Category Archives: Blog items

Amanda Wills talks about her wonderful Riverdale Pony stories

Several years ago, I ‘met’ Amanda Wills on social media. We both write pony stories and, as far as I can remember, she got in touch because she’d just self-published her first book and, as I’d started off self-publishing my books, she wanted some advice.

A while later, we met properly at a conference about horse and pony books that was held at Cambridge University. It was a wonderful occasion. We got on really well and joined up with several other authors, including (what a thrill!) my favourite author of all time, K M Peyton.

Left to right: Jane Badger, Victoria Eveleigh, K M Peyton, Belinda Rapley and Amanda Wills at the Cambridge Conference

Now Amanda is an incredibly successful author and her Riverdale Pony Stories have a huge following, so I’m the one asking her for advice!

The good news is that there’s another Riverdale Pony Story coming out on 20th March, so I asked Amanda if she’d write something about the series and her new book for this website.

If you haven’t yet read any of Amanda’s Riverdale adventures, you’ve got a treat in store as you can start at the beginning with The Lost Pony of Riverdale and work your way through all seven (soon to be eight!) books. And if you’re already a fan you can pre-order her new story, The Mystery of Riverdale Tor from Amazon here.

Over to you, Amanda:

When I began writing my first book, The Lost Pony of Riverdale, back in the summer of 2012, I knew where it would be set even before I had nailed down the plot.

I could have set the story in the pretty corner of Kent where I live. But the craggy tors and vast, dramatic skies of Dartmoor were calling. It was always a done deal.

I first fell in love with Dartmoor when I was about seven, during a family holiday to Devon. As pony-mad as my heroine Poppy, I loved being so close to the wild Dartmoor ponies. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why my long-suffering parents weren’t prepared to smuggle one home in the boot of our estate car.

Every summer for years we went back to Devon, staying in a bed and breakfast on a working farm where the nearest thing to a pony was an ancient grey donkey who patiently put up with my attentions.

Little wonder that decades later I should decide to give Poppy an elderly donkey to look after in the Riverdale books!

Years passed, and visits to Dartmoor were few and far between until I met my husband, Adrian. He grew up in Plymouth, just a short drive from the south west reaches of the moor, and we spent many a happy hour walking across Dartmoor during trips to see his parents. Adrian even proposed to me on Dartmoor!

 

That was twenty years ago. Luckily our two teenage sons, Oliver and Thomas, love the place as much as we do. So many happy family memories have been made there.

So it was inevitable that Dartmoor my happy place became the setting for the Riverdale stories.

Readers sometimes ask if the locations in the books, such as Barrow Tor, Highwaymans Hill, Hickmans Wood and the village of Waterby, where Poppy and her best friend Scarlett live, are real.

But although real places such as Tavistock, Princetown and Okehampton get a mention, most of the locations for Poppys adventures are fictional, created from my imagination but inspired by the places on Dartmoor I have visited over the years.

The tumbledown Witch Cottage, for example, was based on a real cottage, Nuns Cross Farm, which stands high on the moor above Princetown.

The farmhouse was built in 1901 and is every bit as eerie and mesmerising as my fictional Witch Cottage.

My latest book, and the eighth in the series, The Mystery of Riverdale Tor, was inspired by one of the most famous books to be set on Dartmoor The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Poppy, like the great Sherlock Holmes, must turn detective and uncover the identity of a mysterious dog that has been terrorising the moor.

Dartmoor is the perfect setting for rollicking good adventure stories, with its abundance of old quarries, ancient woods, fast-flowing rivers, craggy tors and long-abandoned ancient settlements.

And although they are written 250 miles away in a corner of my dining room in leafy Kent, as soon as I begin a new Riverdale book I am instantly transported onto the windswept moor with the plaintive sound of curlews calling in the distance and herds of wild ponies on the horizon.”

 

You can visit Amandas website here: https://www.amandawills.co.uk/, find her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/riverdaleseries/ or follow her on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/amandawillsauthor/?hl=en

Reader Profile: Saskia

Hi! My name is Saskia Henry-Davies, I’m 10 years old and I am in Year 6.

