Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tudor Robins, Author & Equestrian

Tudor has had two main obsessions for as long as she can remember: books and horses. As a child, after reading all the horsey books she could get her hands on, Tudor started writing her own stories.

After earning degrees in English and Journalism, and working in almost every publishing-related job imaginable – including checking facts and writing magazine stories, coordinating print jobs for a printing company, and selling textbooks at universities and colleges – Tudor finally sat down and finished her first novel, and hasn’t looked back since. Objects in Mirror was followed in less than a year by Appaloosa Summer, whose sequel, Wednesday Riders, will be out in early spring 2015.

The horse obsession also never waned. From Tudor’s first lunge line lesson at age eight, she moved onto showing hunter-jumper, then eventing. She’s worked as a summer camp riding instructor, and as a groom, preparing yearling thoroughbreds for the Keeneland sales and, of course, like her main characters, Grace and Meg, has mucked out her fair share of stalls. Tudor still enjoys riding at an eventing barn just outside Ottawa, in Carp, Ontario, and loves volunteering with a therapeutic riding program in Dunrobin, Ontario.

Welcome Tudor!

When was your first encounter with a horse?
I’m going to give an answer which is boring, but probably fairly standard for a lot of horse lovers, and say I really can’t remember. I’ve always loved horses, and when you love them, you can find them anywhere. At Christmas, my parents gave us a disc of old family slides they had scanned into digital images, and there are pictures of me sitting on a horse when I’m probably about four years old. I was also lucky to grow up in Ottawa, which has a working farm right in the middle of the city. Frequent trips to the Central Experimental Farm meant I was exposed to many animals including cows, sheep, goats, and, of course, their big, beautiful draft horses.

Has your horse history impacted your writing career?
Definitely! People often ask me if I had to do a lot of research for my books, and I used to say no. But then I realized, all my years of horse and riding experience have gone into my books – in that way I’ve done several decades of research!

People frequently advise you to write what you know, and that does make lots of sense. So far my books have been a mix of things I’ve known – always horses – but in addition there’s usually another aspect, too, for example:

1) My first novel, Objects in Mirror, is about a young rider struggling with anorexia. This is something I also dealt with at a young age.

2) My second novel, Appaloosa Summer, imagines what it would be like for a city girl to spend an entire summer on an island in the St. Lawrence River. Our cottage is on Wolfe Island, in the St. Lawrence between Kingston, Ontario and Cape Vincent, New York, and every time I go there I’m inspired to write.

3) My soon-to-be-released third novel, Wednesday Riders (the sequel to Appaloosa Summer) adds sailing to the mix. I’m not an expert sailor, by any means, but I do love it as a recreational activity.

What drives your inspiration and creativity?
That’s a great question and I think there are two levels of answers to that. One is the “deep down” answer which is just that it’s in me; I’m driven to write. I can’t not write, and so I can’t take any credit for the impulse to do so. On a more surface level, though, in terms of what drives me to write what I write, it’s really everyday life. Observing the things that happen to people, and their relationships, and wondering “What if?

For example, Hide & Seek, the short story I released at the end of this summer, was inspired by a news story I heard on the radio about two girls who were out playing hide and seek, and got lost and ended up staying in the woods alone overnight. Then my family went camping, and we had a tent, and all the conveniences we needed, but we were still in the woods, at night, and it made me imagine what it would have been like for them … the story just unrolled from there.

I should say, Hide & Seek is free in many places, including on my website, so readers should feel free to download it and check out my writing. There is a horse in the story!

Of all your characters, who is your favorite?
I recently told my beta reader that a certain character in the book I’m working on was my favorite and then, in the next round of edits, I deleted him … so maybe it’s dangerous to be my favorite? I guess the characters I’m currently working with are always my favorites, because they’re talking to me, and I’m learning about them, and sharing their worlds. If I lose interest in them a bit, I’ll switch to writing another project, so those characters will become my favorites.

I always love seeing which characters are my readers’ favorites. Of course I get lots of comments on the big, main, characters, but it’s fascinating when someone picks out a smaller, secondary character, and really relates to them. Also, my editor (who is a non-horsey person) told me she missed Salem (the horse in Appaloosa Summer) and couldn’t wait to see her again in Wednesday Riders. Little things like that make me smile.

Where do your stories take place?
The books I’ve written so far clearly take place in “my” part of the world. This area has Ottawa – Canada’s capital city – as its centre, and spreads out around Ottawa to include more rural parts of Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario.

