Getting Back into the Saddle. By Jan Ruth.

          I do wish my mother wouldn’t answer the door or phone in my absence with, ‘Oh, she’s not in, she’s riding Tom.’ 
          Most callers probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but I can guess that the postman probably smirked
          Let me tell you about my love affair with Tom. He’s so tall I have to stand on a box to mount him. He’s very dark, apart from a couple of white socks, very male, and impossibly handsome but he knows this, so that’s possibly a minus. He always smells divine too, although I appreciate this is an acquired taste. He ran away with me once, and you might think that an incredibly romantic thing to do, but Tom’s idea of excitement was tearing hell for leather across open parkland whilst I danced that crazy line between exhilaration and terror. 
          Tom is, of course, a horse. A Thoroughbred-Welsh cross, no less. I’m not new to riding horses but Tom sometimes makes it feel like the first time… I should probably stop with the double entendres now, but in some ways I can draw comparisons with riding beyond middle-age, with getting back into writing from a long, dormant absence. Getting back into the saddle as an author has been challenging, sometimes painful, sometimes rewarding, much like my obsession with horses. 
          I thought I’d reached the finishing line about twenty-five years ago when my third attempt at a novel (Wild Water) attracted the interest of an agent. If you are a self-published author yourself, you can probably guess the rest of the story. I fell ‘between genres’. The experience was not unlike hurtling across a cross-country course, bravely leaping the enormous fences, not always with style but nevertheless safely over, even to a smatter of applause here and there, before stumbling over an inconsequential rut in the ground, to fall between a rock and a hard place a few feet before the winning post, no podium, not even a mention, despite the glory of the race.
          Before Tom came along, I had Ted. He was a racy fellow, a little out of my comfort zone. If Ted had been a man, he’d be very upper class with a dicky bow. If Ted had been a book, he may well have been hovering on the periphery of my reading list, like those books you know you ought to read and admire but find them too hard going to really enjoy. The afternoon started well, with Ted and I leaping gorse hedges and huge granite rocks with no effort whatsoever on his part. I don’t mind admitting that I started to feel youthfully confident. Hey, I thought, as we cantered along the tracks, I can still do this! He made me look rather good too, with his elegant prancing and the flicking of his fancy forelock. 
          My companion took up the pace and we galloped side by side, slowing only to take a watery ditch shivering with sunlight, and cantering on. Far more athletic than myself, Ted turned on a sixpence to head back, but I didn’t. I fell between a rock and a hard place. Ted careered back over the ditch, stirrups flying, and disappeared over Halkyn Mountain. My friend caught up with him eventually - he was discovered browsing the borders of a rare cottage garden - and yes I did get back on, despite a bright blue hand and a broken finger. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve fallen from horses, probably on a par with the number of times I’ve fallen off the keyboard, so to speak. So, my mixed genre novel went in the bottom of the wardrobe and that was that. 
          The advent of e-books coincided with my son’s passion for web development and computer programming, and so began the process of converting typed manuscripts into computer files. And now here I am, pulling on my body protector and logging onto the internet. Body protector, you ask? Oh yes, I decided it would be sensible to invest in one of those. I went to have a ‘fitting’ at the local saddlery and equipment suppliers, whereupon a handsome young chap strapped me in to the equine equivalent of a bulletproof vest. It was awfully uncomfortable but he told me it would mould to my body in time, and to wear it around the house, you know, to break it in.
          So here I sit many weeks later, astride the old kitchen chair, alarmingly upright and still un-moulded. It doesn’t help with writer’s block but at least I’m protected from spinal injuries, should I fall to the floor.
          You will have guessed I’m a (middle-aged) horsey girl, so keeping to the theme, an excerpt from Midnight Sky:

          In less than ten minutes, she was pulling up in the Morgan-Jones’ yard.
           It was busy with evening stables. There was a radio playing somewhere and two teenage girls larking about with an overfull wheelbarrow. Laura walked across to the farmhouse and the treacle-like smell of fresh meadow hay filled the air, reminding her of one of the nicer aspects of her childhood. Once on the doorstep, she stood for a full minute staring at her boots, working out what to say, ready to eat humble pie no matter how rude he was. She needed to remember what Lucy had impressed about him being a total sweetie, although that took a lot of imagination.
           She knocked tentatively on the door and an age seemed to pass before he answered.
           ‘You again?’ he said flatly.
           ‘Can I come in, just for a minute?’
           He held the door open for her. Laura followed him down the hall, past the little office and into a large, messy kitchen. There was a ferocious open fire, a huge farmhouse table strewn with small items of tack, and a mountain of unwashed dishes. He was in the middle of cooking dinner, something with pasta and garlic, and there was an opened bottle of Shiraz, one glass.
           ‘I’m starving so don’t expect me to stop and listen.’
           ‘No that’s okay.’
           Because the room was so warm, the richness of the cooking smells made her feel queasy. Laura dragged out a kitchen chair and perched on the edge, resisting the urge to put her head between her legs. She pinched the top of her nose and took several deep breaths. Oh, God, please not now, she thought. Morning sickness couldn’t last all day, could it?

          The huge grey dog under the table got up to look in her bag, and she struggled to retrieve it, keys and loose change spilling out. James seemed oblivious and carried on stirring something on the hob so she mostly stared at his back. The Lurcher, bored with her bag, stuffed its long nose in the direction of her crotch.
          ‘I wanted to apologise, for earlier today. I think we got off on the wrong foot and...’
          ‘You’ve been talking to Liz?’
          ‘Well yes, she did tell me about… about your wife,’ she began, pausing to push the dog away as hard as she dared. ‘I didn’t mean to be insensitive.’
          There was a long moment of silence before he said, ‘Okay, is that it?’
          ‘More or less. Actually, do you think I could have a glass of water?’ she said, feeling the familiar watery mouth and clammy forehead. She was about to ask him where the bathroom was when he turned to look at her, saw her begin to retch, and guided her towards the Belfast sink. Gratefully it didn’t amount to anything too disgusting, which she was immensely thankful for, because during the long seconds she was staring at the plug he remained in close proximity, one hand on her back.
          When she felt it was safe, Laura sat back down. ‘Must have been something I ate,’ she said, too embarrassed to look at him, but he didn’t seem  fazed, more mildly concerned, ‘Are you saying your sister’s poisoned you?’
          ‘No,’ she said, horrified he should think that. The only plausible solution Laura could think of to redress the farce, which was taking over the entire weekend, was the truth.

(An excerpt from MIDNIGHT SKY by Jan Ruth)

          You can find more about Jan's books here.


Prue Batten said…
I'd never thought of comparing riding with writing. In my case, that'd not be a good thing as i gave up when my horse developed navicular disease and I headed off to the open seas instead, with my kayak. Less dangerous? Perhaps. But then again, it's sink or swim as an independent author. Wonderful post, Jan, and I LOVE your plots, your style and your genre... thank you.
Jan Ruth said…
Thank you Prue!
julia jones said…
My daughter is always whinging at me for writing about boats not horses. Will tell her about Midnight Sky forthwith. Would have said 'Glad to have you on board, Jan' but best re-phrase and say 'it's great that you've joined the AE stable'
Jan Ruth said…
Thank you Julia! Yes I've always been a horsey gal. My other titles are less so, but then I compromise with dogs.
Jan Needle said…
i got on a horse once, on llandbedrog beach. it looked like a bloody long way down to the sand. i said to bethan: can i get off now, os gwelwch yn dda? then i went for a sail. nice post, jan. welcome.
Jan Ruth said…
Ah well, horses for courses, I don't do boats or water in any shape or form. Rather be strapped to a bolting horses than bob about in a boat.
Thanks for the welcome.
Bill Kirton said…
I've always envied people on horses. I've only ever ridden twice myself and neither beast was very impressed with my efforts at persuading it to do particular things or even go in a specific direction. Nonetheless, I still love the idea of meandering through the woods on horseback and even cantering if I felt really brave. As it is, I'll have to content myself with enjoying descriptions of the experience such as those you're offering here, Jan. Meanwhile, two of my very young, not yet very strong granddaughters gallop about on ponies over which they seem to have complete control. Life's not fair.
Jan Ruth said…
Hi Bill,
Yes it's small girls who have the real flair. I was one of those once and thought nothing of tumbling off, now of course I have to try and act my age.
Dennis Hamley said…
I've only ever tried to ride a horse once and reading this great post brought the whole hideous traumatic day back in startling detail. No horses for me. Or boats, Jan. I feel diminished by telling you that so I'll have to cling to my bike in self-justification. Yes, a lovely post. The extract was super. Thanks.
Jan Ruth said…
Thank you Dennis!
Glad you enjoyed the extract. I always think of this title as my more indulgent feminine scribble, although my other half did say 'it's not bad,' once when I made him read the draft. (He prefers wheels too.)
I did receive a lovely message from a teenage girl once who said she'd been in a lot of trouble for reading this book during a maths lesson! Girl after my own heart.
madwippitt said…
Made me smile! Everyone should have at least one dark horse in their lives ... and have you tried the inflatable body protectors yet? Very important to remember to unclip it from your saddle before leaping off in dashing style at the local pub ...
Louise Wise said…
We kept horses once upon a time. Happy times. Lovely article, Jan. You've made me want to mount a tall dark stallion! :)
Jan Ruth said…
Madwippett; in a word, no. Far too technical for me! I hate them all, hubby makes me take it with me and then I leave it in the boot.

