Horse Rescue: Where did the stories come from?

Structural editing: pages from the book -- 'cut and paste' old school!

Structural editing: pages from the book — ‘cut and paste’ old school!

Where did Horse Rescue stories come from?

My publisher, Andrea McNamara from Penguin Australia, approached me to see if I was interested in writing this book. Of course I said yes!

Right from the start, Andrea and I agreed that we wanted to create a book of inspirational stories rather than focusing on the stressful issues that lead to horses being neglected, abused or sent to slaughter. As I say in my introduction to the book, you can easily go and find that information if you want to, but what brings me joy are the inspiring, goose-bumping, enlightening stories of exhilarating triumph, quiet meditative wisdom, life-changing moments and powerful self-healing. Most importantly, we wanted to highlight the relationship between the rescue horse and the person or people whose life had been changed because of it. And Andrea invited me to weave my own personal stories into the book as well. Then we worked out a structure and I set about filling the chapters.

The keys to the successful stories were that (1) this was not a book about horse slaughter specifically (and though a number of the horses were rescued this way, many were not); (2) it was not a book about horse rescue organisations (though one of the stories came via one in Victoria), and nor was it a book about equine therapy organisations specifically… a broad mix of stories was needed; and (3) the focus was on the relationship between the rescued horse and the rescuer, so the interviewee needed to be able to clearly articulate the way in which that horse had changed her or his life, and be willing to have that shared with the whole country!

The book opens with the story of me and my rescue horse, Lincoln (a gelding I ‘accidentally’ bought at a dogger sale on a blistering hot day in September 2009), who changed my life, not least of which was by inspiring me to start a horse rescue charity.

For other chapters, I approached a few people directly, such as Jill Strachan and Elf, because I knew their story well and found it so moving. My dad texted me one night and told me to turn on the TV to ABC’s Compass, where I found a story on Colin Emonson and the Horses for Hope program in Victoria. And through Colin, I found Michael Williams, in and out of prison for seven years before finding hope through horses. My stepmother found a story in the Women’s Weekly on Sue Spence and the Horse Whispering Youth Program. I contacted Sue and asked her if she happened to have a rescue horse in her therapy team. As luck had it, she had little Larry, a rescued miniature pony who not only helped her through the healing stages of breast cancer but who went on to change literally hundreds of children’s lives.

For other stories, I cast a wide net. I emailed scores of organisations (pony clubs and equestrian and RDA groups), explaining my agenda for the book and inviting people to contact me if they thought they had a powerful story to share, and I listed my request many times over on various Facebook sites too. From one of those posts, someone emailed me and told me to contact Australian Olympian, Rebel Morrow, who had rescued her horse, Groover, from slaughter and taken him all the way to the Athens Olympics. I had been looking for exactly that type of story but had been running into dead ends until I received that person’s email—another piece of luck that popped up at the right time to help shape the book’s development.

Slowly, the rest of the stories began to come to my inbox. To be honest, I was worried I would be inundated and I’d have to say no to people and disappoint them, something I really dreaded. Although a few stories came in that were great in themselves, for one reason or another they didn’t suit the book or show enough variation in story type to be included. But mostly, the ones that came in were the ones that stayed. I was truly blessed with quality not quantity and I was thrilled with the great variety.

I did try hard to include some male perspectives in the book because men’s voices are generally under-represented when talking about horse rescuers; and I did try hard to find content from places in Australia outside of the eastern states, but as it turned out none came through. 

I didn’t contact horse rescue groups specifically because I know there are lots of them around the country and I didn’t want to appear to be favouring any one organisation over another. But none were excluded as anyone from anywhere in Australia could have emailed through a story. It was just the way the cards fell. (The only exception to that was that I think I might have sent information about the book to one organisation in WA and that was towards the end when I hadn’t received any contributions from outside eastern Australia. But that didn’t pan out either.)

Of the Skype interviews that I conducted, there was only one I didn’t take further and that was because that particular story (though wonderful) was just not quite right for the mix of stories already in the book by that time.

It was a lengthy process, and the very final chapter’s subject only came in a short time before the final submission deadline. I’m so very grateful for everyone who shared their stories. The honour was truly mine.

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Horse Rescue: Inspiring Stories, published 27 August, 2014

cover high resHorses are powerful beyond their physical measures. Through their unique bond to people, horses have the ability to heal, teach, and change lives. A person might rescue a horse, but so often it ends up being the other way around. And sometimes the deepest transformations come when we least expect them.

Meet Sue Spence, who rescued little Larry, a pony that helped her through the stages of breast cancer. There’s Rebel Morrow, whose journey to the Athens Olympics with her rescued horse, Groover, is nothing short of miraculous. And there’s Michael Williams, in and out of prison for twelve years and finally seeing some light through the Horses for Hope program.

These and a dozen other rescuers celebrate the special bonds they’ve formed, and share what they have learned from their amazing equine companions.

‘What brings me joy are the inspiring, goose-bumping, enlightening rescue stories of exhilarating triumph, quiet meditative wisdom, life-changing moments and powerful self-healing.’

Horse Rescue Book Coming Soon

I’m very excited to announce that my first non-fiction book for Penguin Australia is Horse Rescue: inspiring stories of second chance horses and the lives they changed has been officially signed off and sent to print!

