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Talking With Susan E. Conley

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This time I chat with author, freelance writer, and horse enthusiast Susan E. Conley. Susan came to the horse world later in life, and like most of us found horses had a huge impact on not only her creativity but her sanity as well.

Resident in Ireland for twenty one years, Susan E Conley went horse crazy at the tender age of 41 and 11/12ths. In 2006, she finally got up the nerve to get up on an actual horse as opposed to reading and dreaming about them, and it’s been harder and easier than anything she’s ever done yet.

Susan is a graduate of Pratt Institute with BFA in Communication Design. She has worked in the field since the summer between sophomore and junior year and counts The Village Voice, New York Magazine and Entertainment Weekly as past design experiences. She has a Master of Philosophy in Irish Theatre Studies from the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College, an Honours Degree in Psychology, and a diploma in Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning.

She worked as journalist soon after moving to Ireland as theatre critic and as a feature writer on lifestyle topics. Susan is the author of three other books: Drama Queen; The Fidelity Project; and the soon-to-be-rereleased That Magic Mischief. She is at work on her next ‘horse book’ as well as a new paranormal/historical romance series.

Susan was not born in the saddle and didn’t even get near a one until she reached middle age. It never even occurred to her, as a child, to pine for a horse. She doesn’t run a yard, compete at a high level, or even own her own horse (yet.) After fourteen years though, she’s still in love with everything horsey and member of her yard’s riding club; she stands as safety officer and is hoping to compete off-yard in 2020.

What type of books do you write, and how long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing for, yikes, over thirty years. The very first thing I wrote was a one act play that got produced as part of a competition Off-Off (Off) Broadway. I made a short film of it and continued to write plays and screenplays while working on independent films and with an independent theatre company — all while working as a magazine designer as the day job. I moved to Ireland from NYC in 1998 and without any contacts in either realm, via journalism, turned to writing books. I’d classify myself as an ambivert and while I like getting out and about, I had the space to find that sitting by myself making up stories is truly my bliss point.

I am the author of three novels, all in the romantic comedy vein, and I’ve recently signed a contract with Sourcebooks for a new romance series, The Shapeshifters of the Beau Monde, a Regency era historical/shapeshifter mashup.

Many Brave Fools: A Story of Addiction, Dysfunction, Codependency…and Horses is my first memoir. I had started blogging about taking up horseback riding in mid-life following my divorce from an active substance misuser, around the time that people were getting blog-to-book deals. I didn’t get one of those! I keep plugging away with it regardless, querying agents, revising, engaging the services of an editor, revising. I was thrilled when my proposal/manuscript was accepted by Trafalgar Square Books.

How did you get started writing?

I think I started writing because I am the poster girl for voracious reading and then became so invested in the power of narrative, as delivered by theatre and film, to fulfill not only the desire for entertainment but also for expressing unifying concepts. In terms of performance, there’s nothing like sitting in the dark with strangers and experiencing catharsis; as regards writing, living a story, for as long as it takes to read it, is so powerful. I wanted to be part of that world, part of providing that for people.

What is your biggest inspiration for writing?

I don’t know if I have an inspiration so much as I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t write. I might try knitting maybe, or do more art… I remember, when I was shopping Many Brave Fools to agents and getting no joy, I was thinking I’d just quit, and that notion lasted, quite literally, all of two heartbeats.

What is the most common comment that you get from your readers?

I think they appreciate the use of humor in my writing. There are aspects of Many Brave Fools that are dark and not funny, but my sense of humour still prevails. Readers find the memoir unexpectedly funny, which is the highest praise to me.

What is the message that you want to convey to readers?

After I finished my masters at Trinity College, I worked as a freelance journalist writing about the arts, and I did many interviews with practitioners in theatre, visual arts, writing, you name it. I always wanted to represent their projects faithfully but I also wanted to be able to give a look-in on their process and why they did what they did. I think that has carried over into my own work: that your intentions for your life and your goals are achievable and the trick, I suppose if you want to call it that, is to be flexible along the way, to readjust yourself continually, to keep your vision intact but to know that the journey is not a straight line from A to B.

Do you have horses? Tell us about the horses in your life.

I don’t have horses, but I do have schoolies that I ride consistently. I seem to have a knack for getting horses who hate going, to go. It may be that my leg is titanium because of having to get horses who won’t go, to go — it’s a chicken and egg scenario! I also am very sweet on whichever horse I’ve got, and as school horses don’t get much loving, I think that makes a difference. My current mount had a long stretch of disengagement but I am happy to report that his mood is elevated since we’ve been working together. Pony nuts may something to do with it…

What role do horses play in your creative process?

