Finishing a book and sending it out into the world is one of the best things about being an author. That and working in your jimjams and being able to kill off anyone you take a dislike to, anyway.
So when I finally finished The Hunt for the Golden Horse, my thirteenth novel and the seventh book in the Riverdale Pony Stories, I was more than ready to crack open the champagne.
Because getting to the end had been a long, occasionally enjoyable, more often painful, journey. The book was 13 months in the making – that’s the gestation period of a giraffe!
I started Book Seven full of enthusiasm and misplaced optimism back in March 2017, notching up more than eight thousand words in the next ten days.
Things were going well – until I was asked by the Scandinavian publisher who has translated a number of my books into Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish, if I could write a book I’d outlined for them a while back.
So Book Seven was abandoned, left to gather the internet equivalent of dust on the hard drive of my Mac. I spent the next two months writing furiously, terrified I wouldn’t meet the publisher’s demanding deadline.
In my experience, there is no greater incentive than fear. As I approach my half century I have come to realise that I need (crave?!) a deadline. It spurs me on, stops me endlessly flicking through my Facebook feed, checking and re-checking my book sales and scrolling aimlessly through Instagram posts.
The fear of missing a deadline is what glues me to my seat, makes me pound away at the keyboard, keeps me focussed on the storyline and keeps those words coming.
I made the publisher’s deadline with a week or so to spare, and The Thirteenth Horse, the first book in what was to become the Mill Farm Stables series, was the result. Once every book is published there’s a stack of admin to sift through and marketing to tackle, and that all takes time. So it wasn’t until August that I picked up Book Seven again.
I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, so it was inevitable I couldn’t remember anything about those eight thousand words I had written all those months before. So I read them again. Not bad, I thought. Not as bad as I’d remembered, anyway.
We were in France on holiday at the time. For five days the enthusiasm was rekindled and I clocked up another four thousand or so words. But then I got stuck.
Because the thing is, I had no plan. I’m what is affectionately – or condescendingly – known in the writing world as a pantser. That is to say, I fly by the seat of my pants.
Some authors spend months plotting scenes on timelines and building detailed biographies for their characters. But the thought of planning a novel from start to finish has about as much appeal to me as a bowlful of cold sick.
Of course I knew roughly what was going to happen. Poppy and her friends were definitely going on a treasure hunt and there was a beautiful Arab stallion and an enigmatic Irish boy somewhere in the mix, too.
But I had no antagonist - the character standing in the way of the protagonist and their goals. And with no antagonist you don’t have a story. I knew Eddie Eaglestone was a bad 'un, but what was driving him? Until I’d worked that out, this book was going nowhere.
Instead of battling through it, I am afraid to admit, dear reader, that I took the coward’s way out and tossed the book aside YET AGAIN.
I had a ready-made excuse up my sleeve. Kristy, Norah and the gang were pulling me back to Mill Farm Stables so I hid out there for the next few months writing the sequel to The Thirteenth Horse.
I finished Trophy Horse last Christmas Eve and it was published in January. What to write next, I wondered? And then I remembered Book Seven lurking on my hard drive, crying out to be finished.
I knew it was going to be tough, and for a while I seriously considered abandoning the book altogether and coming up with a completely new idea. But I re-read those twelve thousand words. Not bad, I thought again. Too good to chuck, anyway.
This time, instead of launching straight in and getting stuck again, I spent a bit of time ruminating. Developing back stories for Eddie Not-the-Eagle Eaglestone and the mysterious Cameron Walsh. Working out what they wanted, what made them tick.
And so halfway through February I picked up Book Seven where I had left off. I set myself the goal of finishing it by the end of April (see, I told you I liked a deadline) and gave myself a weekly target of five thousand words.
Some weeks I didn’t reach the target but most weeks I did. Suddenly I was in the groove and there were scenes, mainly those with Hannah and Scarlett in starring roles, that virtually wrote themselves.
I am really pleased with the result. The book has had fab feedback with some readers telling me it’s the best of the series so far.
No-one loves a five star review more than I do. But the best thing about this book, the thing I am most proud of, is that I didn’t give up on it.
Things I loved about this book:
The dynamics between Poppy, Scarlett and Hannah.
Charlie (what’s not to love?!).
Typing 'The End'. It had taken me far, far too long to reach that point.
Things I didn’t love about this book:
Dreaming up the treasure hunt clues. I may be many things, but a natural poet is not one of them. Writing riddles literally made my head hurt.
Micky Murphy. He made my skin crawl.
Typing 'The End'. After such a long journey I was sad to say goodbye.
So there you go - you now know the story behind The Hunt for the Golden Horse. If you fancy reading it, just click on the book above which is masquerading as a link. Clever, eh?!
That's all from me for now. Speak soon and in the meantime...