I reached her side, I managed to slip the rope over her neck without her running away. But when I tried to lift the halter up to her face, she half-reared and pulled away. I barely kept hold of the lead rope around her neck, and had to drop the halter on the ground. It took me several minutes to calm her enough to let me touch her again, but she eventually relented, allowing me to run my hand down her narrow scabby face.

“You poor, poor girl,” I said sympathetically. “How could anyone let this happen to you?”

I looked up to see Lesley and Faye exiting the dog building. I tried to lead the grey mare towards the gate, but as soon as she felt pressure on the rope around her neck, she baulked, almost pulling the lead rope out of my hand. .

“It’s okay.” I held a hand out to her, and she blew warm breath over my skin. “Come on, let’s go see what Lesley can do for you.”

I started forward again, applying only the gentlest pressure to the rope around the base of the mare’s neck, and this time she followed me. The loosely knotted rope around her neck didn’t give me much control over her movement, but it was better than nothing.

Lesley met me at the gate with an approving nod. “Nice work.”

“I couldn’t get near her with the halter,” I explained as she came into the paddock. “But hopefully this will do.”

“We’ll manage,” Lesley agreed.

Faye was more effusive with her praise. “You’ve really got a way with horses,” she gushed. “I haven’t been able to get that close to her since she arrived! How on earth did you do it?”

I shrugged. “Just lucky, I guess.”

Lesley was running her latex-gloved hand across the mare’s back, which was covered in scabs and bare patches of skin.

“You know what this is?” she asked me, and I nodded.

“Rain scald.”

“That’s the one.” She picked off a few scabs, and tufts of hair came out with it. “Is that a  fungal or bacterial condition?”

“Um.” I bit the inside of my cheek, thinking. “I don’t know. Bacterial?”

“Trick question. It’s both,” Lesley said with a grin. “It’s not the end of the world, but it’s pretty unsightly and it won’t be too comfortable for her. Treatment?”

“Antiseptic wash and keep it as dry as possible?”

“Yep. But I suspect — woah there, good girl — that she won’t love the idea of being scrubbed down. She’s barely tolerating this as it is,” Lesley said, stepping back to allow the mare to relax again. “But I’ve got a good topical spray that’ll help clear it up. I’ll drop some round in the next day or so, and rustle up a rug that’ll fit her. One that’s waterproof. That’s very important, because if moisture gets in under the rug, it’ll only make matters worse. Assuming, of course, that she’ll let you put one on.”

She looked at Faye, who shrugged. “I can try, if you’ll show me how.”

“Hmm. Might need to get her haltered first,” Lesley said. She glanced at her watch, and winced. “We really have to go. We’re half an hour late now, and even I can’t drive fast enough to make up that much time.”

Faye thanked her effusively as I gave the mare’s thin neck one final stroke, then untied the lead rope from around her neck. As soon as she was freed, the mare turned around and trotted in her ungainly way across the paddock, determined to get away from us.

It started to rain, a light misty sort of rain that wafted across the yard in sheets. I turned my collar up against it and stood with my back to the weather. The mare did the same, ducking her head down, and I watched the dampness settle onto her scabby coat.

“Oh, I almost forgot that cream for Caesar,” Lesley said as we headed back to the ute. “It’s in here somewhere, I’m sure of it.” She rummaged around in the back, then pulled out a tube of cream and another pair of latex gloves. “Let’s do this, shall we?”

The moment we stepped inside the long, low brick building, the barking started up again.

“Noisy beggars, aren’t they?” Faye said fondly as she led us down a narrow aisle between two rows of dog enclosures.

Each one contained at least one dog, some tattered bedding and toys, and empty food bowls. The smell was nothing like the warm, comforting smell of a horse barn, and the loud barking couldn’t compare to the warm nickering of a horse – although Forbes’ ear-splitting whinnies would give some of the dogs a run for their money.

I walked behind the two women, glancing through the chainlink fences into each enclosure that we passed. There were dogs of all shapes and sizes — small yappy ones, big floofy ones, hyperactive ones flinging themselves at the cage doors, shy ones who sat on their blankets at the back of their pens and watched us suspiciously with their ears and tails lowered. Faye stopped at the far end of the building, and I gasped at the sight of the saddest and meanest-looking dog I’d ever seen.

