Stacy Gregg, author of The Princess and the Foal, a Junior Fiction finalist in the 2014 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, discusses the background of the novel, and what she enjoys outside of writing.
As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book?
Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
When I am writing my Pony Club Rivals series I often use real people and horses as the basis for my characters. The books are set at an exclusive equestrian boarding school in Kentucky where elite teenage riders from all over the world vie for a place. In the past I’ve based Rivals characters on people like Mark Todd and Blyth Tait. I liked the idea of introducing an Arabian princess into the series and had planned to incorporate a character based on Princess Haya of Jordan who is the head of the world equestrian governing body – the FEI. However, the more I researched the Princess, the more I realised She was too big to fit into the Rivals stories. Her early life was so dramatic it deserved to be a story in its own right.
The heart of the story was Princess Haya’s early childhood. At the age of three She was devastated when her mother Queen Alia died in a helicopter crash. It was Her father King Hussein’s decision to give Her an orphan foal to help her heal that turned her life around and by the age of 12 She won this incredible contest – a true desert challenge known as The Kings Cup. She was the first girl to ever compete and She won.
I decided that a fictionalised retelling of HRH’s true story would work well as a novel for Middle Grade fiction. I pitched it to my publishers who loved it and then I wrote to the Princess who agreed to meet to discuss it in Dubai where She now lives. She is married to Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum – the ruler of Dubai. We met, I explained the idea and She gave it her blessing. I did a lot of research – travelling to Jordan to visit the royal palaces and stables, lots of interviews and backgrounding (I was a journalist before I was a novelist so this was familiar terrain for me – although the melding of fact with fiction was new). I have been incredibly faithful to the true story of Princess Haya – luckily for me Her real life was more fantastic than any fiction I could have dreamed up. It took almost two years to produce the book after that initial pitch to HarperCollins but it was worth it – it was a wonderful journey.
Did you tailor this book to a particular audience – or did you find it found its own audience as it was written?
I’ve always written fiction for the middle grade – and I really adore writing for this age group. It’s a reading age that I can really relate to – they are so passionate and so willing to immerse themselves in the world that an author creates for them. This novel is based on the true story of Princess Haya from the age of three when Her mother dies, to Her ultimate triumph in the Kings Cup at the age of 12 – so it made sense for the readers to match Her in age to relate to Her experiences. Although it is true that most young children wouldn’t dream of doing the things that Princess Haya gets up to – She was a royal tearaway!
Can you recommend any books that you love, that inspired or informed your book in any way?
When the Princess and I met we bonded instantly over our love of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. I had re-read this series over and over when I was young. To me, The Black Stallion was exotic, I loved the Arabian detail. To the Princess, the Arabian setting was Her home! She is a true Bedouin – like the characters in the books.
Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
I took The Luminaries with my on my last book tour in the UK. It was the perfect book to work my way through as I sat in departure lounges and hotel rooms. I was out to dinner with my publisher at The Corinthia in London when my partner Michael texted me the news that Eleanor Catton had won the Booker Prize. I had an extra glass of champagne to celebrate her win!
What are your favourite things to do, when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
My favourite thing to do when I am not reading or writing….is riding. I have a genuine passion for horses – we have just spent a week down in the Hawkes Bay for the Horse of the Year Show. If I am ever stuck on a chapter then I will get in the car and head out to the horse to clear my head. I do some of my best work on horseback!
Interview provided by Booksellers NZ.