Kathy Helidoniotis
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This interview was published in Girl Power Magazine.

The Horse Mad, Kathy Helidoniotis.

How did you first get into writing?

It's hard to say, really. I've been writing stories since I was in primary school and I've always loved to read. I became a teacher and spent many years reading, teaching and enjoying great books for kids. Five years ago I made a decision that I was going to be a children's author. I had two kids of my own by then and as I read stories to them I thought 'I can do this!' so I did some creative writing courses and started to write short stories. I entered writing competitions and joined a writer's group which was a good way to get feedback. I also read as many books as I could get my hands on! I started to write my first novel when I realised that the stories were getting too long to be short stories!

Why did you chose horses for the subject matter of your novel? Do you ride yourself?

I loved horses as a kid and still do, and I loved to read and write, so horses and writing blended together well. I was lucky enough to have a horse of my own from the age of ten. He was a very cheeky bay gelding called Clarrie who has been a great source of inspiration to me. I don't get to ride very often now but I do whenever I get the chance. Ashleigh in the Horse Mad books is a much better rider than me!

You often hear that choosing the names of the characters is the hardest part about starting a novel, is this true for you?

The only character who I found difficult to name was Ashleigh. Her name changed three times before I was happy. The other characters names never changed once I had chosen them. I've heard that when you can't bare to change your character's name, he or she really exists for you. I sometimes name a character I like or minor characters after friends or someone in my family. Other characters are given a name that suits their personality. Nicki King, the snobby girl from South Beach Stables got her name because she thinks she's the best, the boss, and because she
always gets whatever she wants. Sometimes choosing the name of the book is harder than choosing the name of the characters but I always decide what a book is going to be called before I write it. Often the name of the book changes before I've finished, but giving it a name makes it a little easier to write.

How long did it take you to write horse mad? Did you find yourself drawn into this imaginary world when you picked up your pen to write (or keyboard)?

It took about a year to write Totally Horse Mad from the first few ideas I began to scribble into my notebook to the last word that I typed onto the computer. Editing and rewriting took a few months longer. Writing the Horse Mad books is lots of fun. I'm so lucky because my job is to escape into the world of kids and horses and riding. When I sit down to write the novel I always use a computer and I always wind up in my own world. I see, hear and even smell everything that I'm writing about in my head, so it's easy to drift away. My family know not to try
and get any sense out of me when I'm writing!

If you ever got stuck for ideas, what would you do?

I read over my notebook to see if there are any good ideas that I can use or I go for a walk. If I'm really stuck I do something like wash the dishes. Good ideas often come along when I'm driving the car. Sometimes I have to pull over and write down my ideas so that I don't forget them! Most writers keep notebooks for jotting down ideas as they come and use them if they get stuck.

Where do you do your best writing?

I always write in my notebooks at the kitchen table as it's big enough to spread paper and pens all over but I write novels and stories in my study. There's a window in front of my desk but all I can see out of it is a green colourbond fence. That sounds boring, I know, but it makes me work harder because there's nothing to distract me.

What are you thoughts on the popularity of horses in novels, TV programs and movies at the moment (e.g. Saddle Club, Ponie Pals, My Little Pony etc.)?

I think it's wonderful! Horses are the most beautiful creatures and it's great to see so many people loving them. My own little girl is crazy about all things horsy so we watch programs together and read books and daydream about keeping a horse in our backyard. It's great!

Who is one of your favourite children's authors?

I have so many favourite children's authors that it's impossible to choose only one! When I was a child I loved Enid Blyton, AA Milne and Anna Sewell.

What tips and advice do you have for aspiring writers?

  • All writers should read as much as they can. Reading is one of the best ways to become a better writer as you absorb an experienced writer's style, the way they have built their story and new vocabulary.
  • Practice writing often - it's like playing the piano or playing sport. The more you practice the better you'll become at it.
  • Always be prepared to redraft and rewrite.
  • Show don't tell, in other words, if you have a character who is horrible, show them being horrible, don't just tell your reader that they are horrible.
  • Have a great opening paragraph, something that will grab your reader's attention.
  • Try to avoid cliches. Make up something new - for example, saying "I'm as cold as ice" is not as interesting as saying "I'm as cold as a packet of frozen meat pies."
  • Visit some author's websites - they often include excellent tips for young writers.


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