A Q&A with the queen of unicorns!
Today I'm excited to bring you a Q&A with a lovely friend of mine - Kate Gordon, author of middle grade fantasy novel Lily and the Unicorn King.
Although I only met Kate last year, it feels as though I have known her for much longer. We are part of a four-strong group of children's authors who offer each other practical and emotional support as we navigate our way through the sometimes calm, occasionally turbulent - and always interesting - waters of indie publishing.
Kate is from New Zealand, and although we have only chatted via Skype so far, I would love to visit her at home in Wanaka in New Zealand's South Island one day.
I will now stop waffling! Grab yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy my chat with Kate.
So, Kate, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
Writing stories at school was always my second favourite thing after reading – my big sisters and Mum taught me to read before I started school – so I’ve always been writing stories, journals or something.
Maybe around my late 20s, during some career goal-setting exercise I was always doing, I decided I wanted to write for a living. I have achieved that goal with my freelance PR consultancy, but it’s not quite the same as being a full-time author!
What was the catalyst that made you actually put pen to paper?
Around that time, the idea of writing a book coalesced into a tangible goal. Many, many story ideas and first chapters lurk on my hard drive.
I joined writers’ groups, attended conferences, learned a lot, made some great friends, and after about 15 years had a massive epiphany – why was I trying to write mysteries and romance when I really loved children’s novels?
Why did you decide to write pony books?
With that realisation, it finally dawned on me that the books I loved most featured horses and adventurous children. I began collecting every Monica Edwards book I could find – big thanks to Girls Gone By Publishers for reprinting so many of her books that I’d never read as a child – and the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons books my mother suggested for me about age nine.
Yes, these are old-fashioned now, but rereading them re-engaged me with the elements I loved – independent children, adventures, challenges and fun. They were pure entertainment – that’s what I wanted to write!
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!
When I was 10, I apparently told my father that getting me a pony would keep me off the streets!
I’m quite sure I had no idea what it meant, but having spent years saving pocket money to ride a hired horse called Hank, my parents’ friends said I could ride their elderly pony Archie, pictured left.
A chestnut cob, Archie was in his late 20s and not particularly thrilled about Pony Club with a beginner.
He went ‘lame’ at our first meet, then trotted cheerfully home without a hint of lameness! I learned so much from this kind pony.
The same friends bred a thoroughbred cross pony called Tontouta and suggested my parents buy the rising four-year-old.
Tonni, pictured right, was a real sweetie, but not ideal for a not very confident 11-year-old rider.
By the time I was strong enough and skilled enough to ride him better, I was too tall for a 13.2hh pony.
Another friend organised a bold skewbald hunter called Trixie, pictured below, and finally I progressed.
We hunted with the Taupo Hunt Club – I can’t imagine jumping full wire fences now! We even won the intermediate class of a One Day Event – the absolute peak of my competitive riding…!
Trixie and I were fortunate to have fantastic support from my parents’ friend who trucked us to events with her daughter.
We had friends to ride with across fantastic farmland – a wonderful way to spend my last few years at school.
After university and into my first grown-up job, a colleague had a horse and said I could keep one at the same place.
So along came my darling Anglo-Arab Sian, pictured right.
I felt a great connection with my pretty bay 15.2hh gelding, but the poor love was frightened of plenty of things – shoeing and floating – so I invested in trainers.
Riding on busy roads on the outskirts of our biggest city wasn’t ideal, but by the time I sold Sian to travel overseas, he was a more well-rounded horse. I do miss him.
What’s your writing routine and where do you write?
Writing usually has to fit in around other commitments, but I get my best work done by getting up early to write before ‘work’ writing. I’m usually on the sofa with the laptop, a cat or dog beside me and a cuppa.
Where do you get your ideas?
Who knows? It seems like everywhere! The more involved I am in a story, the more ideas seem to pop up anytime.
Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it?
It’s not really writer’s block; it’s more being stuck with the plot or a character and why they’re doing or not doing something. I go to bed with a specific problem in mind and ask my subconscious to think about it. You’d be surprised how often the answer will be there the next day.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Making things up! It’s my made-up world and I can direct the action anyway I like – until the characters start saying ‘Nup, we’re going to do this!’
And the worst?
Not having enough time to write. Fiction writing has to fit in around my PR writing for now – and homelife, three dogs, two cats, growing cut flowers for local wedding florists, friends and husband – so it can be a juggle!
Here's a photo of Snow, our rescue dog, who was the inspiration for Pudersnö, the companion of the unicorns' protector, Celestina, in my books.
I get my inspiration from all sorts of places. A day trip to the Matukituki River valley, part of Mount Aspiring National Park, provided inspiration for the third book in the series, Chloe and Mikaela's story.
If you didn’t write what other career would you love to have?
Photography as that’s visual story-telling.
What was your favourite pony book growing up and why?
Hands down, The Midnight Horse by Monica Edwards. It has everything – ponies, a great mystery, good friends, camping by the sea, the Pageant, rescuing Banner from the gypsies, the lovely Merrow family. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it!
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
Well, I’ve only written one so far – Lily and the Unicorn King.
I started it in 2013, sent it for a developmental edit in 2015 (it was ripped to pieces), shelved it for nearly two years while my husband and I moved to the other end of the country to start a business for him, completely rewrote it in 2018 and finally finished in 2019. Let’s hope the second one is a lot faster!
What are you working on at the moment?
The second book in the series, Sasha and the Warrior Unicorn.
Which book are you most proud of and why?
Lily and the Unicorn King because (a) it’s my first book and (b) I actually finished it!
Which are your favourite horse and human characters in your own books?
I like each of the three friends – Lily, Sasha and Chloe – in Lily and the Unicorn King. It’s been huge fun getting to know them.
Of the three main unicorn characters – Ambrosius, Sigvard and Mikaela – who will all feature in a book with their favourite girl, I think I like Sigvard, pictured below, the best so far for his bravery and straightforward approach to things.
But I’m looking forward to writing Chloe and Mikaela’s story soon, too, as it’s going to be kind of quieter but more complex than the first two stories.
And finally, if you were a horse, what breed/colour would you be?!
Ooh, finishing with a curly question! I think I’d be a Clydesdale-warm breed cross which are popular in New Zealand. Steady, sensible and kind, with a little flair and creativity.
I hope you enjoyed my chat with Kate! If you want to find out more about her and her writing, check out her website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
That's all from me for now. Speak to you soon, and in the meantime...