Friday, 31 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - poem by Caspia

chestnut filly
Rider: Prince Ochus

I am Caspia, named after the sea
where they found me orphaned and small.
They gave me to Aura, who had milk for her lost foal –
a curse on Alexander by the Persian god, they said.
So that makes me a blessing, I guess.

I am Caspia, friend of Prince Ochus,
who lost his mother just like me.
Together we crossed mountains, high and cold,
breathing ice while men and horses died
And Alexander looked for the edge of the world.

I am Caspia, joker of the herd.
Wearing elephant skin, the other horses took fright
so I lay in the mud and made everyone laugh.
Alexander did not fear elephants, they said.
The Indians would die when they battled us.

I am Caspia, who fought at the Indus,
where Bucephalas fell and did not get up.
I smelled elephants so I lay in the mud
but forgot Prince Ochus, whose spirit I crushed.
The day was lost and the rain never stopped.

I am Caspia. I only tried my best.
They discharged me from the army and let me rest.
I saw Bucephalas heal and talk to a ghost,
but Alexander has gone into legend at last
and we who are left graze the greenest grass.

I've given Caspia the last word. But you can still read Bucephalas' story of Alexander the Great "I am the Great Horse" as an ebook, now available from:


Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Zephyr's Story

dun mare
Rider: Philotas

Philotas was the one who named me Zephyr. Before that, I was just “the dun mare”. I don’t have pretty dapples like Aura, and I’m not a mare-who-thinks-she’s-a-stallion like Harpinna. I’m the sort of mare nobody notices. Maybe that’s why Bucephalas never made a foal with me?

Philotas grumbles it’s the same for him. “Nobody notices how bravely I fight,” he told me one day at the start of the war with Persia, back when we were still part of Alexander’s special Guard. “I’m just 'General Parmenio’s son'... and I don't think Alexander likes me.” I whinnied in sympathy, because we all knew Alexander didn’t like old Parmenio very much. That’s probably why he threw me and Philotas out of the Guard as soon as he could get away with it and gave us some Greek cavalry to command, whose horses wouldn’t mind being bossed about by a dun mare.

Philotas was pretty pleased with his promotion at first. But he soon worked out we were always ordered to fight the most dangerous parts of the battle, and being in charge of a herd of Greeks is no substitute for being in terror of your life every time we meet the enemy, believe me. “He’s trying to get us killed, Zephyr,” he grumbled. “This whole stupid war is ridiculous. King Darius is dead! We’ve won. We should all have gone home to our families long ago, instead of riding further east in search of more battles… He’s got to be stopped!”

It might have been all right if he’d stopped there. But he kept on grumbling behind Alexander’s back, riding me out in the dark to meet equally grumpy men in cloaks, who then plotted and whispered together for hours, while anyone who saw me waiting for him in the shadows soon forgot they had seen me because I’m only “the dun mare”.

We were camping at a place called Lake Seistan when Alexander found out about all the grumbling. It’s miles and miles from home, and most of us had given up ever seeing Macedonia again – except for Philotas, who pulled my ears and promised me: “Not long now, my sweet Zephyr, not long now.”

I didn’t quite know what he meant by that. Then one night Alexander’s men burst into Philotas’ tent and dragged my poor rider out of his bed. I heard him screaming from the horse lines. The screams went on and on, disturbing us horses, but by morning they had stopped and a strange silence settled over the camp. A lot of other horses’ riders got arrested, too, and shortly afterwards a groom came down to the horse line to shave off my mane. “Sorry, little dun mare,” he said as my curls fell unnoticed into the mud. “Don’t worry, I'm sure you’ll get a new rider soon.”

I got one of the Greeks, whose horse had gone lame in our last battle. He rode me in a big parade that Alexander had ordered. It was a relief, really. We had all been penned up in the camp for days, unable to get out past the double guard on the gates, and we were itching for a good gallop. A parade is mostly trotting, but it’s better than standing in the horse lines. Any rate, after we’d bucked and kicked up our heels for a bit, we formed our battle lines and waited for Alexander and Bucephalas to come and order us around as usual.

Bucephalas came out squealing, made himself huge, and gave us all flat ears. I kept my head down and hoped he wouldn’t notice me – there are some advantages to being “the dun mare”. Without Philotas on my back, I don’t think even Alexander recognized me.

For a long time nothing much happened. Then, as we fidgeted and gave each other sly nips and kicks, three camels came racing in from the west and barged straight through our lines, setting us all off bucking and kicking again. The leading jockey threw a blood-stained sack at Alexander, and my rider swore and drew his sword, thinking it was a Persian assassin. But Bucephalas went up on his hind legs to avoid it, and Alexander laughed, the plumes of his helmet flying against the sky. “See!” he yelled in his high voice, pointing his sword at the sack, which had spilled its contents under Bucephalas’ hooves. “That’s what’ll happen to any of you who dare plot against me in future!”

It was a man’s head, covered in blood and flies, and it STANK. It’s hot in Persia, and the camels had been on the road three days bringing their burden from Ecbatana, where we’d left Philotas' father General Parmenio to rest his old bones. I suppose his bones are still there, except for his skull, because that was in the head rolling before us. When the flies cleared off, my new rider whispered, “Oh Zeus, he’s killed poor old Parmenio, too!” and went very still. I could feel him trembling with terror.

After that there was no more talk of going home, and the men kept their grumbling for their horses’ ears alone. I never saw Philotas again, and soon became “the dun mare” as before, because nobody could remember what he’d called me.

I’m not too upset. Getting noticed by Alexander these days can be a dangerous business, and Zephyr was far too posh a name for a mare like me, anyway. Better to be ignored and alive than famous and dead, that’s what I say!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Great Horse Christmas Story - Zoroaster's Story

White gelding
Rider: none

I am the Sacred Horse of the Sun, named after the prophet Zoroaster, which makes me immortal – so this is going to be a happy story with no horses dying in it. I travelled with the Persian King Darius, until Alexander captured his camp after the battle of Issus. I survived in Bucephalas’ herd because I was gelding and not expected to fight. Then, a few hundred years after Alexander died, I carried a small white kitten out of Persia hidden in my mane (thank you, catdownunder!) and joined the Magi, who were following a star into the west.

Their camels were laden with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for a newborn king, and they took me along as their fourth gift – a beautiful white horse for the young prince to ride when he was grown. I wore my finest tasselled cloth and a bridle of soft red leather, with silver bells plaited into my mane and tail, just like I was on parade. They make such a pretty tinkling when I trot.

Soon we came to a little town called Bethlehem, where the Magi led me into the stable for the night while they took rooms at the inn. (You might have heard there was no room, but gold opens doors the world over.) And – you’ll never believe it – right there in the stable, lying in my manger with the starlight all shining around him, was the very newborn king we had come to see! His parents didn’t have enough money for a room. So the Magi gave them the gold, frankincense and myrrh they had brought. Finally, they led me over in my red bridle with my silver bells, and said that the baby Jesus could ride me when he grew up since I was an immortal horse and would never grow old.

His mother Mary stroked my nose and said I was indeed very beautiful, but they already had a donkey and did not need a horse. His father Joseph laughed and said I was a horse fit for an Emperor, not a carpenter’s son. He said they didn’t have the room to keep me back in Nazareth... though I suspect he was thinking an immortal horse like me would soon eat them out of house and home. But they thanked the Magi for the gold, frankincense and myrhh – those would be very useful.

So the next morning the Magi took me back to Persia with them, trotting behind their camels. But, unknown to his parents, the baby Jesus did get a fourth gift that night. For when I lowered my head over his manger, the little white kitten had jumped out of my mane and curled up to sleep in the straw beside him. As far as I know, the family took the kitten back to Nazareth with them, where she no doubt made herself useful catching mice in the carpenter’s shop, while Jesus loved her as he loved all animals, until eventually she had some kittens of her own.