“Stay back,” she cautioned us as the dog let out a low, threatening growl.

“What happened to him?”

Caesar was a short, stocky pitbull. His white coat was covered in scars and scrapes, and he had patches of hair missing. His skin was mottled pink underneath, and one of his eyes had a pale film over it. His ears were so tattered as to be almost non-existent.

“He was part of a gang-affiliated dog fighting ring,” Faye explained. “The police found out about it and shut it down. They had to put most of the poor dogs down, but one of the cops is a friend of mine, and he took pity on this one. Thought he might be able to be saved.” She sighed as she crouched down next to the enclosure, and the dog tentatively approached, then sniffed her hand through the fence. “He deserves a second chance. He’s had a miserable life, but he’s only a pup, really.”

I stared at Caesar, torn between feeling bad for him and hoping he wasn’t going to bite her hand off.

“I hope you can get through to him,” I said finally.

“So do I,” Faye said. “I’m hopeful that he’ll come around. But he’ll be staying here, no matter what. It’s always too dangerous to re-home a dog like him, not least because sometimes the gangs find out where they are and come back for them. I can’t let someone else’s family take that risk.”

A shiver ran down my spine at her words. “Aren’t you worried about them coming here?”

Faye shrugged as she slowly stood up. “What else can I do?” she asked. “Who else is going to take him?”

The personal risks that she took to do what she did hadn’t occurred to me before, and I was overcome with a feeling of admiration for her. She was an older woman, living alone in a small cottage on the outskirts of town, with no neighbours to speak of. Yet she put her own safety and security on the line for the sake of one dog.

“I’d be terrified,” I confessed.

“Well, if we didn’t do things that scared us, nobody would ever get anything done,” Faye replied matter-of-factly. “You ready, Lesley?”

I stood back and watched as the two women entered the dog’s enclosure. He growled, low in his throat, but they stayed calm and moved carefully, taking their time. Faye held the dog while Lesley applied the cream to his mangy coat, speaking softly to him the whole time. It only took a few minutes, and once he was released, Caesar retreated to the corner of his pen and plopped down onto an old foam mattress.

“I’m pleased with that,” Lesley declared, pulling off her gloves. “He should make it through the physical issues. The emotional scars, well…” She shrugged. “That’s anyone’s guess.”

Faye smiled sadly. “That’s always the real obstacle,” she told me. “We can heal the outside. It’s going to take a lot of time, energy and love to heal the internal wounds.”

“He’s lucky to have you,” Lesley told her sincerely. “Not many others would give him a chance.”

Faye sighed. “That’s my bleeding heart — always getting me into trouble.”

Lesley reached out and gave her a hug. “You’re my hero,” she told the older woman. “Give me a call if you need anything.”

“You’re an angel,” Faye replied. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

As we walked back down the aisle between the rows of caged dogs, my footsteps slowed. I looked in through the bars, peering at their faces, wondering what their stories were and how they’d ended up there. Each one had their name written in chalk on the wall by their door. Dodger, a black and white collie, lying on his bed with sad eyes. Jed, a big black and tan Huntaway, pressing himself up against the wire mesh. Sprocket, a wire-haired terrier that yapped and flung himself at the front of his cage, desperate to attract our attention. I felt their longing, their desperation to be loved and wanted. I wanted to take them all home, but there was no chance. Dad didn’t like animals in the house, and Mum was allergic. I just hoped that one day, they would all find a family that would love and deserve them.

We said goodbye to Faye and walked back to the ute. The grey mare stood in her paddock, watching us go.

“What’s going to happen to that horse?”

Lesley shrugged as she started the engine. “Hopefully Faye’ll find someone to rehome her, and soon. She’s not going to be cheap to rehab, and Faye isn’t exactly rolling in money.” She looked at me as she backed out and turned around. “I don’t suppose you’re in the market for another one?”

I shook my head. “Dad won’t spend money on anything that hasn’t already won several national titles and is guaranteed to land me in the prizes from day one. I don’t think I could convince him to let me bring home a scabby frightened Thoroughbred.”

“Not even as a project? Faye would give her to you for nothing,” Lesley urged. “You could keep her just long enough to get her fit and ready to go, then sell her on. I’m not saying you’d make money, but…well, she could use someone like you in her corner.”

I sighed, leaning my head back against the headrest. “I wish I could, but I don’t even have to ask the question to know what the answer will be.”

