Told from the point of view of a young girl who masquerades as a boy in order to become a groom, this is the other side of the classic horse story BLACK BEAUTY.
Aspiring groom Jo comes to love Beauty and when they are separated she travels to London to find him – on the way solving the mystery of her long-lost mother. A sweeping tale of a young girl and her love for a horse, and the circumstances that divide them.
Interview with Lou Kuenzler
I grew up on a windy sheep farm in Devon. It often rained and I had a hole in my wellington boots … so I liked to hide in the dry hay barn and make up stories.
Now I live in London with my family, my dog and two cats. I don’t have a hay barn anymore but I still like to make up stories – especially funny ones that I hope make children laugh. Sometimes I even write about sheep – like these ones (brilliantly drawn by Jill Newton for my AESOP’S AWESOME RHYMES series).
First of all, a huge thanks to Luna’s Little Library for inviting me on to the blog to chat about my latest children’s book: FINDING BLACK BEAUTY.
You asked some fabulous questions which I will do my best to answer.
Luna: You’re very welcome. Thank you so much for visiting. 🙂
Why did you want to write Finding Black Beauty?
It began when my lovely editor at Scholastic and I were having a chat over a cup of tea (and some really delicious chocolate chip cookies). Between dunks, she asked if I would ever consider revisiting a classic story to introduce it in a fresh way to contemporary readers. I agreed that I would … then, in the next breath: “Of course, it would have to be Black Beauty!”
I read and re-read Anna Sewell’s wonderful, heartbreaking story many times as a little girl. I grew up on a farm in Devon and was lucky enough to have my own pony. But it could be very isolated so stories and reading offered a real escape. I loved Black Beauty because of the sheer high-stakes adventure, and would always pretend that my tubby little pony was the magnificent black horse himself. But I loved the sadness of it too – the catharsis of a good weep – and was always furious and horrified at the cruelty to animals. I knew these would be things which still moved and enraged young readers today. But, in my story, Finding Black Beauty, is not just about the horses – far less so than the original. As soon as I decided to dare to revisit the much-loved classic, I knew I wanted to develop the role of the young groom Joe, who only appears in a few lines in the original but is instrumental in Black Beauty’s fate. I knew, writing in 2016, that I was just as interested in what life was like for a young Victorian servant as I was to discover about stables and horses at the time. I hoped my readers would feel the same. My Joe turns out to be Josephine – a girl in disguise – and this offered an irresistible opportunity to explore issues of class and gender as well as having a cracking good, flat out, full-gallop adventure along the way! It is the most fun I have ever had writing a book and hope that shows through in the pages …
Black Beauty is so well known and loved; does that make it easier or more difficult to write another story?
At first, I was extremely nervous. But I loved having such a great starting point and realised very early on that I could not be too precious about the original. Anything I do cannot damage it – Anna Sewell’s wonderful story will be there for all time. In fact, I hope children reading my book may find their way back to the classic when it might not be the sort of thing they would previously have read. I felt I had freedom to expand my narrative in any direction as Finding Black Beauty is not a straight retelling or even a sequel – it simply takes some of the original characters (many described in only a few lines) and imagines what their lives might have been like and how their stories might have dovetailed with Black Beauty’s own. It felt like having the most wonderful mood board imaginable to refer to over and over again!
Which character in Finding Black Beauty is closest to you?
Oh! Of course, I would like to say the hero, Josie (my young groom in disguise as Joe). She is daring and feisty and a brilliant rider. She is also inclined to speak before she thinks and is a bit short tempered (I definitely share those latter qualities!). In truth though, I am probably a bit more like her first pony Merrylegs – greedy, a dreadful a show off and fond of a good sleep!
So what’s the best thing about being a writer?
For me, the best thing about being a writer is what I think of as ‘Wardrobe Syndrome’ – the licence to sit at a desk and dream, to push at ideas (just as Lucy pushed at the back of the wardrobe) and to see what might be there. Sometimes … just sometimes, you get a glimpse of an imaginary (Narnia) world and get to rush forward, headlong into the snow …
And the worst?
You always have to come back out of that wardrobe at some stage and no kindly faun has ever yet filled in my tax return or done the washing up!
Tell us the most surreal moment on your publishing journey (so far)?
The very first thing I ever published was a short story in an anthology about princesses (our only remit was that these royal girls must be feisty and adventurous – no sitting around in towers and waiting to be rescued for this lot!) Needless to say, I was delighted to be invited to take part. The books were printed somewhere in the Middle East and loaded onto a container ship to return to the UK. When the ship arrived at Southampton and was unloaded the container of anthologies was missing – somehow, it had come free and floated away. Were those feisty young royals behind it, I wondered? Had they slipped anchor and escaped to become pirates on the seven seas? The books were quickly reprinted and the delightful editions were soon in the shops … Yet, I still wonder what really happened to that first shipment? I have always imagined a lone castaway sitting under a coconut palm building a shelter from thousands of shiny pink books and reading about derring-do and princesses as the sun goes down each night.
How about sharing something about yourself that not many people know:
I was born left handed but forced to learn to write with my right hand – long after this appalling practice was standard in schools. I can no longer do things left-handed and always feel I am coming at the world in a slightly out of kilter way. I am very clumsy but I also believe this lopsided view is part of my imagination and, hopefully, enables me to come at things in a different way.
Luna: I totally understand! Left-handed people are rare in Germany, I think I was the only one in all the classes in my year group and my teachers kept putting everything into my right hand. 😦 They didn’t force me to relearn as such but constantly ‘corrected’ me when using things like scissors by placing those in my right hand so that now I use them (in what my head thinks) is the wrong hand. They didn’t win re writing thankfully, as by the time I started school I was already drawing so pens/pencils were at home in my left hand.
What’s the perfect cure for a bad day?
In a word: Chocolate. In three words: Lots of chocolate!
I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:
Please lobby anyone, anywhere you can, to ensure that arts subjects continue to be given time, support and space on the curriculum in ALL our schools. Imagination matters!
And finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
Hmm? I’m not sure about the question I don’t get asked, but I do know the question I do get asked that I wish I didn’t: “Ah, so you write for children …When are you going to write for grown-ups?”
Answer: I am not! As Philip Pullman (I think) rather brilliantly said: “Would you ask a pediatrician the same thing?” I love writing for children. It is a pleasure and an honour and important (I hope). But, best of all, it is great GREAT fun!