This is why you share your homes with cats today - and why later on, when he had become famous, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a white horse... though it is said that if you listen very carefully on Christmas Eve, you can hear the silver bells in my mane and tail tinkling faintly in the distance.

tinkle… tinkle… tinkle

The Muse wishes all his blog readers a truly magical Christmas!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Xanthus' Story by Alzrith

Chestnut stallion
Rider: Craterus

Today the Muse is delighted to bring you a story written specially for this blog series by Alzrith, who chose to talk to Xanthus... enjoy!  

My name is Xanthus, and you should know right away that I'm no Black Beauty

No, that isn't proper. It's Bucephalas' line. I should think of a better one to impress those fools of horses leaning over the wooden rails to reach the carrots the grooms dangle teasingly before our eyes. Some horses manage to reach carrots and crunch them with their teeth, but most squeal softly in frustration. I stay in the middle of the ring of wooden rails. To me, it's prison. I ignore some grooms whistling like birds to me, dangling some carrots. I’d rather eat the dirt inside my hooves.

My coat is the colour of glittering yellow metals from the deepest mines, but that’s where the resemblance stops. I have a big head well-proportioned to my muscular, equine body; most of my scars are etched forever on my back and they are the colour of copper. At least they don’t spoil my beauty…

Still sounds like Bucephalas. Shrug. Who will notice? Once I make a proper introduction they’ll forget who Bucephalas―

Wait. Have they ever known him? Perhaps no. But what if yes? In places such as this, there should be one horse brave enough to―

“You’re a newbie, right? Haven’t seen anyone your colour here before. I wish to know your name.”

I had my head down all the while I thought of an introduction for myself, watching through my thick, yellow eyelashes as others took their breakfast. I did not notice the grey colt approaching until he spoke. I raise my chin, looking down at him with one raised eyebrow. He stares at me expectantly.

I am Xanthus the Golden, big and bold and handsome. One day, when Bucephalas is old and lame, Alexander will ride ME into battle, and MY name will go down in the history books as the world’s greatest horse…”

Whoah. I didn’t practice that one. It’s always a surprise how my mouth speaks words I don’t think of earlier. My tongue finally had its warm up after some hunters caught me in the woods yesterday. I had run away from the taunting of that old, mean Bucephalas. I couldn’t face him, not with the –literally speaking! – horrid dung he hoofed to my nose. I ran to a lake and dipped my nose there, malicious thoughts already running in my mind, unaware that there were humans sneaking behind the bushes. When my senses detected them, I galloped. In my panic, I didn’t notice a mire, and I dove into it. They waited until my ears were the only part of me to be seen above the mire before they hauled me out of that muddy hell.

I don’t exactly know what happened that night. I lost all my senses there and regained them the next morning. Among the grooms I don’t recognize the ones that caught me.

“Bucephalas?” This single word from the grey colt makes my eyes shoot a warning at him. But he continues coolly, “Wasn’t he the horse who was ridden by Alexander the Great into battles, won and lost with his master?”

By that time, the horses abandon the grooms’ carrots and are watching me with interest. I flick my head to get a strand of golden hair out of my eye and I raise the other eyebrow. “So?” I say.

They glance questioningly at each other. They part a little, allowing space where I can pace freely as I say, “He may be Alexander’s favourite horse. But the horse is no spring chicken any more. Once he dies,” I pass them my confident look, “I’ll be the Great’s favourite and our tandem will be called Alexanthus.”

I mean it. Even if I have to leave Craterus in the middle of a battle and run to Alexander during his banquet, I mean it.

But, oh, what’s this?

The horses squeal in laughter after a moment’s silence. What could these idiots know about a battle horse? They look like plough horses or lesser than that. Still, I cannot resist stamping my fore hooves simultaneously, shouting, “Shut up!”

They only shut their muzzles when the grey colt steps forward. “Your story is no spring chicken, either,” he says. I narrow my eyes to him. The snickers in the background make my blood boil. “Bucephalas’ name already goes down in history books as the world’s greatest horse. You cannot change that anymore.”

Then there are cheers. “Yeah, it’s already been thousands of years ago,” a horse says. “You’re too late! Bucephalas and Alexander are long dead.”

I shake my head slightly. “What do you mean?”

The grey colt sighs. “You live off dreams. Open your eyes. Wake up…”

And so I found out the truth.

That night, I escaped. I can’t remember how I did it ― my blood was in my ears. But there are flakes of wood stuck to my mane. Flying small but blink-fast, nut-shaped missiles try to hit me from behind. I dive into the forest with the moonlight lighting my way and reach my destination. There are huge, black, smoke-belching buildings by the lake… oh my great Creator, where’s the lake? The huge area where I feel the lake might have been is now solid. I trot along its shore to find the mire I fell into. I spot a mossy boulder. I sniff at it and I smell mud.

I lose time analyzing the situation because the hunters are upon me in an instant. They carry long, metallic weapons unknown to me. At first, they calmly come near me. But when my hoof breaks a skull, one of them pulls the hanging thing by that weapon’s handle and there is a BANGing sound across my head. It echoes in the night.

And then my senses shut down.

Muse: Ah, another sad one - Alexander's horses had such hard lives. Thank you very much, Alzrith! Like many of the best short stories, this one leaves the reader thinking at the end... what do you think happened to Xanthus? Where do you think this story takes place? Did he ever get his wish to carry Alexander into battle and be history's greatest horse?
(Answer: see Thirteenth Hoofprint of "I am the Great Horse")

Monday, 20 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - poem by Borealis

Brown stallion
Rider: Leonnatus

I was named after the North Wind,
but crueller winds blow on me today
bringing ice from the edge of the world
to chill my pale bones

Which haunt the trail
where I lay down to rest
during our march up and over
the highest pass of the Hindu Kush.

My friends trotted down into the mist
leaving me with a mane full of snow.
If I wait here long enough
they will return for me, I know.

Leonnatus will bring me a warm cloth,
honeyed oats and a bridle of gold -
See, here they come now all in a froth
from climbing the trail so steep and cold.

I greet them with a whinny of delight,
and watch my bold friend Bucephalas
rear up high and pick a fight
with King Alexander, no less.

Oh, he is acting wild!
And now the other horses are taking fright.
I can't understand why they won’t pass,
until I get out of their way at last.

Now Alexander jumps off to take the lead
and approaches me, all squinting and slow.
“Borealis?” he whispers, “Are you still here?”
So where else did he expect me to go?

Bucephalas snorts as he passes me.
Obedient, I fall in at the back
and we all trot down into India
where the rains turn everything black.

And if you think ghosts don’t remember
then think again, my friend.
For at Bucephalas’ side I remain
faithful Borealis unto the end.

Muse note: Borealis was one of the many horses who died during Alexander’s forced march over the Hindu Kush in winter. His ghost waited by the path until the army retraced their steps on the way to India, where it could follow Bucephalas again.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Harpinna's Story

Roan mare
Rider: Ptolemy

Harpinna here. I might be a mare, but I’ve never been much interested in foals. When Ptolemy chose me to be part of Alexander’s guard, I saw my chance to learn from the great Bucephalas, who has seen more battles than any of us and has the scars to prove it. I’ve fought at his side in the mountains of Thrace, outside the thick walls of Thebes, and at the battle of the River Granicus… where he finally he noticed me. While we were having a breather at Halicarnassus, he broke his tether to visit me in the night.

