Lights, Camera…

One of mine. I can only draw horses, nothing else, and that’s for a given value of “can”

… action. The one thing that has to exist in order for a novel to exist.

Lights, now, of course you need those. A great setting – especially for a fantasy novelist – is essential to success. Tolkien is probably the king of setting, from the barrows and Rivendel to Lothlorien and Gondor. And the mines of Moria have to be one of the creepiest settings I’ve ever read. And the weirdest thing? I must have read (most of) The Lord of the Rings two or three years ago and I still remember those settings and their names.

As for camera, a point of view is always important to the plot. I’ve been playing with POV myself lately. My first (cough) “novel” was in first person, past tense. For years afterwards – probably five or six years afterwards – I splashed happily along in my beloved third person, past tense. Distant, common, safe. Now, with the arrival of Another Sword, I went out on a limb and started to write in first person, present tense. It struck me as an excellent way to help me speed up the pace. Besides, my main character, Flann Hildebrand, decided that he was going to be first person present tense whether I liked it or not. Often ideas come to me in a certain tense, and that tense almost always works best for that book. Flann Hildebrand’s voice just wouldn’t work in third person, past tense. It’s hard to snark in third person, and snarking is what Flann is best at. (Yes, I am writing a Christian fantasy about love, peace and courage through the point of view of a cynical and exceptionally sarcastic teenager. No, don’t ask me how I will ever pull it off, but if God wills it, it’ll happen).

But lights and camera don’t make any difference if there is no action. Without action, there’s no story. And a novel without a story… is nothing.

And action is one of the things I struggle the most with.

The aforementioned first (cough) “novel” was a lovely little thing with cute characters, a pretty setting and no plot whatsoever. Lights, camera, and a complete lack of action. Nothing happened; the characters just meandered around partaking in random events which had no connection to one another whatsoever.

Ever since I’ve grappled with getting action into a story. I have improved; there are, at least, plots, even if they’re not very good ones. I took a step forward in the plotting direction with a novel entitled My Best Friend is a Werewolf (I wasn’t always a Christian writer) and, directly thereafter, a massive step backward with Ladiewolfe (oh, I suck at titles, too). Now, Another Sword, thanks to a careful outline, seems to be doing okay in the way of its plot. The plot problems have decreased into mostly pacing problems where scenes amble along not going anywhere at all. I’m determined to break that habit with Another Sword.

More pointedly, action scenes in the form of combat are very, very, very, very hard to write if your name is Firn Hyde and you are very bad at sentences. It’s getting better in normal description and dialogue, but the moment I hit a combat scene, it all goes pear-shaped. Run-on sentences abound; dashes are everywhere – and there are way, way too many commas and semicolons. (See what I mean?) Oh, and then my two dear old crutch words, “just” and “but”, crop up in almost every single sentence. I’m not kidding. I used “just” and “but” eight times apiece in a piece under 900 words long. That must be some kind of record.

The only thing I’m relatively good at with combat scenes is the choreography. I can reasonably reliably remember (did I mention my alliteration?) what my characters are doing with their hands, what they’re holding, how they’re holding it, where their feet are and what they’re doing with them. It’s so easy to make your character wield two broadswords, a mace and a crossbow all at once. Most of my heroes aren’t that talented.

Put them on horses and it all gets very complicated. Oh dear, I need to write a combat scene on horseback, he is a knight after all… (I just (aargh) found another hole in my writing. Oh, and I use too many parentheses. They’re another crutch).

Anyway. For the sake of some light entertainment for you, my darling readers, and for me to track my (hopefully) progress, here is a paragraph from a fight scene involving my current hero, Sir Flann Hildebrand, and an assassin who is trying to kill Prince Demetrius, to whom Flann is supposed to be playing bodyguard. Tariq is his horse. Enjoy. And if there are any writer people out there, jotting down a few suggestions will always be appreciated.

