It’s been thirty years, but the fourth and final part of the Eventers’ series is now out. Here Caroline talks about what it was like to take Elaine and the Fanes on their latest journey.
How did you get into writing the original Eventing series?
I had written the second of the Showing Trilogy as a serial for Pony Magazine and its editor, Michael Williams suggested I try a publisher with it and suggested Hodder & Stoughton. They accepted it and it became a trilogy. Christine Lunness, then scouting for Desmond Elliot at Arlington Books, asked me if I would write a trilogy about eventing for them. In the seventies, eventing was the up and coming thing.
Did you ever event yourself?
I was never brave enough or good enough as a rider to event. In my youth I had a pipedream of becoming an event rider, and the redoubtable and kindly Mrs Kew of Heather Hall Riding School in Leicestershire actually went to Ireland to find me a horse, returning with a wonderful bay gelding called Heathcliffe. But from the start it was clear that as far as eventing was concerned my ambition outstripped my ability. Heathcliffe stayed at Heather Hall and subsequently achieved eventing success ridden by Judy Bradwell.
Did you ever cover eventing in your journalistic career?
Only once. When he was editor of Riding Magazine, Elwyn Hartley Edwards, dispatched me to Tidworth Horse Trials to cover the event. I seem to recall that it rained and I walked miles over the cross country course, sat through interminable dressage tests, and lived for three days in a caravan that leaked like a sieve. When the article appeared, as Tidworth in Pictures, my copy was conspicuous by its absence. Nobody ever sent me to cover horse trials again.
Why do you think the Fanes have such a grip on people’s imaginations?
Despite their aristocratic background, their defensiveness and their irascibility, there is something very vulnerable about the Fanes. They live in this vast crumbling barn of a house, they barely have enough to eat, they get their eccentric clothing from charity shops, and they struggle to keep their woeful collection of damaged and dangerous equines because they are their only source of income. Almost unwittingly, Elaine gradually changes everything and her horse Legend is the catalyst. In the concluding part of Courses for Horses, Elaine asks Henrietta why she sold the only valuable thing she owned to buy her a horse:
‘I hadn’t been with you very long. You hardly knew me.’
‘We knew you well enough to know you could make a difference,’ Henrietta said eventually. ‘We weren’t the best employers in the world, we knew that, and most people thought our hirelings were fit only for the knacker’s yard, but you cared about them and looked after them as if they were precious and special.’
‘They are precious, and they are very special. I thought so then and I think so now.’
‘We didn’t want you to leave,’ Henrietta said. ‘We wanted you to stay. We needed you.’
I think it was this vulnerability that somehow allowed the Fanes and their horses to worm their way into reader’s hearts. I often get emails from people who read the original books, desperately trying to find copies for their children to read. It is wonderful.
What made you write a sequel after such a long gap?
Yes, thirty years is a long time to wait for a sequel but people who loved the Eventing Trilogy never gave up hope! I had just finished a mainstream country novel (The Last Baronet) a couple of years ago and I really thought it my last effort. But there have always been readers asking for more of the Fanes on Facebook, so I decided to revisit them and see how it went.
Was it difficult to do?
It was amazingly easy really. I slipped back into their lives as if I had never been away, and because I wanted everything to end well for them, it was great to make it all happen. I really enjoyed writing Courses for Horses.
Do you have a favourite character in the books?
It has to be Henrietta. She is so marvellously grumpy and difficult. And without her, there would have been no Legend and no story.
If you had to choose one horse to have in your own stable from the Eventers’ series, which one would it be?
Well, I do lean towards The Comet, because he was a brave and noble horse fallen on hard times, but as I would never have dared to put my foot in his stirrup, I think I would have to go for dear old Nelson who would look after me and be as safe as a bicycle.
Do you ever miss your equine adventures?
I have certainly had a varied career with my equines, from running a riding school in my teens, then having a go at producing show ponies, gradually moving on to reporting on shows and events and finally writing books about them. I missed the physical contact with horses terribly when I finally hung up my boots, but I am lucky to live in an area of Suffolk where there are lots of horses. I love to hear the rattle of hooves along the lane where I live, and from my bedroom window I can see part of a cross country course and watch the horses galloping up the hill. It’s perfect.