Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Voyagers Author Roland Clarke and His Thriller "Spiral of Hooves"

Currently the IWSG Anthologies blog is featuring posts from the winning authors in Voyagers:  The Third Ghost, and today you are in for a treat!  Today Roland Clarke shares his novel Spiral of Hooves and his WIPs.

Roland Clarke at His Writing Desk

Why a treat?
Because Roland introduces us to an equestrian world that many of us never get to experience firsthand.  This is a world Roland knows intimately and writes about vividly.  Before I read Spiral of Hooves, I knew zilch about equestrian eventing. Heck, I'm terrified of horses.  They are magnificent creatures, but I admire them from a safe distance.  Roland's memorable novel captivated me and makes me want to connect with a gentle horse.

Borde Hill Horse Trials Publicity Shot: 
Penny Sangster jumping Greenbank Harlequin
in front of Borde Hill, Roland's family home – 
Photo by Roland Clarke


Spirals and Beginnings
by Roland Clarke

No viable corpses just dead ends to convoluted plots. Not a great start for my first novel, which was to take another forty years to finish and share with readers.

The seeds for ‘Spiral of Hooves’ were sown when I was living in Canada during the 1970’s, so it was inevitable that the tale opens in Canada and one of the main characters is a Quebecois rider.

However, Quebec was just a seed. IWSG Anthology fellow author and blog-co-ordinator, Louise MacBeath Barbour recently asked, “I think it would be awesome for you to share how ‘Spiral Hooves’ came about and your work as an equestrian reporter.  This is, well was, an unknown world for me.”

Roland Interviewing riders for Eventing Magazine
with Jane Perry of Horse & Hound
at Tweseldown Horse Trials
 Photo by Nick Perry
(Nick is Jane's husband and a H&H photographer, 
who took the photo adapted for the cover of Spiral of Hooves.)

The plot did evolve through my experiences as an equestrian journalist, initially from my early years in the media. First though, I grew up in a privileged hunting-shooting-fishing family and from a young age was encouraged to ride. But as the family groom said, “You’re like a sack of potatoes on that pony” – a sack who fell off too often.

So, I gave up riding as soon as I was permitted. My grandfather, a Master of Foxhounds, wisely told my mother not to worry as one day I’d meet a girl who would persuade me to get back on a horse. In brief, I did and took a summer job putting up fences in the main arena at the All England Jumping Course, Hickstead – owned by her father, Douglas Bunn. A few years later, in my first regular job as a sub-editor on The Field magazine, I wrote an article about Hickstead.

During my brief time at The Field, I was also introduced to the equestrian sport of eventing aka horse trials – made up of three phases: dressage, cross-country, and showjumping. I was hooked for various reasons, and within a few years, I was travelling all over England to photograph events. And the rough plot of a novel appeared, involving the tragic romance between a Canadian cross-country course designer and an English rider.

But I failed to make photography pay, although my rivals flourished – one for decades. A few careers and many decades later, I was researching a TV documentary on equestrian sports, and the Press Officer for the British Horse Trials Association rekindled my career as an equestrian journalist.

Roland's Most Profitable Photo:
 Zara Phillips (Princess Anne's daughter) falling 
during the Windsor Three Day Event in 2004
Photo by Roland Clarke

From short news items for the sports pages of a local paper on their local Olympic equestrienne, I found various newspapers wanting reports on their local riders. So, I attended horse trials in the South East of England, interviewed winners from the SE and wrote about them in my columns.
The coverage boosted eventing in the region, and one event organiser, Ian Bareham helped me devise an innovative ranking competition – the South East Eventers League – which has become a major fixture. My involvement with the SE events culminated in me co-organising an event at my family home – Borde Hill Horse Trials is another ongoing fixture.
I also began contributing reports to Eventing Magazine, the sport’s premier monthly, as well as other media, including one of the first online equestrian websites, Equest – the first to cover Badminton Three-day-event live.

Roland with his mother Nidia Clarke at Borde Hill Horse Trials 
Photo by Tony Warr

I wrote a few articles on other equestrian disciplines, including profiles of leading competitors and reports on Horse Driving Trials – modelled on horse trials using carriages. I attended many driving events and even rode in the passenger seat – ‘suicide seat’ – of a four-in-hand [carriage pulled by four horses] driven by GB Team member, Pippa Bassett in the marathon [cross-country] phase at two major national events.

Although all this material sparked ideas for my novel, my mind was on my press work. Until I was covering a show-jumping class at the winter indoor international show, Olympia in London. Then the ideas took shape and the revised plot was born. Of course, there were more dead ends and discarded chapters, characters, and threads, especially as I started with a volatile plot.

Dick Lane and his team of Lipizzaners at Brighton Driving Trials
This was the team Roland rode in the suicide seat with previous owner, Pippa Bassett. 
Photo by Roland Clarke

The Tunbridge Wells & District Writing Circle helped me hone the novel, but it wasn’t until multiple sclerosis had forced me to retire that the novel was published by a small US press, SPMG on Kindle. When SPMG was bought out and the rights reverted to me, I self-published in 2017 as a paperback as well as Kindle.

Cover design by Jonathan Temples. Cover photo by Nick Perry

Unfortunately, sales have been disappointing for both editions, despite some good five-star reviews from colleagues involved in the sport. However, many who kept clamouring for me to release the novel didn’t respond. I wonder if any competitive riders have read the book – just critics who question my equestrian knowledge.

Hopeful for expectant readers, I have written the first draft of a sequel – ‘Tortuous Terrain’ – set in the US. Although the new novel has some eventing, the focus is on endurance – long-distance – events, with some rodeo. But there are two main characters and a secondary character from ‘Spiral of Hooves’ involved.