 

“Don’t drink! It’s poisoned! Get behind – ” My sentence ends in a curse as the first assassin somersaults out of a nearby tree well within the trip-lines. His throwingstar is already coming; I yank Demetrius aside just in time and the wicked spikes bite deep into the tree beside us. I aim my crossbow for the assassin’s chest, but he moves so fast, the bolt hits his arm instead. He yells, clutches his bicep and drops like a stone. Tariq snorts and takes off across the clearing, leaping the fire, and I spin in the direction he came from, already loading the next bolt. The pile of leaves my horse shied at just minutes ago erupts into the second assassin, scrambling out of a hole under the leaves, deflecting my bolt with his shield, pulling up a crossbow and firing. I plant my hand on Demetrius’s shoulder and knock him over for the second time today, the bolt only just missing his head.

 

I appreciate that Flann isn’t a model Christian. He shouts, he swears, he shoots people, he’s sarcastic and he tends towards pride. This, though, is just (ugh) the beginning of the story. This story isn’t about perfect people in a perfect world. It’s about an imperfect person slowly realising the truth about a perfect God.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Merge

In art, there are few subjects more classical than the noble horse. Even the oldest of cave paintings clearly depicts these graceful creatures, frozen mid-leap in their ocre colours on a canvas of pale stone.

Kings and generals were depicted astride a majestic stallion; equestrian statues are always more imposing.

I merged this classical image of the destrier with the very modern negative colour tone effect. The horse I chose for my model worked particularly well as he is primarily Friesian in breeding. Friesians, like other Baroque horses such as Pure Spanish and Lusitano horses, were originally bred as destriers (warhorses) for knights. His black coat also worked perfectly for the negative colour tone. This was taken with my Nokia C6 5.0 megapixel cellhphone camera.

 

Model: Achilles, 6-year-old Friesian/pinto gelding

 

 

The Bachelor Band

When horses live in wild herds, like mustangs, brumbies or Namibian wild horses, herds consist of a group of mares and foals with a stallion. Contrary to popular assumption, the stallion is not the boss. He’s the protector of the herd; he will face down rival stallions and predators. But the leader of the group is always a mare.

Horses have a point. (Just kidding. I did read Ephesians 5:22-28).

The lead mare has the last word; she says when to eat, sleep, drink, move, and run away from harm. She might not be the biggest mare, but she is the most stubborn and the most dominant. She’s always putting the other horses in their place. They must submit to her and let her be the boss, but in return, the lead mare has their lives in her hooves: if danger approaches, she’s the one who decides where and when to flee, she decides if it’s safe to go somewhere, and she will even attack a rival stallion or predator if she has to. She’s even dominant over the stallion, as Skye vividly displayed to me by routinely taking out her bad moods on Achilles. (In her defence, she was pregnant, and violently hormonal).

As you may have guessed, Skye’s the lead mare of her little herd and always has been. But

Herd Stallion. Well, he was, once.

it’s not about the lead mare that I’m going to waffle about today. It’s about the bachelor band. Grown colts and fillies are not allowed to remain in the herd; if they did, they’d breed with their own families, within a few generations they’d be horribly inbred, and that would be the end of horses. But God designed stallions to know which of the horses in their herds are their own offspring. Such young horses, around one or two years old, will leave the herd. The stallion will allow other stallions to take the fillies out of his herd (something he would never allow with the grown mares), and as for the colts, they’re kicked straight out.

Such colts are often very lonely, so they might shadow another herd, or, more commonly, form a “bachelor band”, a little herd of young colts. Once they’re old enough they will challenge another stallion for his mares, but for now they run, eat, sleep, and play-fight together as a group of vagabond brothers.

We have such a bachelor band now, but not by the horses’ own choice; this group of guys was orchestrated by mankind, i. e., the small part of it known as Firn C. Hyde. It’s been about two weeks since Achilles was gelded, so the Mutterer deemed him safe to live with the three colts, Thunder, Secret and Copper (his sons).

