Some of your questions answered

Q: Have you always lived on a farm?
A: No. I was born in London, and I went to school there until I was a teenager. Ever since I can remember I’ve loved animals and the countryside, though. My grandmother owned the farm on Exmoor where we live now, and I used to stay there as much as possible in my school holidays. I’m incredibly lucky because I’ve been running the farm with my husband, Chris, for nearly 30 years now.

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Our farm, with Beetle the sheepdog in the foreground

Q: What’s your favourite kind of animal?
A: I like lots of different animals, but I think horses and dogs are my favourites.

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Ben, my sheepdog

Q: Is that why you write about horses and ponies?
A: Yes. Horses and ponies have always fascinated me. I loved horse and pony stories when I was growing up. (I still do, actually. I’ve kept all my old pony books, and I often take them off the bookshelf and read them again.)

Q: Who were your favourite authors when you were a girl?
A: My favourite authors were KM Peyton and Monica Dickens. I also liked Primrose Cumming. She wrote a lovely story called Silver Snaffles, which is one of my all-time favourite pony stories. (It has now been published again by Fidra.) Oh, and I can’t leave out ‘Golden Gorse’, who wrote the famous book about an Exmoor pony, Moorland Mousie.

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I’ve still got most of the books I loved reading when I was a child

Q: And who are your favourite authors now?
A: That’s a much harder question to answer, because there are so many authors I admire and so many wonderful books to read nowadays. When my children were young, I really enjoyed reading stories by Dick King-Smith with them. As far as current children’s authors go, Michael Morpurgo, Gill Lewis, Tanya Landman, Tim Bowler, Lee Weatherly and Sheena Wilkinson immediately spring to mind, but there are many, many more. Oh, and I love the book One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. Oh, and…

Q: Where did you learn to ride?
A: I learned to ride in London, on the sand tracks in Hyde Park. Riding in London is very different from riding over Exmoor, though!

Q: What was your first pony called?
A: My first pony was called Jacko. I thought he was the best pony in the world. I couldn’t resist including him in the Katy’s Ponies trilogy.

Q: Do you base the characters in your stories on real-life characters, then?
A: No, Jacko is the only animal I’ve taken from real life and put into a book more-or-less unchanged. Midnight in A Stallion Called Midnight is also based on a real pony, but I never actually met him. I found out what he was like from several people who knew him in the 1950s and 60s. My other characters (horses, ponies and people) are a mixture of my imagination and experience. As I write a story the characters often seem to get a life of their own and they sometimes develop in unexpected ways. I love it when that happens, it’s one of the exciting things about writing.

Q: Most authors just have to invent human characters. Do you have to invent characters for the horses and ponies in your stories too?
A: Yes, it’s essential to create interesting and believable human characters, but the horses and ponies in my stories are very important as well. Creating equine characters is almost more fun than creating human ones, and it’s great to be able to work with that extra dimension of how the horses and humans interact with each other.

Q: How many horses and ponies have you got now? What are their names?
A: This is going to be a long answer! We’ve got a herd of 12 Exmoor geldings on Ilkerton Ridge, living free on the moorland above our farm. The thirteenth gelding, Orion, is back at the farm because I’m trying to train him. His sisters, Gaia, Demeter and Pandora, are kept in a field on the farm too. At the moment I’m not breeding foals from the three mares, but I hope I will again in the future.

Orion suckling his mum when he was a couple of weeks old. The other foal is Gaia.
Orion suckling his mum, Ivy, when he was a couple of weeks old. He was born on the moor. The other foal is Gaia.
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Gaia (left) and Orion (right) Autumn 2013, when they were 2 1/2 years old.

Our other horses are:

Sherman, a 17.3hh Shire horse who used to be one of our team of Shire horses when we had a horse-drawn tour business. He’s now in retirement here. Winaway is his best friend.

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Winaway, a nine-year-old 15.3hh bay hunter mare who’s been born and raised here. She’s a lovely, sensitive, complicated character.

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Tempo, a bay 16hh thoroughbred x Irish draft gelding who’s been with us for a long time. He used to be very good at Le Trek competitions, but he can turn his hoof to anything. Even though he’s old and his joints are stiff, he still loves going out for rides.

Croix de Guerre, a retired racehorse who has been loaned to us by the racehorse trainer Philip Hobbs.  ‘Gazza’ was a very good racehorse. Now he’s fourteen, though, he prefers a quieter life – although he still loves galloping flat-out across the moor! He’s a lovely, gentle character.

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Sarah on Croix de Guerre and Chris on Tempo, winter 2013

Ruby, a four-year-old Clydesdale mare. Chris bought her for me as a present. She’s kind and very friendly, and I love her to bits.

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Ruby

Wow! That’s a lot of horses and ponies, isn’t it? And to think that when I was a girl I longed to own one pony, any pony. Perhaps I ought to be careful what I wish for!

Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A: No, but I’ve always enjoyed writing, especially writing letters. I went to boarding school when I was a teenager, and letters were really important (it was long ago, before the internet had been invented).

When I was young I longed to be a mounted policewoman or in charge of Battersea Dog’s Home. Then I became interested in farming and the countryside, and I decided I wanted a job connected with farming. After I left university I was offered a job as a trainee land agent, but that was in Essex and I wanted to live on Exmoor, so I got a part-time job with the Exmoor National Park Authority and worked in the evenings as a waitress in a hotel. I’m so glad I decided to move to Exmoor, as soon afterwards I met my husband and we started running our farm together. It’s scary how one decision can completely change the course of your life.

I started writing stories in 2001, when we had some spare time because our farm was in voluntary isolation due to foot and mouth disease. First I published my stories myself, and then, in June 2011, Orion Children’s Books took me on. I was so excited, it was a dream come true!

Q: Is it difficult to write about children when you’re an adult?
A: Not really, because I can still remember clearly what it was like to be a child. Adults are just older versions of children, anyway. The thing I find most difficult is keeping up with the latest technology everyone seems to use nowadays. We have no mobile signal at our farm, so I’m pretty clueless about mobile phones, text messages and all that sort of thing.

Q: Do you realise we’re missing double football because you’ve come to our school to talk to us?
A: Oh dear! No, I didn’t realise that. I’d better end there, then. If anyone has a question I haven’t answered, do contact me.