Tag Archives: author’s notes

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

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.


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

Creating Characters

I’m really looking forward to  visiting Georgeham School on World Book Day this year.  The theme of the day is going to be Creating Characters. This has given me an excellent excuse to collect different hats and toys to take with me, and I’ve been writing down some thoughts about creating characters, too: 

I’ve put ‘he’ throughout, but the character could be a ‘she’, of course. 

  1. Names are very important. Take time to choose the name that seems perfect for the character you want to create. Does the name reflect the character’s age, background and personality? Does his name matter to him? Is it something another character may tease him about, or turn into a nickname? Surnames can be important too, especially if they’re unusual or funny.
  2. Make your character believable. Get to know your characters really well so they become real in your mind. If you believe in your character, so will the person reading your story.
  3. Care about your characters. If you care about what happens to your characters, your readers will too, so they’ll want to read the story. Readers needn’t like all the characters, but they must care. For instance, they may hate a horrible ogre and want to see him come to a horrible end! (Have you noticed that a lot of main characters in children’s books are poor, have lost a parent or are orphans? This is a good way of getting the readers’ sympathy so they care about what happens.)
  4. All the characters in your story must be there for a reason. Try not to have too many characters in your story because it could become confusing. If there are more than three or four characters in your story, try to introduce them gradually.
  5. Don’t take someone you know, change their name and make them the character in your story. Why not? Because you could offend that person. Also, you know your imaginary characters better than you know anybody. I get my ideas from a mixture of real-life experiences together with things I’ve read about, seen in films or on the TV, heard about and imagined.
  6. Your main character should influence what happens in the story. If there’s a problem to be solved or a heroic deed to be done, your main character should do it. This makes for a far more satisfying story than if, for example, his parents arrive and sort out the problem or a good fairy appears out of nowhere and makes everything okay.
  7. Your main character should be changed in some way by what happens in the story, or he should learn something. For example, he could discover he’s braver than he thought, or learn that he shouldn’t do something if he knows it’s wrong, even if his friends are doing it.
  8. But is a very useful word when creating characters. Everyone is complicated, and the word ‘but’ can help you to make interesting characters and an interesting story. For example, Indiana Jones is brave and fearless but he hates snakes. We know this early on in most Indiana Jones films, and sure enough – towards the end, as the tension builds – there’s a scene where Indiana Jones’ courage is tested to the limit because he has to confront some snakes.
  9. Appearance often reflects character, but not always. It’s fun to surprise your readers with, for example, a tiny dog who wants to be a guard dog, a speedy snail or an old lady with superpowers.
  10. Writing different characters helps you to understand other people. I really enjoyed writing the Horseshoe Trilogy because I had to see the world from the Joe’s point of view, and Joe is a teenage boy. Through writing Joe’s story, I began to understand what it’s like to be a boy.