CHILDREN'S author Bernadette Kelly has struck a chord with her quirky stories about a naughty pony and his exuberant young owner.
Every girl who has ever set foot on the grounds of a pony club has known a Jillian Fenton-Jones.
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She is the seasoned rider with the well-behaved and immaculate horse, a slew of medals and ribbons in her cabinet and the imperious air that comes with enormous privilege.
Writer and horse lover Bernadette Kelly has certainly known a fair few in her time, and it is no surprise that the haughty Jillian character looms large in her popular Pony Patch series, alongside Norton the naughty horse and Molly his enamoured young owner.
“A lot of the characters are bits and pieces of people I have known that I put together,” she says.
“And there is always the Jillian Fenton-Jones with the expensive ponies and the expensive saddles that just looks so awesome on their horses and you think, ‘how can I ever be like that’?”
It would be hard to find a more qualified person to write two successful pony club series – Riding High and Pony Patch – than Bernadette, who lives on a property in Kilmore, north of Melbourne, with two children, seven horses and a dog and a cat.
“I didn’t ever have my own horses growing up but my father trained harness racing horses, so I had access to those horses and that is where I developed my love of them,” she says.
“And I always desperately wanted my own horse. I learned to ride when I was about seven, and I was pretty much hooked from then on.
“It didn’t infect any of my three sisters, none of them are horsey at all, but I was just always desperate to own one.”
In her teenage years in suburban Bendigo she used to ride a friend’s horse, but it wasn’t until she had a family of her own – and her children took up riding – that she finally got her pony club experience.
“I was only ever a trail rider, I didn’t compete until I was about 35,” she says.
“But I loved jumping, and then it was the buzz of getting out there and doing cross country.”
As a child, Bernadette fed her longing for horses with various horse stories, and she lists Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby series as chief among her influences.
“I spent a lot of time reading horse books as a child. In fact, when I was in grade 6 at a Bendigo catholic school the nun that was my teacher banned me from borrowing horse books from the library because she said I had to expand my reading vocabulary,” Bernadette says.
“So I went to the public library instead and borrowed more books there. It didn’t stop me.”
The idea to write her own books came to her while she was on maternity leave with her second child, and she came across an advertisement for a professional writing course in Melbourne.
“I was doing payroll and I was in a job that I didn’t particularly enjoy and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do’.”
She eventually enrolled in a professional writing and editing diploma at RMIT, and, through that course, met a publisher at Black Dog books.
“I was so desperate to get published and to make this something to be able to earn money from,” she says.
“I wanted to be able to do this part-time and work around the kids. I knew how hard it was, and I knew how competitive it was.”
She wrote 18 different educational books for Black Dog, before her publisher suggested a horse series to coincide with the company’s expansion in to trade books.
“It was a dream come true, and they liked what I proposed.”
“I had so much material to draw from, both my kids were competing at pony club so I had this whole world of experience.”
Bernadette is aware that good fortune plays as big a role in getting published as good writing.
“The actual getting published is often a timing issue,” she says.
“You can write a really good manuscript, and the publisher might think it’s great but it doesn’t suit their list.”
Bernadette, however, thinks there is little value in writing to suit a particular fad.
“You can’t really second guess that,” she says.
“I don’t think it really pays as a writer to try and write to the fashion because I think it becomes formulaic and it will come through.
“Whereas if you write what is true to you, you may not get picked up and published, but I think the writing will be better.”