Olivia Tuffin

A day in the life of children's author, Olivia Tuffin.

Olivia Tuffin
A day in the life of children's author, Olivia Tuffin.

I have to pause when I write my occupation down on forms. Author.

…It still feels unreal, that I think of stories in my head, write them down and off they go out into the world, bought and read by pony mad children just like me some twenty years ago (Ok, nearer to twenty five, but twenty sounded better) and that is my job. A pinch me moment, for sure.

When I was asked to write about a day in my life, I had a little bit of imposters syndrome which happens quite a lot, because I had to think about how I actually work, and sometimes the days are just filled with the school run, and laundry, and changing yet another babygro on my six month old and no writing whatsoever gets done. But other times the stars align, the baby sleeps, and I write and I write and I write, and it’s one of the very best feelings in the world.

One of my very favourite ways to start the day is early, both children still asleep, my husband pulling on his coat and wellies to go and sort out our four ponies (he does the morning shift, I do the evening with the children in tow) a hot cup of coffee and my laptop. I have an office which rarely gets used, most of my writing is done at the kitchen table, facing the paddock so I can watch the horses.

I wrote the Palomino Pony Comes Home – the first book in the Palomino Pony series, following a riding accident which left my arm in a sling for weeks on end and me out of action for months. I had carried the story around in my head for years, the perfect pony and a girl, similar to me as a youngster, who’d do anything just to get near a pony. I suppose I write the sort of books I would have read as a child, because that’s all I know to write about. When I talk to children in schools, I always tell them to write about the things they know and love. That’s half the battle won then! From there, the stories just flowed. Nosy Crow, my Publishers, took on three books, then four, and then six, and then another six book series, and I had to be at the ready with more stories. I’m constantly asked where I get my ideas, and it’s such a hard question to answer because truthfully, I don’t really know. They are just in my head! I always start with the overall idea for the book, so say, Olympia, for a winter publishing book, or a French adventure for the summer holidays. At the moment I am writing a book due for release next June, so I know it will involve a hot summer, pony club camp, drama at Hickstead. Then I weave my story lines in and out of that, friendships, fallouts, a hint of romance, pony action, the hard times, the great times. For ages I just attacked a blank page but actually now I try and chapter plan, or at least write some sort of vague timeline. This saves a lot of work in between drafts one and two for my Editor if she knows roughly what I have planned. I do very often wander off course or think up something brilliant half way through and change the plot. I often get writers block about at the ten-thousand-word mark. I deal with this in two ways, Sometimes I write the end and then work my way up to it. Sometimes I just take a day or two away from my laptop and then go back and read what I’ve read, and re focus. I often have breaks away from my lap top during the day, if granny next door can watch the baby, just to go out and get a pony in, or tidy the yard, or just give the ponies a cuddle. Just five minutes with my subject matter can refresh me. And coffee, lots and lots of coffee.

There are other jobs to do besides the writing. Nosy Crow, my Publishers, are particularly good at front covers, and I had a huge amount of fun going on the photo shoots to watch the cover shots being taken. I found both the ponies, this was really important to me. Lily, the Palomino Pony won at Olympia in my stories so we needed a Section B who could live up to the pony in my head, and luckily we found ‘her’ in the form of ‘Sammy’ who actually did win at real life Olympia last year. Sammy is a particularly beautiful gelding who did a great job at being Lily! I also write the comics for a well known pony magazine in the Netherlands, based on the real life stories of horses. I’ve written about everything from Teddy the Shetland, to an equine survivor of Hurricane Katrina. I often have two deadlines on the go, but I like a deadline and I like a schedule.

I write in bursts, an hour here, fifteen minutes there. Although my oldest child is at school, with a baby in tow I don’t have the luxury of a full school day. So it is nap times and evenings. I try and write one thousand words a day when I have a deadline and sometimes I manage just ten, but that’s ok, it always gets done, one way or the other. When I hand a first draft in, I get a strange sense of sadness, I get so attached to my characters and the focus of my draft, something for me to get lost in, away from the washing and the cooking. It’s sort of a strange limbo time for a couple of weeks whilst my Editor looks it over and puts her line comments together, but I use the time to catch up on all the things I haven’t done whilst writing, like sorting out the outgrown baby clothes or cleaning all the tack. I barely get a chance to ride these days, particularly since my daughter is pony mad herself so my time is spent taking her out on the lead rein, but in my books, I can escape to that world I so loved as a child. And after the first draft, that’s only the start. Two, three, maybe four more drafts afterwards, copy edits, proof reads, approval of the covers, thinking up the dedication, last read through, printing, and then that amazing day when a big padded envelope drops through the door containing the first two copies fresh from the printer. Even now, ten books in, it hasn’t lost the excitement, holding my dream in my hands, an idea from my head which now takes the form of a beautifully covered book. I am sure most Authors will admit to just checking out their own books on the stands of Waterstones or similar, and it still makes me feel emotional. I can’t wait for the day my own children can read my books. Although last time I excitedly pointed out my books to my daughter in Waterstones, she gave a rather dramatic sigh and exclaimed ‘We have these at home mummy. Let’s go and find the Unicorn books instead.” But she tells people, ‘my mummy makes books’ and that means everything.

Olivia Tuffin lives on an arable farm in Dorset with her farmer husband Clive, three ponies, two dogs and a pet sheep called Florence. She never outgrew the pony-mad stage and her favourite thing to do is to ride off for hours into the countryside. She’s always loved writing and wanted to write the kind of pony story she adored as a child. Her own ponies and their funny antics provide inspiration for her stories every day.