Some of the authors I have interrogated - sorry, interviewed - over the past few months have been writing for years and have many books under their belts. A couple are newer authors, and today's writer falls into that category.
Hollie Anne Marsh is an Australian author who lives in Barcelona, Spain, with her partner, baby boy, and horse, Frieda.
Hollie has been riding since she was a little girl, enjoying activities such as Pony Club, showjumping, eventing, and trail-riding in the great Australian bush. She lived in England for almost ten years where she had two horses and trained them for dressage.
She published her first Sweetbriars book, Leaving the City, earlier this year and already has more in the series planned.
Hollie reveals how the Sweetbriars series was inspired by all the special moments she has spent with horses... good, funny, and challenging!
So Hollie, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
It was an aspiration to write a book since high school, but I also had other things I enjoyed and wanted to do. I started writing then, and dipped in and out, writing a rough manuscript for Sweetbriars almost fifteen years ago. I had a teacher called Mrs Mclean who encouraged me with my writing and also to go into a career around writing… alas that never happened, but she helped plant the seed and it never went away. I also had some free subjects when I was at university, and I chose creative writing subjects, and really enjoyed them and did well in them.
What was the catalyst that made you actually put pen to paper?
I decided to finish the manuscript after having my baby boy last year. It was a great way to be creative and fill my days around caring for him. Also, to achieve a life-long ambition to write a book.
Why did you decide to write pony books?
Since childhood I read so many horse books! With Sweetbriars, I wanted to create a series like The Saddle Club, with a few characters that middle grade readers or early teenagers can relate to, with coming of age themes, set around horses. Also educational about horses, but not in an overwhelming way.
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 eight and I used to help at a local riding school in return for lessons. I then got a part-time job when I was 14 (as soon as I could!), so I could loan a pony from the riding school. I adored Apollo and we explored the Australian bush together. He had a big heart and would jump enormous fences with me. We used to jump random obstacles like fallen tree trunks or fences, the bigger the better. I had no fear then. When I outgrew him, I went to ‘off the track’ thoroughbreds (as they were affordable and came my way) and had fun trying to retrain them. But I also had quite a few falls - one serious - and thus became a more cautious rider.
Whilst studying, I used to ride track-work at Royal Randwick race course in Sydney, for some quite well-known trainers. I used to get there at 4.30am and ride to around 7am, and have some wonderful memories galloping around the race track with the sun rising. I also used to take the horses to the races on the weekends - strapping for them and that was a lot of fun, too. I got a bit attached to many of them and adored the excitement of race day.
When I finished university and got my first ‘proper job’ I bought a warmblood who was just backed called Spot. He was dark grey with a curious spot on his hindquarters, thus his name. He stood at 16hh and by the age of six was over 17hh and huge. But he was a gentle giant and would follow me around like a dog. Spot had a full sister that had competed very successfully in show-jumping and so that was what I wanted to do with him. But after finding a dressage trainer to work on our flying changes for jumping, I became more interested in dressage and liked the challenge of dressage and the goal of achieving softness, connection, and power… basically achieving harmony with a horse, that I hadn’t found as challenging in other disciplines.
When I lived in the UK I had two horses. One was a stunning black Danish warmblood called Odin (pictured below). I competed him to medium level dressage and we were training advanced medium at home. I learnt a lot with him and from my trainers. We also spent many hours exploring the British bridleways. He was like a Ferrari to gallop – so much power you felt like you were flying. I sold him when I left the UK (regretfully) and now enjoy seeing his new owner event him.
I moved to Barcelona for work and brought over my baby Oldenburg Frieda (pictured below). I bought her when she was six months old from a stud in Devon. My visits there inspired me to set Sweetbriars in Devon as I fell in love with the area, although I have since changed the setting to a fictional place – but inspired by the beauty of Devon. Lush, unspoilt countryside by the sea and friendly locals – what more could you ask for?!
Now I am training Frieda for dressage. She's just turned six and is training about medium level. We are working on her flying changes and lateral work and she is clever. She is the type of warmblood who is a lazy plod and will go into work mode when she is ready. Usually after 20 minutes or so she ‘wakes up’ and you find her hidden gears!
She has a beautiful walk and canter and, as she gains more strength, her trot is starting to look lovely. Since she was five I was able to hack her alone, walking on the buckle. I have a good trainer who helps me with her, as it would have been tricky to keep her going myself after having a baby, so I have been extremely fortunate with that. I think next year I will start riding more and we will start doing some competitions, so that is something to look forward to and keep me focused!
What’s your writing routine and where do you write?
Well I am still a newbie as an author and have only written one book – Leaving The City. When I started working again on the manuscript, I would spend roughly a few hours each day on it for about nine months. When I worked with an editor to refine the story (when it was almost finished), I spent more time on it to bring it to completion.
Where do you get your ideas?
From all my experiences growing up around horses and ponies, going to Pony Club, exploring the Australian bush, my experiences in the UK riding along bridleways and at horse shows. Additionally, from more general ‘growing up’ experiences, the highs and lows I had as a child/teenager - both wonderful and difficult things I experienced.
