Hilary Walker is new to the CKN Christian Publishing team. She joins us from Maryland where she lives with her husband, Thoroughbred cross and two British bulldogs. Walker’s short stories have won and placed in competitions in the U.K. and U.S. She now writes Christian Inspirational Fiction novels, usually including equine characters. The Jack Harper Trilogy takes the reader into the world of a lapsed Catholic horse trainer. Look for the first book in the series, Riding Out The Devil, in January 2018!
CKN Christian Publishing: What inspired you to write the Jack Harper Trilogy?
Hilary Walker: Watching my son handle his autoimmune disease with such dignity and optimism was the first impetus to create a fictional hero with ulcerative colitis.
I’ve also long wanted to write novels that entertain while drawing the reader closer to God. As Christians we are called to evangelize, but I’m a Catholic who’s not very good at it. Through The Jack Harper Trilogy I hope to present my faith in a fun fashion without preaching.
The three books actually began as a single volume, but my uncle thought there were more trying to emerge. I’d written a deliberately ambiguous ending to Riding Out the Devil but was forced by his comment to figure out what came next!
Then, as often happens, the characters took on a life of their own. Recording their activities made me realize that at least three books were needed to tell their story. My uncle was right – and the title “Riding Out the Devil” was his idea, too.
CKN: I know a part of the trilogy was based on your son’s struggle with ulcerative colitis. Did you run your idea for the books past him before getting started?
HW: I told him that I felt the world was ready for a literary hero with ulcerative colitis and he smiled benevolently at me, as sons do.
CKN: Has your husband or son read your books? What is their reaction?
HW: Before you asked this question, no they hadn’t. When I asked my son if he would read it so I could give you an answer, he insisted that he’s often mentioned wanting to read it!
Because this story is so close to home, I guess I brushed him off. He has now read it, and says it’s a good story, but, yes, it’s difficult for him to read because it brings back memories of our early struggles with his ulcerative colitis.
My husband is not a fiction reader, but he has read Brittle Diamonds and liked that a lot.
CKN: What’s your writing process like; do you write from beginning to end, with an outline, etc.?
HW: An author friend of mine goes through the whole story in her head – and then doesn’t want to write it down because she knows how it ends.
I’m the dead opposite. I have to know what happens next and my outlines take a long time to produce.
Andrew Mayne wrote a fantastic book entitled How to Write a Novella in 24 Hours and Other Questionable & Possibly Insane Advice on Creativity for Writers. In it he suggests jotting down eight main plot points to start with then fleshing them out.
So that’s how I start all my novels, even though they’re going to be much longer than a novella and obviously not get written in 24 hours!
Once that summary is finished, I work on other projects while the story percolates in my subconscious.
Soon I find myself keen to get going on the longer novel outline, and begin a very detailed one. Often whole chapters contain pure dialogue as this makes the characters come more alive for me. I love having them bounce off each other, and had particular fun with Jack’s conversations with Father Michael and later on with Laura.
After that I write the first draft, leave it for at least a week and edit it twice before sending it out to my beta readers. Then I bite my nails while waiting for them to come back to me with their verdicts/edits.
After that it’s time to get cracking on revisions and more revisions. I have one beta reader who is kind enough to read the book yet again when I feel that I’m maybe, possibly, perhaps ready to unleash the book on the world. She always finds additional changes for me to make!
CKN: Do you still work in accounting as a day job?
HW: No, I have a wonderful routine. After feeding the horses and attending daily Mass, I meet my husband at Starbucks and we compete with each other to see who can finish the crossword first.
That gets my brain in gear so I can settle down to several hours of writing. In the afternoon I ride my horse, and in the evening I tackle freelance writing assignments.
CKN: I see a lot of similarities in your books and your real life. Do you find it easier to write what you know?
HW: I admit to being more comfortable writing what I’m familiar with. As Andrew Mayne says, it makes for a quicker story outline. But I also explore beyond my experiences in my books.
For example, Jack went swimming with his horse – something I’d always wanted to do but had not had the courage to try.
I am a member of the OPRC (Old People’s Riding Club – you can become a member when you turn 21 years old!) and they had a ‘pony swim’ this year.
Previously I had always found an excuse not to go, but this time – because Jack did it – I forced myself to join the group of fifteen bareback riders wading into the water. I’d never ridden my horse bareback let alone taken any horse swimming before. It was an amazing experience. My gelding was a natural and I have great GoPro footage of our adventure.
But I can’t promise to do everything Jack does with his horses!
CKN: What type of writing do you enjoy reading?
HW: As a fiction writer this probably sounds terrible, but I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction. I am especially keen on faith based and self-improvement books.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is a favorite and I Believe in Love by Father Jean C.J. d’Elbée is one of the most beautiful books about God’s mercy and love for humanity that I’ve ever read.
My fiction favorite is The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. I also like G.K Chesterton’s Father Brown stories.
CKN: What are you reading right now?
HW: Self-Abandonmentto Divine Providence by Father Pierre de Caussade which explains how to surrender to God.
In the past two weeks I’ve also finished The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson, about developing healthy lifetime habits, The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins, about just getting on and doing it instead of over-thinking and missing the moment, and As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, a short and very deep book about how positive thoughts create our character and change the path of our lives.
(P.S. I highly recommend all of them!)
CKN: Before you started writing was there a moment that made you say I have to do this now, I have to write my book?
HW: Having one’s twenty-one year old son suddenly faced with a life-altering and life-threatening disease is heart-breaking. But God always makes good come out of bad for those who love Him.
The ‘moment’ came after months of seeking a natural solution for my son so that he did not have to be on harmful medications all his life. When I shared these findings on my Christian blog, I discovered a large hurting audience out there that needs hope, just like as we did.
I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to live a productive life despite having UC and that’s when Jack Harper rode onto my computer screen.
CKN: Are you working on anything right now?
HW: Yes, The Father Michael Trilogy, which continues on from The Jack Harper Trilogy. It has the same characters but is told from Father Michael’s point of view. Needless to say, he’s still dragging a reluctant Jack into his schemes!
I’ve completed the first book, Riding Out the Wager: The Story of a Damaged Horse & His Soldier. It was inspired by a sweet and beaten up rescue horse I was fostering, who has now been adopted by a veteran who had PTSD and was healed through the help of horses.
I am now working on the second book of the trilogy: Riding Out the Regrets in which Father Michael’s married priest friend turns up, urgently needing the cleric’s help.