I thought he’d come to do mutual grooming with me, like he does sometimes with his best friend Petasios. But I was in season, so he’d come to make a foal with me instead. I fought him like a stallion, with my hooves and teeth. He won, though, and little Hoplite was born on our way down the coast. Don’t ask me where. It was a quick birth, and we marched on as soon as my colt could trot after me (which wasn’t very long, because all foals can walk within a few hours of being born).

I wanted to rejoin the Guard straight away, but Ptolemy wouldn’t let me. He said the Persian army was on its way to meet us, and little Hoplite would only get in the way in a battle. I suppose he was right. So we had to stay with the baggage train and the wounded at Issus, while Bucephalas and the other horses went to catch the Persians coming through a narrow pass in the mountains. There were two passes, but Alexander seemed sure he’d chosen the right one.

I soon got bored suckling my new colt. Hoplite had a nasty habit of biting my teats, which hurts, I can tell you. So I’d nip him to tell him off, and he would squeal at me, and I’d squeal back. I’m not into spoiling foals, as you might have gathered. Anyway, we were having one of our squealing-and-nipping matches, when we smelled strange horses sneaking through the pass behind us - and the next thing we knew, we were surrounded by the Persian army.

Little Hoplite bounded out to fight them, making the Persians laugh. “Look at that little speckled colt!” they said. “Maybe Alexander’s come to breed horses instead of fight us? He’s a fool to leave his camp unprotected here.” Then they burst into the tent where the wounded were being treated, and we heard screams. Soon one of our men came staggering out without his hands. The Persians came out after him, their scimitars dripping blood. “Right,” said their officer. “Get a bridle on that ugly old mare, and we’ll send this young upstart Alexander a message he won’t forget. We’ll keep the little colt as a present for King Darius.”

Well, I might not be a pretty broodmare like Aura. But Hoplite was MY FOAL, and nobody was going to take him away from me. So when the Persians tried to get the bit in my mouth, I reared up and acted wild. Little Hoplite copied me, rearing and squealing in his high voice, until they had to give up. The prisoner laughed at them. “You can’t even handle one of Alexander’s mares,” he said. “You haven’t a hope of handling Alexander!”

Eventually they got the prisoner on the back of a mule and tied the reins to his arms. “Don’t fall off!” they teased. "Alexander will want to know what happens to those who invade other people's countries." They gave the mule a whack on the backside, and it cantered off into the hills followed by the rest of our wounded, also without their hands.

Alexander must have got the message, because the next day there was a big battle down on the plain of Issus. Our herd was WILD. We heard the pounding hooves and shouts and clashing swords from the next valley. The Persians fled through the second pass, abandoning us and their camp. Afterwards, Bucephalas came charging up to me in the horselines and sniffed Hoplite all over to make sure he was unhurt. Then, since I wasn't in season this time, he rested his strong teeth on my withers and... glory of glories... began to mutual groom with me.

While we were scratching away at each other’s manes, the muleteer came to see us, his stumps freshly bandaged. “That’s right, brave mare,” he grunted. “We showed them Persians what Alexander’s army’s made of, didn’t we? We’re not goin’ home yet, you mark my words.” And he was right, because when my little Hoplite was all grown up he fought beside me as fiercely as his father Bucephalas, and the Persians lost some of their hands when Alexander took his revenge… but that’s another story.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Great Horse Stories – Bucephalas’ foals.

Bucephalas took time off from fighting to sire three foals: Electra, Hoplite, and Indus. Now they are grown, the Muse is delighted to bring you this exclusive interview with them.

Q. I know Bucephalas fathered all of you, but who was your mother?
Electra: Psylla. She’s dead now, but she was really brave. She was smaller than me, but she carried Alexander at the Battle of Granicus after Bucephalas got captured by the Persians, and she died fighting. I am determined to fight like her and make Bucephalas proud of me!
Hoplite: Harpinna. She’s got silly white speckles in her coat and she passed them on to me, so I’m not all black like Bucephalas. Alexander says I’ve inherited her bad temper, too. He can talk.
Indus: Aura! She had a stillborn foal before me, so she’s really protective. When the horsemaster tried to steal me in India, she got really fierce and reared up and knocked him over. Her coat’s white with age now, but I gather she was quite a looker when she was younger.

Q. Where were you born?
Electra: Pella, Macedonia, the same as Alexander. It’s a lovely place with green pastures between the mountains and the sea. I grew up and learnt how to carry a rider there before joining the army.
Hoplite: Some godforsaken place in Asia. Halicarnassus, I think, one of the many cities Alexander dominated. I didn’t get to see much of it. I had to march with the army almost as soon as I could walk and Harpinna wouldn’t wait for me. She was a hopeless mother.
Indus: India, at the edge of the world. It was raining.

Q. What does your name mean, and what do you think of it?
Electra: I’m named after the famous Electra Gate of Thebes, a Greek city Alexander burnt to the ground on the day I was born. I quite like my name.
Hoplite: It means “foot soldier”, because I was born in the army. I think it’s a bit common, considering Bucephalas’ blood runs in my veins, but what do you expect from grooms? Everyone knows they’ve got no imagination.
Indus: The grooms named me after the great river that flows at the edge of the world, where Bucephalas and Alexander had their last battle against the Indians. At least they didn't name me after an elephant.

Q. What do you think of your sire, Bucephalas?
Electra: He’s big and strong and he always looks after me in battle. No one could have a better dad.
Hoplite: He keeps giving me flat ears! I don’t think he likes the silly white freckles in my coat.
Indus: I never really knew him. He fell in battle at the Indus, but while he was sick he roused himself up with the last of his strength to protect me and Aura, so I know he loved me. Everyone says I look like him. I’m not as brave, though. I’m glad the war’s over so I won’t have to fight as many battles as he did.

Q. Who’s your rider?
Electra: Demetrius. He used to ride Aura, until Bucephalas got her in foal (with Indus). He’s kind and gentle, and he carries the great Shield of Achilles for Alexander so I usually get to gallop beside Bucephalas.
Hoplite: Don’t ask me! First it was Tydeos, a common groom! I soon bucked him off. Then some soldier called Peucestas, I think. I bucked him off, too. Then Alexander rode me while Bucephalas was lame. I tried to buck him off as well, but he got angry with me and we had a fight, which he won. Nobody likes riding me very much… not sure why.
Indus: Charmeia, Bucephalas’ groom, after he was injured in the last battle and could not be ridden any more. She’s very sweet and kind, so I feel lucky to have her.

Q. What do you think of your brothers and sister?
Electra: Little brothers? They’re always a pain, aren’t they? Hoplite’s the worst, though.
Hoplite: Electra’s really stuck up and keeps telling me off, just because she’s older than me and fights in battles. Indus is such a baby. It’s hard being the middle foal.
Indus: I like Electra – she looks after me when Aura needs a rest. Hoplite’s a big bully, so I keep out of his way when he’s in a bad mood.

Thank you, Bucephalas’ foals! The Muse thinks you are all beautiful, even Hoplite with his speckled coat. And when you have foals of your own, Bucephalas’ bloodline will continue - ha! (as he would say)

Friday, 10 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Apollo's story.

Palomino stallion
Rider: Perdiccas

They call me Apollo after the sun god, and (as you can probably tell from my portrait) I was not born to be a warhorse.

It’s obvious King Philip bought me for my beauty. When the sun shines, my coat glows gold and my mane gleams pale as ripe flax. When the grooms comb it out properly, my tail ripples like a banner AND I can carry it just as high as any silly Persian gelding! I should have been Prince Alexander’s royal horse. We should all have stayed at home in Pella and taken part in parades, where everyone would have thrown rose petals over us and cheered, without us having to fight any bloody battles in the wilds of Asia.

