Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Guest blog: Victoria Eveleigh - The Horses In My Stories, And How They Got There

Welcome to today’s guest blogger, author Victoria Eveleigh. Victoria is one of my favourite modern pony book authors. I first discovered her when she self-published her first stories about Katy and her Exmoor pony, and I’ve loved everything she’s written since. Victoria is an author who’s managed to steer clear of the pink and sparkly, and write pony stories which take you into their heart. Her most recent series has a boy as its central character: almost unheard of for a British pony book.  The last part of the series, Joe and the Race to Rescue, is out in March 2014, and if it’s as good as the first two, is well worth waiting for.

You can learn more about Victoria and her books on her website.

Over to Victoria....

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One of the things I love about writing horse and pony stories is that I can invent equine characters. Creating fictional people is laborious and involves lots of sticky notes, but I can conjure up an imaginary horse in an instant. Thank goodness I’ve stumbled upon the only career that can make use of this bizarre skill!

  
I’ve been inventing horses for as long as I can remember. I grew up in London, and loved ponies with a passion fortified by the fact I couldn’t have one. At least I wasn’t alone; there were several girls at school who were similarly obsessed. We used our French skipping elastic as reins so we could steer each other around pretend showjumps, and made up elaborate stories with our Julip models (which were the next best thing to a real pony, and nearly as expensive). We read about ponies, drew ponies, created our own pony magazines and even imagined what our teachers would be like if they were horses. I made the mistake of telling one of them that we’d decided she’d be a Suffolk Punch. I meant it as a compliment, but unfortunately she took it the wrong way and I got a detention.

My parents were incredibly generous with horsey treats, like trips to horse shows and, when I was old enough, riding lessons. I learned to ride in Hyde Park, on a dependable strawberry roan mare called Jenny. She was my first love, pony-wise. My favourite book at the time was Silver Snaffles, so I became convinced that Jenny was really Tattles in disguise, and sooner or later she’d say, “Through the Dark Corner, and the password is Silver Snaffles.” *


Most of the horses and ponies I’ve known since then have influenced my books in one way or another. In fact, without some of them I wouldn’t have written my first story, which was about a girl and an Exmoor pony (now published by Orion as Katy’s Wild Foal).  An Exmoor gelding called Twig introduced me to the breed. He belonged to a girl called Brontë Woodruff, who lived near the house in Kent where we spent most of our holidays. There were six Woodruff children, and they had been given several ‘problem’ horses and ponies whose problems seemed to evaporate under their intuitive care. Riding with the Woodruffs was the best thing ever. For the first time I was able to ride purely for fun, without anyone telling me what to do, and their horses obviously enjoyed life much more than the ones I’d encountered in riding schools. We rode without saddles, bridles or riding hats, and even took it in turns to become human jumps.

Twig - being ridden by a Dutch boy, cheating terribly as he had a bridle!
Twig had been rescued from a horse sale when he was three and Brontë was seven, so they’d more or less broken each other in. He’d been so badly beaten by someone that he had part of an eyelid missing, and he was terrified of adults – especially men. By the time I knew him he was lovely to ride and a brilliant jumper. I can still remember what it felt like to be on his back, hanging on somehow as we bowled across fields, through woods and along the verges of country lanes…

When I visited my grandmother’s farm on Exmoor, I was delighted to find Twig lookalikes all over the place, and I dreamed that someday I’d have my own herd. Grandma always put Golden Gorse's Moorland Mousie by my bedside, and reading it made the dream all the more powerful.

On my eleventh birthday I had to resign from the Pony-less Club and join the Pony Club instead, because I was given a pony for my birthday. What’s more, he was my dream pony: a handsome Welsh cob called Jacko. He’d belonged to a family friend near Dorking, and I knew him well because I’d spent many happy weekends riding him. Jacko is the only horse I’ve put into a book unaltered, as I couldn’t bear to change a thing. In the Katy’s Ponies Trilogy he is entirely as I remember him, complete with his only fault: the ability to cast a shoe at the most inconvenient moment possible.
To tell you about the other two ponies that inspired the trilogy, I’ll have to fast forward ten years or so, past A levels, gap year jobs in Australia, university, my first job and marriage to Chris Eveleigh.  
Chris and I took on Grandma’s farm, and a few years later we started a herd of Exmoor ponies. My brilliant excuse for this uneconomic venture was that we needed to use our moorland grazing rights.
Ilkerton Nipper was one of our first foals. I saw him almost immediately after he was born and, to my amazement and his mother’s consternation, he tottered over to me. From then on he was incredibly friendly, and he used to come galloping up for a cuddle whenever he saw us. Nipper gave me my initial ideas for a story about an Exmoor pony.

Nipper gave me my initial ideas for a story about a girl and an Exmoor pony
 growing up on an Exmoor farm together. The photo above is of him and his mother,
Whortleberry, on the day after he was born (a bleak day in April). 
Nipper at about a month old, having a cuddle with Sarah.
A few years later, when our daughter Sarah was eight, we bought an Exmoor pony called Tinkerbell for her to ride. To begin with Tinks was rather more spirited than we’d bargained for, but we eventually became so attached to her that she stayed with us for the rest of her life. Our plan was to let her run with the herd and have lots of foals. However, like Trifle in Katy’s Pony Surprise, she had other ideas. Sadly, she never had a foal. However, she definitely earned her keep by providing me with storylines.
Sarah and Tinkerbell at Blackmoor Gate Show ?1999?