I had my reservations because I was afraid they’d get into a fight, especially Thunder; since Secret was weaned, he’s been the dominant member of the group, and I thought he might challenge Achilles for being the boss. (His being nearly two years old and becoming a bit of a stallion wouldn’t help).

But the Mutterer thought it safe, Achilles and the colts had been living in adjacent paddocks for weeks, there were plenty of people around to separate them if it went wrong, and I had prayed like mad, so off we went.

Da Boyz

 Armed with a lungeing whip, a helmet, a big strong dad and a prayer, I led Achilles over to the colts’ paddock and shoved him inside. Secret and Copper instantly glued themselves to one another like their furry coats were Velcro. Thunder, slightly braver, stepped in front of his little brothers and held out his nose, opening and closing his mouth in the gesture used by young horses, which seems to mean, “I’m just a baby. Don’t hurt me.”

Achilles arched his neck and pricked his ears, blowing in excitement through his nose. Father and son breathed into each other’s nostrils, smelling each other, stamping their identities on their long, equine memories. I was reminded sharply of Thunder’s birth nearly two years ago. He was just a tiny little golden colt beside a happy big golden mare, but he had eyes big enough to drown in. His nostrils were the size of teaspoons, coated in soft whiskers and a satin, silver down, flaring slightly as I bent forward and breathed my smell, my identity into his muzzle. He sniffed, then breathed back, little milky huffs from lungs which, one day, would fuel the speed of a creature born to run.

I wiped away a metaphorical and maternal tear. Achilles stomped over to his younger sons,

Thunder meets Achilles

still Superglued together. They backed off, petrified. Can hardly blame them; they’re less than half his mass. But as half an hour went by, they settled down, smelling their father, getting to know him. The two babies quickly submitted to him; Thunder took a little longer, but no fights broke out. Eventually Achilles flattened his ears and stuck out his nose and Thunder, lowering his head, ground his teeth. The pecking order was established.

Now for the first time in years – in far too long, at the indiscretion of his caregiver, the aforementioned small piece of humanity – Achilles is in the same paddock as a group of other horses. And isn’t he loving it! They live in gentle harmony, their herd neatly ranked from oldest to youngest, biggest to smallest; Achilles as the boss, Thunder second-in-command, Secret third, and Copper at the bottom, like a lot of organ pipes. Despite their strict ranks, they are great friends. One more thing people can learn from God’s creature the horse; to live in love and peace even though you’re not at the top of the food chain, to govern with kindness, and to submit with joy. Go on, click the link to Ephesians. It’s all true.

Copper the Cute

Thunder is now the second-to-tallest horse we have, which is a bit scary. Oh, and for the first time ever I own a full-sized horse. Skye is borderline at 14.2hh and I hesitate to call her a pony because she doesn’t like it, and Arwen is definitely a pony at 14.1, but we measured Thunder on the 15th and he is a proud 149cm, or only just 14.3hh. Most of that is legs, because he weighs probably 100kg less than his mom, but he’s not gonna do any shrinkin’. It looks like the Mutterer’s prediction of fifteen hands or taller is going to come true. Dancer hasn’t been measured for a while – she’s probably made 14.3 by now, too – and Secret, at seven months, was 12.1hh. He will probably be about the same size as Arwen. Copper is the midget; he’s around 11.3-12hh now, to make about 13hh. It means that I’ll never be able to school him properly because I am too tall. Isn’t that nice to hear for a change? The tall bit, I mean. Copper is for sale and looking for a loving home, maybe yours?

So the boys have had an eventful few days. The ladies, less so; Arwen continues to be sweet and pretty and well-behaved; we haven’t tried riding out since Thursday, but on the lunge, in the arena, and over fences, she’s been positiviely seraphic. I’m telling you, it’s the haircut.

Skye is still on holiday and unimpressed, voicing her displeasure by breaking down a carefully built double while Arwen and I were jumping and my back was turned. The wind has gone to their heads and they gallop around like maniacs, including the apparently lame Skye, who throws in a buck or two just to tell me how perfectly rideable she’s feeling. Dear sweet lunatic.

