My stories about Katy were the first books I ever wrote.
I began to think of writing a story about a girl and an Exmoor pony in 1995, when one of our Exmoor pony mares had her foal on a bleak April Fool’s Day on Ilkerton Ridge – an area of moorland common above our farm. I saw the foal (we called him Nipper) soon after he was born and, to my surprise, he came to say hello to me, despite his mother’s obvious disapproval! From then on he was incredibly friendly towards humans, and he used to come galloping up for a cuddle when he saw us, not realising he was supposed to be wild. The picture is of our daughter Sarah (then aged five) cuddling Nipper on the moor. She’s with her friend Claire Smyth.
A few years later, when Sarah was eight, we bought an Exmoor pony called Tinkerbell for her to ride. Tinks and Sarah got on really well and had lots of fun, although to begin with Tinks was rather more spirited than we’d bargained for! Together they provided a great deal of inspiration for the Katy stories. This is a photo of Sarah and Tinks at Blackmoor Gate Show.
Tinks had done a lot of showing with her previous owners, and was obviously incredibly bored by it. Her idea of fun was galloping over Exmoor. (Luckily that was Sarah’s idea of fun too!) She stayed on the farm until she died a few years ago, and we were all so fond of her that I had to name one of Katy’s Exmoor ponies Tinkerbell. She makes her first appearance in Katy’s Pony Surprise.
An Exmoor pony called Trifle is the equine star of the Katy books. I got the idea for her name from a mare we had who was called Ilkerton Trifle. The real Trifle was never tamed, though, and lived free on the moor above our farm.
Many other people and ponies I’ve met throughout my life gave me ideas for the books. Of the ponies, my first pony Jacko was especially important. He was a liver-chestnut Welsh cob, and he was every bit as wonderful as the Jacko in my Katy stories.
When Sarah was having riding lessons at Dean Riding Stables, she loved riding Viking, who had been a top showjumping pony and was used to teach pupils jumping as he never refused. One day, some very large jumps had been left up in the corner of the outdoor school. Viking thought he was supposed to jump them after he’d finished the small ones, and Sarah fell off. I called Alice’s pony Viking in Katy’s Pony Challenge because he’s got a lot in common with the real Viking.
My herd of wild Exmoor ponies have also been a source of inspiration, especially the youngsters I’ve handled over the years. There’s something magical about being the first person to touch a wild animal, and it’s also a huge responsibility to get that initial handling right. In 2011 I named our only Exmoor colt foal Orion because I was so thrilled that Orion Children’s books were going to publish my stories. You can read about his progress in my blogs.
My first three Katy books were originally self-published and were called Katy’s Exmoor, Katy’s Exmoor Adventures and Katy’s Exmoor Friends, but when I rewrote them for Orion Children’s books they were renamed Katy’s Wild Foal, Katy’s Champion Pony and Katy’s Pony Surprise. Also, I was asked to write two more stories about Katy and her ponies: Katy’s Pony Challengeand Katy’s Pony Summer. These were completely new stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed returning to Katy’s world while writing them. It was like visiting good friends and marvelling at how the children had grown up!