Me Growing Up:

I was born in Haarlem (The Netherlands) and lived in a large town until I was 6 years old. I had nothing to do with horses when I lived in Holland apart from when I visited the town farm and they had a few Shetlands ponies, but that was all.

We had to move to Wales on my 6th birthday, I didn’t want to go. To try and make the move fun for me, my parents said that I could do some little rides at the local riding centre near our new home. That’s what happened, and that was it! I loved riding and I have been riding every week ever since!

From there I have had weekly lessons, taken part in competitions, gone out on hacks from the centre, ridden on the beach and over the Black Mountains. I have also ridden out with friends on their ponies. Some of the most exciting lessons I have had is with Louise Harwood, the three day eventer and Badminton competitor.

My First Victoria Eveleigh Book:

I have been writing to Victoria for over 2 years, this is how it all started.

My auntie bought me my first Victoria Eveleigh book: Katy’s Wild Foal, I enjoyed reading it so much that when my teacher told us that we were going to write to our favourite author I chose to write to Victoria. I was incredibly lucky because I was one of only three people who got replies from our authors. It was so kind of Victoria to reply to me, I was surprised and delighted and so was my teacher! We have been writing to each other ever since. Victoria is the best ‘Pen-Pal’ I have ever had. Since then I have collected and read all of Victoria’s wonderful books over and over again!

Victoria, Animals & Farm:

Victoria is a wonderful person and when we visited her farm I met most of her horses also she took me to see her Exmoor herd. I realised how much she adored all her horses and how they adored her. Victoria has two Exmoor herds, one with a stallion (Owly) and he is such a sweet pony. She also has a Clydesdale called Ruby and a racehorse called Gazza.

 

 

Saskia with our ex-racehorse Croix de Guerre (aka Gazza)

All of the horses are very well mannered and I could never imagine them hurting or harming anyone (Well Done Victoria!)

I loved my visit to Victoria’s farm, she made us feel comfortable and was very hospitable. There were many other animals on the farm including three dogs, a cat called Big Fat Cat, a herd of very lovely Devon cows and calves and of course magnificent horses and ponies! The surroundings of her wonderful farm are like something from a picture book, it is such a pretty setting, quiet, beautiful. Also Sarah, Victoria’s daughter, and Chris, Victoria’s husband, are very friendly and kind!

Victoria’s Books:

Victoria has written superb and brilliant books and I would more than recommend all of her pony books, they are all so enthralling, they make me so happy! My favourite book is A Stallion Called Midnight because it’s full of adventure and throws a whole load of emotions at the reader and my least favourite, I don’t have one! It’s nice that the Joe and Katy stories are completely different with different lifestyles, dissimilar characters and different in so many ways, apart from the pony love! I love all of Victoria’s wonderful books and they are best books in the world!

The Horses and Ponies in my Stories

Something I’m asked about a lot (and love answering) is whether the horses and ponies in my stories have been inspired by real ones I’ve known.

The short answer is, “Yes!”

Pony book expert and critic Jane Badger asked me to write a blog on the subject for her wonderful website, and if you’d like to find out what I wrote you can read ithere.

The cover of Joe and the Lightning Pony
The cover of Joe and the Lightning Pony
Rory Capel and Danny; the inspiration for Joe and Lightning
Rory Capel and Danny; the inspiration for Joe and Lightning

Rosie Julyan’s Review of ‘Katy’s Pony Challenge’

Many thanks to Rosie Julyan for sending me this lovely, thoughtful review of Katy’s Pony Challengetogether with a photo of her pony, Timmy.

I love it when readers ‘get’ my stories, and Rosie has picked up on all the main themes. I’m especially glad that Rosie thinks Katy has a much happier life than  Alice, even though Alice seems to have it all: good looks, success and one of the most talented ponies money can buy!

