Today I am hugely excited to share with you an interview with the super-talented Katharina Marcus, author of the Hawthorne Horses series among other equally brilliant books.
It will be the first in a series of Q&As with the many pony book authors I have met since I first started writing The Lost Pony of Riverdale six years ago.
I spent twenty years as a journalist and firing questions at people was one of my favourite parts of the job (not that I'm nosy or anything....). So I decided to put my interrogation skills to good use and quiz my author pals about life, the universe and everything.
I hope you enjoy the result!
So Kat, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t. Want to be a writer, I mean. I absolutely loathe writing. But if I don’t then these characters start pestering me with their voices in my head. So the choice I end up with is: writing or going into psychiatric care. I’ve written since the day I could hold a pen. Even before I knew how to actually write words I’d fill books with scribbles and then ‘read’ the story to anyone who’d listen.
What was the catalyst that made you actually put pen to paper?
Finding a piece of paper! It’s a Marcus joke. I grew up in a house full of paper because my parents owned an antiquarian book and print shop and whenever my mum would be on the phone (remember landlines with actual lines attached to them?) wanting to jot something down but lacking a notepad she’d exclaim: 'Paper, paper everywhere but not a scrap to write on!'
Why did you decide to write pony books?
Again, I don’t feel like I decided it. I’d already written a few other, non-horsey things for money. A textbook on pre-industrial printing techniques. A film script. Some magazine articles for the music industry. Press releases for bands. Poems. The latter obviously not for money. Nobody makes money from poetry. Nobody. But I dreaded the idea of becoming a novelist. All those descriptions! I’m very much a dialogue kind of person, so film scripts suited me just fine.
But then one day I had this very clear image of a lonely pony mare in a field in my head and felt the strongest desire to write her a story. Strong enough to make my peace with the idea of having to write descriptive prose. Then Eleanor and the rest of the Hawthorne Cottage crowd started appearing in my mind and off we went. I like horses. They are part of my fabric of existence. And as much as I ever like writing I like writing horses and humans and their relationships and dynamics. I also really like eating, which is probably why my only 100% horse-free novel to date revolves around cooking.
Do you ride or have horses yourself? We’d love to hear about your own horses and ponies!
I can’t remember a time before horses. My father was born in 1912 and grew up with a horse and cart as transport. And although he loved his cars, in his frame of reference being able to handle, ride and/or drive horses was still a life skill, like swimming, not a luxury hobby. So all five of us were heavily encouraged to take riding lessons.
I learned to ride on Shetlands, bareback. A 9.2hh grey called Big Ben taught me how to handle a stallion, walk, trot, canter, roll when you fall and not be bucked off in the first place (in this order). He was a great master. Not necessarily a school master, just a great master. If you learn to ride on a Shetland stallion who runs with a herd of thirty and has the biggest Napoleon complex on the planet you can handle anything.
I had a great equine education, split between two very diverse riding schools but running concurrently. On the one side there was bareback riding on ponies, most of which came from the last wild herd in Germany, and on the other a very formal education on traditional German Warmbloods: Hanoverians, Holsteiners, Trakehners. I learned about taming, breaking and backing wild ponies one day and flying changes and handling a double bridle the next. It was mad and wonderful and I couldn’t have asked for a better, more diverse horsey upbringing. You’ll find all of those influences equally in my books.
When I was twelve I got the first of my own, Nick, a ride and drive Haflinger who was super comfy to ride bareback, really good at dressage but had a terrible jump. It turned out he was really bad at jumping because he had problems with his vision. He was retired to become a companion pony and lived to thirty.
When I moved to England I began teaching and breaking and backing other people’s horses and retraining problem ones and even the occasional ex-racer. I’ve ridden so many different types by now, faced so many different challenges yet it’s still exciting and/or nerve-wrecking every time I get on a new horse. That’s one of the things I love most about horses: it’s always different, it’s always new and you are never finished learning and improving. I now have three of my own. All ponies because at 5ft1½ with a penchant for bareback riding I prefer ponies that I can jump on from the ground. Although I don’t ride my Shetland, I hasten to add. The poor boy would collapse under my weight.
