Write Your Own Story

3d4ee1db5d3591084c1f57bf8a1bf37d_cool-drawing-idea-drawing-random-shapes-and-colors-coming-out-of-thought-drawing-ideas_498-700Where do ideas come from? Even if I tell myself I’m done with writing for a while – and I do, frequently – something will eventually worm its way out of my subconscious. This mutation of daydreaming is often coupled with observations of other people and happenings in their lives, as well as my own, until eventually all of these considerations are pulled together and mulled over, like some sort of fictional tombola. And for me, it’s those personal stories which add an extra layer of reality to a work of fiction. Write what you know is all about understanding your subject thoroughly, and preferably having experienced some of it first-hand.

I’ve been working with disabled people through my local RDA (Riding for the Disabled) for some eighteen months. Then earlier this year I was offered the opportunity to train as an assistant to a therapist working for WITH (Welsh Institute of Therapeutic Horsemanship). This is all about people with mental health problems, and the astonishing success of equine therapy relies purely upon the interactions between people and horses. I hope my modest experience adds a touch of reality and richness to the story of Gift Horse.

Unique-horse-assistedOf course, I’ve touched on horse-whispering techniques, therapies, and mental health issues in the Midnight Sky series, and part of Gift Horse is a natural continuation of that theme, one which this time connects more directly to my main character. Caroline is a product of her sheltered upbringing. In direct contrast her flat-mate, Niamh, is part of a loud, sprawling Irish family – including the gorgeous but licentious Rory O’Connor; Caroline’s nemesis. Unfortunately, Caroline is intent on pleasing everyone except herself, and there’s a price to pay…

Gift Horse is a contemporary time-slip novel about the choices women make, the healing power of horses, and the devastating consequences of human error.

silhouette-1992390_960_720I tend not to plan too much, other than factual things like dates, and timelines. And I don’t have a messy desk with endless notes stuck to my screen or big notebooks overflowing with complicated scribblings. What I do have is a good instinct for the order of things. I think this comes from reading a lot of good fiction and learning why and how something works; what to hold back, when to reveal, how much to tell, what to show, which scene works best as dialogue, or narrative. This balance will be slightly different for every writer, the literary stamp of personal style?

If there’s a parallel to be drawn between trying to break into commercial publishing and staying true to myself as a writer, then for me it’s the creative freedom to write the books I want to write. So many mainstream books are all following the same trend, and some of them feel like different versions of the same book. This might sound a bit like sour grapes (yes, of course big sales would be nice too!) but I think I know I’m not a mainstream author. I actually enjoy going against the grain. I like to let a story grow and mature until it’s ready to be picked from the vine, and there’s a tremendous satisfaction in penning a story which is unique to me. 

‘Ruth digs up the bones of what really matters to the human psyche and Gift Horse is no exception.’ John Hudspith, Independent Editor.

Gift Horse Cover MEDIUM WEBImagine living eighteen years of your life around a mistake…
Caroline Walker’s daughter suffers a horrific riding accident. Her distraught parents wonder if she’ll ever walk again, let alone ride. And when Mollie’s blood group is discovered as rare, her husband offers to donate blood. Except Ian is not a match. In fact, it’s unlikely he’s Mollie’s father.

Eighteen years previously, Caroline had a one-night stand with Irish rock star, Rory O’Connor. Caroline fell pregnant. Deeply flawed boyfriend, Ian, was overjoyed. And Caroline’s parents were simply grateful that their daughter was to marry into the rich, influential Walker family.

Caroline turns to Rory’s friend Connor; and although his almost spiritual connection with his horses appears to be the balm she needs, Caroline cannot forget Rory, or her youth – both lost to a man she never loved. Eighteen years on and after surviving cancer Rory lives as a virtual recluse in the Welsh mountains. Through his well-meaning but interfering sister, he is shocked to discover he has a teenage daughter. Or does he?

