Today I am delighted to feature a Q&A with Kate Lattey, the New Zealand-based author of the Pony Jumpers, Dare to Dream and Clearwater Bay pony book series.
Kate was one of the first authors I met via the internet back when I first started writing about five years ago. She kindly reviewed the first two Riverdale books on her website, which was a great morale boost to me back when I was lucky if I sold a book a week and writing for a living seemed like a dim and distant dream. It is still a dream, but at least these days I feel as though it's within my grasp.
Kate started riding when she was 10 and has never been far from horses since, working as a livery yard groom in England, a trekking guide in Ireland, running a riding school in New Zealand, and spending five summers in the USA as a camp counsellor at Road's End Farm, New Hampshire.
During this chat with Kate I find out about the horses in her life, her favourite pony reads and the best and worst things about being a pony book author.
So Kate, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
When I was about 10 or 11-years-old, I wrote a pony book for a school project. It was objectively pretty terrible, but my teacher loved it, and put it in the school library. It had the inspiring title Jenny’s New Friends and readers can check it out on my Facebook page if they want to read it and have a good laugh.
What was the catalyst that made you put pen to paper?
The first full book that I wrote (aside from Jenny’s New Friends, obviously) was Flying Changes, which I wrote after living in the UK for nine months. I was struck at the time by the difference in lifestyles – I’d grown up having to do everything myself, whereas the young girls I met there had their ponies on a livery yard and only had to do the fun parts.
That wasn’t their fault, but it made me think – what if they were dropped into a remote rural area in New Zealand and had to figure things out for themselves? How would they cope? And so Flying Changes was born.
Why did you decide to write pony books?
As a kid, I was an avid reader of anything equestrian. (I still am, if I’m being honest!) But it was difficult to find pony books that were set in New Zealand. I loved the older British books – Ruby Ferguson’s Jill series, the Pullein-Thompsons, and most of all Patricia Leitch – but they were written decades ago. The modern pony books that I came across were American - the Saddle Club and Thoroughbred series – which I enjoyed, but they were so different to my life growing up, riding on a farm, hacking my ponies everywhere, going to Pony Club rallies.
I wanted to write a book about people who had lives like mine, who went to the same shows and had friends (and foes) that I could recognise. So that’s what I set out to write, and fortunately readers outside of New Zealand enjoy them too.
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 started riding when I was 10, at a local trekking centre. As you can see in the photo (left), I was not exactly kitted out correctly at the start!
After helping out at the trekking centre on the weekends for a year or so, I got my first pony Whisper (pictured right) when I was 12 from a farm down the road.
He was kind and willing, but unfortunately had a mild breathing problem that worsened quite quickly when he caught a virus while he was with us.
(There is definitely something to be said for not having to learn everything the hard way.)
We had to retire him and so went about a kilometre further down the road and bought my second pony, Tess.
She was a solid crossbred chestnut mare, and although she could get a wee bit bolshy at times, she was safe as houses and gave me a ton of confidence. (I was not a brave child rider!)
Then came Minnie, a 14.2hh bay Anglo-Arab mare who was a bit of a hotshot and unfortunately, although we thought we were buying a good jumping pony, we ended up with a pony that hated to jump. I persisted with her for over a year but we didn’t make a lot of progress on the jumping front. She was very hot to hack but very brave and would go anywhere, so I’d ride her for hours every day, often on my own.
I kept Minnie for almost 10 years (nobody else wanted her) and in later years, I rode her to and from work at a riding school because I didn’t have a car. Which worked well except for the occasional morning when I couldn’t catch her! Unfortunately she broke her leg in a paddock accident one week before our 10-year anniversary and had to be put to sleep.
When I was 16, a friend of mine aged out of ponies and offered me her pony to ride before she sold him. Caddie was a 14.2hh grey Arab eventer, and he’d jump anything.
I liked him so much that we bought him, although my parents weren’t too keen on buying me a second pony so we struck a deal – I had to pay them back by working for our family’s native plant nursery on weekends.
I hated the work but I loved Caddie (pictured right) and he was worth every hour of weeding and potting plants.
We had a lot of fun together, eventing and show jumping for a year before I aged out and sold him on.
He lived well into his 30s with a lovely adult owner, teaching more young riders the ropes and still winning Competitive Trail Riding events before he sadly developed throat cancer and had to be put to sleep.
I went back overseas a few months later to work with horses in the USA, UK and Ireland. When I came back to New Zealand to live three years later, I was offered the lease of a rising six-year-old Welsh Cob x Thoroughbred that belonged to a friend of a friend.
Within a year JJ (pictured left) proved himself to be very talented, so I bought him from his owner and spent the next six years training and competing him.
We had a lot of fun together but I lost interest in competing and he lost interest in being schooled quite so much, so I leased him out to a 12-year-old rider to have fun for a year.
They’ve ended up doing so well together that I agreed to sell him to them, so he has a wonderful new home now, and I see him all the time.
So right now I’m technically horseless again, but I’m sure it won’t be long before I have another one!
What’s your writing routine and where do you write?
I would love to say that I have a writing routine – but I don’t. I work off a laptop and do the majority of my writing while sitting on the couch or on my bed. It goes in fits and starts a bit – sometimes I’m super inspired and will write heaps, day after day – other times it gets a bit quiet and I take a bit of time off. Right now I’m a few chapters into book 11 of the Pony Jumpers series but it needed a breather while I get my head around a few crucial moments, so it’s ‘resting’ right now, but I’ll get back to it soon.