Please Lord, let her be as sound as she thinks she is. I miss riding Your horse.

The Aspiring Hairdresser

I am a little obsessed with the appearance of the Horde right now. First I was chopping off a few centimetres of mane where the bridle sits (admittedly I lopped off several inches of Arwen’s because I thought it made her look like an Arab; two weeks later with the new hair standing up it made her look even more like a mule than normal). Now my attention turned to the tremendous billy goat beards growing like weeds on my native mongrels’ chins. Not very flattering except perhaps to Clydesdales and Arwen in particular was looking more like a demented bush donkey than ever.

So I got a bee in my bonnet, and, after checking with the Mutterer that the unsightly hair did not serve any vital purpose (like whiskers or the long guard hairs in their ears), got out my scissors. The horses took cover. At least, they would have, if they were more smart and less tolerant.

Dancer post scissor attack

There was no way I was practicing on Skye or Arwen and Rain would kill me if I messed up Siobhan, so I started on Dancer.

Poor Dancer.

To her credit, she was very well-behaved and didn’t stir a hair, but if she had had a mirror she would have; the end result was a beardless Dancer with her jaw cut in zigzags. Thankfully there is still plenty of time for her hair to grow back before Thunder and Achilles move down to the ladies’ paddock or she would be absolutely mortified.

After my practice session on Double D, Arwen’s haircut thankfully came out looking more professional and less like she had gotten into a brawl with Edward Scissorhands. In fact, I even like the clean-cut look.

Maybe Arwen likes it too because she was very, very well-behaved yesterday. I rode her very briefly in the arena, working as usual on getting the correct lead (more on that later), before taking her out. We have been having a lot of issues around going out lately; many of her old problems like spooking, jogging and head-tossing reared their ugly heads and it was not without a touch of nervousness and a fervently whispered prayer that I rode out. The prayer was answered; whether it was the beautiful, quiet, warm weather or the ride in the arena first or just her mood, she started out perfectly. I quickly relaxed and, as always, she relaxed in sync.

Arwen may not be the most forward-going or responsive horse but she is definitely very

Bad picture of Arwen after haircut

sensitive when it comes to feeling her rider’s emotions; if I’m tense, impatient, and jittery she completely explodes on outrides, spooking at her own shadow. If I relax, ride with a loose rein and admire the view, she does the same and takes me on a nice ride instead of fighting all the way.

In the arena she’s also very quick to realise just how far she can push her luck with a certain rider. She doesn’t take terrible advantage of an inexperienced rider, but she does have a lazy streak, so she will dawdle and cut corners off and put her head between her knees if you let her. If you give Siobhan or Dancer an inch, they’ll take a mile. If you give Arwen an inch she’ll only take that inch but inches add up pretty quickly if your mount takes every single one of them. With me, she’s not very cheeky, because she knows me and she knows that I try very hard to keep her in line. With beginner riders, though, she can be a pest; not unsafe, but frustrating and lazy. And she’s different with every single rider. Pretty good with Rain; all right with the most assertive out of my three students; deplorable with the others.

Please can I have an apple? Please? Pleeeease?

Back to the outride, even though we came across a little duiker and I’d taken Blizzard along, both Arwen and Blizzard behaved themselves impeccably and we even had the courage for a little gallop up the hill. The rest of the ride was spent in a gentle walk, but for about 100m I let her run a bit and she didn’t buck, shy or bolt, her ears were up, she stopped immediately when I asked her to, she had fun and all round I was impressed. Keep up the good work, Arwie.

At our lesson on Wednesday we were both a bit befuddled; our flying change of Tuesday was an absolute fluke and we cantered figure eight upon figure eight struggling to get our heads around getting the leads right. The Mutterer changed my inside-leg-banging-shoulder technique to inside-leg-rubbing-flank and she cottoned on quickly, but we still had a bit of trouble. Probably more the rider’s fault than the horse’s.