I was really looking forward to reading this book because I have enjoyed the other Katy books so much. My friend, Elizabeth, has read them too and she couldn’t wait for me to finish so that she could read it!

Katys Pony Challenge

Katy’s Pony Challenge seemed different to the first three books because not so much happened in the story but I learnt more about how ponies think. For example, Trifle loved pushing the ball but hated the curtain. It has made me realise that if I am calm, my pony will be calm, especially if he trust me.

I live on a farm and have a pony called Timmy. I enjoyed reading the bits about looking after the lambs because my job during lambing time is to feed the orphan lambs. They are very greedy but cuddly, too!

I liked it that James was in this story and that Katy and Alice were kind to him. It must have been a challenge for Katy to let James look after Trifle.

She was really kind at the end because she let James show what he could do and didn’t steal the limelight for herself. It was funny when he took the rosette off Trifle – it just wasn’t important to him.

I would rather be Katy and live in her world on the farm rather than be Alice because she seems busy all the time and not so happy.

I can’t wait to read the next Katy book because I really like them.

Rosie and Timmy
Rosie and Timmy

Reader Profile: Katherine Stokes

 

It was lovely to see a copy of Katy’s Pony Challenge on Christmas day, and I’m really enjoying reading it before I go back to uni.

I was about 10 when I met Katy for the first time in Victoria Eveleigh’s self-published version of Katy’s Wild Foal (which was called Katy’s Exmoor).

We bought it after going on horse-drawn tour with the Eveleighs’ beautiful Shire horses.

Crofter & Basil

During our following holidays with the Eveleighs, in their self-catering cottage at West Ilkerton Farm, my sister Molly (who coincidentally shares Katy’s birthday on 1st April!) and I really felt like we grew up with Katy, envying her life on Exmoor and, of course, her ponies. Even though more years have passed for me than for her, I was delighted to catch up with Katy after all this time!

Katherine and Molly Stokes
Katherine and Molly Stokes

Reader Profile: Charlie and his Exmoor pony Becks

Hi, my name is Charlie and I am 7 years old.

I love playing computer games, football and riding Exmoor ponies!

I am in year 3 at school and my favourite subject is P.E. because I like running around and being outside.

Charlie and Becks
Charlie and Becks

I love reading your books about Exmoor ponies. My favourite Exmoor pony is Kingsdown 289/5 better known as Becks.

Reader Profile: Jack Emmerson

If you would like to feature in a Reader Profile on this website, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you. (You don’t have to be a child to feature but, if you are, I’ll need permission from your parent or guardian before I publish anything.)

Jack Emmerson

Hello my name is Jack! I am eight years old.

I like long walks and taking pictures with my camera, I also love riding my ponies, Jester and Scrumpy Jack. I love spending time with my ponies!

Jack on Scrumpy
Jack on Scrumpy

My favourite subject at school is maths. When I grow up I would like to be a Race Jockey.

I like the Joe books because they are about a boy like me.

By Jack Emmerson

Knitbone Pepper: My First Book Review

I don’t do book reviews – at least, I thought I didn’t.

This is an awful confession for an author to make, but I’ve always found reading difficult and analysing books even more difficult. When I was doing O level English at boarding school, we were under constant pressure to read and analyse books. For me it took all the joy out of reading. In fact, it put me off reading for pleasure for a long time.

I loved animals, the countryside and farming, and I wanted to be a farmer, but our school careers teacher told me girls didn’t do farming! So I studied biology, geography and chemistry for A levels and biogeography at university, hoping to become a soil scientist. My favourite books at the time were all non-fiction –Small is Beautiful by E F Schumacher, Why Big, Fierce Animals Are Rare by Paul Colinvaux and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, for instance.

It was only about fourteen years ago, when I began writing stories, that I decided I really ought to start reading some. . . Before long, it became apparent there were lots of brilliant books out there and I had a great deal of catching up to do!