Someone has made a terrible mistake… someone is going to get hurt…

Christmas at Pensychnant

For the peaceful appreciation of nature.

Despite driving, walking, and riding past this place for many, many years I’ve only recently visited Pensychnant House and I’m ashamed to confess that the lure of home-baked cakes was one of the primary drivers.

24255021_1556180557799582_1168942086629676364_oThis isn’t a National Trust or Cadw property attracting an entrance fee (although contributions are always encouraged), nor does it house a lot of cordoned-off untouchable valuables. What it does offer is a real, modern experience of a Victorian house. This is partly down to the fact that the house is still very much lived in. The log fires are burned for a great many reasons. Today, Pensychnant works primarily as a conservation centre; holding exhibitions by local wildlife artists, organising guided walks, and of course, the annual Christmas fair when the Welsh dresser is laden with vast quantities of home-baked cakes. The Billiards Room is also available to hire for meetings. Although traces still remain, the original spectator area has since been removed. The idea of ladies watching the men play billiards was pretty much unheard of in those times, proving that the original resident, Stott, was pretty forward thinking!

The Turbulent History of Pensychnant. Today’s resident warden, Julian Thompson, has much to share about the history of the estate. The original house is a simple farmhouse dating from about 1690. Because of the existence of a second storey – probably originally accessed by an exterior stone staircase – it suggests that this would have been the property of a family of some means. Interesting that the draught generated between the front and back doors was utilised to winnow corn, and later, Stott affectionately christened the boot room in this part of the house as the Wellington Room. But it’s the Victorian extension built in the Arts and Crafts style (started in 1877 by Stott) which makes Pensychnant so unique.

Stott & Sons built about a fifth of the cotton mills around Lancashire. Surprisingly, the house had a central heating system from new, and in 1923 it received an electricity supply. Built initially as a holiday home for the Stott family, Abraham’s wife was less impressed with the house, particularly its rural location. Fearing he’d never encourage his family to move there, Stott fell into something of a depression about his investment. He reputedly left candles alight in vats of paraffin in the farmhouse, and took his absence. His desperate plan failed, since residents of nearby Crows Nest Hall spotted lights in the windows and went to investigate. Amazingly, Stott managed to escape being charged with arson despite harbouring not one, but three insurance policies about his person! In 1882 the wealth and standing of this hugely influential family clearly held the greater power.    

When the mill industry collapsed, Pensychnant was sold to the Collins family before it passed to Doctor Tattersall of Conwy. Then, like the stuff of fiction, something wonderful happened when the great grandson of Stott bought back the entire family estate in 1967. Although the estate continued to function as a working farm, Brian Henthorn Stott regarded it as a nature reserve too and as well as planting hundreds of trees; primarily Welsh oak, birch, rowan and holly. He installed a great many nesting boxes and the variety of birds remains prolific, especially the cuckoo. In Victorian times there was a brisk tourist trade in nearby Penmaenmawr based on collectors travelling from all over Britain to see the Pensychnant moths. There are still two species in residence today, so rare they occur nowhere else in the world…

Pensychnant Today. Sitting in 148 acres of conservation land, Pensychnant house is heavily concealed from the access lane on Sychnant Pass (the mountain road which runs from Conwy across to Penmaenmawr, where it eventually joins the A55 expressway) but if you’re interested in local countryside conservation or historical properties, or if you’re simply looking to escape the modern world for a couple of hours, Pensychnant is well worth a visit. For me, the elegant shabbiness of the house adds a richness not quite quantifiable in words. I guess it has atmosphere. And yes, of course there’s a ghost… the maid, who was murdered by the gardener in the chauffeur’s room.

Brian Stott established the Pensychnant Foundation before he died in 1997.   

