By Carolyn Henderson
When I’m writing for non-equestrian markets, I have to try really, really hard to prevent horses creeping in. Sometimes, I have to be ruthless and persuade an equine character to trot out of a particular work and wait until a more appropriate one comes along. Occasionally, I bend the rules: I managed to get a centaur into one story.
As a reader, I enjoy it when a thread relating to horses weaves into a plot, as long as the writer gets things right. I’ve just stopped reading a novel because a series of tiny mistakes culminated in the account of a rider “putting the harness” on her horse. That’s lazy writing, because all you have to do is ask someone. Post a query online and people will rush to help, though you have to make sure they’re the right people...
My husband introduced me to one of my favourite fictional horses – Binky, who is Death’s mount in Terry Pratchett's novels. He’s a white horse, not a grey. I'm sorry if that contradicts my previous paragraph, but there's a difference between bending rules for a purpose and getting things wrong because you haven't done your research.
I’ve always had a passion for white greys (that’s a technical compromise to suit the purists) so here, just because he was so beautiful, is a picture of my lovely Face the Music. He went off with Binky many years ago, but I still miss him.
Binky – so-called because Death felt it was “a nice name” – is a living horse, though he doesn’t age while in Death’s care. He is number three: the first was a skeletal horse, but he didn’t work out because Death kept having to stop and wire bits back on. The second was an impressively fiery steed, but couldn’t help setting light to his bedding.
It’s somehow comforting that Death is so proud of Binky. When Death’s adoptive granddaughter, Susan, celebrates her third birthday, he gives her a “My Little Binky” gift set. Unfortunately, her parents think it isn’t suitable.
Discovering Binky encouraged me to read TP’s novels, something I’d avoided mainly because my husband’s reaction to them was so irritating. We’d be sitting side by side, me quietly reading whilst he laughed out loud at regular intervals.
“Try them,” he urged. “You’ll love them.”
I did. Not all of them, though I could always appreciate TP’s use of words and the way he could poke fun at institutions without being cruel (unless he wanted to be, of course). My favourites are those in what is usually dubbed the witches subset, especially the ones featuring Tiffany Aching.
TP’s final, much-hyped novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, belongs to this subset.
Warning: keep the tissues handy. At the same time, it gives you a sense of loose ends being tied up in so many ways. despite the fact that he didn’t have chance to give it a final polish before Binky clip-clopped to his door.
Should we try and copy the style of writers we love? No. Should we learn from them? Yes. I don’t think I could write humour – unless sarcastic teenage characters count – but I can read TP and remind myself how important it is to remember the real meaning of words and how they can be true or twisted.
A Facebook friend posted that she’d bought a copy of The Shepherd’s Crown and intended to put it away without opening it, “because it will be worth a fortune one day.” Sorry – she’ll have to wait so long that Binky will probably have arrived at her door first.
Books are an investment, but they should be an investment in pleasure, for readers and writers.