So, that’s the end of the road? No more horses?

Well, Louise Barbour also asked, “…I’d like to include your current work in progress with your characters Sparkle Anwyl and Kama Pillai.  Such cool characters!” 

Sparkle and Kama are the central female protagonists in my proposed series, ‘Snowdon Shadows’. Their tale originated with a draft novel, ‘Fates Maelstrom’ set in South West England in which neither appeared. But then I relocated the story when my wife and I moved to Snowdonia, and Sparkle Anwyl of the North Wales Police got involved. Then her sexuality evolved when an American male flirted with her.

Making her a lesbian has been challenging. Her differences emerged at school, but her relationship with Kama Pillai is at the heart of the novel and its sequels. Her Welsh family is important to her, whether her mother’s farming ancestors or her police sergeant father.

Kama and Sparkle
Graphics by Jonathan Temples

The backstory developed into a novel, ‘Fevered Fuse’ – set before ‘Fates Maelstrom’. Yes, there are horses and a link to my debut novel via that secondary character mentioned above. The clue is Zoo – for those like Louise who have read ‘Spiral of Hooves’.

And if you are wondering, there will always be horses – if there isn’t a phoenix. 

After diverse careers, Roland Clarke was an equestrian journalist and green activist when chronic illness hastened retirement. But he hasn’t stopped exploring rabbit holes and writing - mainly mysteries and alternative history. Roland and his wife – both avid gamers - now live in Idaho (USA) with their four fur-babies, although their hearts are in North Wales (UK).

For a preview of Roland's Spiral of Hooves, Amazon and Goodreads links, interviews with characters, plus more go to
For a deeper look at Roland's life go to

       After Roland retired, his company Seahorse Equestrian Agents presented
       him with The Seahorse Achievement Award for outstanding behind-the-
       scenes contribution to SE England eventing. 

Coming on Wednesday, October 14, 2020: 
Next up is Yvonne Ventresca whose short story "The Third Ghost" won the coveted top honor in the Voyagers anthology.  We'll learn the backstory to her young adult novel Pandemic.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue 

* * * * * * * * * *

If you haven't read Roland's short story "Feathered Fire" 
in VOYAGERS:  The Third Ghost, you can find it here.

You can order a copy of
VOYAGERS: The Third Ghost 
at the links below.

Print 9781939844729 $13.95
EBook 9781939844736 $4.99

Juvenile Fiction - Historical / Action & Adventure /
Fantasy & Magic

Roland's Story

The Second Sun
by llifi-kei  


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm impressed with your career. It might have delayed the writing and publication of the book, but you now have so much to draw upon for future books.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Wow, Roland, that’s quite a ride, and a long way to a novel (though I have thought about going back to one I started in my 20s, and that’s looking like nearly as the heck did this happen?).

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, what a career! Years of photography and journalism and you even founded the South East Eventers League. Well done, sir!

Fundy Blue said...

It was a blast to learn more about your equestrian career, Roland! Thank you for sharing your story and photos. "Spiral of Hooves" was awesome. I'm almost through it for the second time. Now get that sequel out!!! I think I know who the characters are ~ Hehe! Do you know how many times I've gone back and forth on the train through Haywards Heath, my friend? I nearly fell off my chair when I started digging deeper last night. If I get to Brighton again, a certain garden is on my Must See List. Be very careful, Roland, the virus infection rate is way too high in your state. You have a lot of books in the works that I want to read. Take care!

Roland Clarke said...

Too much in some ways, Dian = too many rabbit holes and distractions. I need to focus on the real WIP.

Roland Clarke said...

I was never much of a rider - felt safe on the ground. But more than enough material for a book or two - and a circuitous road.

Roland Clarke said...

A strange career as it also included a sting marketing organic produce, and another in the video/TV/film industry. All useful for the fiction, Alex - perhaps.

Roland Clarke said...

Pleasure to contribute this, Louise.

Aren't you a Canadian? Why were you in Brighton and on the train to Victoria? Mind you, I lived in Canada for three years - colleges in Quebec and Ontario.

I suspect the sequel to 'Spiral of Hooves' might be sidelined by Welsh intrigue. What are the initial letters of the characters you guess are in the sequel? And do you suspect who the Zoo in Wales is?

Fundy Blue said...

I'm so glad to see you, Roland! I was worried about you.

Yes, I'm Canadian, but I've spent over three weeks in Brighton during two trips. Terry's sister was living in Brunswick Square, and we were back and forth to London a number of times while there. When we were last there, some kind of strike going on with the trains. We were going to Brighton, and the strikers made everyone get off the train in Haywards Heath and wait for another one. So I was close to your childhood home!

"Endurance?" I wouldn't be the first eventer to try my hand but..."
The sequel would be A&C. C on D (horse) The Zoo in Wales? I'm guessing here. Mo = sheep ~ And there are lots of sheep in Wales.

You're just going to have to get busy! Take care of the Welsh intrigue and get on with endurance!

Roland Clarke said...

Know Brunswick Square as I lived in Brighton for some years, Louise. The railway comapnies do tend to use HH as a place to stop trains whatever the reason - strikers, frozen points, or leaves on the line. You were lucky not to get bussed to B.

Endurance is main plot, but C does do a major event at one point - in Montana. A., is with her of course. Zoo is not Mo but C's friend - sister encounters Sparkle on holiday... All will eventually be revealed.

For now I'm diverting to S's grandfather for NaNoWriMo - Lost Sheep.

Fundy Blue said...

I loved Brighton! Would go back in a heartbeat! I almost picked C's friend. I actually backspaced her out in the comment! Drat! Keep writing, my friend.