They save my sanity! Not gonna lie, but indigenous endorphins are the absolute business.They clear the cache of all the garbage that accumulates from daily life. And that’s not the physical activity of riding, but also the mental relief I experience from simply setting foot on the yard. You can’t think of anything else when you’re around horses, and it’s so freeing and yet so focused,; the knock on effect is that my mind feels free and focused off the horse.

What is your biggest struggle as a rider and how do you deal with that struggle?

Not having enough time/money to ride as often as I’d like. I feel like I’d be even better fixed mentally and creatively if I could get four rides a week — I’m only on two at the moment. I’m always in the market for more freelance work but lately it has required going in to work in other people’s offices rather than at home, which prevents me being up at the yard.

As regards my actual riding, it’s always something: my heels had started coming back up over fences last year. That’s sorted, but now my lower leg has got loose again? Eh, so, I’m working on that at the moment. Once that’s solved I’m sure another issue will rear its head. No pun intended.

What is your biggest struggle as a writer and how do you deal with that struggle?

It used to be time, but I’ve gotten good at using how ever much I have. Even if I take a current manuscript out for lunch when I’m day-jobbing, and write a few lines or make a few corrections, I’m moving the story forward.

In the beginning, when I had no notion that I could achieve what I set out to do, so I’d hold on until I could, like, spew it out in one piece — like a whole chapter, or whatever. Now I have more confidence in my process and I trust it, so I can consider a few lines of dialogue work well done.

My recent struggle is a good one, having to write to a contracted date. Up to now, I’ve had a healthy draft done before having it taken up by a publisher. The second novel of my mashup series is due in September and I’m sweating it a bit. The good thing is I’ve got the framework hammered out, I had a great freelance edit on the first novel from which I learned a ton, and I’m trusting my process (as above) and doing whatever amount of writing I can, every day.

What advice would you give a beginning rider?

I was and continue to be so fortunate in my instructors. The level of quality I enjoy is astonishing, and I know this because I’ve been around the mounting block a few times — I’ve experienced only okay teaching as well as very poor. I did some ‘riding around’ to see other places and ride other horses, and wasn’t too impressed. So my advice would be to shop around. Try a bunch of different places and pay attention to ho you feel after a lesson: do you feel like you’ve learned something and feel good, or do you feel bad? No one, at entry level, should ever be made to feel bad. If you’re not having fun and feeling like you are an amazing being, learning how to do something new, then move on.

What advice would you give a beginning writer?

Embrace the notion of a shitty first draft! Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott if you have not already done so; if you have done, read it again. She gives us all permission to write something imperfect, and speaks eloquently about perfection as the oppressor of creativity.

Listen to all the advice that other writers, the internet, and random strangers have about how much you should produce on any given day, when you should write and how often —then throw it all out as you figure out what your own process is. Mine changes from work to work: one novel required that I rise with the lark and write, which I hated with a passion; I wrote the first versions of every chapter of my masters’ thesis in cafes; the framework of the novel that is launching my new series was wrought during lunch hours. Feel free to take this all in and ignore it, too!

Some bullet points: I spent a lot of time giving my stuff to friends to read, and have learned that doesn’t work for me … If you’ve got to a place with your manuscript where you think may want to query agents or publishers, invest in an edit from a professional … Read your work aloud, it makes such a difference! … Time off from writing is as important as writing … and holy moly, put that pad and pen by the bed for when you wake up with ideas, I still have not learned this lesson and lived to regret only last week.

And kind of like the horseback riding advice, adapted: enjoy yourself, love the things you are trying to relate, and remember you are an amazing being doing something new, every day.

Many Brave Fools: A Story of Addiction, Dysfunction, Codependency… and Horses, by Susan E Conley, is available now from horseandriderbooks.com (USA) and quillerpublishing.com (UK and IRELAND)

You can find out more on Susan’s website.

Connect with her on Twitter and Insta @manybravefools and follow her blog on www.manybravefools.com

Talking With Equine Photographer Anna Kemp

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This time we chat with Equine Photographer Anna Kemp who lives in the UK. She’s a horse gal with a fantastic eye for capturing just the right moment in photographs. I think you’ll enjoy finding out more about this budding photographer and seeing her work.

 

  • Tell us a little bit about what a day in your life is like.

 

Since we are still enjoying the summer holidays here, a day in the life at the moment typically involves horses, horses, and more horses! (And the occasional sleep in…) I spend as much time as I can with my own horse, Freddie, schooling and hacking out when the lovely English weather permits. When I’m not at the yard you can usually find me volunteering at my local RDA, or out on a shoot! I attend local equestrian events and travel to different yards around the area when people ask me to do a shoot. This will soon begin to change however as I embark on my final year of A-levels – scary stuff! There’s a lot of studying to come but I hope to still be able to fit this around my riding and photography!