Most of my fellow children’s authors are very well-read and a lot of them studied English or creative writing at university. When authors get together, there seem to be two main topics of conversation: chocolate and books. I can hold my own in any discussion about chocolate, but when the subject turns to books it’s rather like being at a dinner party where everyone’s discussing fine wine. Basically, I know what I like, but it takes a lot of courage to join in the conversation for fear of making a fool of myself.

HOWEVER, I’ve just read this book called Knitbone Pepper by Claire Barker, and I feel compelled to say:

A) I love it.

B) I can’t imagine anyone not loving it.

For a start, the book itself is a lovely thing, which is rare in this era of mass market paperbacks. Usborne has lavished care and attention to detail on every aspect of this stunning hardback, from the feel, size and look of it to the fantastic illustrations by Ross Collins. There’s even a classy ribbon in case you don’t quite manage to read the whole thing in one sitting and therefore need a book mark. Oh, and for me the finishing touch is the embossed spider in the margin, which will make perfect sense when you read it.

website-fornt1

It’s hard to write about the story without giving things away that are best discovered as you read, so I’ll just say it’s warm, witty, well-written and wonderful.

Here’s a book that’s designed to be a cherished present rather than a stocking filler. Yes, it’s 9.99, but it’s worth every penny.

Claire’s website

The Exmoor Pony Festival 2015

11698721_853082228101377_2289221527525082958_n

It’s nearly time for the annual Exmoor Pony Festival! This year it’s from 8th – 16th August, and it promises to be bigger and better than ever, with a huge amount happening throughout the week. I’m particularly excited because (all being well and touching loads of wood) Orion the Exmoor pony will be at both the Meet The Herds Day and Exford Show. Also, I’m going to be at the Exmoor Pony Centre during the morning of Thursday 13th August, but I’ll have to go home in the afternoon to get everything ready for the book launch of Katy’s Pony Challenge in the evening. Can’t wait!

51RMLCYLUlL

Here’s some information and a programme of events:

The Exmoor Pony Festival is co-ordinated and promoted by the Exmoor Pony Festival Trust. The EPFT is an unincorporated association which was set up as a joint initiative between The Exmoor Pony Society and The Moorland Mousie Trust (Exmoor Pony Centre) to continue the tradition of the festival first established in 2012 to celebrate the free-living herds of registered Exmoor ponies within the boundaries of the Exmoor National Park. The co-ordination and promotion of the festival is undertaken on a voluntary basis.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

PROGRAMME OF EVENTS

All events are open to the public and admission is free unless otherwise stated.

Where booking is required please contact Sue McGeever on 01884 839930.

 

