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.

Pony Jumpers series

Which Pony Jumpers character are YOU?

When I discovered Qzzr.com, I already had my first Pony Jumpers quiz written. But I quickly realised that on Qzzr, you can make quizzes with outcomes, such as “You’re a Hufflepuff!” Since then, I’ve been biding my time (aka trying to find the time) to write a “Which Pony Jumpers character are you?” quiz. Last night, at 1am, I finished it.

So without further ado, CLICK HERE to find out which Pony Jumpers character is most like you!

Preliminary results after 68 people have taken the quiz has Susannah in the lead, a fact that would completely astound her if she knew! I’ve taken the test three times, giving slightly different answers on each occasion, and always come up with Tess. Which isn’t surprising really, as if you’d asked me beforehand which character I was most like, I wouldn’t have even had to think about it. Tess is my girl, but I love them all…even Katy, as difficult as she can be at times 😉   (On that note, I cannot wait to get my teeth into book 10, which is the next one from Katy’s POV. I know I haven’t written all the books yet, but that one is destined to be one of my favourites, I swear…)

you-are-susannah

Pony Jumpers series

A Pony Jumpers quiz!

test-knowledge

Are you a PONY JUMPERS super-fan? Put your knowledge (and your memory!) to the test in this fun quiz!  Click here to start!


How did you go? Did you get stuck on any of the questions, or are you a pro? The quiz software doesn’t seem to give you a chance to review your answers, so if you’re wondering what the correct answers are… scroll down to find out! (But no cheating…take the quiz first!)

1f

Q1 – this one was pretty easy: AJ’s pony is named Squib. Almost everyone who took the quiz got that right with a 97% success rate – though a couple of people thought it was Squirt.

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Q2 – In DOUBLE CLEAR, it is Katy’s pony Molly who is almost sold. 89% of people got this one right, with just a handful thinking it was Forbes (he isn’t sold to Susannah until the following book).

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Q3 – Susannah’s parents are originally from South Africa. Her brother moved there after he was kicked out of home, and her mother is still considering moving back to join him. 86% of people got that correct, but a few thought they were English.

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Q4 – Tess’s dog (Colin) is a blue heeler (also known as an Australian cattle dog). To be fair, this one wasn’t explicitly outlined in the book, but he was frequently described as having a light, mottled coat. This was a pretty tricky question and only 33% of people got it right, with most people identifying him as a ‘border collie’. The majority of the working dogs on Tess’s family farm are actually Huntaways or heading dogs (border collie mixes). Colin was sacked from the working dog team for being a bit useless, so he has become her pet.

5sl

Q5 – AJ’s siblings are Aidan, Anders, Alexia and Astrid. (There was a bit of a trick in there with one option being Aidan, Anders, Alexis and Astrid – an easy mistake to make, especially as they call her Lexi more often than not, and 45% of people were tricked, but 44% got it right!)

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Q6 – Katy bought her new horse Tori from Little River stud farm. Tori’s show name is Victorious LR (LR stands for Little River). The stud is, of course, entirely fictional. 62% of people got this one right.

7p

Q7 – Susannah’s new vet is named Lesley. I named her after a friend of mine who is also exceptionally capable and someone I very much aspire to be like. Only 59% of people got this one, with the other results fairly evenly split.

8a

Q8 – Tess falls off Misty once in EIGHT AWAY. It happens at the very beginning of the book, during her lesson in Chapter 1. After that, she doesn’t get back on him until the end of the book so she doesn’t give herself too much opportunity to fall again! There was a 50% success rate on this question, with an even 19% split between she doesn’t and three times – readers are obviously either very confident in Tess’s ability, or not very confident at all!

jonty

Q9 – The horse that is NOT mentioned in JONTY is Spider. Unless you’ve read the book, this was a tricky question – Taniwha has shown up before but Bonfire and Whisper were only in this book. Spider is a pony from my first novel FLYING CHANGES (and its sequel AGAINST THE CLOCK). 74% of people actually got this one right, and only 3% thought it was Taniwha.

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Q10 – Tess is the main character who lives on a working farm. 90% of responders got that one right, with 7% thinking it was Katy.

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Q11 – 75% of people knew that it was Susannah who has long blonde hair and icy blue eyes. AJ has blonde hair and blue eyes as well, but her hair is described as being short (I’ve never actually said how short, I picture it as being just barely long enough to tie into a ponytail).

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Q12 – It’s AJ & Katy, of course, who are best friends. 92% of people got that one right!

