Anne is a natural in all things that she does and the combination of her two great talents – as a horsewoman and as a writer – has led her to the top of the tree as an author. As she begins work on her 21st book, due out this Christmas, I caught up with her to talk about her current book, Kinane, A Remarkable Racing Family (The O’Brien Press 2010), and her life as a writer.
“I have always written,” Anne tells me, “from the age of four all I ever wanted to be was a writer. Writing is natural to me; it’s something I’ve always done. I know that you can learn how to write from reading books and doing courses, but you have to have a basic flare and a love for writing – that isn’t something that can be taught.” She says that her mother was very erudite and a beautiful writer, her preferred subjects being travel and antiques, which perhaps showed Anne that combining hobbies with work was far from a pipedream ambition.
Having left what she describes as a sheltered life at boarding school, Anne joined a local newspaper at the age of 20. Training as a journalist with the Kent & Sussex Courier provided her with the skills and professionalism so evident in her work today. “It was the best thing I could have ever done,” she says, “I was walking the streets, interviewing people and learning how to get the best out of them under what was sometimes very difficult circumstances. I had to be empathetic and quite often sympathetic.” More importantly, from a writing aspect, she began her professional career with the basic rules firmly implanted. “It teaches you about writing to deadlines and writing to a given number of words,” Anne says, “which is something I have always done and I’m known for.”
With such a love of writing, I wonder if Anne’s day ever has room for other activities, but I was relieved to find that she is much like any writer. “It depends on the deadline and how close I am to it!” she confesses. “All writers find that there are times when you do anything, even housework, rather than sit down and write, but not if there’s a deadline.” She finds that she sits down and writes to the exclusion of all other things only when there is an end plan. “If I’m on holiday then I just write and write, just for pleasure,” she says. ‘For pleasure’ means at least three novels in the pipeline.
Anne’s normal working day, however, revolves just as much around her horses, dogs and tranquil rural lifestyle, in Co Westmeath, as her writing. “I try to be at my desk by 9am,” she says, “after I’ve seen to the horses and walked the dogs. I normally work through to 1pm, sometimes 3pm, and then I get outdoors. I do whatever chores need doing outside and take the horse for a ride. I’ll often return to the writing again in the evening.” It usually takes Anne nine months to complete a book, “Roughly three months research, three months writing and three months with the publisher.”
Anne is as much a businesswoman as a writer and is conscious of the need to earn from her work. Already she has sent emails and letters regarding proposed books for 2012, 2013 and even 2014. “The bane of my life is the non-productive work, the paperwork and chores entailed,” she complains, when I ask if there are any downsides to a career as an author, but such negatives are far outweighed by the positives. “I love the research, delving behind-the-scene, unearthing new stories,” she reveals, “and I love meeting so many wonderful people; the books do not generally bring big financial reward, but I feel rich in the people I meet.”
The most recent people to enrich her life was the Kinane family, the subject of her 2010 book Kinane, A Remarkable Racing Family, just going into reprint again. The idea for the book arose from a conversation with Tommy Kinane at Punchestown races. Horses, and particularly horseracing, have been the theme of all her books to date. Anne was a successful amateur rider, winning many point-to-points, and was one of the first women to ride, and win, under National Hunt Rules in the UK. “Write about what you know; which in my case is horses and horseracing!” Anne advises. As a freelance journalist she contributed to Horse & Hound for 30 years and her best sellers include Sea The Stars, and Steeplechasing, a Celebration of 250 Years.
She was, then, the ideal person to put together a history of the great racing clan the Kinanes and her early journalist skills must surely have come to the fore when it came to interviewing so many members of the family. “I’m a great believer in seeing someone in their own home,” she says, “You get a feel for the person and the place in which they live and work. Some people are a challenge while others are very forthcoming.” Because Anne shares so much knowledge and passion for horses she is an easy person to talk to and understands perfectly the language and lifestyle of her subjects. “Before I joined the local paper I had completed a secretarial course so that from the start I had shorthand and typing, something that has remained a huge asset,” Anne points out. “I only use a notebook and pen for interviews, never a tape recorder.”