The Pensychnant Foundation

The Pensychnant Foundation (a registered charity) was established in 1989 by Brian Henthorn Stott to: manage the Pensychnant House and Estate as a conservation centre and nature reserve; for the benefit of its wildlife; and to foster the public’s appreciation and understanding of nature and nature conservation. The house hosts an on-going exhibition of wildlife art by some of Britain’s most talented artists. Proceeds from the sale of drawings or paintings support the charity’s conservation work.

More information about Pensychnant and its programme of events can be found here: http://pensychnant.co.uk/home.html

 

Away For Christmas?

Away for Christmas Cover MEDIUM WEB Jonathan Jones has written a novel. Losing his job a few days before Christmas means the pressure is on for his book to become a bestseller, but when his partner drops her own bombshell, the festive holiday looks set to be a disaster. When he’s bequeathed a failing bookshop in their seaside town, it seems that some of his prayers have been answered, but his publishing company turn out to be not what they seem, and when his ex-wife suddenly declares her romantic intent, another Christmas looks set to be complicated. Is everything lost, or can the true meaning of words, a dog called Frodo, and the sheer magic of Christmas be enough to save Jonathan’s book, and his skin?

Away for Christmas is about the joy and pain of publishing books, the joy and pain of fractured relationships, and of course, the joy and pain of Christmas itself. The festive period is not always fun for everyone, but most of all, this is a story about staying true to oneself and looking for the real Christmas spirit beyond the baubles and the glitter. 

The story is set over three Christmastimes, and because I feel sure you’ll be looking for a few hours of warm and cosy escapism at this time of the year, I can assure you that there’s a happy ending by the time Jonathan makes it to 2017. 

Regular readers will know that my characters tend not to be in the first flush of youth, and that the joy and pain of relationships are often par for the course. Christmas is very much a family time and can unearth a multitude of unwelcome emotions and in the case of my character, present plenty of troublesome hurdles before the festivities can be enjoyed. His ex-wife doesn’t always make life easy, but Jonathan is determined to be a better dad, against all the odds. 

Facebook Xmas promoAnd finally, the joy and pain of publishing books! There are some great publishers out there, ones who achieve results, look after their authors and understand the industry from the ground up. This story isn’t based on them.

A story for readers and writers. It’s no secret that I’ve been round the houses and back again with regard to writing and publishing. Thirty years ago I used to believe that a good book would always be snapped up by a publisher regardless of genre, style, and content. In the real, commercial world, this just isn’t true. I see on a regular basis, writers excited by offers from vanity publishers, or those who operate under the guise of assisted publishing, not realising the implications until it’s perhaps too late. Even contracts from those real publishers with seemingly no pitfalls or upfront costs, can dissolve into a horribly disappointing experience. Of course, my poor character thinks he’s landed lucky when a small publisher offers him a three-book deal. What could go wrong? If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book or maybe you’ve just typed THE END to your manuscript, you might think twice about your next step…

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Bookmuse Magazine: “If you’re a writer you will laugh, despair and sympathise with Jonathan Jones, and the trials and tribulations he faces as he battles to become a published author. And if you’re a reader, you’ll be captivated by the excellent story-telling that weaves Jonathan’s complicated life into a page turning drama. A real feel good novella, perfect to curl up with on a stormy winter’s afternoon…” You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jojo Moyes, Jill Mansell, Erica James. Ideal accompaniments: Hot chocolate with marshmallows and a plate of shortbread.

AWAY FOR CHRISTMAS: an excerpt.