Thanks Louise! Glad you enjoyed it, and yes you can't beat a tall dark... er horse.
You are such a good writer Jan,it's a pleasure to read you. And I share your love of horses.
Jan Ruth said…
Thank you Julie; the feeling is mutual.
Kate Hanney said…
Great post,Jan! So pleased you got back in the saddle and back on the keyboard! Tom sounds lovely; exactly my type of mount. My handsome steed and I have been together for 26 years this month, and I love him to bits! Enjoy the writing and the riding. All the best, Kate, x x
Jan Ruth said…
Thank you Kate, we share the same passions, (although Tom is all mine.)
Jan, your post made me smile. I'm also the owner of a black mountain of horse, and in the early years I definitely thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew. I never wore the body protector round the house, but I did break in long leather boots by wearing them while I cooked Christmas lunch. They felt like plaster casts and getting out of them involved hysterical tugging. Welcome to the AE stable!
Jan Ruth said…
Thanks Roz. Oh, yes hysterical tugging, I'm no stranger to that either. And what about equine underwear? (For the rider, not the horse)
It's funny (at least when you are a teen) to have boots pulled, which in turn pull jods and... well yes, everything else.
I put my character Maggie through some hysterical tugging,
brings back memories!
Helen Hollick said…
Interesting post - and Yay for all Indie published writers everywhere! I used to ride but hips and knees hurt too much now - though one day I might pluck up courage to give it a go again.
WE've just moved from London to Devon, bought a lovely old farm house with 13 acres & stables, so after many years we have the horses at home - we being my husband and adult daughter & her partner. (more info on my Devon Diary:

Kathy rides side saddle as well - now that I would love to try.

Keep up the writing - feel free to put an add for your books on my FB page
Jan Ruth said…
Hi Helen,
Apologies for late response. It's lovely to find so many horsey authors.
I'll look up your pages too, thank you.
Hywela Lyn said…
Oops, how did I miss this nice horsey post?

I have a black Welsh Cob called Harri, who is a sweetheart - however I've gone off body protectors! You see I ride 'Western' and when on board my very spooky paint mare (the opposite to Harri in temperament) the velcro fastening of said body protector caught on the horn of the saddle and she freaked out at the sound and bucked like a bronco, causing me to end up in a heap in the middle of a very hard footpath alongside the grassy track we'd been galloping up. So in this instance my 'tall dark gentleman' is a whole lot safer than the female of the species! :) )
Anonymous said…
Fun post. I have a tall, black TB too, but she's a lady. Used to be a dressage queen. She's 28 now, so we just hack.

I know what you mean about being caught in the genre crack. That's why I went indie too.

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