Until recently there were four but this spring I lost my big, snuggly cob who was the blueprint for Oliver in my freebie novella, Boys don’t Ride. The rest of the herd and I are still in mourning and regrouping for now but I can’t see myself as a three-horse-woman in the long run. I’m a four-horse-woman. And I have a herd without a protector at the moment. The dynamics are not working.
What's your writing routine and where do you write?
I have no routine. Writing gets done when there is a space for it around the day job(s), the ponies and children. The only thing that’s lower on my list of priorities is housework. I don’t have a desk, either. We have very limited space in our house and I travel with my laptop to wherever there is the least noise at any given time. I write on my bed, on the sofa, the dining room table, occasionally in the car or even sitting on the bottom step of the stairs.
Where do you get your ideas?
From my overactive imagination making babies with my life experience.
Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it?
Not yet. I’d probably dance with joy if it happened. I do get writer’s fatigue though. Constantly. I define it as knowing what to write but being too tired or lazy or undisciplined to hit the keys on the keyboard. The only cure for that is strong coffee and to plod on.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
When somebody tells me or leaves a review somewhere saying they loved one of my books and it kept them up all night. Being able to give another person that pleasure is a huge privilege and joy.
And the worst?
The actual writing part.
If you didn’t write what other career would you love to have?
I’m not remotely financially successful enough to call writing a career, so the point is moot. But I have ticked off a whole list of things I fancied doing in life along the way. I’ve been a roadie, journalist, antiquarian bookshop manager, film extra, riding instructor, horse trainer, psychotherapist and for the last four years have worked in education. I still have owning a B&B, running a café for kids and creating my very own Follyfoot to tick off but I’ve decided to give being a film director and becoming a vet or an Olympian a miss for this lifetime after all. There are only so many hours in the day.
What was your favourite pony book growing up and why?
I’m glad you asked for a pony book, not horse book. It means I get to give a different answer from the last interview I did when I went on at length about Der Schwarze Hengst Bento by Austrian author Ditha Holesch. Which means absolutely nothing to English-speaking readers since it was never translated. So, drum roll: Dora at Follyfoot. I adore Monica Dickens. Maybe it’s the shared Germanic roots but we really ‘click’. If anyone ever writes a review of one of my books and calls me the Monica Dickens of our generation I’ll be a made woman.
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
A year. Sometimes two.
What are you working on at the moment?
A book called The Night Rider. It’s still creative chaos at the moment but it’ll be a family dynamics kind of novel, in which most characters have horses.
Everything in it pretty much starts with a ride on a horse but it’s not a horse novel in the sense that Eleanor McGraw and The Boy with the Amber Eyes were. But compared to anything that’s cut from Hawthorne blood and bones nothing else I write will ever be a ‘horse novel in the sense of’.
Which book are you most proud of and why?
So far, I’m most proud of Cooking with Caroline: a) because I managed to write a whole book without horses in it and b) because it’s a really, really cleverly-structured novel. I’m proud as a writer of that.
Technical score somewhere around 97% mark, so to speak. But if you asked me, which one of my books I’d take on a desert island to read over and over and over again, The Boy with the Amber Eyes would win every time.
Which are your favourite horse and human characters in your own books?
That’s like asking a mother to pick a favourite child! Can’t. Not possible.
And finally, if you were a horse, what breed/colour would you be?!
Well, let’s see: I’m a robust, stubby-legged, chubby, big-butted, small-footed short-arse with the attitude of a champion and the stubbornness of an ox… we know where this is going, right? Of course I’m a Shetland. Probably a dun. Thankfully, I married a highly-strung dark bay Arab and gave birth to two beautiful Thoroughbred fillies. All is well in the world.
I hope you enjoyed my chat with Katharina! If you'd like to find out more about her books click this link.
Here are the links for her books, and the great news is, Boys Don't Ride is completely free to download as an ebook!
Eleanor McGraw, a pony named Mouse and a boy called Fire
The Boy with the Amber Eyes
Boys Don't Ride
Cooking with Caroline
Alternatively you can follow Kat on Facebook
Anyway, that's all from me for now. I hope you're all having a fantastic summer. Speak soon and in the meantime...