These areas are great for horse lovers because even Ottawa, with a population of about a million people, retains strong rural connections. I live in central Ottawa, and my closest stable is less than a ten-minute drive from my house, and is serviced by our bus system and municipal bike trails.

The stables I write about are an amalgamation of many different ones I’ve ridden at. The layout, size, rules, etc. are pieced together from a variety of stables. For this reason, I hope all riders will find at least one or two familiar features that ring true to them in the barns I write about.

Do your stories include your own personal horses?
While I promise never to copy a real person in my human characters, I can’t say the same about the horses in my books. The horses I write about are all inspired by real horses I’ve known. Part of the story line in Objects in Mirror revolves around six neglected horses – I really did know six horses like this, and I really did take one on as my personal project. Her name was Lass, and she was a brave liver chestnut Quarter Horse mare.

The same is true for my other books. Some horse lovers may find it funny that I say this, but I feel lucky not to own my own horse because I meet so many horses all the time. Especially for a writer like me, it’s great to ride a 17hh OTTB for a while, then to move to a fifteen-year-old 15.3hh Quarter Horse mare, then a four-year-old Warmblood. They all have different personalities, and all give me different experiences, and I can use all those in my stories.

Where do you like to write?
I love writing at our cottage on Wolfe Island. I don’t watch TV there, and we don’t have an internet connection, so other than when I’m windsurfing, and swimming, and playing evening games of Crazy Eights with my family, I’m writing. I get lots of writing done at the cottage.

I also have a nice writing nook at our home in the city. Last year I had to give it an overhaul because I was getting aches and pains which my physiotherapist told me were from poor ergonomics. So now my laptop is propped up on a pile of books and I sit on an exercise ball.

What are you currently writing?
I’m currently writing two things. One is the sequel to Appaloosa SummerWednesday Riders.

Wednesday Riders is very close to publication, which means I frequently hand it off to other people. Right now it’s with my editor for line edits.

So, while she has the manuscript, I’m working on a book I’ve let sit for too long. It was the second novel I ever wrote, and I’ve never sat down and polished it properly. That’s what I’m doing now, and I’m hoping, by taking advantage of the times when Wednesday Riders is out being scrutinized by other people, I’ll have this novel ready to start editing not long after.

Who is your favorite author?
I’m going to make this a little easier for myself and stick to horse authors and, of those, hands down, I would have to choose Dick Francis, just for all the hours (and hours, and hours) of enjoyment I got reading (and re-reading) his books. Of course, I love that his books are about horses, but they’re almost always about some other really interesting subject as well, and I also love his writing style.

Another author who has an amazing writing style is Jean Slaughter Doty. Her book The Monday Horses is one I wish was longer, except I know it probably wouldn’t be as perfect if it was.

Those are favorites from childhood, but as for current horsey authors – why not check out the fun Horse Lovers Blog Tour I hosted in the fall – lots of books to learn about there!

Do you have advice for novice writers?
Well, first I’ll say everybody is different, so if what I say sounds completely wrong to you, maybe it is completely wrong for you … fair enough!

However, I would say there is no such thing as writers’ block. Just because you can’t write exactly what you want to, doesn’t mean you can’t write at all. The only way to get stories out is to keep writing, so put words on the page and then go back and look at them later. They might be better than you thought, or they might have a kernel of a good idea in them.

And, to improve your writing, you’ll need to embrace critique. Again, this is different for everybody. Some people like feedback throughout their writing process from anyone who will offer it. Others want to polish as much as they can, and then ask a trusted reader for an in-depth assessment. Whatever works for you, it is important to get an outside view and, often, just asking for that input will open your eyes to the strengths and weaknesses of your own work.

What does horsemanship mean to you?
Wow! That question snuck up on me … what an interesting, important question. Well, the first word that popped into my head was “respect” and I mean that on many levels. We need to respect the power of horses, and we also need to respect how they like to be treated – which, often, is in opposition to their power. They respond so well to subtlety and kindness.

I think, once you have respect, the rest falls into place. It makes you want to learn more about your horse – his health, the environment that works best for him, his training – and as you learn more about all aspects, your horsemanship is developing.

Sometimes riding is involved, and sometimes not, but I’m going to borrow a corporate term (and one I don’t usually like) and say good horsemanship is a striving for “best practices” with regards to your particular horse and his needs.

Connect with Tudor...


Sally Steinmann said...

I just love your blog, Gina, and reading about authors and their "process" is right up my alley these days. Thank you for always giving us such fascinating people to read about! :)

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