Episode 73: On Faith Through Fiction, Launch Teams & Email Marketing with Hilary Walker (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 73: Welcome to the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast! In each episode, you’ll hear inspirational stories from horse book authors including writing advice and marketing tips to help you write your own horse book. If you are an author, aspire to be an author, or simply love horse books, then you are in the right place!
In this week's episode, you'll meet author Hilary Walker. You'll learn ...
Watch Hilary Walker's Interview on YouTube!
Or listen to the audio only interview.
About Hilary Walker
Now an American citizen, Hilary originally hails from England. She now lives in Hilton Head, South Carolina with her husband and two English Bulldogs.
Many moons ago she majored in French and German at Exeter University, J.K. Rowling’s alma mater (is it even PC to admit that these days?) well before she did.
Since she was hopeless at math, Hilary moved to London to become a Chartered Accountant, (UK’s version of the CPA) and worked in with a big four firm in Frankfurt, Germany where she met her American husband and – at long last – got back into horses.
Since then, she’s competed in show-jumping, dressage and one day events in Germany, England, Italy and the U.S. She jokingly calls herself an ‘international rider,’ which is technically correct, but seriously misleading, as it makes her sound much better than she was!
She’d been pottering with writing for several years, starting with short stories, before she decided to really ‘put some welly into it’ as the Brits would say.
She is now a bestselling author of Christian inspirational novels, Christian romances and short stories that transport the reader into the healing world of horses. When not penning fiction, Hilary trains and competes in dressage on Cruz Bay, her home-bred Welsh Cob/Thoroughbred Cross.
Footnote: Cruz Bay tore his check ligament when the shoe twisted under his front left hoof, and his owner has been spending a LOT of money and time (circa 6 hours a day) for the past six months taking care of him. She is now tack-walking him with a little bit of trot, but there’s a long road ahead before he’s completely recovered – especially since he broke away from the vet halfway through treatment and reinjured the leg.
So that’s what Hilary is doing at present when she’s not writing!
Hilary Walker Interview Excerpt
Carly: Tell us how horses have touched your life.
Hilary: Horses have kept me sane, happy and healthy for decades.
At age 7 I had my first riding lesson and have been in love with horses and often scared of them ever since. As a kid I would deliberately fall off the pony when we went on the trails during our ‘lessons’ because I was too chicken to canter. The other riders hated me because we all had to stop while Hilary got back on.
My first pony Ruggles, a yellow dun Connemara, was the love of my life when I was 16. I wasn’t scared of him. As well as having enormous fun riding, I would sneak out to the barn, tell him my woes and cuddle him for hours. He didn’t mind.
All my life until fairly recently, I was told I was a terrible rider (because I was), that I would never be any good, my legs were the wrong shape, etc. After three months of daily private lessons as an adult in Germany, the instructor walked up to my horse’s head and said, “Do you really want to carry on with this?”
But horses were my obsession – I just couldn’t stop riding.
I’ve had many wonderful and not-so-wonderful horses, but my last two have brought me to the point where I can hold up my head and say, “I am a rider.”
Rubesca, an 18-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred mare given to me for free by a friend, became my equine soulmate after a very iffy first six months. I like to say that our partnership far exceeded the sum total of our parts. She took me into the winner’s circle in all three disciplines time and time again, and when she died at age 26, I was lost. I cradled her head in my lap, crying over and over again, “What am I going to do without you?” It was awful.
I might have given up riding if I hadn’t bred Cruz Bay from her. He was her one and only offspring, foaled when she was the grand age of 21.
I am so happy to have bred, backed and trained my own horse. This has meant taking the slow route, which I could have avoided if I’d just handed him over to professionals. But that’s not what I wanted. This was – and still is – about our journey together. He, too, has won me countless blue ribbons in eventing and dressage.
After competing at one day events, I switched to dressage and am now riding at Third Level. If Cruz comes back into full work, I’m hoping to get my Bronze Dressage medal with him – once we get those pesky flying changes down!
Carly: Tell us about your horse books.
Hilary: The Jack Harper Trilogy: The Story of a Wounded Horse Healer
Riding Out the Devil wasn’t planned as the first of a trilogy: it was supposed to be a standalone book combining my love of horses and my Catholic faith.
My son suffers from ulcerative colitis. Watching him battle so hard with it compelled me to create a hero who has the same disease, and thus Jack Harper came into being. (The book also includes notes on how to combat ulcerative colitis naturally, without medication.)