Siobhan was a bit bratty during our lesson, too; she is getting very lazy when it comes to cantering and refuses to canter more than about two sides of the arena at a time, and that’s on her good side. The answer, of course, is more schooling; I only ride her once a week and then Rain will ride her once or twice and I’ll use her for a lesson. But I don’t have the time. Achilles has been a paddock ornament for months, Copper is looking to go the same route, Thunder and Secret are being despicably neglected and as for Dancer… The trouble is that I would far rather just work with Skye, Arwen, Thunder and Secret without messing around with all the others. Don’t get me wrong, I love them and love working with them, but I keep feeling that I’m only doing half a job with all of them. That’s why I need to sell them.

There is one horse, though, that I’ll never sell, and that of course is God’s horse, the golden

Fluffy baby Copper

Skye. I really, really miss riding her, but she’s very happy and healthy and I can see no trace of lameness when she runs around in her paddock, but the Mutterer recommends a real proper rest, so her holiday will continue. Enjoy it, Skyecat – you deserve some time off even if you don’t want it.

Today was a day off for the rest of the Horde as well, since I was off to Bushwillow Stables to go ride somebody else’s steeds. The latest addition to the livery stable is an American Paint stallion with the most striking colouring I have ever seen. Reed is palomino, but with beautiful dapples like a dappled grey, and with big white patches to boot. A palomino paint. Add a huge white blaze, innocent dark eyes and a friendly nature and you have me hooked.

I helped with teaching a lesson to two of my favourite part-time pupils, two sisters with a huge sense of humour, on lesson horses, the feisty Pumpkin and my favourite giant thoroughbred ever, Double Reef. My ride for the day was Pumpkin’s part-thoroughbred, part-Appaloosa bay roan daughter, Firefly. She’ll be about five or six now and hadn’t been worked for a while, plus, as I led her into the arena to saddle her, a group of grooms were loading some pigs to go to auction and said pigs were squealing blue murder even though no one was hurting them, so Firefly was thoroughly unhappy by the time I convinced her to quit running over me and dragged her to the ring. We gave her some time in the lungeing ring to settle, but she was still jumpy when I saddled her up. The pigs had long gone, but she had decided that that corner of the arena was filled with horse-eating monsters and stuck to her conviction. So we spent half an hour dealing with The Corner. To her credit, she was mainly just trying to avoid it and only actually shied or bolted twice, so it wasn’t too bad. By the end of it she was going around the corner without doing anything stupid, just mincing along a bit nervously.

I was okay; I won’t say much for my riding (OK, it was bad), but confidence-wise I was better than I expected. I hate being nervous. As a beginner I was pretty confident, but then again, as a beginner I only rode the greatest horse in the world (i. e., Skye). Then along came Achilles and my world fell down around my ears a little bit. But since meeting Jesus and becoming a Christian, I have Somebody to lean on. I’m not all alone anymore. When I’m really struggling, I just say a silent prayer and feel the angel riding pillion with me wrap his arms around my middle.

It helps to know that even if I fall off and break my skull or backbone or whatever, it’s all been planned. It’s all in God’s hands, and they’re the best hands there are.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Home, James, and please spare the horses

We’re all back home again and I am back to work with Skye and her Horde. Achilles has recovered perfectly from his gelding surgery, about which we are all very relieved, and in about six weeks’ time he can go and live with the ladies. I might move him to the colts in the meantime, depending on the likelihood of a fight, because if 350kg Thunder takes on 550kg Achilles it will not end very well. Thankfully, Thunder has never been the fighting sort, though I can see his boy hormones are starting to work. He’ll have his operation in September.

