When I first put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking, of course) to write about a spunky young woman who inherits a racehorse and falls in love with his trainer, it was with the intention of submitting it to a Mills & Boon competition. This plan rapidly unravelled as the story, later to be christened Keeping the Peace, took on a life of its own with characters with fiery libidos who would often need their mouths washed out with soap, clocking in at about double the standard M&B length.
I'd enjoyed writing about the world I'd created so much - the fictional town of Helensvale (the name of which I borrowed from a district in Zimbabwe where I used to horseride as a child) and the setting of which I'd borrowed when living in Bristol and taking a drive through the beautiful Somerset countryside the one day - that I toyed with the idea of writing a sequel. But I didn't want to rehash the same love story over and over. I needed new protagonists for fresh fodder. I set myself a new challenge. Could I write an entire series of racing books and tell them from a different perspective in each?
Using that method, the Aspen Valley series was born. Keeping the Peace had already been written from the point of view of a racing secretary, whom I always considered underrated in the industry. For Giving Chase, I had the bones of an idea of what challenges a female jockey might come across, the most problematic I was soon to discover was of one very sexy jockey called Rhys Bradford, based on a certain someone within RL racing's confines who shall remain nameless ;)
With that book done, I was well into my stride and even more in love with jump racing than I'd been at the start (if that is at all possible) thanks to what I was learning through my research and meeting the people who were helping me. I wanted to show readers that, in this sport, you don't need to be a millionaire to take part, so I wrote Share and Share Alike, the story of a group of ordinary folk, working ordinary jobs, living ordinary lives, who come together to form the Ta' Qali Syndicate. I wanted to show that from a mutual interest in racing, people, who mightn't otherwise socialise, can have a great time together, even more so because of their variety. There was a bespoke jewellery maker, a florist, an English literature lecturerer, a pub landlord, an accountant, an author, an 80s has been pop star, and a lord of the manor...
With Share and Share Alike done and dusted, I began thinking of the next novel and there was one facet of racing that I couldn't get out of my head. Pacemakers. It's more common in flat racing than it is in jump racing, I grant you, but it doesn't stop me from grinding my teeth when I see a horse trying his heart out, being maxed out at the front just so his stable mate gets a better trip. This notion had the potential to provide an interesting plot. So was born Making the Running and the introduction of one of my personal favourite equine characters, d'Artagnan, who was based loosely on a colt I used to look after in Australia. He was the closest incarnation of a teenage boy I'd ever come across in a horse, and he melted my heart with his pranks and quirks. The fact that he was by Hemingway had (almost) nothing to do with my affection for him. Maybe.
|My Hemingway colt, officially Papa, fondly Hemmers, refusing to get up to work in the morning.|
At this point I was faced with a slight dilemma. I knew the Aspen Valley saga was coming to its natural close but I still had half a dozen plot ideas that I didn't want to go to waste. Unfortunately, I would be tying myself in knots trying to make them fit into the story already told. Should I persevere and eek out 6 books for the series? Or did I end it naturally with 5 and keep those plot ideas for a new series completely?
I opted for the latter, but with the compromise of introducing the new series, albeit sneakily, in Making the Running. The eagle-eyed among you might have wondered what the point of a drunken Declan O'Keefe explaining to Kate about the racing establishment he and his band of Irish brothers were setting up was for. Well, hopefully in the not too distant future, you'll have your answer.
So, now that I wasn't contorting myself into writing stories I didn't want to write, I got on with the book that I'd been looking forward to for ages - Chasing the Wind (originally known as The Colour of the Wind). In this book, I took a step into the unknown by telling it from a man's point of view, something I'd always said I'd never do, but by now Jack Carmichael had been living in my head for the best part of 6 or 7 years. I knew him better than I'd know a new female lead. Plus, I loved being in his company (as the story unfolded, this wasn't always the case, but we got there in the end).
In fact, when it came to THE END, I was rather sad. It wasn't just the end of another book, it was the end of my time at Aspen Valley and a world that, over the years, had layers upon layers of detail - things like the Moulin Raj Indian restaurant, the Golden Miller's beer garden, the Helensvale skateboard park, the community centre, and the ridge on Aspen Court's West Park that overlooks the estate and the deer herd - all engraved on my inner eye as a real place full of real people.
On the advice of my editor, I've left the door ajar for when I get so homesick for Aspen Valley that I can't help but return. When that will be, I don't know. In the meantime, I hope you'll join me in escaping one last time into the magical world of Aspen Valley with its final chapter, Chasing the Wind.
Champions are made by the adversities they overcome.
When tragedy strikes Aspen Valley Stables, racehorse trainer Jack Carmichael is in danger of losing everything – his wife, his reputation, his sanity… then in walks Lucy Kendrick, a young reporter, all set to shadow him.
Every journalist has an agenda and Lucy is no different. Can she uphold her cover when charismatic jockey Finn O’Donaghue makes her want to be no one but herself?
The Grand National beckons once more, but when the yard’s runners start to foul fall of the authorities, the future of Aspen Valley Stables is threatened. Is the wreckage that is his personal life compromising Jack’s ability to train or is there something more sinister going on?