But then Bucephalas turned up, and the silly boy decided he’d rather ride a battle-scarred old warhorse than a handsome parade horse like me. Of course Bucephalas made himself huge and pranced about like an overgrown colt, which went to Alexander’s head. Pretty soon all his friends started talking about war, and before I knew it I was part of the Royal Guard with Perdiccas riding on my cloth armed with a nasty sharp spear.

It was an absolute nightmare, I can tell you. Overnight, perfectly sensible boys turned into heroes when Alexander asked them to follow him. Even my rider Perdiccas got the bug, and volunteered to sneak through a side gate into Thebes and open the main gates for the rest of the army, nearly getting us both killed in the process. I just hoped Perdiccas wouldn’t die, because you know what they do to you if you lose your rider? It makes me shudder even to think of it… they cut off your mane!

Fortunately, Perdiccas recovered so I kept my mane at Thebes. But not for long. Almost as soon as we set foot on Asian soil Bucephalas got himself swept downriver fighting the Persians, and we were left to follow a MARE into battle. Psylla had just lost her own rider and was brave enough to carry Alexander, but she was hardly a war horse, and the silly thing got herself killed in the first charge. There's not much point cutting off a dead horse's mane, so instead Alexander ordered all of ours cut off in mourning for Hector and Psylla… the entire Guard shorn like foals for an unimportant man-colt and a mousy little mare!

The other horses stood quietly while the grooms set to work with their blades, but I fought them more wildly than Bucephalas had fought the Persians. With me rearing and squealing and biting, it took three men to get a muzzle on me. Bucephalas gave me a painful nip on the withers, and then the grooms got a rope around my hind leg and tied it to my neck, so in the end I had to stand on three legs while my beautiful flaxen locks – still frizzy from the River Granicus – fell into the mud.

It half broke my heart to see them go, I can tell you. But I suppose it didn’t kill me, and it’s better than losing your rider like poor Psylla did. When it was all over, Perdiccas came to feed me an apple and patted my sweaty neck. “Don’t worry, boy,” he whispered. “It’ll grow again. You’re such a handsome horse, you don’t need a long mane to make you beautiful.”

In the morning I noticed Bucephalas still had every single long black hair of his mane, so I knew this must be true. Some of us are just born more beautiful than others… only don’t tell Bucephalas I said that, will you? I do so hate violence.

NOTE: The Greeks used to cut off their horses' manes in mourning when a cavalryman died. Poor Apollo tells how this happened to him at the River Granicus, even though his rider survived the battle. Needless to say, nobody dared touch Bucephalas' mane!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Psylla's Story

Dark bay mare
Rider: Hector

My name's Psylla, and I was the first of our herd to have a foal by Bucephalas! True, Aura was away at the time, or it might not have happened. But the new horsemaster didn’t realize I was in season when he turned me out in the pasture, and Bucephalas had not run with a mare for years, and… well, one thing led to another. Anyway, eleven months later I gave birth to a beautiful black filly. She was big like her sire, so it wasn’t easy getting her out, but I’m a determined mare and managed it in the middle of the night without any help. I do so hate to make a fuss. It was hard to leave my sweet filly behind when we left for Persia, but she was much too young to fight. The grooms called her Electra, and promised she would join us just as soon as she was old enough to be ridden. I didn’t know I would not live to see that day.

The Persian army was waiting for us at the River Granicus. Though it was after sunset, Alexander immediately galloped Bucephalas into the water, and so of course we all followed him. But when we scrambled out on the other side, we found ourselves trapped on a horrible little beach. Arrows hissed down from the bank above us, while the Persians attacked us from both sides. My rider Hector got hit by an arrow, and I felt him slip off my cloth. Then he was gone, just like that.

It’s a terrible thing to lose your rider, almost as bad as weaning a foal. I thought my battle days were over and I’d be sent home in disgrace. But Bucephalas had been swept away downriver in the dark and I was the only spare horse. The next morning, when the Guard mounted up to continue the battle, Alexander himself leapt on my cloth and urged me back towards the river again.

Can you imagine? Me, little Psylla, leading the herd! Well, I can't begin to tell you how amazing that felt! You can’t help but be brave when Alexander is on your cloth. Call me a reckless mare if you like, but I swam that foaming river and led the charge on the enemy line with Alexander on my back yelling his war cry, and never once thought of the enemy spears flying at us.

When the first one hit me, I didn’t even feel the pain. I kept on galloping, fast as I could. But the second spear stuck deep into my chest and brought me to my knees. From then on, everything was a blur. Alexander somersaulted over my head. I think he landed on his feet, but a bright light was shining in my eyes so I couldn’t see properly. Then, somehow, I was back on my feet, too. I trotted out of the way, feeling light and free. It was very strange. Horses galloped past me, but I couldn’t smell them. My body lay in the mud with the spears sticking out of it. I didn’t really want to go back to it. Alexander stared at it sadly. Then suddenly Bucephalas was there, with his girl-filly groom clinging to his mane. He sent me a whinny of thanks as he knelt in the mud for Alexander to mount, and then they bounded up and charged the enemy who had speared me. Hephaestion pulled the groom up on Petasios and galloped with her across the river to safety. Since Alexander didn't need me any more, I followed. And – this is really strange – when I entered the water, my hooves didn’t even get wet!

There are advantages to being dead. I soon worked out I could go anywhere I liked without getting wet or tired or hungry or ordered to fight for anyone. So I kept on galloping, right back across the Hellespont and all the way to Macedonia, where I’d left my beautiful black filly. Electra looked fit and happy, stretching her long legs in the pasture. I jumped the fence and galloped alongside her until she stopped to graze, then blew into her nostrils. She couldn’t see ghosts like Bucephalas of course but I think she felt me, because she snorted in surprise. “Be brave,” I told her, “and one day you might carry Alexander like I did.”

Then I left my filly to grow big and strong, and went into the ghost pastures to wait for Bucephalas.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Greek National Literature Translator Award

The Muse interrupts the Great Horse stories to bring you some exciting news… we have just heard that the lovely Anna Vasileiadi-Dardalis has been nominated for the National Literature Translator Award by the Greek Ministry of Culture for her fabulous translation of “I am the Great Horse” into the Greek language.

For an interview with Anna, see this post.

Congratulations, Anna! Wishing you the best of luck in the next stage.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Because you’re worth it? What an author REALLY earns...

Since the Great Horse stories are obviously boring people to death, I have decided to blog about money this week for a change. Last weekend, the Guardian magazine carried an interesting article on typical earnings for various professions. My author (who is permanently panicking about the state of her bank balance) was glued to it! Here they are in ascending order of earning power:

Cleaner: £5,000
Alternative Therapist: £5,000
Waiter: £9,000
Small Shop Owner: £9,600 - £12,000
Milkman: £15,000
Architect: £25,000
Cartographer: £20,000 + 1% of sales
Canon (church): £22,000 + rent-free vicarage
Mechanic: £23,400
Pub Landlady: £25,000
Landscape Gardener: £28,000
Police Constable: £28,000
Oxfam Head of PR: £40,000
Psychotherapist: £40,000
Pharmacist: £40,157
Speech Therapist: £40,050
GP: £51,000
Dentist (private practice): £57,500
Criminal Barrister: up to £60,000
Member of Parliament: £65,738
Reality TV Director: £67,000
Airline Pilot: £120,000
Journalist: between £180,000 and £200,000
Banker: £170,000 + annual bonus of £400,000

Notably, there were no authors in the Guardian article. Why not? Aren’t people curious enough? Couldn’t they find an author willing to tell them? Or does the (rather high-earning, in the Muse's opinion) journalist make up for it?

These are the Muse’s theories:
(1) Authors’ earnings vary widely, so to take any single author and ask how much they earn would be misleading as a glimpse of the profession as a whole.

