In this nineteenth Equestrian Author Spotlight, I am honored to talk with equine author and illustrator, Jean Abernethy of the Fergus the Horse series. Of course, we discuss the best topics on earth — writing, books and horses! This interview is FULL of helpful advice for fellow authors! You'll also learn that Jean has a dreamy trail guide job during the summer. She was even so kind to send along several hilarious Fergus the Horse comic strips to accompany the interview! Happy reading!
About Author Jean Abernethy
Jean grew up on a small family farm near Lindsay Ontario (Canada) where at an early age she learned to explore her world on horseback. She pursued a college education in Equestrian Studies at Humber College, and then earned her art degree a OCAD University in Toronto.
Her illustrations have graced equestrian print publications for over 35 years. Jean's cartoon character, Fergus the Horse, has brought laughter to hundreds of thousands (of humans) around the world on Facebook. (As far as we know, horses have not yet learned to access social media.)
What is your favorite horse memory?
There have been so many it’s hard to choose. But my mind returns to my childhood on Christmas Eve, trundling out in the dark dawn with my siblings. Coats and boots over our jammies, we shuffled a path out to the barn. Santa had left enough hints in our stockings, bit, reins, halter, curry comb … that we just had to check … and there she was, tied to the wall behind the milk cows. A real pony!
What would your dream horse be like?
Hard to say. Every horse is a journey. The one I have right now is doing a pretty good job.
What is your involvement with horses?
I’m a rider at heart. I’ve driven, been employed as a carriage driver, but riding is closest to my heart. Not being all that competitive, I’m happiest astride, out exploring the countryside. Summer 2017 will be my 5th summer working a trail guiding job up North in Algonquin Provincial Park.
How did you/when did you/why did you choose to write horse books?
It was in the cards from the get-go, I think. I’ve been making comical drawings for years. Seemed to have a knack for it. ‘Been asked a million times “Do you have a book of these?” I finally connected with the right publisher and ignited the process.
How long have you been an author?
Well, if you consider the captions of cartoons … then it’s about 35 years. I’d always assumed the role of illustrator. Over the years, though, I’ve developed the craft of writing dialog for comics, and it’s quite fun to pear sentences down to their bare minimum to get the best impact with a punch line. Comics require that.
Do you prefer eBooks or physical copies? Why?
I like physical books. All my workday, I am staring at a screen. I want to tuck in with a real, tangible paper book, and give my eyes a break.
What is your favorite horse book?
Again, hard to say, there are so may, and I have a lovely collection. One of my favorites is (Dutch artist) Rein Poortvleit’s Horses. His illustrations, with written commentary, are completely inspirational.
What is your favorite horse movie?
Seabiscuit was well done.
What is your favorite motivational quote?
My goodness, I have collected hundreds of them. One that comes to mind is from Jane Goodall. I heard her say this during a TV interview and jotted it down. I’ve sent it across email many times, and have even had it come back to me:
“You can’t live a day without making a difference. You have a choice as to what sort of difference you want to make.”
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time before you published your first book?
I would tell myself this: “Jean, you’re worth it.”
How many horse-related books have you written?
1. 2005 My Friend Fergus coloring book Kelley and Company. Now out of print.
2. 2015 The Essential Fergus the Horse Trafalgar Square Books
3. 2016 Fergus A Horse to be Reckoned With Trafalgar Square Books
4. 2017 Fergus and the Greener Grass Trafalgar Square Books
Do you write full time or part time?
Well, as a free-lance illustrator … all of life is part time. It’s a fun and healthy mix. I have my trail guide job during summer, I illustrate for periodicals and other authors … and then there’s Fergus, filling in all the spaces in between. As Fergus grows, he is taking more and more of my time.
What book are you currently reading?
I am always juggling 2 or 3. I’ve just finished reading Treasure Island ... again … I love the nuances of literature that old and eloquent. I’m also reading, Ride the Right Horse by Yvonne Barteau, and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Allen Bradley.
What advice can you share that might help aspiring authors?
Follow your heart and your gut. It’s not about your mind.
When or where do you get your most writing done?
Right here in my chair in front of this computer. Once I sit down and focus, all that has been collected while at the barn and in the saddle, spills into place conceptually. It’s a matter of focus.
Which do you prefer to self-publish or traditional publishing?
I like to work with a publisher. I love it when our book designer comes up with brilliant ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I love having access to that kind of expertise.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured?
Early mornings are spent with my horse. The rest of the day is structured according to project deadlines (and my grocery list).
Do you work to an outline or plot, or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I know my concept (plot) start to finish when I begin. I work with that, filling in the fun stuff in both words and illustrations.
How do you market your books?
I promote them with social media on my own, as well as in co-operation with my publisher. Also book-signing events are a good deal of fun.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
Be genuine. What you’re really selling is your own love of life. That’s what’s contagious.
What are your thoughts on good or bad reviews?
Humor is very personal. Positive reviews are generally genuine. Negative reviews tend to reflect the reviewer’s opinion or expectation rather than useful critique. That’s my experience, anyway. But if you know you’re putting something of quality out there, then reviews are secondary.
What is the hardest part of being an author?
Best part about being an author?
Seeing people enjoy my books. Especially children. Children are always truthful.
If this book is part of a series, would you share a little about it?
Fergus is happy to encompass our present equestrian world, and, being a cartoon, has history and fantasy at his disposal. And he’s goofy! Stay tuned!
Any amusing story about writing this book?
My books are compiled of hundreds of amusing stories.
How did you get the idea for the cover of the book?
I built on one of the more dynamic illustrations from within the pages.
What was the inspiration for the leading man/woman in your book?
“The Lad”, in Horse to be Reckoned With, is the quintessential “natural horseman”. I wanted to create a male character because the horse industry is over-balanced with women. The little girl, whom Fergus tries at the mounting block in the comic strips, is the quintessential horse-crazy little girl. You’ll see her in my first book, The Essential Fergus the Horse.
What do you think makes your book stand out from the crowd?
The artwork, and Fergus’s expressive character. On the bookshelves you'll find books that are written by someone, and books that are illustrated by someone else. I am both writer and illustrator of my books.
Is there a message in your book that you hope readers will grasp?
Anger and fear have no place in horsemanship. Referring to A Horse to be Reckoned With, I hope that children will notice, that “The Lad” does not lose his cool. He remains patient and kind regardless of Fergus’s antics. No matter what Fergus does, The Lad never becomes angry or afraid. In Fergus and the Greener Grass, there is an underlying message to have faith in one’s self.
What’s next? Future goals for your writing?
I will keep making hilarious Fergus stories until my heart and gut tell me that I am finished making hilarious Fergus stories.
Discover more about Author Jean Abernethy!
Fergus the Horse website: www.fergusthehorse.com
Author website: www.jeanabernethy.com
Watch the New Fergus Book Trailer!
What a spur jingling interview!
A BIG thank you to Jean Abernethy for participating in my Equestrian Author Spotlight series. I really enjoy these interviews. I learn so much from other authors and appreciate how unique each of our writing journeys is. I love that all the authors featured in this series are linked through our creativity, passion for writing, and love of horses. I think it is so important to support each other. I appreciate the support of a fellow author. Thank you for giving me the gift of your time, Jean! #authorsunite
I LOVE HORSE BOOKS. If you are an author who writes about horses and would like to be spotlighted let me know. I’d be happy to include you, too. Sharing about fellow horse book authors makes my spurs jingle! Visit my contact page to fill out a request.
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You might also like this video!
The Annual American Horse Publications Equine Media Seminar happened right in my backyard. It was so exciting to meet many of my virtual equine friends (in person) including Jean Abernethy for the first time!
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!