The seventh kind soul to agree to be interrogated for my series of Q&As with pony book authors is the very lovely Cressida Ellen Schofield.
Cressida, the author of The Izzy Brown Stories, has been my long-suffering writing buddy for a few years now, and is always at the end of an email when I'm in need of encouragement or support - or advice on an apostrophe!
Writing can be a lonely old business. We authors spend hours locked away in our writing caves with only our characters for company, so it's brilliant to have someone who understands the writing business and the trials and tribulations of being an indie author.
The Izzy Brown Stories are best described as pony books for grown-ups. But in this interview Cressida reveals some exclusive news about a completely new series of pony books for the young and young at heart.
So Cress, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
Pretty early on. When I was seven I bought a buff-coloured hard-backed notebook – with lined pages, such luxury! – and started to write a story about a young girl who’d just moved to a new village and was desperate for a pony of her own. If I were to add that I’d just finished reading Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson you might see what the problem is here…
I finished writing my first complete book aged 14. It was a 120-page abomination, written on a sit-up-and-beg manual typewriter, called The Wednesday Rabble, and told the story of a young girl who’d acquired a dazzling but damaged black Thoroughbred stallion that had been disgraced at the racetrack, and the misfit group of riders that she hung out with. I still have the original manuscript, and it’s disgraceful! But, it’s still an important milestone because it was at this point that I knew I didn’t want to be anything else.
What was the catalyst that made you actually put pen to paper?
Alas, my school careers advisors didn’t agree with my choice. I was steered away from pursuing a career in the literary arts, and from reading English at university too, and was convinced to do a dull-but-useful law degree. I really should have stuck to my guns and studied English literature and language, or at least got a job at the local rag, anything to continue honing my craft and doing what I loved.
Anyway, it was whilst I was still an undergraduate that I realised what a huge boo-boo I’d made, and instead of cramming for finals I wrote a big brute of a book called The Legend of Lily Loxley, which rocked in at a whopping 750 pages. After I graduated I wrote Noel (book one of The Magpie Cottage Chronicles), which caught the attention of an agent (although sadly came to naught), and eventually self-published it several years later. Persistence really has been the name of the game.
Why did you decide to write pony books?
Since childhood I’ve read either pony books, or books that contain horses – think from Jill to Jilly! – so it’s been a natural progression to writing them. Just as I read both children’s and adult fiction, I now write both children’s and adult fiction. There are some ongoing themes in all my books: horses and other animals, music and grub! I still love reading pony stories, and have a fair collection of the books that I read as a child. There is also a whole bank of brilliant new pony book authors now, so my collection is constantly growing.
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 had my first riding lesson aged six, after about a year’s worth of badgering my poor mother. She acquiesced solely because she thought it was ‘just a phase’ and I would soon tire of ponies. Oh, LOL, was she wrong! I never owned my own pony, although my sister had a loan pony that I wasn’t allowed to ride – that caused a few spats! However, I have a lot of time for the humble riding school pony, and fell in love with so many of them over the years.
There was flea-bitten grey Mickey, who was such a sweetheart. Henry, black with a white blaze, who was one of those wonder ponies that everyone wanted to ride in their lesson. I was lucky enough to win a Handy Pony rosette on Henry at a Pony Club gymkhana at my riding school. Frankie, a strawberry roan gelding and another wonder pony. Gentle Treggy (pictured above), who I ‘owned’ for a week on a riding holiday when I was in my teens.
There’s also been grey Connemara show pony Paddy, not so much grey but dazzling white Polo (that name might be familiar to anyone who’s read The Izzy Brown Stories!) and the ridiculously pretty, and beautifully named, part-Arabian Grey Sahara, who was another grey but with a storm-grey mane and tail and one of those stunning dished profiles. All so special in their own way, and just a small selection of all the horses and ponies I have had the privilege of riding over the years.
Then there was Charlie… A black gelding with a white star and one white sock, and an absolute dead ringer for Black Beauty from the television series from the 1970s. Charlie just loved to jump, and we won a few rosettes together. By now I was around thirty, and it was whilst riding Charlie that I had a rather nasty fall in a novice showjumping competition. It was my own fault entirely: I was going too fast in the jump-off, didn’t have enough leg on when turning, Charlie went one way, and I went the other. I flattened a triple bar and snapped my body protector in half. Whoops!
Despite getting straight back on I lost my nerve after that. I still do ride but more intermittently, and I shall get my confidence back, but it’s taking some time. Jeeves, a lovely piebald cob and my latest equine crush (pictured right), is helping with that. He’s a real sweetie, whilst being forward going at the same time: my favourite kind of pony! My long-term goal is to get fit enough in body and mind to confidently canter along the edge of the sea at Robin Hood’s Bay beach.
What’s your writing routine and where do you write?
Ha! I write when life doesn’t get in the way. You see all these sanctimonious memes on social media about writing that say ‘if you really want to write you’ll find the time’, and they really irk me as sometimes life just isn’t that straightforward. In a perfect world I’d be writing full time, and that is the ultimate goal to strive for, but in the meantime a girl has to eat, occasionally clean, and, sadly, work.
However… I’ve adopted a practice brought to my attention by a rather lovely author called (ahem!) Amanda Wills (LOL!) in which I try to write at least five thousand words per week. As for where I write, I am very lucky in that I have a MacBook, which means that I can park myself pretty much wherever I choose. For trickier work, such as editing and proofreading, I tend to sit at my writing desk, but for pure creative work I like to sit on our sofa, on our bed (naughty!) or outside in the garden.