The book is due for release on 27 August 2014. I wish I could show you the cover but I don’t have a final version yet, but the draft version is GORGEOUS and I can’t wait to share it with you. In the meantime, here’s a few pics to keep you going.

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Publishing with Penguin Books Australia

Publishing with Penguin Books Australia

I am proud to announce that I have a contract with Penguin Books Australia for a non-fiction book, Horse Rescue Stories.

I have been working on the book for most of this year and have been travelling around the country and interviewing, photographing and meeting some wonderful people who have rescued a horse. The focus of the book, a topic close to my heart, is the way in which a rescued horse changes the person’s life, just as much as the person changes the horse’s life.

I am so very proud to be working on this book, a project I didn’t go looking for but that came to me in one of those fantastically serendipitous ways, and am really looking forward to bringing these stories to you. Stay tuned for updates!

Letting a Book Go

Before

I really haven’t solved the question of how to let books go.

Some of you may remember the picture I posted a while ago of my bookcase, overflowing with books. And you may remember that I ended up simply buying another bookcase instead of letting any of the original books go.

Well… some months on… my husband and I are in a wild de-cluttering frenzy at the moment, in part because we’d like to move house by the end of this year and our rationale has become ‘if we were to move house tomorrow, would we take this with us?’

The main bookcase has long been in need of de-cluttering but we’ve managed to do wild cleaning out of the kitchen pantry, cupboards, the shed and various drawers, each day passing stressful eyes over the bookcase, which has sat there silently, reminding us to do something about it. (We couldn’t even open the doors safely for the books that came hurtling out towards us.)

Yesterday, we finally did something. And we talked a lot about the process and just why is was so damn hard to let a book–any book–go from our life. We love books. We value books. We treasure books. We see books as artworks, repositories of wisdom and knowledge. But it’s more than that. Every book we’ve read becomes a part of us. And we become a part of that book. We give a piece of ourself to the book and the book becomes a piece of us. Letting go of a book is like letting go of a friend, a memory, a sensory experience.

After

What do you do with the books that you re-read every few years or so? Or the books that you adored but will probably never read again but still can’t stand to let go? Or the novels that you probably won’t read again but you feel you should keep ‘just in case’ you need them as references when writing your own stories? Or the books from childhood that shaped your imagination and spirit but that are literally falling apart and mouldy?

The de-cluttering resulted in three massive horse-feed bags filled with novels and non-fiction to be donated and a whole lot of space left in our precious bookcase for more gifts to come into our life. But it didn’t happen without vigorous debate, considerable angst and even some tears. It was a deeply emotional experience. Letting go of a book is not just letting go of a ‘thing’; it’s letting go of a living energy.

I still don’t know how to do it. We just did it as best we could: messily, angrily, sadly, and hopefully.

The only bright side in saying goodbye to these friends is that new ones will soon be here.

 

Queensland Writers Centre Blog Tour, coming to a blog near you

The wonderful people at the Queensland Writers Centre have invited me to be a part of their blog tour, running from October until December 2009. I was a little surprised but also delighted to be considered part of the tour. The idea is that they ask me six questions and I answer them …

Where do your words come from?

Passion. Anything that I am passionate about eventually bubbles its way to the surface and wakes me in the middle of the night until I do something about it.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up on the north side of Brisbane. Last year we moved to Blackbutt, which is only two and a half hours north-west of Brisbane, yet because it is inland (rather than straight up the coast), somehow receives very few services. (We won’t, for example, be included in the mass government upgrade to internet services that’s on its way.) But we have six acres of land that we are steadily filling with four-legged furry children and that makes us happy.

What’s the first sentence/line of your latest work?

There’s a moment when you know you’re going to fall off a horse.

This is from my current work in progress, a YA novel set in the late 1950s in rural Australia.

What piece of writing do you wish you had written?

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. No one could read this book and not be touched by plight of horses and the overall themes of the need for compassion for every living being. And the character of Ginger’s story in particular… oh, it still makes me cry just thinking about it.

More recently, the Ingo series by Helen Dunmore. These are engrossing children’s fantasy books about our oceans and people’s responsibility towards them and their inhabitants.

(There’s a bit of an animal/environmental theme going on here…)

What are you currently working towards?

In writing, I am working towards a series of YA novels set across three time periods in rural Australia. In life in general, I am working towards feeling compassion and kindness to every living being (which is more difficult with the humans). Right now, I am setting up a new charity for the rescue and rehabilitation of abused, neglected and homeless horses.

Complete this sentence… the future of the book is…

enduring.

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, happening October to December 2009. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog The Empty Page.

Distilling the Memoir

I have a memoir that I began working on so many years ago that I’m not sure when exactly it began. I do know that I haven’t worked on it for over a year. But it calls to me every now and then and I have been hearing its voice recently, calling me to mend it.

I realise that right now, I have lavender, but what I really need is the essential oil. I need to distill the words—-steam them open to release their fragrant workings and healing properties. Right now, the words are pretty, waving in the breeze and showing their colours. But they are a little weed infested and we are held back from reaching the richness of the scent within. img_0348 

A memoir is a difficult thing. For me, it is the  most challenging of all the genres of work I have begun and finished. More than any other form of writing, it is terribly difficult to gain perspective on something that is so personal. And it involves so much going back rather than moving forward. 

But the bees are buzzing around my words, spreading pollen and helping my little flowers to grow—-hopefully into something beautiful.