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Q13 – The name of Jonty’s goat is Murray. If you’ve read JONTY, you’ll know where he got the name from! The other names are also characters who turned up in that novel, but Murray is the only one who had a goat named after him – such a privilege! Murray the goat was only mentioned in passing in JONTY, but had a full scene of mischief making in EIGHT AWAY and you haven’t seen the last of him yet! 85% of respondents got this one correct.

only

Q14 – Katy is an only child. 85% of respondents got this one right as well, with a small number picking Susannah – she does have a brother, but he is estranged from his family. For AJ and Tess, there’s no escaping their siblings, whether through the number of them (four, in AJ’s case) or sheer force of personality (in Tess’s case).

Dare to Dream - DIGITAL (E3)

Q15 – And finally, the character who did not appear in DARE TO DREAM was AJ. Katy, Susannah and Tess all feature in that book, and its sequel DREAM ON, although Susannah has the largest part in both of them as a reasonably main character. Katy pops up on occasion with a few lines of dialogue, and although I don’t think Tess actually gets any lines, she’s there in the background. 70% of people got this one right, with 23% failing to notice Tess’s presence.

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Overall, 61 people have completed the quiz so far, with an average final score of 72%. That’s pretty good!

Keep your eyes peeled for the next quiz to find out which PONY JUMPERS character you are!

The free stock images that accompany this post were sourced from pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Deleted scenes · Pony Jumpers series · Six to Ride

SIX TO RIDE – Deleted Scene Unlocked!

6TR

You did it! SIX TO RIDE now has 10 Amazon reviews, and 9 of them are five-star reviews, which is just awesome. Thanks so much to everyone who has reviewed!!

So as promised, here is the first full deleted scene from the book. It’s not long, but I still like it and thought it was worth sharing 🙂  Enjoy!


“I can’t believe I don’t get to come!” AJ scowled at me from her seat on the couch.

“I know, it sucks,” I said sympathetically, tucking my feet up underneath me. It was a warm afternoon, and my bare legs were sticking to each other.

“Do you want to know what actually sucks?”

We both looked over at Anders, who was half-sitting, half-lying on the other couch in the Macleans’ living room.

“Let me guess. Being you?” AJ asked him.

“Correct.”

“Tragedy,” AJ told him, pulling a mournful face and tracing a line down her cheek from the corner of her eye.

“Cow,” he muttered.

AJ looked slightly affronted. She stabbed an accusing finger in his direction. “Cripple.”

“What does that make me?” I asked quickly, trying to ease the tension. I felt bad for Anders, who wasn’t coping at all well with being immobile. He’d been in a foul mood for the last few days, lying idly on the couch with his busted leg stretched out in front of him, propped up by multiple cushions and pillows.

“Trouble,” Anders said swiftly, then winked at me and making me even hotter than I was before. I hoped he couldn’t tell how much my face was flushing.

“Whatever. As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted, you’ll text me as soon as you know, right?” AJ asked. She turned towards me as she spoke, which had the simultaneous effect of turning her back to Anders. He closed his eyes, ignoring us both.

“As soon as what?”

She rolled her eyes. “As soon as Tess tells you anything.”

“Oh! Yeah, definitely.”

“Don’t you think that if she wanted you to know, she’d tell you herself?” Anders asked, his eyes still closed.

“Don’t you think that if we wanted your opinion, we’d ask for it?” AJ retorted.

“You’re not exactly being quiet,” he snapped back. “And I can’t get up and walk out of the room, as much as I want to right now.”

AJ stood up. “Fine, we’ll get out of your hair. C’mon Katy, let’s leave Grumpy McGee here to his moaning and complaining.”

I opened my mouth to say that I didn’t mind when a sharp knock came at the front door, making us all jump and sending Dax, their German Shepherd guard dog, into a frenzy.

“And so you should,” AJ told him, speaking loudly to be heard over his frantic barking. “If anyone else in the world slept on the job as much as you do they’d be fired.”

I listened to her following the dog down the hall, telling him to shut up and sit down, then the front door opening and a voice that sounded vaguely familiar. I glanced at Anders for confirmation, but he had his eyes closed again. Moments later, AJ came back into the room with Harry by her side and Dax on their heels.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Harry went to see Anders, standing awkwardly in front of him with his hands in his pockets and shoulders slightly hunched.

“I’ve been better,” Anders said, trying to sound casual. “You keeping fit?”

Harry nodded. “Running eight k’s a day, and my times are getting better.”

“Sprints?”

AJ sat down next to me again and rolled her eyes. “Sports talk,” she muttered. “That’ll keep them busy for a while.”