(2) If you ask a particular author what they earned last year, and what they earned ten years ago, the two figures are likely to be wildly different. An author’s earnings can only really be calculated as an average over the course of their career, and taking a snapshot in a single year is likely to be misleading.

(3) Authors do not like to embarrass their publisher or themselves by giving exact details of their advance or royalty deal, which can give rise to such vagueness in interviews as “four figure advance” (a typical advance for a children’s book is between £1,000 and £9,000), which can interpreted as “four zeroes” by the interviewer and erroneously reported as anywhere between £10,000 and £90,000 according to how well the author is seen to be doing at the time!

(4) The Guardian didn’t need to interview an author, since everybody knows authors are all millionaires like JK Rowling.

All right, if they had interviewed JK Rowling, she would probably appear at the end of the list, some way after the Banker. But what about normal authors who haven’t had a Hollywood film deal for seven books or written a runaway best-seller? What can you realistically expect to earn over the course of your career if you have average success, win an award or two, collect a handful of foreign language translations, and have the occasional brief flirt with a best-seller list?

Well, my author has done all those things, and she has now been doing her author accounts for 13 years, which is long enough to give a fair spread of her earnings. So I prodded her with my glittery horn and asked her to spill the beans. She can’t give details of contracts or advances here because she obviously has to respect her confidentiality clauses, but since she's self-employed there’s nothing to stop her making public her annual earnings, so you can compare these to the figures listed above.

If you're considering a career as an author, and wondering if you'll ever earn enough to pay off your student loan, the Muse has put all Katherine's numbers into a calculator and crunched them up. Taking an average over the 12 years since she signed her first book contract, my author's net earnings (after deducting expenses such as computer, paper, postage, and agent's commission) work out at £12,432 per year. On the Guardian scale, this puts her somewhere between the Waiter and the Small Shop Owner, earning more than the Cleaner and the Alternative Therapist, but slightly less than the Milkman.

Not so bad, you might think, except remember these are not regular earnings coming in each month, and there is no telling what - if anything - she might earn next year, or in ten years time. Over this 12-year period, Katherine's annual income has varied widely between a “feeling quite rich” £34,200 (in 2002) and “feeling desperately poor” £1,060 (in 2009, mainly due to not selling any of her new work after "I am the Great Horse"). This means if you're hoping to make a long term living as an author, it’s always a good idea to do some careful financial planning, however well things seem to be going at the time!

Finally, just to prove how misleading those million dollar deals you read about in the press can be, the Daily Mail interviewed Katherine shortly after she’d signed her seven-book contract with HarperCollins. When they asked her how much it was worth, she said it was a “five figure advance” (for seven books), which was reported as £100,000... A hundred thousand?!!! That's six figures, not five, and a long way off the (lowish) five figures she actually got for her seven book series, which worked out as a fairly average four-figure advance per book. She actually earned £12,600 that year, pretty much the average of her earnings spread across her career so far. It's a bit like airbrushing photos of celebrities to make them seem thinner and younger and prettier – only in reverse, because an author seems more glamorous when they are earning more money, and books tend to sell better when an author seems glamorous. And it must have worked, too, because after being featured in the Daily Mail "The Great Pyramid Robbery" sold enough copies to pay royalties of almost double its original advance before sadly going out of print last year.

Of course, this is just Katherine's earnings so far, and she has not yet written her best-selling Hollywood multi-deal series (she's got me hard at work on that right now). You might well earn more than my author. Your Muse might be more of a ninja vampire than an enchanted unicorn. You might write a book that everybody goes mad for, a Da Vinci Code or a Twilight, maybe. You might secure a major advance from a big publisher who will then do all they can to catapult your work into the best-seller lists. You might get that film deal you were dreaming of and be wined and dined in Disneyland…. there’s no upper limit on an author’s salary, so you MIGHT.

But remember there’s no lower limit either, and no such thing as a minimum wage for the self-employed. So between you and me, if you are seeking a career with guaranteed riches and a nice fat bonus to buy your Christmas presents, the Muse thinks you’re probably better off being a Banker…. only don't tell my author, or she might get ideas!

So is Katherine “worth it”? Answers in the comments, please.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Great Horse Stories - Petasios' Story

Chestnut stallion
Rider: Hephaestion

Hi there! My name’s Petasios, and I was meant to be Alexander’s warhorse. The royal horsemaster picked me out himself and paid good money for me – well, it was the king’s money, but I think that’s all right since he was buying me for the prince. He ordered the grooms to give me the best stable and polish my coat until it shone fiery red like the rising sun. I got the best oats with herbs and honey, and the best of care. The only bad part was when the horsemaster took it upon himself to train me personally. He’s the sort of rider who expects immediate obedience. As long as you behave yourself, everything’s fine, but if you don’t… look out.

Anyway, I’m a well-bred horse and not one to pick a fight, so we got along well enough until the day Bucephalas saw me practising my battle leaps on the riding ground. He was being led out by his groom, Charmeia. She’s a girl-filly and not very big, so it was a bit much to expect her to hold on to Bucephalas when he leapt the fence and came galloping straight for me with his ears pinned flat to his head and his mouth open wide. He’s huge, and judging by his battle scars he'd won a lot more fights than me. So I whipped round double quick and got out of his way. It’s the only sensible thing to do when your opponent is twice your size and twice as angry. Trouble was, I forgot the horsemaster was on my back at the time. He didn’t turn quite as quickly as I did, and fell off in front of all the king's men.

Oh, was there trouble! The grooms sniggered behind his back because none of them liked him very much. He couldn’t take it out on me, because I was going to be Alexander’s special horse, so he took it out on poor Charm instead. Bucephalas gave me an evil squeal and dominated my dung pile on the way out. That’s a bit humiliating if you’re a stallion, but at least I got back to my stable alive. I knew I should apologise to Bucephalas, because it’s always a good idea to be friends with the dominant stallion in your herd, but he was out the back in the mule stable, so I couldn’t. I didn’t see Bucephalas again until Alexander returned from school and our grooms rushed around in a frenzy to prepare the best horses for him and his friends to ride into battle.

I got a special grooming and they dressed me up in a fancy purple cloth with tassels. It was the finest cloth I’d ever worn. I felt a horse and a half, I can tell you, when the horsemaster led me out to meet my rider. But Alexander took one look at me and said I was too small. He needed a proper mount to thrash the Maedi rebels. His rejection rather took the spring out of my step, I’ll admit, though I was a bit relieved too. Groom gossip said Alexander liked to lead from the front, which meant his horse would be the first to face the enemy spears. That takes a special sort of bravery, and I knew just the horse for it.

Even as Alexander spoke, there was a scuffle over at the gate and Bucephalas, wearing a scruffy cloth, pranced across the riding ground dragging his groom after him. The horsemaster tried to lead me forward, but Alexander got angry and told him he didn’t have a job any more. Bucephalas went down on one knee to let the prince mount. Then the pair of them were up and showing off their battle skills, while Alexander’s friends cheered them on. I got a bit worried they’d leave me behind, so I danced about and whinnied to remind them I didn't have a rider yet. The horsemaster jerked my rein. But Alexander’s friend Hephaestion, who didn’t have a mount yet, put a gentle hand on my nose. “Don’t worry, Petasios,” he said. “I think you’re beautiful. How would you like to carry me?”

At first I was a bit nervous. Hephaestion wanted to ride me at Alexander’s side, and Bucephalas made it clear he didn’t like any other horse’s nose in front of his, especially mine. But I soon worked out he couldn’t see much on his left side, so that’s where I stationed myself. It wasn’t such a bad place to be. While the other horses nipped and squealed at each other behind us, none of them bothered me or Bucephalas. Soon we soon reached the hills, and the Maedi came out to meet us on their scruffy little ponies in full battle cry, and there was no more time to think about nipping or squealing. Bucephalas charged them at once, kicking dust in our faces. Hephaestion muttered a prayer, and we all followed with our riders yelling like maniacs to cover their fear.

