Today I’m host to South Australian children’s writer, Robyn Opie, on Day 2 of her blog tour. We’re talking about her chapter book, ‘The Pony Game’, illustrated by Elise Hurst, published by Hachette, under the Lothian imprint.
1. This was the first title of the series that was previously ‘Start-Ups’. So it was a sort-of relaunch for the series as well as a launch for you. Did that add anything to the pressure to get it right?
Not with me. I was unaware of it being the first title in the series. I only found out after Lothian Books had accepted the story that they were changing the series name to Giggles. So, from my point of view, the work had been done. Unfortunately, they cancelled the Giggles series, not because of poor sales of “The Pony Game” I might add. The sales and reviews have been great. But I always feel pressure to get a story just right – as close to perfect as possible. I was pleased when the editor from Lothian Books made few changes to it.
2. ‘The Pony Game’ is for young readers. How do you ‘get into the head’ of your target readership?
I don’t do anything special. I just write as honestly as I can. All my characters are me to some extent, even the boys, and react how I think I’d react. I guess that’s what I do – put myself in the story, write about me in different situations. I’m a kid at heart. I’m not keen on the “adult” world. I like living in a child’s world. Things seem easier somehow, despite the problems I throw at the characters. I remember a teacher once telling me that I shouldn’t “wish” to grow up too soon, that being a child were the best years of my life. I didn’t believe him at the time. I was eager to grow up. But, when I did “grow up”, I realised that he was right – so very right – and I wanted to be a kid again. I am, through my writing.
3. Do you have a favourite age group to write for? What makes it special?
My favourite age group to write for would be 8 to 12 and in particular boys. I don’t know why but I feel like I relate to boys better. I like writing funny stories with the main characters having humour and attitude, and it seems to work better for me if I write about boys. I think I find them less complicated.
4. Do you have a clear image in your head of how your characters look? Did the illustrator see them differently?
No, not really. I only describe my characters if it is necessary to the plot/story. I know my characters more by the way they sound and act, rather than by the way they look. I guess that’s because they’re all me. I got a shock when I first saw my character “Ben” from my Wings titles published by Era Publications. He’s African American. I’m not racist. It was just a surprise the first time because I automatically “see” my characters as English descendants like me. All my characters are like me – at least the human ones. Lucy from “The Pony Game” is pretty much how I pictured her and that’s nice. I imagined her as a cute little girl – and she is.
5. How did the idea for ‘The Pony Game’ arrive? Was it fully formed, or in pieces?
I’d just finished a non-fiction book “Looking After a Pony” and contacted a local riding club for help with photos. We needed a pony and a child for the photos. Once the book was published, I met with the helpful lady from the riding club and gave her some copies of the book. While she was talking, I started to think about her passion for horses and riding. It was hard not to – her passion for horses is as obvious as my passion for writing. She reminded me of my best friend at primary school, who was horse mad. These memories of my childhood floated around in my head until a fully formed story popped into my mind. That’s the way I like to work because it’s the best way for me. I think of an idea, ponder it a bit, then leave it alone. The idea is still in my head but instead of me consciously thinking about it, my subconscious is running with it and, seemingly out of nowhere, it gives me a fully formed story. Sometimes it feel so easy – like magic. Thanks, subconscious!
6. Were you a pony-loving child? If so, was it a long-time passion, or a passing fancy?
I love animals – all animals. But dogs have always been my favourite. I like horses but I’ve never been a “horsey” person. My best friend at primary school was. Curiously, though, the first two houses I lived in – up to the age of seventeen – had horses living behind them. The first house in Port Pirie had a horse stable behind in the next street. The second house in Adelaide backed onto the banks of the River Torrens, where people kept horses. So, for a long time, I had horses living over my back fence. For a while, I looked after a horse on the River Torrens. It was a cranky thing – kept trying to bite me. It didn’t like being ridden even. As Lucy found out in “The Pony Game” looking after a pony/horse can be hard work and it is definitely a daily commitment. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though. They are beautiful creatures.