I nodded. Anders was the captain of our school First XV, and he took his job seriously. If he couldn’t train and stay fit himself, he’d at least be making sure that his team was.

Pony Jumpers series

Entering the world of episodic storytelling

When I sat down in April and decided to write a novel in four days, I did it simply as a test of my writing ability (and ability to stick to a deadline!).

When I decided to write a sequel to that first novel, from the perspective of one of the other main characters, I started thinking that I could do a whole series this way, plucking out a new character each time and making them the heroine (or hero) of the story.

When I began work on the third book, and started layering in the characters from the first two books, I decided to stick to four main protagonists, who would all be present in each others’ stories, but would have longer arcs of their own.

And when I was halfway through writing the fourth book, I realised that I was inadvertently working towards a dream that I’d had for many years – to write for an episodic drama.

When I was at University, if you’d asked me what my biggest dream was, if I could do anything, what would I do…I would’ve said that I wanted to write for television.

Because that is, in many ways, what Pony Jumpers is doing. It’s episodic storytelling, and the most familiar form of this kind of storytelling is what we see in television drama.

Wikipedia says of episodic storytelling: Multiple episodes are usually grouped together into a series through a unifying story arc. Episodes may not always contain the same characters, but each episode draws from a broader group of characters, or cast, all of whom exist in the same story world.

I suppose that’s why it appealed to me so much – the same story world. That’s a definitive characteristic of what and how I write. It’s not something I’ve even necessarily done on purpose – I didn’t set out saying Every book must intertwine! but it ended up happening that way. Characters I wrote for previous stories kept popping up, wanting to be noticed again. Katy had already showed up briefly in Dare to Dream and Dream On, but she was around in my head a lot earlier than that, as the heroine of another book I planned out but never wrote. (Too much has changed for me to tell that story now, but I can probably resurrect it some day with a different character in the Katy role.)

So then, once I’d committed to my four characters – AJ, Katy, Susannah and Tess – and had written each of their debut books, introducing them and their families and their ponies and their lives to readers, I sat down and started working out what would happen next for each of them. Sometimes it came to me as I wrote, as I realised things about the girls that I hadn’t realised before, as plot threads were woven and began to dangle enticingly. And I worked out what the larger story arcs were going to be for each girl, and how each one would develop, and what kind of A-plots I wanted to give them, and what smaller B-plots, and what over-arching plots, and well before I even started work on Five Stride Line, I knew exactly what I was heading towards.

I’ve held off on announcing this, because I didn’t want to commit to it until I was sure that I could, but I have plots and character story arcs set up for each of the four girls to have five books each from their perspective in the series. So yep, that means that there will be a total of 20 books in the series. (We’re quarter of the way there already!). Although I can’t wholly commit to releasing one book per month – life has a way of taking over – I’m going to try to at least get us to book 8 by the end of this year.

As a result, I think that Five Stride Line, more than any of its predecessors, reflects this. It does, of course, have its own A-plot (AJ questioning whether or not to shoe Squib as she tries to progress through the levels) and B-plot (Harry) and C-plot (financial constraints and the possible need for a new saddle), but it also has several dangling threads that I will pick up later. So if a section of the story felt unfinished, or you read it and thought ‘why was that scene relevant/important/even in there?’ – trust me. There’s a reason. You might not find that reason out until book 13, but find it out you will. Eventually.

Twenty books are a lot of books to write, but I’m confident that I can get it done. I’ve got so much story to tell, and I’m so excited for some of these books. Seriously. Book 8 is going to be great, and I can’t wait to get started on book 11, and as for book 14…

Because yes, I know what happens in all of the remaining books.

Yes, they are going to keep the same order of protagonists, which means Tess will close us out with book 20).

Yes, they all have titles already, and most have cover images picked out too.

And no, I’m not telling you any more detail than that.

For more on episodic storytelling: https://pekoeblaze.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/the-pros-and-cons-of-writing-a-fictioncomic-series/

Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · writing

When characters write themselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Done. Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pony Jumpers series

New release: DOUBLE CLEAR

2 Double Clear - DIGITAL (E1)My new year’s resolution to become a more prolific writer is hitting high gear with my THIRD release so far for 2015!

Check out the second book in the new Pony Jumpers series, told from Katy’s perspective this time:

Katy O’Reilly has grown up on horseback, training promising young ponies under her mother’s guidance. Although unable to afford top level show jumpers, she has been fortunate enough to lease two exceptional Grand Prix ponies, and they are both on top of their game and ready to take on the competition. But just as the season is getting underway, a shocking twist of fate starts to unravel all of Katy’s best laid plans…

Click here to purchase on Amazon for US$2.99!