He wondered whether to kiss her goodbye or wish her a happy Christmas, but that had gone horribly wrong with Denise. He really wanted to hear her laugh and bury his face in her hair, but neither of those things were likely unless he managed to fall down the reception steps and she caught him in her arms. He resorted to a handshake instead which felt much too formal but it meant he could escape before he made a fool of himself.
Twenty minutes later he turned into his parents’ drive on auto-pilot, ignoring the twitching curtains on either side of number 46 and the slowly deflating Santa on the roof of number 32. He felt like a teenager again, minus the excitement of dare or discovery. He was simply reliving all the embarrassing parts; Christmas with his parents, angst over his love life, and not nearly enough cash. No doubt Annabel and his parents would play their well-rehearsed roles and ask the same old questions. He knocked on the door of their bungalow and a dog barked from within. This was strange because his parents weren’t really animal lovers and they’d had a no-pets rule since about 1975, not since Annabel’s ferret had fallen foul to a fox and left a trail of entrails amongst the begonias.
Once Jonathan was inside the dog followed him down the hall, and the second he came to a halt in the kitchen, began a thorough inspection of his feet. His mother proffered a cheek while she fussed with baking trays and hot plates.
‘Look at you with no hat or scarf on a day like this, you must be frozen.’
‘I’m wearing three woollen vests and a pair of long-johns to compensate.’
She rolled her eyes at this and his dad pushed a glass of something fizzy into his hand.
‘How’s business, Jon?’ This was Jim’s standard greeting, as if everything was measured by the success of business, and one which always grated. He knew his parents were disappointed in him, both for leaving a well-paid job for what they called an airy-fairy reason, and for selling Farmhouse Mews for less than the extortionate market valuation. But most of all, for breaking-up with Catherine whom they considered to be a thoroughly decent person, although that hadn’t been part of his master plan – if he could call his current predicament the result of a plan…

Away For Christmas: myBook.to/Away4Xmas

With or Without You…

W.I.T.H – Welsh Institute for Therapeutic Horsemanship

IMG_2747It’s a well-known fact that getting back to nature can offer a healing balm to those minds and bodies disadvantaged by modern life. Jackie Williams has taken this concept a step further by introducing horses to help heal broken people. But what of the broken horses? Her therapy centre on Anglesey (a satellite centre to the main base in Portmadog) is home to a wide variety of equines: abused, neglected, misunderstood. It may sound ambitious and unlikely, but Williams is adept at bringing the right combination of horse and human together, to create new bonds of trust, hope, and mutual respect.

How do animal therapies work? Don’t go looking for scientific evidence or hard facts as to why animal therapies work, they just do. Maybe it’s a sixth sense and only tenable if one is open to the idea. After all, communication is key to all forms of life. We do know that horses are a flight animal, reactionary to body language and more than capable of understanding what’s going on inside someone’s head and heart. Friend, or foe? Their survival instinct depends on being able to monitor situations and either look for a means of escape, or seek those beings who offer that safe harbour, a trusted leader. Trust. Once we have trust, we have the foundation to build good relationships, both human and equine. And rehabilitation can be all the richer for being a two-way journey.

IMG_3943Sapphire’s story. I recently enjoyed a visit to Jackie’s centre, based on Anglesey. The chestnut pony with blue eyes – Sapphire – had been ostracised by the main herds for a long time and wasn’t doing too well. It’s something of a mystery why this mare was shunned, but we think her poor eyesight may have much to do with the herds’ strict list of criteria for survival. After a few months of basic nurturing, ‘Saffy’ has been physically transformed, although she remains shy. Williams is keen to keep her ‘wildness’ and avoid over-familiarity, in order to add genuine authenticity to those therapy sessions.

IMG_2750And finally, so heartening that four more Carneddau colts have been rescued from the yearly Gathering; one of whom was badly beaten-up by the resident stallion and may well have come to a sad demise. These boys will be gelded and rehabilitated before beginning new careers as therapy ponies.

About the charity

WITH is a pioneering charity based in Portmadog, which aims to help disadvantaged individuals from North Wales and the wider community to improve their health and well-being through equine-assisted, educational and recreational activities. We work with individuals of all ages, many of whom face multiple disadvantages and might never have the opportunity to spend time around horses. Our unique method pairs clients with rescued horses for mutual gaining of trust and respect, and hope for a better future.

More information; book a course of sessions, sponsor a pony or become a volunteer: WWW.with.wales

Some programmes funded by Comic Relief and Children in Need.