My writing life by pony book author Olivia Tuffin
Hello! Today I bring you the fifth in my series of exclusive Q&As with my fellow pony book authors. This time it's the turn of established writer Olivia Tuffin, author of two popular pony book series, The Palomino Pony and A Pony Called Secret. Olivia's latest book, A Ride to Freedom, the third book in the A Pony Called Secret series, was released just last month. Read on to find out what inspires Olivia, what pony books she devoured as a child and why everything always comes back to Exmoor ponies.
So Olivia, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer? I’ve always written stories, right from the word go. I used to spend hours at home carefully constructing my own books. I wrote about everything from the family dog to an ongoing series featuring a rabbit trio. They were always animal based. I took English A level and got an A despite my hideous grasp of grammar and spelling, I guess my imagination has always been my strength! What was the catalyst that made you actually put pen to paper? I broke my shoulder and was operated on in 2010. It was a hot summer, I was bored and couldn’t ride, but crucially I’d been signed off from my mundane office job, so I seized the moment with both hands (well, one hand really as I had the other in a sling) and wrote the first in the Palomino Pony series. It was that or go mad from lack of riding! Why did you decide to write pony books? Because that was all I knew to write! If I’m going to write about something, it has to be something I really love. I suppose I’d never outgrown that pony mad stage.
Do you ride or have horses yourself? If not now, perhaps when you were younger? We’d love to hear about your own horses and ponies! I do indeed ride although less so now I have two children. I moved from Devon to Dorset eleven years ago with an Exmoor pony (plus spaniel and two pet sheep) in tow, much to the horror of my non horsey boyfriend - now husband. He learnt to ride for a bet, got hooked, and now owns the most beautiful and enormous Irish Draught and even put up stables at home. I’m aiming for an arena next....
We also have a Shetland pony, whom my daughter was riding before she could walk, and they have recently discovered the joys of handy pony classes. Lara, my daughter, is pretty mad on ponies and so as she has almost outgrown her Shetland in ability we have just bought the most beautiful Welsh section A for many future years of pony club fun.
Ella the Shetland will be kept as a much-loved pet until my son is old enough to sit on! We did have another Shetland until recently but he has gone to the most fabulous Shetland Grand National home. And I still have the Exmoor, Moss. He’ll be with me for life, and every now and again when the stars align I’m able to sneak out to the yard and have a quick canter around our farm on him. What’s your writing routine and where do you write? I have a three-month-old and a four-year-old so there is no routine whatsoever… when the baby naps, when it’s 5am and the house is asleep, maybe a few hours in the evening. I just find little pockets of time and I make it work. And I write in the kitchen, so I can still multi-task at the same time! Heaven is a hot cup of coffee early in the morning, both children asleep and a free hour. And I have no real planning either. I know what I want to happen and just get stuck in. My editor did start to make me chapter plan, which has helped. I still like nothing more than a blank page though.
Where do you get your ideas? Anywhere and everywhere, which is a cliché, but true. From my own ponies (Moss was very much behind Secret in the Pony Called Secret series!) from shows and events we go to, from shows I’d LIKE to ride in. I’ve given up on the Horse of the Year Show dream (unless my children end up with some super duper lead rein pony!) but I can go there in my books! Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it? Yes – every single book at around the 15,000 word count, so halfway for one of my books. It’s so predictable now, so I skip the middle and write the end. Then I work out how to get there! I was once told to just keep writing even if you think it’s rubbish, THEN go back and edit and half the time it’s not as bad as you think. I live by that now.
What’s the best thing about being a writer? That I can do something I love. That I can put words on a page and they become an actual book. That my publishers believed in me enough. That lovely readers write me wonderful and thoughtful letters and I remember that all those late nights writing words actually end up out in the world and real life children buy them and love them. And the worst? Honestly, I can’t think of anything. Perhaps doing my tax return. But that’s not writer specific. I’m very lucky to love what I do!
If you didn’t write what other career would you love to have? I’m not sure. Having worked in an office for seven years I now can’t imagine me in that setting again… I mean, what if I wanted to go for a walk and get an ice cream? Ha, I’m so used to working on my own that the idea of working in that environment slightly fills me with horror. I wouldn’t want to work with horses either, I like keeping them as my hobby. It would need to be something on my own, something creative. I always thought being a hairdresser looked a lovely job but that’s probably because I like chatting to mine.
What was your favourite pony book growing up and why? I was obsessed with the Saddle Club books. Yes they weren’t the classics but who cares, they got me reading and reading and reading, and I’m all for reading whatever you want. I loved Carole, she was the most horse mad of the trio. The Jinny series was another favourite, and I suppose if I had to pick the most special, it would be Moorland Mousie, one of the reasons I ended up with Moss. How long, on average, does it take you to write a book? About 8 months all in. I write about three drafts and they go back and forth to my editor. It’s always a relief when it goes off to copy edit, but sad too, I get very attached to each book.
What are you working on at the moment? Book five in the A Pony Called Secret series. Book four has just gone off to copy edit so there will be a few minor tweaks to do but nothing major (I hope!). Which book are you most proud of and why? Book one in the A Pony Called Secret series. We’d just been through a very sad time as a family and the book kept me sane. Writing it gave me something positive to do. But honestly, I’m proud of them all. I still haven’t got over the excitement of seeing them in actual bookshops.
Which are your favourite horse and human characters in your own books? I have a soft spot for Secret, so like Moss in the early days, but Lily will always be the dream pony. I’m hoping to find a real life Lily for my children one day. I love both Georgia and Alice, I love their enthusiasm and also Alice’s getting it a bit wrong sometimes. And I do love kind Ben, and they way he both loved his sheep and Georgia. Finn was very cool too, who wouldn’t want a pony stunt rider sort of boyfriend aged fourteen! And finally, if you were a horse, what breed/colour would you be?! Obviously a palomino Arab! No, that was a lie. Hmm. Well, Clive (that would be my husband) has always called me mousy – and it is not as cheesy as it sounds, it is actually a long story from a late night chat at university where we met and involves a line from a David Bowie song (the girl with the mousy hair – Life on Mars, see that made that story cooler!) so something with mouse brown hair. An Exmoor – perfect. It always comes back to the Exmoor!
I have to say I am loving these Q&As. It is so interesting to find out how other authors write and where they get their ideas. I hope you are enjoying them too! Happy reading! Amanda