We didn’t talk about the grey mare again for the rest of the day, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I wondered what would happen to her, and whether she’d get a second chance at a life worth living.

Book Excerpt · Irish Luck · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

Excerpt from Pony Jumpers Special Edition #2 – IRISH LUCK (2)

When I started writing IRISH LUCK, I’d simply intended it to give Dan’s backstory. Keeley inserted herself into the story too, and I wrote the first few chapters thinking that this book, with protagonists aged 12 and 8, was going to end up aimed slightly younger than the rest of the PJ series.

But what I’ve come to realise in the past few weeks, especially as I started editing this book, is that it’s not really Dan and Keeley’s story at all. It’s Deacon and Mairead’s.

Originally, there was quite a bit more of Deacon in TOP TEN, but most of his scenes got cut because the book was becoming unwieldy and Katy’s visit to Deacon’s home base in Co. Wexford became superfluous. So it is in this book that you’ll get to properly meet the man himself, and find out what the family’s other home is like. I’ve had a lot of fun writing it, and I really hope that you all enjoy reading it when I finally get it finished!

I also didn’t intend the book to take this long to write (yes, I am aware that I say this every time). I’m working three jobs at the moment so finding the energy to write at 10pm when I’ve finally got everything else done is a bit of a challenge.

Speaking of which, it’s half past midnight as I type this, so I’m going to just post a short extract below from Chapter 7 to tide you over a bit longer. (I’ve been working on Chapter 14 of 17 this evening so I am getting there, I promise.)

Let me know what you think with a comment below (hopefully positive ones!).

CHAPTER 7  –  THE PITCH

The small office was bitterly cold, and the oil heater in the corner was doing nothing to take the edge off the chill. A single fluorescent bulb flickered above the desk, and a large grimy window looked into the dingy indoor school. Deacon frowned as he sipped from the mug of weak tea, struggling to rein in his impatience with the red-headed woman opposite him.

“But why not?”

“Because I don’t want to see my son get hurt.”

Mairead held her voice firm, and she forced herself to look Deacon in the eyes as she spoke to him. All the books on body language said that people who were sitting were at a psychological disadvantage in a confrontation with someone standing, but it didn’t seem to be working for her. She was leaning against the cold stone wall of her cramped office, arms folded firmly across her chest, while Deacon was sitting in a hard plastic chair and holding a mug with bright pink daisies on it. Yet he was gazing calmly back at her and looking about as unintimidated as humanly possible.

“He’s not a dangerous pony,” Deacon insisted. “And it wouldn’t be for long. Just until I can get the animal sold.” He rested the mug on his knee and wrapped his hands around it in an attempt to warm them. “Look, I’m trying to do your lad a kindness here. He needs a decent pony and I need a decent rider. What’s the harm? I’ll not be letting him ride unsupervised or do anything foolish, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“You don’t understand.” Mairead shook her head and pushed herself away from the wall, walking over to her desk and sitting down behind it. Forget body language. It clearly wasn’t working, and she was too tired to try anything else. She rested her elbows on the worn desk and pressed her temples, trying to stave off the inevitable headache that came at the end of a long day. Not that there seemed to be any other kind, lately.

“What don’t I understand?” Deacon’s voice was kinder, gentler than it had been a moment ago, and Mairead looked up, her defences lowering.

“I don’t want him getting his heart broken,” she told him, registering the look of surprise on Deacon’s face, and wondering what he’d expected to hear. “Dan has wanted a pony of his own for as long as he’s been riding, but I’ve never been able to give him one. And he’s known and accepted that fact, and lowered his expectations accordingly. And then you come along and offer him the ride on a pony the likes of which we’ll never be able to afford. Don’t misunderstand now, I’m grateful that you gave him a chance today, but I wish you hadn’t. Because it’s going to make everything that much harder when the dream fades away.”

Deacon’s blue eyes met her hazel ones challengingly. “Who’s to say the dream has to fade away?”

“You know it will. It always does. I don’t want to get his hopes up, only for him to be tossed aside when you’ve no further use for him.”