Our wild Exmoors have helped me in all sorts of ways as well. Through them I’ve become interested in natural horsemanship, which I’ve tried to incorporate into my stories without being evangelical about it.
The book I wrote after the Katy’s Ponies trilogy is still my favourite, because I enjoyed researching it so much and made so many wonderful new friends in the process. A Stallion Called Midnight is a fictional story based on the life of a real stallion called Midnight, who lived on the island of Lundy during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s. The idea for writing about Midnight came from Kizzy, a pony our children had in their early teens. She was Midnight’s great-great granddaughter and had definitely inherited his legendary jumping ability and independent spirit. Midnight’s story is particularly interesting to me because the people who tried to dominate him thought he was vicious; yet Peggy Garvey, a knowledgeable horsewoman who bought him when he was eventually shipped to the mainland, discovered that he was amazingly intelligent and talented. I was really pleased when Peggy said I’d got Midnight’s character right.

The real Midnight with Peggy Garvey, on the day she bought him from

Bampton Fair in 1961. She understood him better than anyone.

Our old Lundy x Welsh cob pony, Kizzy (right) and her two foals, with Lundy in the background. 
Kizzy is Midnight's great-great granddaughter.
There are still ponies on Lundy, and they gave me ideas for the other herd members in A Stallion Called Midnight. My favourite pony, Lundy Hannah, became Puffin in the story.
In 2011, I was taken on by Orion Children’s Books. Edited versions of my previously self-published stories were published, and I was asked to write some new books too. I’m sad that so many pony stories are exclusively for girls nowadays, so I was keen to write a story with a boy as the main character for a change. My editors agreed, and I’ve just completed the trilogy. Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe and Joe and the Lightning Pony were published in 2013, and Joe and the Race to Rescue will be published in March 2014. There are several horses and ponies in these stories, but some of the main ones are Lightning, Lady, Fortune, Treacle, Solo, Velvet and Sherman.
When our children were doing Pony Club mounted games there was a pony called Lightning in one of the teams, and it struck me as a great name for a games pony. However, the Lightning in my story is based on a pony called Danny. He belongs to Marcus and Bella Capel, and he took their son Rory to victory with the Devon and Somerset Prince Philip Cup team a few years ago. The Capels helped me a great deal with my research for these stories. They told me it would only be possible for Joe to become really good at mounted games in a short space of time if he had the right pony, so Lightning had to be practically perfect in every way.
My inspiration for Lightning and Joe: Danny with Rory Capel riding him,
in the year the Devon & Somerset team won the Prince Philip Cup
Bargy cobs like Lady aren’t hard to find. I had one after I’d grown out of Jacko. He was called Monty, and he taught me that I wasn’t as brilliant with horses as I’d imagined. I chose the name Lady for my fictional horse because she’s so unladylike, but I felt a bit mean because we had a wonderful part-bred Exmoor pony called Lady on loan for our son George when he was about five.
Treacle is another almost perfect pony. He’s a figment of my imagination, although he’s partly a scaled down version of a fantastic Highland x Thoroughbred called Bushy, who I bought when I moved permanently to Exmoor when I was 22. (Oh, and Twig’s registered name was Treacle, so there he is again!)
When you’re an author, even horrendous experiences can be useful. I’ve already mentioned that we had a pony on loan called Lady. She was a bit of a legend on Exmoor, because she’d taught so many local children to ride. We were very honoured when we were lent her, and dismissed the fact that she’d had a few bouts of colic in the past as nothing much to worry about. Well, one day poor Lady got really bad colic…Enough said, especially if you haven’t read Joe and the Lightning Pony.
Family photo, taken in 1994: L-R: George on Lady, me on Prem,
Sarah on Bluebell, Chris and Jim the sheepdog
Chris driving Sherman (the leader) and Crofter & Basil as a 'unicorn'.
I was delighted to read Janet Rising’s blogs on this website, particularly The Observation of Horses. I, too, am constantly on the lookout for anything equine when I’m travelling by car or train, and I wonder about the lives of the horses and ponies I see. My heart always goes out to the lonely ones apparently trapped in depressing-looking fields, and that’s how Solo in Joe and the Race to Rescue came about.
Velvet and Sherman are Shire horses in Joe and the Race to Rescue. I had to get heavy horses into at least one story because I adore them. Chris and I kept working horses (Shires and Clydesdales) here on the farm for over twenty years. They earned their keep by taking visitors on wagon trips over the moorland adjacent to our farm, and in winter they did some farm work as well. Now the only Shire we have left is a black gelding called Sherman, and he’s enjoying a well-earned retirement. My fictional Sherman is very similar to the real one, except he’s dappled grey rather than black because a dark horse would have been almost invisible against the stormy background on the book cover.
Tinkerbell with me and Sherman with Chris
And here’s another thing about that cover: as a responsible author, I couldn’t let Joe ride without a riding hat – not even in an emergency. The days of riding without a riding hat and not being aware of the dangers are, sadly, gone!
‘I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free…’ Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Many thanks to Brontë Woodruff for reminding me of this.)

Due out in March 2014, Victoria's latest book
* If you haven’t read Silver Snaffles, the first chapter can be found here: http://www.fidrabooks.com/publishing/chapters/SilverSnaffles.shtml

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant I cannot wait to read this book what a talented writer

LyzzyBee said...

What a lovely read - and I'm so looking forward to the new Joe book, of course!

Jane Badger said...

Me too!