 

  • Are you a full time photographer? If you work at another job tell us about that as well.

 

I am unable to pursue photography as a full time profession as of yet since I am still a student, however, I do conduct shoots for people and their horses all over my area for a small fee – we all have to start somewhere, right? As mentioned previously, I also volunteer at my local RDA yard as often as I can which is an extremely rewarding experience when I get to share the joy on the rider’s faces when they get to trot for the first time, or go for a walkabout on their special pony outdoors! In the future I hope to be able to combine my passion for writing, photography and, of course, horses to be able to work for an equestrian publication.

 

  • How did you get into photography?

 

For as long as I can remember, my dad has enjoyed photography as a hobby so my interest was probably sparked by him! I got my first little Kodak camera at the age of about six and it could only take up to twenty photos at a time – though I never let that stop me! From that moment on, wherever I went, the camera went. Just over a decade and several cameras later and I’m onto my first bridge camera which I got for my 16th birthday (Canon SX40 – DSLRs still terrify me a little bit!) From a young age I have also entered some of my work into an annual local agricultural show and always enjoy learning from other people’s expertise there!

 

  • Out of all the pictures you’ve taken what is your favourite and why?

 

I think my all time favourite photo has to be one taken when I was still taking riding lessons and helping out at the yard, about two or three years ago. I had brought along my little pink Lumix to take some snaps of the horses and, on passing my all-time favourite ride, a 14.2 Welsh D named Topper; I decided this would be an ideal opportunity to practice the elusive macro mode! He stood there calmly as could be as I came right up close to his cheek to try and get a good shot of his eye – this was something I’d often seen in equine artistry and websites and the like, so I wanted to replicate the style as best I could! An Old English proverb states that the ‘eyes are the windows to the soul’ and I think this is part of the reason why I ended up loving this photo so much and why an edited, more cartoon version of the image is the hallmark of Hoofprints. Particularly since Topper still is one of the greatest horses I’ve ever had the fortune to meet, this photo will always hold a special place in my heart!

 

  • What role do horses play in your life and in your photography? How do they inspire you?

 

Horses have played a huge role in my life for approaching ten years now and last year my sister and I decided to take the leap from taking lessons and helping out at our yard once a week, to loaning our own horse. We have now found Freddie, or ‘Fantasy Feeling,’ a handsome TB gelding who we have on part loan 3 days a week; though through these summer months it has tended to work out more often than that (we’re not complaining!). He enjoys dressage and together I hope that we can attend some local competitions next season!

 

The work of Monty Roberts and Kelly Marks is of particular interest to me and so I try to incorporate their techniques and advice wherever possible. A special friend gave me ‘Perfect Confidence’ for my 11th birthday and was even lucky enough to be able to include a postcard of Pie signed by Kelly! I think it was at that moment I knew that I wanted to be involved with Intelligent Horsemanship. Next summer I hope to attend one of the Intelligent Horsemanship courses to expand my knowledge of their amazing concepts further.

 

I also attend as many equine events as possible, including HOYS in 2012 and Blair Horse Trials last year – I’m delighted to say I am able to return to both for 2014! Events like these also provide a great opportunity to practice my photography and it was from this, as well as taking photos of my friends and their horses, that inspired me to set up Hoofprints. For me there is no greater joy than being able to capture the beauty of horses, whoever they are and wherever they come from, to enjoy at any time at all!

 

  • How can people find out more about your work? List your website, blog, facebook, twitter, etc.

 

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/hoofprintsep

INSTAGRAM: hoofprints_ep

 

TWITTER: @hoofprintsep

 

  • Any parting words of wisdom for those that are interested in becoming a photographer?

 

Work hard – and don’t give up! I realise that probably couldn’t sound more cliché but it’s the best advice I can honestly give. Showcase your work wherever you can, gather critique and keep practicing! It doesn’t matter what kind of camera or software you have, providing you know how to use it. There are many free editing websites out there as well as video tutorials on how to get the best from your camera which can be extremely helpful. Don’t forget it is usually the smallest, most simple things that can make the biggest difference!

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Talking With Maureen Gregory…

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This week we talk with fellow Solstice Publishing author and horsewoman Maureen Gregory. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her, especially since she’s a fellow horse lover, loves animals and has a great sense of humor!

Tell us about where you live & what your day to day life is like.

I live in rural England in an area known as the Peak District, with my husband Chris and a collection of creatures great and small. Our home is a very old stone farmhouse, we can only date it back 400 years, but it is older than that. The lounge has old oak beams, the main one was off a ship apparently! There is a stone fireplace, in the winter the fire is blazing, but today, it is hot and sunny.