Where do you get your ideas?
Mostly from real life! I’ve taught riding and been involved in pony club and the competition scene for many years. I’ve met a lot of people and I’m perpetually fascinated by the journey that everyone is on. My absolute favourite competition here is the Pony of the Year show jumping class, and I love standing right by the in-gate and watching all of the riders as they go into the ring.
So many hopes and ambitions ride into the ring with them, and they all go in with different ponies, different families, different life experiences that have brought them there. I find it fascinating, and it’s why I started writing the Pony Jumpers series, which is about four very different people, leading very different lives, who happen to be friends and who happen to all be heading in the same direction – towards that Pony of the Year class.
Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it?
Absolutely! I find the best thing is to go for a walk, or do some gardening. Riding helps sometimes but only if I’m on a long hack, alone, with plenty of time to think. It’s that alone time that really works for me, and there’s something about being close to nature that gets the creative juices flowing.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Sharing your characters with other people, and finding out that they like them too. I also had a friend tell me the other day that my books have turned her 12-year-old daughter from a non-reader into a reader, so that’s always really special to hear as well.
And the worst?
Editing. It’s so hard.
If you didn’t write what other career would you love to have?
Writing isn’t my career, unfortunately. I wish it was! I work for a local printing company, doing page design and pre-press. We’re just starting to tap into the self-publishing market, which is cool, as designing books for clients is one of my favourite parts of the job. I also work part-time as the sub-editor for a national equestrian magazine, Show Circuit, and occasionally I do interviews and write articles for them as well.
I usually teach between one and three riding lessons a week to private students, and I’m also currently training as a Show Hunter judge and course designer, and I’m doing show jumping course design as well – in case I wasn’t already busy enough!
What was your favourite pony book growing up and why?
Growing up, Patricia Leitch’s Jinny series and Ruby Ferguson's Jill books were my favourites. I also particularly loved Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Pony Club Challenge because it had a lot of practical riding advice that I found very useful.
As an adult, I discovered Patricia Leitch’s Dream of Fair Horses, which is hands down my favourite pony book of all time. I also recently wrote about the five pony books I’d take to a desert island for Jane Badger’s website, so if you’re interested, have a read. I tried to pick books that people may not have read before for that list. Here's the link.
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
Ha! How long is a piece of string? First Fence, the first Pony Jumpers book, took me three days. Against the Clock, which is book two in the Clearwater Bay series, took me three years. On average they probably take around six months, but it really depends on how busy the rest of my life gets.
What are you working on at the moment?
Book 11 in the Pony Jumpers series, Eleventh Hour. It’s great being back with Susannah, she’s one of my favourite characters to write and she’s going through a lot of changes in this book. It’s exciting, but in some ways it’s also one of the least horsey books I’ve written, so it’s taking a bit of time. (Horses are easier to write about than humans!)
Which book are you most proud of and why?
I’m proud of all of them, but it’s probably a tie between Dare to Dream and Dream On. Dare to Dream because I think it was really successful at treading that fine line between joy and despair, without taking the story too far in either direction. (Some readers may disagree!) I set myself a challenge with that book to use some of the usual pony book tropes, but to make it feel real, and not let it get too cheesy or predictable. I think I succeeded.
I love Dream On because it has a lot of complex human relationships, and because it lived up to its predecessor. As a book, I think it’s better written than Dare to Dream, but that first book has an undeniable charm about it and I think it’s most people’s favourite. There is a third book in the series planned, but I got sidetracked with the Pony Jumpers books so it’s stuck in the pipeline for now.
Which are your favourite horse and human characters in your own books?
That’s a hard question – I love them all! I wouldn’t be able to write about them if I didn’t. I will say that one of my favourite equines is Squib, AJ’s pony in the Pony Jumpers series. He’s such a character, and is always so vivid in my mind whenever I write about him. He shares a lot of JJ’s quirky personality traits, although JJ would never dare to be that naughty!
As for a favourite character, there are just too many. I have a real soft spot for Jonty, from the Pony Jumpers books. He’s such a neat kid, with such a big heart. I also really love Kris, from the Dare to Dream series. She’s probably the most similar to me, personality wise. I love Susannah, because I’m writing about her right now in Pony Jumpers #11, and Alec from the Clearwater Bay books, because he’s never afraid to tell Jay to pull her head in, and of course, there’s Marley, who was inspired by name and personality by a dear friend who tragically lost her life far too early. Marley will always be a very, very special character to me.
And finally, if you were a horse, what breed/colour would you be?!
I can’t say that’s one I’ve ever considered before! I have been incredibly fortunate in my life to have met my actual dream horse, and I’d like to think we had quite a lot in common. She was a really sweet horse, very loyal to her friends, but not afraid to tell others off if they annoyed her too much. She never went looking for a fight though and always gave others their space.
She was a bit feisty when she wanted to be and was always up for a good race, and she bounced around when she got really excited. We understood each other from the start – she was my heart horse and I can only dream that I’ll one day find another one like her. She didn’t belong to me, but I was incredibly fortunate that her owners allowed me to treat her as if she was. Bittersweet was a 15hh dark bay Anglo-Arab mare, so I guess that’s what I’d be, too.
I hope you enjoyed my chat with Kate! I have fallen in love with all the horses in her life, but I'll always have a soft spot for JJ, having followed his progress from afar for several years.
You can find out more about Kate and her books by visiting her website or following her on Facebook.
That's all from me for now.