Q&A :: Jackie Merchant :: The Promise Horse

A few weeks ago I posted about a new horsey middle-grade novel I had read and loved – The Promise Horse by Jackie Merchant. Since then, I have been lucky enough to be able to get in touch with Jackie to ask her a few questions about writing The Promise Horse – her answers are below =)
 
Do you remember when the idea for The Promise Horse first came to you and what inspired you to write it?
I don’t think there was just one moment or point of inspiration which led to idea of The Promise
Horse
, but rather many moments and many thoughts that wove themselves together in my head until I had the story, and then once it was in my head it had to come out. I think I’ve always been writing in my head. I was inspired to write it because I am, and have always been a big reader, except
when I am writing, then I don’t read much at all, and I remembered how much as a young reader I
wanted good horse books to read, that really reflected that connection between rider and horse, and
the extraordinary things you can do together once that bond is established.
 
As a past pony-clubber myself, I felt like the passion Harry felt for riding, and especially wanting to participate in the gymkhana, were so perfectly spot-on (I literally cried over the gymkhana bits!). Did you do pony club at Harry’s age, or draw on other experience when writing these?
I didn’t do Pony Club, but we used to go to a gymkhana just about every weekend when we were
young, starting out very inexperienced and gradually over time learning as I went, but I suffered for
the first few years very badly from nerves, so much so that I used to feel sick from the moment I woke up, until pretty much the moment I got on the horse. But there was still something in me that wanted to go, despite that. The big change came when I realised my nerves were upsetting my horse and I was able to get a grip on them by thinking of his welfare, and from then on everything turned
around. In the Gymkhana scene in The Promise Horse where Harry runs and Marksman follows her I
actually did this at a gymkhana and that’s exactly what my horse did. The table bit I made up, as I’m
tall and was able to get back on my horse.
 
One aspect of the book that I really appreciated was the strong bond the grows between Harry and her horse, Marksman, and that Harry is able to draws from strength from their friendship to help her deal with the challenges she is going through, including grieving for her sister. When you started writing The Promise Horse, were that friendship and the grief always both part of Harry’s story? Or did one come after the other?
This is a great question. Short answer is the grief was always there in the story from the word go, and so was the friendship, but the grief was intensified as the writing went on, almost as if as I wrote it the developing bond which was coming together on the page enabled me to push and see just how much Harry could cope with, and because I wanted to make that bond that she develops with Marksman enough to hold Harry up and back her up after Sissy left, I could keep pushing it a little bit.
But if I had to choose which came first it was the bond between Harry and Marksman as this would
have been part of their story even if there had been no Sissy.
 
Did you set out to tell this story for a middle-grade audience, and if so was there a reason you
wanted to write for that age group?
I love horses and I always have and I think that there is a level of understanding, and intuition for
communicating with and understanding and simply loving horses for what they are in young readers,
and not everyone is as lucky as I was to have a horse or a pony, and I remember what it was like to
be able to get a horse novel and to just for a while own that horse, and live with that horse, ride that
horse in my imagination, and I really wanted to imagine all those young readers being able to own
Marksman for a while, and I felt moved to write because I wanted to make sure that the horses were
written “real” if you like, and not from what someone imagines horses are like but from what I know
they are and can be.
 
Are you currently working on something new that you can tell us about?
I am currently working on my second novel, which I hope to be able to share some news about very
soon.
 
Lastly, I’d love to know what you are currently reading, or something that you have read lately and loved?
I don’t have anything lined up to read next as I won’t read anything now unless its research until my
next novel is finished, but what I’d really like is some suggestion from you as to what you think
would be a good one for me to celebrate with when this manuscript is finished to celebrate my
return to reading… give me a couple of options and I’ll let you know once I’ve read them what I
thought! I know I’ve got The Hate U Give on my list.
 
(I have two YA suggestions for Jackie, and both of them are horsey! P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater)
 
***
I can’t thank Jackie enough for taking the time to answer my questions! 
 
xo Bron

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