Big, black, beautiful gelding

Speaking of Thunder, I have been woefully guilty of spending far too little time with him, so since I got back I’ve been making a special effort to work with him. He’s very tame and quiet and easy to handle, but his responsiveness can definitely be improved upon. He tends to dawdle along on the end of the lead rein behind you and only understands pressure from the halter, not, for example, from a hand on his bum pushing him aside. We spent half an hour working on this on Monday and he did improve, so I’m sure with time he’ll learn. He’s not a very fast learner, but he isn’t easily frustrated. The poor guy is not even two years old yet, so we have plenty of time before he needs to be backed. I backed Siobhan at the age of two, but she was far more advaned in her lungeing work than Thunder because that was back in the good old days when I had a lungeing ring. A new one is under construction, but it’s not the fastest-moving project.

Yesterday I took Thunder for a walk; he likes walks and tags along happily like a very large and amiable dog. We plodded out towards the Shuddering Woods (A. K. A. little grove of bluegum trees) and surprised the lactating Jerseys, who were all lumbering out of the forest. The sight of a hundred cows coming crashing out of a forest often sets Arwen off like a firecracker, but Thunder just stared at them in amazement for a few minutes, decided that they weren’t going to eat him, and went back to grazing.

Secret also went for a walk on Monday, although he is still getting used to going out all by his poor little self and we only went to the Far Side (a set of Holstein paddocks on the furthest end of the electric fence). He’s very good; new to it all, and spooked a few times, but only whinnied once and did none of the pulling and pushing and fighting that was so much part of teaching Copper, Dancer and even Thunder to go out. In many ways Secret is very easy; he is much like his mom, a bit skittish but not rebellious, although he learns faster.

Said mom has been doing very well. I lunged her on Monday and she was a bit of a nutcase, but having had ten days off and still being fed maize to fizz her up, I can’t really complain. She had a small buck once, and spooked at something, taking off at a flat-out gallop for a circle or so, but easily came back to a canter and did not shoot off for the horizon the way Dancer does.

Arwen had lessons to teach yesterday, and with the youngest daughter riding her, she was

The closest that Arwen gets to looking photogenic

actually rather a star; she likes to haul on beginners’ hands and refuses to trot with many of them, but Tanya is a talented rider, Arwen was in the right mood, and it all came together. I was significantly impressed. The elder sister was mounted on Siobhan and did splendidly; I had neglected to ride Siobhan first and make sure she wasn’t feeling stupid after her holiday – she’s generally fine after holidays – and this turned out to be a mistake. She got a fright of something while my back was turned and apparently gave a buck and ran for a few steps. Danielle didn’t even lose a stirrup and brought her back to a halt, of which I was very proud. After that the lesson continued without mishap; I watched Siobhan like a hawk, but she plodded seraphically along without putting a hair out of place.

When the lesson had ended, the girls begged me to show them how you jump a horse. They still have some work to do before they can jump themselves, but they do love to watch jumping. I had my reservations since Arwen hadn’t jumped for about two weeks. I figured that if I messed up I could always turn it into a “How Not To Do It” lesson, so I set up a little 80cm and hopped on to warm Arwen up. She was in an absolutely magnificent mood, focused, relaxed, forward, picking up the correct lead every single time, and as we cantered diagonally across the arena to change rein I felt like challenging her. Usually when we change rein in canter I ask her to trot for a stride or two and then ask to canter on the new inside leg, but she’d been so good I wondered if we could try a flying change.

Dressage books always seem to say “outside leg behind the girth, inside leg on the girth”. If I had a horse that sensitive, I would sure try to make my aids that subtle. With Arwen, though, and with bumptious beginner me, I bring my inside leg well forward and give her a firm tap on the shoulder with my toe and stirrup iron. The outside leg stays pretty neutral, unless I want her to speed up, in which case it gives a kick or nudge depending on her mood. The inside hand asks for a little bit of bend – loads, if she’s not getting it – and the outside hand says “slow down” or “don’t fall in”. So. Arwen cantering on the left lead. Sit up straight. Hands soft. Outside leg still. Inside leg tap. Arwen took one very messy canter stride and by the next stride she was on the right foreleg and I was elated. We just did a flying change on PURPOSE!!! I have no idea if, when prompted, we can do it again, especially considering we were changing from her least favourite lead to her favourite lead, but we did it once, so it’s a start.