Jack specializes in retraining problem horses in Maryland, while trying to ignore his English past.
But that past catches up with him, as does Father Michael, the local Catholic priest, who persuades Jack to help a young boy with his troubled horse. The two then discover they have much more in common than they first realized …
I thought I’d finished the story by the end of the book, but my uncle said there were more books trying to get out. Turns out he was right. (He also gave me the “Riding Out” title, by the way, which I’ve used for the whole series.)
One reader commented on the trail of breadcrumbs I left in the first book, in preparation for the next two. Which is interesting, as I didn’t even know I was doing it. I had no idea where the plot would go next, not having yet planned a sequel.
While telling Jack’s bigger story, the trilogy also follows a pattern: Father Michael brings more troubled parishioners to Jack for healing through the horses on his farm, and Jack continually attempts to weasel out of helping. This results in much verbal sparring between both men.
The Father Michael Trilogy: The Pastor Who Preaches through Horses
When I finished The Jack Harper Trilogy, readers asked me to write a trilogy for Father Michael. He is my ideal priest, and I am thrilled that he resonates with others, too. One reviewer even wrote how she’d love to have dinner with him. What a huge compliment.
Father Michael still brings parishioners in need to Jack’s farm for help, but has struggles of his own to contend with. He is very human, but also committed to his vocation.
He had a horse in his youth, and thoroughly enjoys spending time with Jack’s equine population.
Each trilogy is available as single books or two boxed sets. There is also a companion short story about one of the main characters, Riding Out the Turbulence, included in The Jack Harper Trilogy boxed set.
Hilary: The Laura Harper Trilogy: When Horses Touch a Woman’s Heart
I published Riding Out the Return, the first book of this new trilogy in the series, in October last year and am currently working on the next one, Riding Out the Rift.
Laura is Jack’s wife, whose accounting job in Annapolis keeps her out of the loop as far as the horses are concerned. Until she gives it up to work on the farm’s accounts when she becomes pregnant.
Coming into contact with the horses that are sent to Jack for rehabilitation, Laura starts to feel their strong appeal. As she is slowly drawn into the same world as her husband, she becomes closer to him, as well as the horses.
The Sinclair Island Romances
As a break from the Riding Out books, I tried my hand at romance, and wrote Ivan’s Choice, set in Hilton Head, for NaNoWriMo. I was going to write another book in that series, when a close friend and dressage instructor took me with her to local Daufuskie Island, where she was teaching a riding clinic at the horse barn.
That did it. I had to create my own isle, complete with horses, a long sandy coastline and Christian people falling in love. Romance, horses and island life are the perfect recipe for fun!
There are currently three books in this non-denominational series, with another in the works.
A Step-By-Step Guide to Entering Your First Dressage Competition
I’ve also written a little non-fiction volume on how to prepare for that scary grand entrance in front of the judges at a dressage show for the very first time.
I wrote it because there was no literature to help the aspiring dressage competitor understand the nuts and bolts of showing.
Carly: What inspired you to write about horses?
Hilary: Since horses have always been my great obsession (my father talked about it to a psychiatrist when I was a teenager, because he was so worried about me) they were always destined to feature heavily in anything I wrote.
It was simply a matter of ‘write what you know’ – and, in my case, love.
As I mentioned previously, I’ve owned a lot of horses over the years, and their stories have provided me with endless plot lines.
Having kept them at home for most of my adult life, I’m also able to provide correct details about their care. There’s nothing worse than a writer getting them wrong and readers have commented on how they appreciate the accuracy of my portrayals.
It was wonderful to discover a world of readers out there who were interested in reading horse fiction!
Carly: Is there a message in your books that you hope readers will grasp?
Hilary: The Riding Out series tries to illustrate the beauty of the Catholic faith as it’s supposed to be, especially since it has been given, and given itself, such a bad rap in recent years.
I explore one or more aspects of the faith in each book. Even if readers aren’t moved to explore Catholicism farther, I hope my novels draw them closer to God.
A wonderful side effect, as it were, has been that several people who’ve read my books have been inspired to get back on a horse or fulfill their lifelong dream of riding. That makes me very happy!
Carly: Talk to us about your book covers. What inspired them?
Hilary: The opening scene of Riding Out the Devil involves Jack riding a horse, so I wanted an action photo of a single horse on the cover.