It takes time for these ideas or memories to come to me, and over the course of months or even a year, I capture them and later include many of the ideas into my writing. Since writing my book, I think of things in a different way and am constantly capturing new ideas. Also I often (kind of annoyingly) wake up in the middle of the night and end up emailing the ideas to myself! Otherwise I can't get back to sleep!
Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it?
I had days where I didn’t feel as inspired to write. Especially as I was quite sleep deprived with a new baby. He wasn’t the best sleeper for about nine months and would wake up, up to five times a night! On those days I would still write but more as place holder text. Then I would go back and rewrite it in a more focused way or delete what I wrote if I wasn’t happy with it. I also find I get a bit distracted with things at times, but once I am really into the story, there is no stopping me.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Well for Sweetbriars I loved creating a cast of characters and a wonderful world that any child (or adult) would love to live in. I enjoyed the process of the book evolving and the story becoming richer as I gained more ideas, and the book took on a life of its own. Ultimately the best thing is the feedback I received after I finished Leaving The City. As a new author when you get your first reviews in and they are lovely, it’s the best feeling. Also from children - that is really, really nice!
I also agreed to donate a percentage of each book sale to Riding for the Disabled, which is such a worthy association, so I hope as my book series popularity grows, I can help them out more. I have a friend and her foster son is autistic, and recently I visited their farm and saw the effect that horses had on him – he was transformed from a shy, introverted little boy (who hardly speaks), to the happiest boy in the world when he was sitting on their pony. So if I can help an association that helps countless kids like this every day, that is a super nice thing to do. You can learn more here.
And the worst?
A lot of writers say how lonely writing can be and I can agree with that. Especially after coming from a job where I was surrounded by people with a busy schedule. Although some days that is also one of the nicest things - being alone with my ideas and fully immersed in a creative process.
Also, as a self-published author I never would have imagined how much work it was to write a first book and get people to pay attention to it. I am very grateful though for people who reviewed my book or included me in their blogs, fellow authors (like you!), book bloggers and magazines.
If you didn’t write what other career would you love to have?
Well I have another career. Before I had my baby I was in charge of marketing and well-known brands for a large company. Since studying a business degree at university I’ve worked for big companies and also had my own start-up – Equiporium, which many readers might know of, and I since sold (some time back). I am also working on a business idea now, plus writing. I might return to the corporate world, but I would love to be able to focus solely on writing and this business idea – cross fingers! I like the balance of working on both writing and something else if I can.
What was your favourite pony book growing up and why?
I loved Flambards by K.M. Peyton. Growing up in Australia, the world of Flambards was so foreign and exciting and I loved learning about the world of horses in England during a very interesting time. The characters were wonderful and the way they evolved was intriguing.
From a historical perspective, it was amazing to hear how people lived during that time eg daughters being married off to cousins, the strong hunting tradition in England and also when the era of the automobile and flying was just beginning. I also liked the Saddle Club series – the books were fun, addictive… like a good soap drama in a book.
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
I felt like it took me quite a while to write the first draft of Leaving The City. But I think that was because it was my first book and I was also quite sleep deprived. I hope I can write the second draft in no more than six months.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am about to start writing the second book of the Sweetbriars series. It will focus on Tabby who is twelve years old and has loaned a couple of horses in the first book. Tabby is a bit like me. She is the girl who has to work to keep her horse and had to sadly give up her loan horse Nancy, as the riding school owner wasn’t honest with her (which happened to me). Then the owner of Sweetbriars Farm offers Tabby the chance to ride one of their young horses Bliss, however he was injured in the first book! So, we will see what happens with him and if Nancy comes back in book two.
Which book are you most proud of and why?
Well my only book – Leaving The City! I am proud to have written the book, especially at a time when I was beyond tired with a new baby. What makes me proudest though, is that people are actually reading it and enjoying it!
Which are your favourite horse and human characters in your own books?
My favourite horse character would be Odette – a part warmblood, palomino pony.
She is a little princess pony that every girl would dream to own. Educated but also has her own ideas when her owner Cate pushes her a bit too much for a dressage test.
For the human characters, I would say Violet. Many of my readers say their favourite character is Cate, who is the main character of the first book. But Violet is quirky and she becomes Cate's friend and helps her on her journey.
She is sassy, confident, funny, and not ashamed to admit she is a novice rider. She also has particular habits that the future books will reveal more about. She is the kind of friend we would all like to have. She has your back and isn't afraid to tell you what she thinks. I can't wait to write one of the next books with her as the main character!
And finally, if you were a horse, what breed/colour would you be?!
Since writing Leaving The City I have fallen in love with palominos again. I think I would be a stunning palomino like Treliver Decanter (pictured below). His owner Matthew Burnett allowed me to use photos of him for my Celebrate a Palomino page on my website (a bit of fun) and I think he is absolutely stunning and has a great attitude being trained to a high level of dressage. He also has many palomino offspring in the UK, so is actually quite an important palomino for equestrian sport in the UK.
Thank you Hollie for taking the time to answer my questions! You can find out more about Hollie and Sweetbriars by popping over to her website or following her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
That's all from me for now.