Anyway, flying changes over, we started to jump. Our rhythm was shocking; out of four jumps, we jumped one in good rhythm, took off much too early on another two, and got far too deep on the fourth, making a nasty little bounce. However Arwen jumped cleanly and I didn’t grab her mouth, so no catastrophes.

Poor Skye feels very, very left out. She gets groomed and massaged and fed and fussed over every day, but it’s just not the Same, she gripes. I want to be Ridden, she insists, shoving me with her nose as I walk past her to catch Arwen. You’re forgetting about me! she snorts as I pull up the girth. That’s the WRONG HORSE, she thunders as I ride out the gate. And when I’m schooling in the arena she stands in the way and blocks the road, glaring. To give me a little hint, she parks herself beside the mounting block. And if all else fails, she turns her tail on me and sulks monumentally.

I feel sorry for her, but I’m pleased that she likes people so much; she’s always begging for attention. Eight years ago she took off like a rocket when a human came near. She has the most wonderful personality I’ve ever encountered, and I think her sulking is just plain adorable. But don’t tell her that. She doesn’t like to be adorable.

Nobility

I haven’t trotted her up to check on her lameness for the past three weeks, but I can’t see any lameness when she walks around or (in exploding excitement) gallops around like a demented mustang, so I’ll just have to hope and pray and wait for the Mutterer to look at her this week; he’s much better at this than I am.

As for Dancer and Copper, they have been pretty quiet lately; Dancer had a short in-hand lesson on Monday and did not kill anybody, and Copper is being bullied by Secret, so gets tied up outside the gate at every meal so that he can eat in peace. Gripping stuff.

Another Sword increased in size by (I hope) at least 8-10 000 words during the holiday; I’ve hit the middle, which is always where I get bogged down, but I’m determined not to get squashed there this time. I may have to heed the sage advice of Faith Hunter, bestselling author and member of Magical Words: “If the story lags, throw in a dead body.” (They’re only imaginary!)

I’ve also written an article on the Nooitgedachter horse breed for Equus Ex Nihilo, the lovely Christian horsy e-zine edited by Rebekah Holt. I love contributing to EEN – go on, click the link, subscribe. It’s free and chock full of horses and God, so what’s not to like?

There have been many adventures on the bovine front as well, but to avoid repeating

The latest calf for Christ: Joyful Bree (Sire: Ahlem Jace Epic)

myself too often, I’ll leave you to go and look for those yourself at the all-new Hydeaway Farm Blog. A new Joyful Jerseys blog will hopefully follow!

Sun, Sea, Surf and Palominos

My family – minus the hairy, four-legged members – spent the past week on the East

Mom, Rain, Dad, Pix and Tom

Coast, visiting our weird and wonderful grandparents, Tom and Pixie, and their pets, a Ridgeback named Rusty and two cats called Itzi and Scrappy.

The courageous members of the family – from left to right, Pixie, Rain, Tom and Dad – braving the cold while Mom and I, bundled in jackets, watched from a safe distance

It was brilliant seeing Tom and Pix again; both are the best grandparents you could ever have, being young at heart, playful, and wise. Tom’s extreme patience and skill were evident as he taught me how to sail Horizon Unbound II, a boat shorter than its name, and Pixie’s endless games of Rummy and delectable dishes kept us all fed and entertained.

I have never been one for swimming so spent only one hour in the water all week, splashing in the warm Indian Ocean, bogey-boarding and getting dumped, half-drowned, bruised and stiff, which is a lot of fun in the right circumstances. Sailing, first introduced to me by my Canadian penpal, turned out to be something I absolutely adore when I got over my abject terror of being squashed by the rampant boom. I may add that the only sailing took place on the lagoon, which is no deeper than I am tall. There were no mishaps apart from running aground on the rocks but all we did was push HU2 back into the water and off we went. Very slowly.