I might not have Bucephalas’s size, but I dodged those enemy javelins better than anyone, while Hephaestion wrapped his long legs around my fancy cloth and let me get on with it. I saw a Maedi warrior throw a spear at Bucephalas’s blind side and squealed to warn him. He leapt out of the way just in time. The spear only scratched his flank, while Hephaestion tackled the enemy warrior and knocked him off his pony. The fight was soon over. While the surviving Maedi surrendered to Alexander, Hephaestion patted my foamy neck and whispered, “Well done, Petasios. We just saved his life back there – not that he’ll ever notice, the crazy fool.”

I didn’t think Bucephalas had noticed, either. But on the way home, he turned his great head towards me and blew thanks down his nostrils. It sent all the hairs shivering along my mane. Hephaestion smiled as Alexander leant across to grip his shoulder. “That showed them, didn’t it my friend?” he said with a delighted laugh. “We’re going to make a great army!”

Army was a bit of an exaggeration, since there were only nine of us in those days plus a handful of scruffy scouts. But Alexander had ambitions.

When we got back, the horsemaster had gone and I lost my fine stall to Bucephalas. But Hephaestion told the grooms to put me into the one opposite, which was nearly as good, and meant I could send my new friend whinnies across the passage. He snorted at me in return but he didn’t squeal, so I think he must have been pleased. That was how I survived my first meeting with the Great Horse. From that day on, I became Bucephalas’s left eye and looked after him in battle, just as Hephaestion looked after Alexander, until we fought our last battle at the edge of the world. But that's another story.

Petasios spoke to Katherine Roberts.

The Muse is still waiting for your stories! If nobody sends me any, Katherine will have to write them all, which will be a bit boring. So wake up your muses, introduce them to Bucephalas's herd, and send what they say to the unicorn. It doesn't have to be long. Maybe you can even teach them how to tweet... though with horses, it would have to be called a whinny...

Friday, 12 November 2010

Great Horse Stories - Aura's Story by Katherine Roberts

Dapple grey mare
Rider: Demetrius

My name’s Aura, and everyone notices me. It's a grey thing. I’ve carried queens and princes. I even once almost carried Prince Alexander, only Bucephalas got there first. Just as well, really. Can you honestly see the Persian army running away from me? I don’t even nip people from behind when I’m in season, like some mares I know… mentioning no names, Harpinna! I believe in doing my best for every rider, prince or slave. So the night before our big battle against the Persian army, when the moon went out and all the other horses were scared, I stood quietly for the dark-skinned man who fumbled with my bridle. His hands trembled as he untied me. I could smell the fear in his sweat. “Please,” he kept sobbing. “Please don’t buck me off, little mare.”

He obviously didn’t know me very well. I must admit I was a little surprised when he led me out of the horse lines and scrambled on my bare back. But we horses can see well enough in the dark, even without a moon, so I carried him safely between the stakes Alexander had ordered planted around our camp to keep the Persians out. As we passed between them, Bucephalas neighed after me from the stallion lines. But I had not come into season, so I didn’t go to him. Then the moon came back out, and everyone started running and shouting. My rider twisted his hands in my mane and dug his heels into my ribs. His fear smell sharpened as if we were going into battle and I knew he wanted me to gallop. The plain of Gaugamela stretched smooth and silver before me, so I did.

Soon we came to another camp, much bigger than ours with a proper fence around it and many nervous guards. The gate opened when they saw us approaching. Thousands of Persian horses, fidgety because of what had happened to the moon, neighed to me. Their humans were running about in a panic, too, wailing about demons. I thought they would spear my rider. But then they recognized him and dragged him off to a big pavilion, leaving me standing in the middle of a strange herd. Fortunately, the grey thing worked again. Before the other horses could bite me, a groom caught my rein and led me to a water trough. “Well, aren’t you a pretty one?” he said as I drank. “We’ll be able to breed from you, once we’ve sent young Alexander and his barbarian friends packing. Maybe you’ll give us a white foal to replace our sacred horse of the sun we lost at Issus.” And the next thing I knew I was tethered firmly to King Darius’ royal horse line.

I wouldn’t have minded a foal, though Bucephalas had already made it clear he wanted to be its father. So I ate the hay the groom gave me and dozed, hoping someone would take me back in the morning. When the Persian king emerged from his pavilion, however, everyone started wailing again. It seemed their queen had died in Alexander’s camp, which was why her slave had stolen me to bring the news. The Persians wept all day, and that night their priests held prayers to their god with much smoke and fire. The next morning, the king got into his chariot, his men mounted their thousands of horses, and the whole huge herd went out on to the plain to fight Alexander.

Scenting my friends on the hot, dry wind and hearing their faint screams and whinnies, I danced about at the end of my tether. The man who had stolen me came to stroke my sweaty neck. “Shh, little mare,” he said. “It’ll be all right. No one will hurt you, I promise.” But he was only a slave so he could not keep his promise.

Late that afternoon, men and horses started limping back to camp covered in dust and blood. Then a chariot came out of the shimmering heat, surrounded by dusty, blood-splattered riders. It swerved to a halt, and a man staggered out the back and dragged off his turban. I didn’t recognize him at first, but everyone rushed up to offer him wine and food and fresh robes, so I knew it must be the Persian king. He stared around his camp in a daze. Then he saw me and pointed. The grey thing again.

The slave put a bridle and cloth on me. I thought he was going to take me back to my herd at last. But he crouched on all fours so the king could step from his back on to mine. King Darius wrenched my head round to the east, and the strange horses pressed close on all sides. The sun was going down over the plain behind us, turning the dust red. When I tried to see if my friends were coming, my rider held out his hand for a whip and brought it down hard across my quarters.

No one had ever whipped me before, and it hurt. So I sprang half out of my skin, and the other horses – some of them a bit lame – had a job to keep up. We galloped flat out, our shadows stretching long in front of us. The Persian king was not a good rider. He kept jerking at my mouth when I missed a stride, and if I slowed down to catch my breath he used the whip instead of his heels and voice like Demetrius would have done. I suppose I could have thrown him off during that first mad charge. But I’ve never thrown a rider in my life, the other horses jostled me, and soon I needed all my energy just to keep galloping.

Just when I thought I’d drop dead in mid-gallop, a town loomed ahead, ghostly in the moonlight. We cantered through an arch into a courtyard, our hooves striking sparks in the dark. There was a fountain in the middle and the sweet smell of water. Thankfully, the king slid off me and stepped on the back of another slave to mount another horse. Fresh horses were brought for his men, and then they all clattered off again into the night. I rested my chin on the fountain, too tired even to drink. Eventually a groom came to take my reins. He led me into a dirty stable, took off my bridle and cloth, threw me an armful of hay and left me in the dark. I was glad he didn’t try to groom me, because I hurt all over. I lay down on my side in the stale dung and closed my eyes.

That could have been the end of my story. But as I lay there, exhausted, the Persian god appeared in a blaze of white light. He stroked me, and my pains eased. "You did well, little mare," he said. "You will be rewarded." And he sent me a lovely dream in which Bucephalas and I galloped in a green pasture, where we made a foal together. I thought I had died and gone to paradise. Then I heard Bucephalas calling to me in his big voice… AURA! AURA! AURA!… and woke up.

I lifted my head to see sun streaming through the stable doors. Every muscle had gone stiff. My leg had swollen like a pillar. But it was Bucephalas! And I could smell more of my friends in the courtyard. Hades’ rider Iolaus stamped down the passage, muttering to himself. He frowned at me, then put a halter on me and led me out into the sunshine. Bucephalas pricked his ears and whinnied in sympathy. My rider Demetrius came running to hug me. “Oh, my poor mare! What have those nasty Persians done to you?” He touched my whip cuts, and I couldn’t help a snort of pain.

