Authors can’t help but grow fond of their characters. We have taken great care over their creation and, if we have done it properly, they come to life on the page. They seem real to us and we hope our readers feel the same. However, some characters do stand out more than others. In my book The Exile of Elindel (http://tinyurl.com/n8msefk) there is one character readers have told me is their favourite, and, although as the author I feel I should like all my characters equally, I have to confess this particular character is one of my favourites too.
The character in question is an Exmoor pony called Grimalkin. I have no idea where she came from. She just appeared almost halfway through the book. She was merely a pack animal, a means of transport. When I created her I had no idea how important she was to become – not just in Book One but throughout the trilogy.
Well, no spoilers; let’s just say she provides the bathos, the comic relief. She is the deflator of pomposity. She says the sort of things we would all like to get away with. She hasn’t a good word to say about anyone. And yet she is immensely lovable. I have no idea how this happened!
For at least 700,000 years, primitive wild horses roamed the British Isles, having crossed over from the continent of Europe before Britain became an island. The Exmoor pony is the oldest of our native breeds and is as hardy and robust as the wind-scoured moorland on which it lives.
Once used to tend and herd livestock, these ponies were also a means of transport during the Roman occupation. They can carry far more than their size would suggest and they are extremely agile and quick to learn.
The Exmoor has a broad, heavy brow that protects the eyes from inclement weather. They also have a tuft of coarse hair at the top of the tail which directs rain and snow away from the body. This clump of hair is shed in summer and regrown in autumn, just in time for another hard winter out on the moors. Their usually sleek summer coat changes too, becoming double-layered for waterproofing and warmth.
Exmoors are always brown with black points and a mealy muzzle. They have buff-coloured rings around their large, intelligent eyes. Their sturdy legs and well-shaped hooves suggest strength, solidity and surefootedness.
After World War II, when the Exmoors had all but died out, a group of concerned breeders stepped in to save them. By the 1950s, ponies were being exported to the USA. Publicity generated in 1981 led to a revival in interest in the breed and let us hope this continues, for there are now only 800 Exmoor ponies in the world. Those that live semi-wild on the Devon and Somerset moorland are an important part of the ecosystem, contributing to the conservation of this unique habitat. Such an ancient and special breed should not be allowed to follow so many other creatures into the void of extinction.
For now the Exmoor pony has endangered status. I’m sure Grimalkin would have something to say about that. I’m also sure it would be blunt and amusing. And here’s the curious thing: I don’t understand why she makes me laugh when I’m the one who put the words into her mouth in the first place.
A talking pony? I hear you ask. How does she do that? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I’m not going to say anymore about Grimalkin, her origins or her part in the story. Suffice it to say, the main characters in The Elwardain Chronicles have more to them than meets the eye, and Grimalkin is no exception.
(Thanks go to Dave Bennett for supplying the photograph.)