Happiness is a dog on the beach

On Saturday we all charged off to visit Midas-Touch Stud, a prestigious Warmblood stud owned by the very kind Charne Pestana. I was like a six-year-old on a sugar kick. For years I loved Warmbloods from a distance and this would be the first time I’d come face-to-face with the blue bloods.

Most beautiful of all is Dream in Gold, the handsome palomino stallion. He’s amazing and he sure knows it.

A prince among horses

This elegant black mare, Tabella, was very friendly.

Drop-dead gorgeous

And this pinto mare has such a noble head, plus the striking colouring.

Pride

It was a real treat seeing the Midas-Touch horses. If I could afford one, I would buy it without even thinking. Unfortunately, I can’t. One yearling is probably worth more than all the members of Skye’s Horde put together. Still, it’s nice to dream.

And besides, I have the golden horse with the golden heart. For something that special, golden medals can wait.

Another Sword

I quite like the title right now, but I bet there are about a thousand things wrong with it, because there are about a thousand things wrong with every single title I come up with. That’s just the way the world works. I will need a supremely patient and talented editor if I ever get a publisher.

In any case, that’s the working title I picked for the new W. I. P. (Work In Progress), since I’m tired of just “Flann’s Story” or “Story about horses” or “New story”. This one is something a little new to me. It still counts as a fantasy, but the magic elements are severely limited; only antagonists use magic and they don’t do it on-screen and it’s portrayed as very, very bad. It’s set in Earth, but on a series of islands that are entirely figments of my imagination, and its main themes are about faith, courage, meekness, and humility. I’ve always written mostly for my own enjoyment, but this one’s for Jesus.

Apart from its title, the new W. I. P. is doing very, very well. In fact, I probably haven’t written the first five chapters of a novel so quickly since I was ten years old and writing my second novel. Even then I only went so fast because a) it was a load of junk and b) I was on holiday and had nothing better to do.

In five years’ time I will probably also think Another Sword is a heap of junk but, for now, I quite like it. Its protagonist has a very distinct voice (at least to my mind), and unlike my last protagonist, he’s driving the story instead of being a victim of the story, making dynamic decisions from the word go.

I’m not entirely sure why this story is moving so quickly. Maybe it’s because, after taking nearly a month off from novels when I ran into a wall with my previous W. I. P., my creative energy has built up and the dam has burst into a flow of words. It could also be because of the way I tackled the prewriting; for the first time in my life, I’m writing a first draft from an outline, right from the start. I was a classical “pantser” (writing from the seat of my pants) for years, but I think I’m going over to the “plotter” side now. There’s no stopping to wonder “Uh… what happens next?” because I already sorted out the basic shape of the story with that outline. All I have to do now is write. And write. In less than two weeks, the novel has grown to just over 23 500 words. I dearly hope it will fetch up at around 90 000 words instead of the overloaded 160 000 I wrote last time.

Most of all, right now, I’m focused on pacing. I can’t pace a novel to save my life; I always think they’re going too fast and then, when I read them through afterwards, find out that if they went any slower they’d be going backwards. I stuff them full of filler, stretch out the plot agonisingly, make up twice the amount of characters necessary, and come over far too melodramatic on the epic battle scenes until even minor clashes end up about the same size as the climax.

This time, I’m trying to keep it lean, fast, and moving strongly. Instead of having six or seven main characters, this one has about five, villains included. It’s written from only one point of view, as well. Most of all, I’m trying to make every single scene count: if nothing much happens, then it has to be deleted. If every scene counts, maybe the story will keep moving. My characters aren’t as awful as they could be, but plot is a major weak point, and one that I can ill afford.

I think sentence structure and description may be suffering a little as a result of the fast writing, but those things are easy to spot and to fix in revisions, or at least easier than plot holes and weak characters, to my mind. This is a first draft, after all, and the main goal right now is just to get the thing down on paper before it disappears.

NaNoWriMo in August, here we come!