Meet the Herds – Saturday 8th August 11am 3pm
Cutcombe Market & Moorland Hall, Wheddon Cross TA24 7DT
Meet representatives from many of the free-living moorland herds of Exmoor, both ponies and people look forward to welcoming you.
Breed Show Social – Wednesday, 12th August 7.30pm Rest & Be Thankful, Wheddon CrossAn opportunity to speak to the breeders and showing enthusiasts and recall the events of the day and look forward to the autumn gatherings.   Booking essential. (9.95 per head)
Meet the Anchor Herd – Sunday 9th August 10am start
Meet at the Green Room, Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QE
Take a guided walk with the Wallace family, to see mares, foals and stallions followed by refreshments and a walk across Varle Hill to see the free-living Anchor herd.
Activity Day at the Exmoor Pony CentreThursday 13th August 10am-3pm,Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QE
Pony rides, grooming, refreshments, crafts, fun and games.
Withypool Ride – Sunday 9th August 3pm startWithypool CommonJoin us as we ride the route that Herd 23 have taken across Withypool Common during the annual autumn gatherings. There is also a chance to learn a little more about Endurance Riding. Booking essential Katy’s Pony Challenge – Book Launch
Thursday 13th August 7pm
Lynmouth Pavilion, EX35 6EQ
Victoria Eveleigh Exmoor pony owner/breeder and writer will be launching her new book
Conservation Grazing Day – Monday 10th August 11am start
Moorland Hall, Wheddon Cross TA24 7DU
Learn about the role of the Exmoor pony as a conservation grazer and visit an environmental grazing site especially useful for those thinking of using Exmoor ponies in this role. Booking required for off site visit.
Exmoor Wildlife Safari escorted by Gill Langdon
Friday 14th August Afternoon, Dunkery
A 4×4 safari taking in the beautiful scenery and hopefully ponies and red deer. Booking essential
Dr Sue Baker’s Talk The Exmoor Pony From Doomsday to DNA
Monday 10th August 7pm
The Green Room, Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QE
A must do activity for those interested in the history of the breed, talk by Dr Sue Baker author of Survival of the Fittest.
Pony Walk on North Hill with ENPA Pony Ranger and a pony
Friday 14th August 11am, Car park on North Hill
Join us for a gentle walk on North Hill, to see the pony herd and learn about the National Park’s management of the ponies escorted by a tame pony from The Moorland Mousie Trust.
Exmoor Wildlife Safari escorted by Tricia Gibson
Monday 10th August Afternoon, Dunkery/Porlock
A 4×4 safari taking in the beautiful scenery and hopefully ponies and red deer. Booking essential
Social Evening Quiz/BBQ and Exmoor Pony Czech Documentary Film Screening Lesson of Wildness’– Friday 14th August 7pm
The Green Room, Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QE
Come along and have a fun evening with Exmoor pony owners/breeders/enthusiasts , everyone welcome.
Guided walk on Dunkery with Tricia Gibson Tuesday 11th August 10am, Meet at the car park (beside the road) on the top of Dunkery – approx 1/2 way between Webbers Post and Dunkery Gate at 1000.  Bring along your camera, sturdy boots and food/drink for a 10-15 mile walk. Exmoor Pony Extravaganza Exhibition
Sunday 16th August 10am – 4pm
The Green Room, Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QEA summary exhibition of the Festival events, to celebrate the Exmoor pony breed.
The Exmoor Pony Society Annual Breed Show
Wednesday 12 August starts 9am
Exford Show Ground
An opportunity to see Exmoor ponies in the show ring from mares with foals to stallions, youngstock and ridden ponies. Visit the website for discounted entry voucher.
Stud Visits can be arranged with the majority of herd owners and additional Safari Trips can be organised throughout the Festival Week.To contact The Exmoor Pony Festival Trust please phone Sue McGeever, Voluntary Secretary, on 01884 839930 or email susan.mcgeever@btconnect.com. For more information on the Exmoor Pony Festival and the ponies please visit www.exmoorponyfestival.com.

Untitled

Orion 14: Snow Wanted . . . And Unwanted

The climate in Cornwall is different from that on Exmoor so different that the Payne children, Harry and Lowenna, had never seen snow.

As a thank you for having Orion, we promised the Paynes they could come and stay at West Ilkerton Farm when it snowed. Usually this happens several times during the winter and spring on Exmoor, but all we got during the winter of 2014-15 was rain, rain and more rain. Not a snowflake in sight . . .

At last, when we’d nearly given up hope, there was a forecast for snow on high ground, particularly on Exmoor, Bodmin and Dartmoor, and it was going to happen on a Saturday. Ideal!

Jon had to work, so Beansy brought the children up for the weekend, despite the fact she wasn’t feeling well.

Lucy recognised Harry and Lowenna
Lucy definitely recognised Harry and Lowenna

The weather was pretty good when they arrived on Saturday afternoon. We went to see Eric and Lucy out in the field, and the ponies got some apples as a special treat.

1907456_10152954234660804_2494793814368275462_n 10443666_10152954235925804_1014578047804308793_n

 

 

 

 

 

And then, as if by magic, during supper it began to snow! Hurray! We could hardly contain our excitement!

Half an hour later, it had all gone.

Never mind. The forecast was for snow overnight, so we were bound to wake up to a winter wonderland . . .

As soon as I woke up the next morning, I knew it hadn’t happened. The light seeping into our bedroom was the ordinary, dull light of a grey winter’s morning rather than the luminous reflected light from snow.