Where do you get your ideas?
Clichéd as it is, the idea for Incapability Brown – my first ‘pony book for grown-ups’ – came from a rather bizarre dream I had about Hugh Grant, an undercover bodyguard and Tracy Island (don’t ask!) – and that’s how Izzy Brown came to be. She now has two books all of her own, and guest stars in some of my other books too.
One of my favourite characters from The Izzy Brown Stories, Taryn, now has a spin-off series of her own – the Ravensbay Pony School series – which is set in an equestrian boarding school set high on a cliff top overlooking the sea. My inspiration for this location is the stunningly amazing Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire (pictured below). I always wanted to go to boarding school, and so it’s great fun thinking up the drama and adventure for those stories.
Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it?
I’m very lucky that I don’t suffer much from writer’s block, but I do have acute writer’s frustration. See above about finding the time to write! I am always desperately trying to commit so many ideas to paper, but I never seem to be able to keep up.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Oh, so many things! Creating new worlds that contain larger than life characters – both two and four-legged – and where my readers would like to visit in real life. My fictional village, Nether Ousebury, is almost a character in itself and does seem to have quite a fan base. Writing also allows me to quieten my busy mind. It’s an essential outlet for me, and I’m sure that many other writers understand what I mean when I say that if I don’t find the time to write I start to twitch.
And the worst?
Again, there are a few things. I loathe editing, proofreading and formatting my books with a passion, but unfortunately they are all necessary aspects of being an indie author. Also… waiting. So much waiting. My Ravensbay series is currently out on submission with my agent, but it’s a long process.
I’ve not really spoken that much about Ravensbay until now, so that’s a bit of an exclusive for your newsletter, Amanda. Hopefully I’ll have some good news soon – she says – but it still might not happen. Make no bones about it – being a writer is not for the fainthearted. You have to be a tough cookie!
If you didn’t write what other career would you love to have?
Haha, don’t laugh: a painter and decorator. I really enjoy painting stuff and find it quite soothing. I’m not bad at it either, even if I say so myself. I can even paint woodwork without having to mask.
What was your favourite pony book growing up and why?
Do you know, I gobbled up pony books as a kid, but I think my one true love was the Jill series. Jill was always so dry in her sense of humour, and what I wouldn’t have given to be a part of her Chatton world. My favourite book in the series is actually the last one, Jill’s Pony Trek. It’s so funny and just a dream storyline.
Honourable mentions must include Prince Among Ponies by Josephine Pullein-Thompson, Phantom Horse by Christine Pullein-Thompson and the Jinny at Finmory series by Patricia Leitch. Hmm, I think I may have been rumbled as having a soft spot for the ‘difficult pony plus determined girl who refuses to give up’ storyline, eh?
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
It varies. I rattled First Term at Ravensbay out in six weeks. Six weeks!
My latest independent release, Lindian Summer (book two of The Magpie Cottage Chronicles), has been the bane of my life for a good few years now. If I really focus, I can produce a first draft in a few months.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I am wrangling with the first draft of the second ‘pony school’ book, Hunter Trials at Ravensbay.
My next project is a standalone pony book that has, shock horror, a boy as the main character. I’m about 10,000 words into that so far, but really enjoying writing it.
Which book are you most proud of and why?
It’s got to be Incapability Brown. It’s a big book, a funny book (so I’m told) and the one that started my adventures as an independent author. Also, Izzy seems to have struck a chord with many readers with all her very human, incapable ways. For me, she’s also the embodiment of how allowing horses into your life can be so enriching.
Which are your favourite horse and human characters in your own books?
My favourite horse character is from my Ravensbay series. My co-heroine, Paige, wins her place at school in a competition, and comes from a very different background from all her wealthy classmates. On her first day she falls in love with Blue Angel, a blue roan Welsh Section D mare, who has also just arrived at school as part of a job lot of school ponies, but who is damaged and unrideable. The connection that grows between these two misfits over the course of the series is very special. I think there is always a joy in writing about a character’s redemption.
For that same reason, my favourite human characters are Carlotta (The Izzy Brown Stories) and Natalie Bingham (The Magpie Cottage Chronicles), as they are both fierce, feisty and fabulous! Not always likeable, they are both very complex, outspoken women, and ultimately so much fun to write.
And finally, if you were a horse, what breed/colour would you be?!
As a redhead, I would love to describe myself as a Shantih-esque Arabian mare with a flowing mane and tail, but, in all honesty, I’d be done under trade descriptions. I’d actually be a stumpy-legged, belligerent, Thelwellian Shetland school pony that small children give a wide berth to, and who is always first in the queue for the food trough. Ah well…!
I just also wanted to say thank you, Amanda, for arranging this Q&A and for coming up with such brilliant questions. It’s been great talking to you about All Things Pony!
I hope you enjoyed my chat with Cressida!
Incapability Brown will be on special offer from Saturday 29 September at just 99p/99c for the ebook - a huge saving on its normal price. You can grab your copy here. But be quick - it's a time-limited offer.
You can find out more about Cressida's books here or follow her on Instagram @cressidaellen, Facebook or Twitter @CressidaEllen.
You can find all her books on her Amazon author page here.
And finally, don't forget that Into the Storm, the third Riverdale book, is also just 99p/99c at the moment. But the offer runs out soon, so grab it while you can! Click here to download
That's all from me for now.