“You don’t have a very high opinion of me, do you?” Deacon asked her. He looked around the small office, as unfriendly as its primary occupant. “I’ll remind you now that you don’t know me. This place may be enough for you, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough for your boy. Not for much longer. He’ll be wanting to go all the way to the top, and if you don’t help him to get there, you’re going to lose him when he goes to find it for himself.” He leaned back in the chair, confident in the knowledge that he was right about this. “You can’t protect him forever, Mairead. He’s going to have hardship in his life, and the sooner he starts getting used to –”

It was his turn to be cut off as the fire rekindled in Mairead’s eyes. “You think he hasn’t known hardship? You think he hasn’t already had to get used to defeat? You know nothing about me, or my son, and I’ll thank you to get out of my office and out of our lives right now and to mind your own bloody business in future!”

Deacon set down his mug on the scratched desk and got to his feet. “Have it your own way. But you’re doing Dan no favours with your stubbornness.” He walked to the door and grasped the handle, then looked back over his shoulder at her. “You may think you are, but you’re not.”

And he left, shutting the door firmly behind him as Mairead put her head in her hands and closed her eyes against the stabbing pain.

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

Finding a way to the finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back, no wonder it was hard to write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Suck it up, buttercup.”

We both took his advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearwater Bay series · Dream On

Twenty-fifteen

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2015.

A new year.

I’m hoping for a good one. Fifteen has been my lucky number since I was a kid, when it was the number of my winning raffle ticket at a school gala. I took home a big basket of junk food, the kinds of things my mother wouldn’t usually buy, and although I don’t remember what was in it, I remember the shock and absolute thrill of having won.

I haven’t made any new year’s resolutions, other than to resolve that I will finish and release Against the Clock sometime before my birthday in mid-April, and that I will get another book finished and released before Christmas. (It may be High Jump, the third in the Clearwater Bay series. It may not.)

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I saw in the new year at Pony Club Camp, sitting at a trestle table underneath the main grandstand at the Otaki-Maori Racing Club, playing hand after hand of P&A as we waited for the clocks to tick over to midnight. I won a few rounds and I lost a few too. Mostly I finished in the middle, content to be mediocre. The children hung around, summoned by the bell at ten minutes to twelve, and we counted the new year down together. Poured sparkling wine and fizzy drinks into plastic mugs, and clacked them together. Thought about what 2014 had brought us, and what our hopes would be for 2015. And then we all drifted off to bed, knowing that we had several hours of riding ahead of us the next day.

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There was a scene (well, a handful of scenes) in the original draft of Dream On that I removed before I published it, because they slowed the story down too much. But I have put them online for any interested parties to read, so if you want to know how Kris, Van and Marley celebrate New Year’s Eve, you can read those deleted scenes here.

I hope 2015 has found you well and will do right by you as the year progresses. Ngā mihi o te Tau Hou – Happy New Year!

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Dream On is now available on Amazon!

Dream On is officially available to download and read on Amazon!

E-books don’t need back covers, but I designed one anyway for the paperback version, and it looks like this:

DO front and back

Download “Dream On” on Amazon.com (US) here

Download “Dream On” on Amazon.co.uk (UK) here

Download “Dream On” on Amazon.com (AUS) here

So please – click one of the links above, download the book (or Try a Sample first, if you like – it goes a few pages into Chapter 2) and let me know what you think in the comments or by posting a review on Amazon.

Thanks, and enjoy!

Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Dream On

Finding your story and setting it free

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

That it has something to say.

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

The reviewer from NZBooklovers saw it too:


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


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

Well, not easily.

But well.

Dare To Dream

“CRUISE CONTROL” – coming soon!

I thought I would give you a taster of what my newest book, “Cruise Control” is all about, so here’s the draft back cover blurb:

Saying goodbye to the ponies she loves is never easy, but it has become a way of life for Marley Carmichael, whose family makes their living by training and selling show jumpers. But when a half-wild paint pony arrives on their farm one afternoon, Marley knows instinctively that he is going to be something very, very special.

Her faith in the pony is soon rewarded, as he proves to be a remarkably quick learner and it’s not long before Marley and Cruise are out on the competition circuit, cruising to victory against some of the country’s top show jumping ponies, with a firm eye on the coveted Pony of the Year title class.

But her family is struggling to make ends meet, and as Cruise’s value skyrockets, Marley knows that soon the money offered for her superstar paint pony will be too good to refuse. With Pony of the Year fast approaching, Marley has one last chance to prove herself.

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