Ever since my art instructor at school kept putting halters and bridles on any free running horses I painted, I’ve had a ‘thing’ about the ones on my covers not having such constraints, or riders on them.
When I realized this was going to be a trilogy, I decided to continue with a lone horse on the covers. This has now become a recognizable trademark of the series.
For the first romance book, since I was in unknown territory, I used 100Covers.com to create covers to fit the genre. They did a sterling job, and have been great at making subsequent covers to match the original. I thoroughly recommend them: they charge $100 per cover, that’s it, and their work is very professional.
Carly: Which do you prefer, independent or traditional publishing?
Hilary: I started out publishing my own books, then a Christian publisher took over the Riding Out trilogy and the standalone Catholic Mystery, Brittle Diamonds.
I quickly missed having control over all aspects of publishing, even though they’re not easy, and took the books back – with no hard feelings on either side.
I now make my own deadlines and create my own launch and advertising campaigns.
If something goes wrong, like when my horse got injured, I’m not under the gun to produce a book that I have no time to write. I’m my own boss.
Carly: Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
Hilary: Before COVID, I used to sit in the corner of the café at my local Barnes & Noble at 9 a.m. sharp and write for about five hours. Those were very productive times!
Then came COVID and Cruz’s injury and I had less time.
I now go to the barn off island after morning Mass, ride Cruz (he’s now in rehab) then sit at the corner of the café at Kroger, a mile down the road, to write for three hours or so before returning to the barn to wrap Cruz’s legs and kiss him goodnight before driving back home on the island.
My brain works better in the morning, but I’ve had to rewire it to deal with the current situation!
Carly: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Hilary: Around three to four months, if I stick to my daily schedule.
Carly: How do you reach your readers?
Hilary: Over time I’ve built up a healthy subscriber list, who are generous enough to check out any new books I write. I’m especially indebted to my Book Launch Team, who post reviews in a timely fashion during the launch periods.
My Facebook pages are also a good way to reach readers, and I’ve found some very profitable advertising platforms that promote Christian books. Not only that, but a very sweet USA Today Bestseller author friend, who has a much bigger platform than me, promotes my novels with great results.
Note: Hilary mentions Nick Stephenson in the interview. Check out his insights for authors here: https://www.blog.yourfirst10kreaders.com/
Carly: What is the best part about being an author?
Hilary: In a word: escapism!
It’s a glorious thing to lose oneself in a created world populated with horses and people you can maneuver at will. Of course, the odd character rebels and makes decisions for him or herself, thereby changing the entire plot, but that makes it even more interesting!
I feel wonderful each day that I manage to get in my hours of writing.
Carly: What is the hardest part of being an author?
Hilary: Several things are hard.
1. Knowing that you’re only as good as your last book.
2. Not being discouraged by bad reviews – especially the fake ones – and instead, focusing on appreciating the good ones and producing my best work.
3. Needing to get my butt in that seat daily, or risk losing the plot – literally.
4. As an independent author, having to do also the tedious admin work can be daunting. Writers like to write. Period.
Carly: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time before you published your first book?
Hilary: First, in common with many authors, I would begin by learning how to write interesting newsletters, then build my subscriber list. Both are very different from writing a novel and take a lot longer, but are essential elements in creating a platform and establishing a relationship with readers.
Second, I would find out how to launch a book properly!
Connect with Hilary Walker
Blogs: https://www.christiantales.com/ &
You can sign up for Hilary's newsletter and download the first book of the
Jack Harper Trilogy for free at: https://HilaryWalkerBooks.com
Select Books by Hilary Walker
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Thank you for joining us this week on the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast I hope you enjoy these Q&A sessions with wonderful equine authors who love all things horses and writing just like me.
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About Author & Host Carly Kade
Carly Kade is an award-winning independent author, horse owner, creativity coach, and the host of the Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast. She helps fellow writers start, grow, and expand their author careers. Creative writing makes her spurs jingle!
Carly's In the Reins equestrian romance book series was written with horse lovers in mind, no matter which discipline they ride. The horses are as vital to moving the story forward as the human characters are.
These books are perfect for poolside reading, taking to the beach, or settling down with after a day of horseback riding.
Books by Carly Kade
Carly Kade writes for anyone who loves horses, handsome cowboys and a great romance. Creative writing about horses makes her spurs jingle!