Kinane, A Remarkable Racing Family, is very much in keeping with an earlier title, In The Blood, Irish Racing Dynasties (The O’Brien Press 2009) and it’s in this sphere that Anne excels. Her current book in progress returns to the horse itself as the main subject and will be the 21st in a prolific body of work, which began with The Love Of Horses (Octopus Books) in 1973 and The Love Of Ponies (Octopus Books) in 1975. They were followed by “THEY’RE OFF” The Story of the First Girl Jump Jockeys (J.A. Allen & Co 1978). Yet it isn’t all plain sailing for Anne and, like every writer, she has to cope with rejections and the frustration of finding a publishing home for her novels.
“We all get rejections and as I get older I find it even harder to cope with,” Anne admits, “I have 40 years of experience behind me, what more can I do? You just have to keep on trying.” She takes great pride in her 2009 titleSea The Stars, The World’s Best Racehorse (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), which was completed in what she describes as, “A ridiculously short time. It gave me a great sense of satisfaction that I could still do it to such an incredibly short deadline. I was still able to meet deadlines like a 20-year-old!”
As can be imagined, an incredible amount of research goes in to all Anne’s books, enormously facilitated these days by the Internet, as well as her own past volumes. “Check, check, check and check again,” she insists, earning a reputation for her accuracy and thorough research. For pleasure she has combined her skills to write historical fiction based on true stories, “Narrative history,” as she calls it. She already has three novels nearing completion, which will introduce her to a whole new audience. Her current fans needn’t panic; given Anne’s prolific output and discipline as a writer, more equine books are sure to follow.
None of which appears to leave any free time for Anne, but she still finds time to help and encourage other writers, working freelance as an editor through her Write Away enterprise, where she thoroughly enjoys professionally editing other people’s work; yet another string to her talented bow. “I absolutely love helping and editing. A book I worked on last year was more of a complete rewrite than an edit and that came out this summer,” Anne reveals, clearly finding it just as rewarding as seeing her own work published. Her website, www.annehollandauthor.com, showcases the many ways Anne can help individuals and exemplifies her professionalism.
When it comes to help and advice regarding writing there are few more qualified than Anne, so her final piece of advice is one well worth remembering: “It won’t write itself!”
Anne Holland is Author of:
THE LOVE OF HORSES (Octopus Books) 1973
THE LOVE OF PONIES (Octopus Books) 1975
THEY’RE OFF” The Story of the First Girl Jump Jockeys (J.A. Allen & Co) 1978
DAWN RUN the Story of a Champion Racehorse and her Remarkable Owner (Arthur Barker) 1986
GRAND NATIONAL the Official Celebration of 150 Years (Queen Anne Press) 1988
STRIDE BY STRIDE The Illustrated Story of Horseracing (Queen Anne Press) 1989
CLASSIC HORSE RACES (McDonald/Queen Anne Press) 1989
A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO HUNTING (Crowood) 1990
RIDING IN A POINT-TO-POINT (J.A. Allen & Co) 1992
DRUGS AND HORSES (Compass Equestrian) 2000
STEEPLECHASING A Celebration of 250 Years (Little’Brown) 2001
HUNTING, A Portrait (Little’Brown) 2003
BEST MATE The Illustrated Story of the Nation’s Favourite Racehorse (Orion) 2004
HORSES FOR COURSES, An Irish Racing Year (Mainstream) 2005
GRAND NATIONAL, The Irish At Aintree (The O’Brien Press) 2008
IN THE BLOOD, Irish Racing Dynasties (The O’Brien Press) 2009
SEA THE STARS, The World’s Best Racehorse (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) 2009.
KINANE, A Remarkable Racing Family (The O’Brien Press) 2010