A lot of humans and horses got hurt in that battle. But the Persian god kept his promise. When Alexander and the others left, Bucephalas and I got to stay behind in the stables at Gaugamela for a holiday. It wasn’t quite the green pasture of my dream, but it was peaceful and sunny and the food was good. And later, after I’d come into season, we made a foal together on that dusty plain... but that’s another story!

Got a story or poem about one of the horses in Bucephalas’ herd? Send it to the unicorn (see this post for details).

Monday, 8 November 2010

Great Horse Stories – short story challenge

Bucephalas is very headstrong and Katherine had a hard job controlling him, which is why “I am the Great Horse” runs to 500 pages. But he is not the only horse in the book! Inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the Muse thinks it’s only fair to give the other horses in Bucephalas’ herd a chance to tell their own stories. He is therefore launching his very own MuWRiMo (Muse Writing Month) for those of you who don't have the time to write a whole novel.

Your challenge is to choose a horse from the list below and send in a story or poem and/or artwork inspired by that horse’s character. For example, you could write about their life as a foal… imagine what it would be like to ride them yourself… bring your favourite horse into the modern world… or retell one of Alexander’s battles straight from the horse’s mouth... it’s up to you! The Muse will add authors’ names to the list below as horses are chosen and post the stories between now and 21st December (which is National Short Story Day in the UK), so keep checking this post to see which ones are still free. Katherine will write the first one to start you off.

Meet the herd…

AURA – grey mare, Bucephalas’ favourite. Rider: Demetrius.
Katherine Roberts
PETASIOS – chestnut stallion, rider: Hephaestion.
Katherine Roberts
HARPINNA – red speckled mare, rider: Ptolemy.

BOREALIS – brown stallion, rider: Leonnatus.

APOLLO – palomino stallion, rather vain, rider: Perdiccas.

PSYLLA – dark bay mare, rider: Hector (died at River Granicus).

XANTHUS – golden stallion, Bucephalas’ rival, riders: Craterus, Alexander.
HADES – dark bay stallion, rider: Iolaus.

ZEPHYR – dun mare, rider: Philotas, General Parmenio’s son.

ARION – grey stallion, reserve for injured horses.

ELECTRA – black filly, Psylla’s foal by Bucephalas, rider: Demetrius.

HOPLITE – black speckled colt, Harpinna’s foal by Bucephalas.

INDUS – black colt, Aura’s foal by Bucephalas, born in India.

ZOROASTER – white gelding, sacred Persian horse of the sun.
Catdownunder (see comments!)
CASPIA – chestnut filly, who lies down when she smells elephants. Rider: Prince Ochus.

If you want to try getting into your chosen horse’s head, here is the Horse-Human dictionary Bucephalas used in his book:

Dominating – Liberating (according to Alexander!)
Dominating (other horse’s) dung – Showing them you're boss
Girl-filly – Girl
Herd – Gang / army / cavalry troop
Make a foal - Strictly censored!
Man-colt - Boy
Mutual grooming - You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours
Squeal - Threat / yell
Squealing match - Argument / yelling match

Send your poems, stories (maximum 1500 words) or artwork to the Unicorn.
Please send text as a Word .doc file and artwork as a .jpg file.
There is no age limit or payment, and you keep copyright.

Most of all, have fun… the Muse looks forward to sharing your creativity on this blog!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Great Horse 14 – Finally, a book trailer!

The final post in this series must go to fan Jaguar Jedi, who has created this fabulous book trailer on YouTube to tell Bucephalas’ story:


Along with other horse footage, this trailer uses promotional clips from Oliver Stone’s film “Alexander”, which came out at the end of 2004, just after I had delivered the manuscript of "I am the Great Horse" to my publisher. Already a fan, I drove 20 miles to see it on the big screen. I was eager to experience Bucephalas’ battles close-up, but also a bit anxious in case I had got something glaringly wrong. In the event, I needn’t have worried. Although the film concentrates more on the human characters than the horses, everything seemed just right, especially Alexander’s stormy character.

I was fascinated by how the film cuts back and forth through his life in the way of a literary type of novel, whereas my book tells the story in linear form that might have made a more obvious film script... which proves there are no hard rules to writing books or making films! I later bought the DVD with the director’s cut, where Oliver Stone explains his decisions for using the flashback structure, and re-cuts his own film to make it even better.

This is what Jaguar Jedi has to say about making the trailer:

I'm a big history lover and so this was super fun to do. But - it was difficult to pull off the history aspect as well as tell the story through a 3+ min video. Most trailers tend to be all heavy and dramatic, but I wanted to stick to the style of the book (and Bucephalus) and make it adventurous, spirited, and bouyantly rousing. After all, the book is from the view of a proud warhorse! It was very important to keep that invigorating spirit.

It was tough to cast certain people. For example, my brother and I felt that the Queen of the Amazons should be dark-skinned. However, I couldn't think of anyone fitting the "warrior queen", so at last I used Keira Knightley as Guinevere in "King Arthur". Ironically, we both agreed that we'd love Alun Armstrong as the Horsemaster, and that footage was from "Little Dorrit". If you've read the book you may remember the dog that adopted herself into the groom's camp, Perita. The German Shepard from "Gladiator" plays her.

But hardest of all was the main female, Charmeia. I could literally not think of anyone to play her. Not being able to think of anyone held me off this video for a year. Then, somehow, I came up with the idea of "One Night with the King", having seen it in theaters years ago. For young Charmeia (training and exercising Bucephalus for Alexander) I used the character Sharbat from "Zafir". (Who also dresses up as a boy, incidentally.) The footage for Tydeos, Charmeia's friend groom, is also from "One Night with the King".

And I guess the narrator dude is Old Ptolemy, LOL. The audio at the beginning is from "The Black Stallion".

Through editing I was able to make it look like there were scenes taken from a movie and put into a trailer in the latter half, while the first concentrates on Bucephalus' point of view. From Pella, Thebes, Granicus, Halicarnassus, Gaugemela, the Hindu Kush and India, there's such an epic vastness about the world that Alexander the Great conquered. I *really* wanted to show him cutting the Gordian Knot, with the thunder and lightening and Bucephalus rearing up, but LOL, there's only so much an editor can do.

And yes, Derek Jacobi is in there. Because I love him, and he's awesome.☺

I know the titles are not accurate Greek. It was the font I downloaded, and while it looks nice to non-Greek speakers, it's not real Greek at all. Also, as a Persian horse, Zoroaster would really be an Arabian, not an Iberian as shown. But the footage was too good to pass up... a white horse about to be captured

(For a full list of music and films used in this trailer and a copyright disclaimer, see Jaguar Jedi's comments on You Tube.)

So how do you follow that? Well, Katherine says she can’t until her US publisher produces the paperback so she can do a book giveaway (Muse: please, Scholastic, pleaaassse...) But she will put the complete Great Horse series of posts on her website so people can download them and read them in their proper order.

Meanwhile, the Muse has a cunning plan of his own! Now that you’ve met some of them, I think the other horses in Bucephalas’ herd should have a chance to tell their stories… and since these are not written yet, I am going to be challenging readers of this blog to help me tell them. See next post for details.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Great Horse 13 - Greek translation by Anna Vasileiadi-Dardalis

This week the Muse is delighted to introduce Anna Vasileiadi-Dardalis, who translated "I am the Great Horse" into Greek for the fabulous Greek language edition pictured here.
Anna is also an author herself, so Katherine was very excited when she agreed to an interview. This is what she has to say about the Great Horse and translating books into other languages...

