On Writing, with Shelley Peterson
Shelley Peterson's Saddle Creek series — YA for the horsey set — has already spawned five popular titles. Now her protagonist Bird is back with a sixth adventure, in Dark Days at Saddle Creek (Dancing Cat Books).
Shelley speaks to Open Book about equine friendship, how to keep a series fresh and her upcoming projects.
Tell us about your book, Dark Days at Saddle Creek.
In Dark Days, Bird is enlisted by an undercover RCMP officer to help resolve some nasty incidents in the horse show world. In this book she deals with family problems, trains Sundancer for the Caledon Derby, and discovers her father and previously unknown background.
This is the sixth book in the Saddle Creek series. What are some of the challenges and pleasures of working on books in a series?
The beauty is that the characters come to life very quickly and you’re away into the story more easily. Their histories have already been created, and their personalities defined, so a lot of the character development has already been done. The problem is that sometimes you wonder if you’ve written something before — dialogue, situations — and you can easily fall into a rut. Keeping it fresh and new becomes more difficult.
What do you enjoy about writing for this age group? Do you remember a favourite book from that age?
This is the most receptive and open age of all, in my opinion. The books I read when I was that age — Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, Black Beauty, National Velvet, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, etc. — had the biggest influence on me than any I’ve read since. When I write for this age group, I feel I’m reaching people who are sponging everything up. They’re willing to open their minds and eyes and ears, and they want to absorb life fully.
Bird has a special connection with horses. What is your own relationship with horses like?
Horses have been special to me since the first day I laid eyes on one — an old mare named Lady. Just today I helped the vet file teeth and give shots and deworming paste in the barn. My mare Olivia will give birth to a foal mid-May, and I’m very excited to see what she’s been carrying in her belly these past many months. We have 20 horses on our farm, of which 7 belong to us. I ride, jump, hack, but I especially enjoy bringing a young horse along, teaching him/her that life is good and work is fun. They give me great enjoyment and fulfillment.
Were there any books you read prior to or during the writing this book that you found inspiring?
I cannot think of a book that inspired me as I wrote my book, but events in my life certainly did, as they always do. My dear father-in-law died, and a friend found his long-lost father. Underhanded stable intrigue reared its head, too, and many of the unbelievable cons in the book were actually true!
What are you working on now?
I’m writing two different books right now. One is a continuation of the Saddle Creek books, and one is with an entirely new cast of characters, still YA and still with horses in central roles. I have other projects (an adult fiction and a WWII non-fiction) on the back burner, and they’ll have to stay there for now!