I do wish my mother wouldn’t answer the door or phone in my absence with, ‘Oh, she’s not in, she’s riding Tom.’
Most callers probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but I can guess that the postman probably smirked. Let me tell you about my love affair with Tom. He’s so tall I have to stand on a box to mount him. He’s very dark, apart from a couple of white socks, very male, and impossibly handsome but he knows this, so that’s possibly a minus. He always smells divine too, although I appreciate this is an acquired taste. He ran away with me once, and you might think that an incredibly romantic thing to do, but Tom’s idea of excitement was tearing hell for leather across open parkland whilst I danced that crazy line between exhilaration and terror.
Tom is, of course, a horse. A Thoroughbred-Welsh cross, no less. I’m not new to riding horses but Tom sometimes makes it feel like the first time… I should probably stop with the double entendres now, but in some ways I can draw comparisons with riding beyond middle-age, with getting back into writing from a long, dormant absence. Getting back into the saddle as an author has been challenging, sometimes painful, sometimes rewarding, much like my obsession with horses.
I thought I’d reached the finishing line about twenty-five years ago when my third attempt at a novel (Wild Water) attracted the interest of an agent. If you are a self-published author yourself, you can probably guess the rest of the story. I fell ‘between genres’. The experience was not unlike hurtling across a cross-country course, bravely leaping the enormous fences, not always with style but nevertheless safely over, even to a smatter of applause here and there, before stumbling over an inconsequential rut in the ground, to fall between a rock and a hard place a few feet before the winning post, no podium, not even a mention, despite the glory of the race.
Before Tom came along, I rode Ted. He was a racy fellow, a little out of my comfort zone. If Ted had been a man, he’d be very upper class with a dicky bow. If Ted had been a book, he may well have been hovering on the periphery of my reading list, like those books you know you ought to read and admire but find them too hard going to really enjoy. The afternoon started well, with Ted and I leaping gorse hedges and huge granite rocks with no effort whatsoever on his part. I don’t mind admitting that I started to feel youthfully confident. Hey, I thought, as we cantered along the tracks, I can still do this! He made me look rather good too, with his elegant prancing and the flicking of his fancy forelock.
My companion took up the pace and we galloped side by side, slowing only to take a watery ditch shivering with sunlight, and cantering on. Far more athletic than myself, Ted turned on a sixpence to head back, but I didn’t. I fell between a rock and a hard place. Ted careered back over the ditch, stirrups flying, and disappeared over Halkyn Mountain. My friend caught up with him eventually – he was discovered browsing the borders of a rare cottage garden – and yes I did get back on, despite a bright blue hand and a broken finger. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve fallen from horses, probably on a par with the number of times I’ve fallen off the keyboard, so to speak. So, my mixed genre novel went in the bottom of the wardrobe and that was that.
The advent of e-books coincided with my son’s passion for web development and computer programming, and so began the process of converting typed manuscripts into computer files. And now here I am, pulling on my body protector and logging onto the internet. Body protector, you ask? Oh yes, I decided it would be sensible to invest in one of those. I went to have a ‘fitting’ at the local saddlery and equipment suppliers, whereupon a handsome young chap strapped me in to the equine equivalent of a bulletproof vest. It was awfully uncomfortable but he told me it would mould to my body in time, and to wear it around the house, you know, to break it in.
So here I sit many weeks later, astride the old kitchen chair, alarmingly upright and still un-moulded. It doesn’t help with writer’s block but at least I’m protected from spinal injuries, should I fall to the floor.
Words and photography by Jan Ruth