The children were bitterly disappointed but making a huge effort to be polite about it. I felt awful, and tried to compensate by doing fun things like lighting the fire in our dining room so we could have a campfire breakfast. (It took about two loaves of bread to perfect our toasting technique, but eventually edible pieces of toast were produced.)

Outside, it was turning into a sunny day. Huh, so much for snowstorms.

Sarah, who’d been checking her Facebook messages, suddenly said, “Look! They’ve had snow at Exford! Oliver Edwards has posted some photos of snow at Westermill.

Is it still there? I asked.

Hang on, I’ll send him a message.

Tap, tap, tap . . . Tap, tap tap . . . Yup, he says there’s still some, but it’s melting fast.

Feeling rather like those crazy storm-chasers in America who drive around in search of bad weather, we drove into the centre of Exmoor. The roads were clear, but ribbons of snow still clung to the verges and hung around in patches on Brendon Common. We stopped briefly, in case that was as good as it would get, then kept on driving through Exford and towards Dunkery, hoping that the probability of finding snow would rise with altitude . . . Yes! We were right!

First snowman

First snowman

First toboggan ride on a feed sack
First toboggan ride on a feed sack

It was powdery, like icing sugar, and there wasn’t enough to build a huge snowman or go tobogganing properly, but it was just enough to have some fun and a snowball fight until the novelty wore off and everyone became cold and hungry.

Snowball fight
Snowball fight

What was really amazing about that weekend was that Beansy wasn’t at all well but she still came up because she didn’t want to disappoint the children. She’d told me beforehand that there was a possibility we’d have to rush her into hospital. Thank goodness that wasn’t necessary. However, she was going to have to have an operation as soon as possible, and it would take her at least a month to recover afterwards.

**********

Originally the plan had been that Orion would stay with the Paynes until the summer, and we would swap Eric and Lucy for their Exmoor stallion Dunkery Tawny Owl (Owly) at the end of February. Eric was going to a new home, and the children were keen to have Lucy back so they could ride her. Owly would run with my three mares so that, all being well, they’d have foals in 2016.

Owly
Owly

However, this plan could have resulted in foals being born in January, when the weather’s often at its worst. Also, Beansy wasn’t going to be well enough to train Orion for a few months, so we decided on a Plan B: to swap Eric and Lucy for Orion instead. Having made tremendous progress, Orion hadn’t been doing so well recently. Perhaps a complete rest and change of scene would do him good.

There was one day, and one day only, when Jon and Beansy could make the journey to Exmoor while somebody looked after the children at home. Even though the weather forecast was appalling, we had no option but to go for it.

The weather was even more appalling than we’d bargained for, with high winds and sleety rain. Jon led Orion over to the other side of the farm, where Gaia, Demeter and Dora were waiting in a pen with Eric and Lucy. The idea was to get Eric and Lucy out before we released Orion, but he became so excited that we had to release him into the pen straight away. Eric took exception to another gelding with his harem, but luckily Beansy caught Eric, Jon caught Lucy and they led them away before any damage was done.

Orion the outcast
Orion the outcast

I’d been looking forward to a joyful reunion between Orion and Gaia – I think Orion had, too – but she was utterly vile towards him. She’d loved Eric from the start, and appeared to be lost without him, so perhaps she felt Orion was responsible for the removal of the love of her life. Whatever the reason, she treated him like an outcast, attacking with her hooves and teeth whenever he approached her or the other two mares, or even me. Soon he was covered in bite marks.

To add to his misery, the snow we’d longed for a couple of weeks earlier arrived. It was the kind of wet, sleety snow that chills you to the bone. The other mares were okay because they had thick winter coats, but the Cornish weather had been so warm that Orion had already shed his winter coat and replaced it with a sleek summer one.A bleak day in March, with a dusting of snow on the hills

I worried about him all the time. He looked so cold and lonely, but there was nothing I could do. All our available shed space was taken up with cows, calves, sheep and our riding horses. He’d just have to tough it out somehow . . .