When I am writing I sit at an oak table with the window behind me. As I have two small dogs and one cat there is always one of them curled up on the chair and one in my lap. The only problem is when Minty (the cat) decides to walk over the keyboard.

My routine is dictated by the weather! If it is lashing down with rain/snow/hail or blowing a gale I get my outside chores done as quickly as possible, come in, light the fire, have breakfast and begin writing. However, if the weather is ok, I like to ride my horses, and potter about outside. At the risk of sounding a bit bonkers I confess to spending hours sitting with my two pet sheep – Rambo & Sweep, just chilling out and pondering on this and that. I then look at my watch, shriek “OMG where has the time gone!” and rush back into the house.

Tell us about your horses and what you do with them.

I have two horses Apollo and Jassmin. Apollo is a Welsh Cob, chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. He is twenty now and still very lively. We do dressage competitions together, but our favourite is dressage to music. He loves it. We recently won a dressage to music championship, despite the speakers to the main arena breaking down just as we started our test. I couldn’t hear a thing, but Apollo could, and I just followed his lead.

Jassmin is a ten year old coloured Gypsy Cob, she has blue flecks in her eyes, long white eyelashes and a long flowing mane. On a recent hack a little girl shouted out “Oh look that horse has angel hair!” She also has silky white feathers.

My friend made a short promotional video to promote my novel, and it features Jassmin, looking very windswept. Although she is not typical of a dressage horse she has lovely light paces and does very well in competitions. Our favourite pastime is just hacking out along the many bridleways and lanes.

I also have the pleasure of owning Dylan the donkey. He is fifteen, very loveable and cheeky. Dylan doesn’t really do anything, he just is!!

Do you write full time?

I gave up a career in psychiatric nursing and mental health counselling to renovate an old farmhouse. It took several years and after the work was completed I decided not to go back to that line of work. I felt as if I had moved on and things would not be the same if I went back.

I began to write short stories for magazines, with some success before I decided to concentrate on writing my debut novel. Also by that time I had added to my collection of fluffies and furries, paws and claws, so alongside assisting Chris with his paperwork I find my day is busy enough.

Here’s some info and a review on her book The Seventh Wave….

In the novel deceit, obsessive love, betrayal and murder are threaded alongside the fabric of normal life. Emma is convinced she has found the man of her dreams, until she suspects her lover may have a darker side. Was he a cold, calculated killer or a victim in someone else’s deadly game? Emma believes she will uncover the truth, but are some lies better left undiscovered?

Review: 

“Beware the Seventh Wave,” begins with Emma rushing to make it to a funeral. Things just haven’t been going her way for a long time. An early morning argument with her husband, Phil, left her feeling exhausted. She over slept and was running late. A quick breakfast from the local eatery drips on her clothing.  The weather is gloomy. To just top her day off, she scraps the side of her car trying to enter the cemetery lot.  Nothing is going right.
At the funeral, she knew she was going to be running into her ex-boyfriend and his wife, Mark and Alicia. She just wasn’t prepared for the reactions she was going to be experiencing. Seeing Mark brought back feelings that she tried so hard to suppress over the years. But what can you do when you are both married to someone else?
As we all do when we are trying to sort out our lives, Emma is conflicted with her feelings. Instead of checking into a hotel as she originally planned, she returns home to find what can be the most devastating thing ever. Walking in she finds what she’s hoping is a romantic event planned for her only to find her husband in the throes of passions with her friend Katie.
Totally in shock, Emma had the difficult task of trying to sort out her life. Does she fight for her husband and marriage? Does she give up and let the other woman win, again? Is she ready to restart her life all over again? Is there anyone in her life that she can actually trust?
It’s a phone call from Mark, a week after the funeral that sets Emma up for the most drastic and important event in her life. With her marriage failing, she willingly runs to Mark in hopes to help him in a time of need. But will the help that she offers Mark, help her find what she is missing in her?

How can people find your work? (List all your buy links & contact info — this is about promoting you!)

Buy Beware the Seventh Wave by Maureen Gregory on Amazon UK

Maureen Gregory’s Amazon UK Author Page

Book Trailer: Beware the Seventh Wave by Maureen Gregory

Maureen Gregory’s Website – www.maureengregorybooks.com 

Maureen Gregory’s Facebook Author Page

Link to Maureen Gregory on Goodreads

Twitter @MaureenMgregory

Profile name on LinkedIn: Maureen Gregory

 

Any parting words of wisdom for those writers looking to be published? 

If you think you can do it, or you think you can’t – you are absolutely right! It’s all in the mind-literally.

 Feel free to include comments, etc. 

Just a bit thank you for hosting me on your blog. Happy riding, writing & all the other things that make life worth while FJ!

Thanks again!

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