KR: Since I do not read Greek myself, I find the Greek edition very mysterious. When you translate a book, do you translate it word for word or edit the text as you go?

ANNA: I suppose you must be feeling the same way I feel when I read Japanese – or even German! They say that a translation is like a woman… hasn’t to be faithful in order to be good.

Of course there are differences between two languages. Being an author myself, I feel that need of keeping as strict to the original text as I can. At the same time, by reading the book as from the first time, I try to sink in the original author’s mind – you, at this particular case – and find out/imagine the facts, the sentiments, the pictures that are to be expressed. In that perspective, I sometimes have to use synonym words or phrases of my own language and literature that give the exact same feeling to the Greek readers.

As an author and a literature translator, I can say – and I think that many agree in that – that translating a literature book is more difficult than writing one. Because, one has to respect some other person’s way of expressing, and express at the same quality level of the original text.

KR: I am aware that English titles often get changed in translation... how did "I am the Great Horse" translate into Greek?

ANNA: It’s true that we often have to change the titles so that are well accepted by the local readers and draw their attention as well. With this book, we didn’t need to do anything. The title was just there! Alexander was Great and his horse could not be but the Great Horse. So we kept the title exactly as it is – in the Greek language of course.

KR: The golden Greek cover is very beautiful! Were you involved in its design at all?

ANNA: Yes, it’s lovely, isn’t it? It took us enough time to make it. The truth is that I’m involved in almost everything. Both the publisher and I had a specific picture in our minds on what the Great Horse should look like on the cover. Black, shiny, furious, strong, forceful… simply the best! It took some different pictures by our illustrator until he deeply understood what we had in mind, and the final one was this. A papyrus on the background and golden letters on the title, and everything seemed perfect! I feel that he’s done a great job – although I was a headache in the meantime.

KR: I believe you were interviewed about the Great Horse on Greek TV... is this normal when you translate a book, and what was the experience like?

ANNA: Well… you cannot actually say it normal. It depends on who finds out the work and whether he likes it, or who people one knows. It was not one of the major TV channels but too many people watch it all over Greece. And it was not only one channel, but four different interviews in three different channels. It gave the book some publicity, I must admit. And it was an interesting experience anyway.

Click here to watch one of Anna's interviews.

KR: You are also translating my Seven Fabulous Wonders series, which are written in the third person (using "he" and "she"), rather than the first person (using "I") like the Great Horse... does this make them easier or more difficult to translate?

ANNA: To be honest… no, I can’t find any difference. It’s almost the same. Maybe because of the fact that I’m writing my own books and I have the ability to handle both cases… I don’t know. But the truth is that the Seven Fabulous Wonders are as exciting as the Great Horse to me.

KR: The Great Horse is a long book, which has put off some foreign language publishers from buying rights... did its length cause you any special problems?

ANNA: It’s a fascinating story, easy to read, great humor, lot of sensitivity… I think it’s really amazing and in fact, I didn’t want it to end!

KR: Do you prefer writing books or translating them?

ANNA: They are different but I like both. You know how it is to create something as an author, so you can understand my feeling. On the other hand, being an author gives me the opportunity to “create” as a translator, too, and give the original text the literary standard that it deserves. So it’s as exciting.

KR: Finally, if you could pick any book in the world to translate, which one would it be?

ANNA: The Great Horse… again!!!

Thank you very much, Anna! The Muse sends you an amphora of unicorn glitter.

Visit Anna's website to find out more about her books (if you don't speak Greek, click on the English flag to translate).

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Snow Queen - over at 7 miles of Steel Thistles!

A quick nudge from my glittery horn! In case you think my author is being lazy letting her editor, illustrator and translator post on this blog, Katherine is guest blogger this week over at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles as part of Katherine Langrish's fairytale series.

So if you like magical worlds of snow and ice, devilish mirrors and adventurous heroines, climb into your sleigh and head on over to read what Katherine has to say about her favourite fairytale THE SNOW QUEEN, where you will also find more fabulous fairytale posts by a selection of your favourite fantasy authors.

(The illustration is from a 1937 reprint of the 1920 original edition of My Book House, edited by Olive Beaupré Miller, believed to be in the public domain.)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Great Horse 12 – Illustrating maps: Brian Sanders

They say a picture is worth a thousand words… and when you’re talking about maps, a picture can be worth a hundred thousand words! There is just one map in this book, but it tells you all you need to know about Bucephalas’ epic journey with Alexander. So this week the Muse is delighted to introduce talented artist Brian Sanders, who created the beautiful map you see at the front of “I am the Great Horse”.

Brian has been a professional artist for five decades, during which time he has worked in every area of the illustrative arts ranging through book publishing, magazines, newspapers, government agencies, film, television and art education. Although he loved to draw maps in his childhood, he has only recently been asked to produce them for books, and the commission for "I am the Great Horse” came from book designer Ian Butterworth, with whom Brian has worked over many years.

The project began with a rough sketch of the historical area supplied by Katherine, together with a draft of Bucephalas’ manuscript as a guide.

Brian then researched the historical details to embellish his version of the map before going to a pencil draft:

When this was completed, Chicken House sent Katherine a scan of the sketch with notes from Brian attached, so she could check it for accuracy before he began the finished art.

Ian Butterworth had also requested a border to the map, so for this Brian decided to continue the mosaic theme from his portrait of Alexander riding Bucephalas. This was the result:

The ground for the finished artwork is faux parchment used to simulate papyrus, and the medium is watercolour with body colour added for extra detail. Brian decided to use actual hoof prints and footprints to demonstrate the routes taken and, because there were so many of each, resorted to a more basic technology… he made potato cuts in the shape of hooves and sandals, dotted the routes in pencil, then printed directly over them. (Muse: Potato cuts are brilliant fun for making stencils… have you ever tried making any yourself?)

The full colour map was originally going to be a fabulous double-page spread in the first UK edition of the book. But in the end it had to be turned sideways and reproduced on the inside front cover to conform to the more traditional paperback format preferred by the main UK booksellers. The Muse still thinks it looks fabulous, and younger readers with sharp eyes should have no trouble counting every single hoof print, though older ones like Katherine might need a magnifying glass to see all the details.

Here is the digitally enhanced version used in the actual book:

In the US hardcover edition, the same map is reproduced in black and white so it could be spread over a double page, which makes it easier to read if not quite so pretty. We are still waiting to see what will happen for the US paperback. (Muse: it never happened!)

Brian Sanders has had a long and interesting career as an artist. During the 1960’s, his work was used in the earliest newspaper colour supplements, leading to Stanley Kubrick employing him to record on set the making of “2001 a Space Odyssey”. (Muse: WOW!)
Following this, he worked with formats ranging from large-scale posters and military paintings to postage stamps, of which he has designed over fifty sets world-wide, including “A History of WW2 in Postage Stamps”. He has also designed a series of forty coins titled: “Historic Fighting Ships”.
He has exhibited widely with one man shows at The Imperial War Museum, York Castle Museum, The Association of Illustrators Gallery, National Trust of Cornwall Trelissic Gallery, and The Sir Rowland Hill Museum. There are permanent exhibitions of his work at the The Unicover Postal Museum in Wyoming USA, and his Royal Mail stamp art is in The British Postal Museum and Archive.
His painting of Her Majesty The Queen presenting Standards to the Royal Tank Regiment is in the collection of the RTR Museum (Muse: WOW again! Bucephalas is very lucky to have his map drawn by someone who has painted a portrait of the Queen of England!)

In partnership with Lizzie Sanders his wife, Brian has jointly produced many 3D paper works, including an Edwardian dolls’ house and an accurately detailed model of Stonehenge. Brian also did the artwork for a large-scale pop-up model and other illustrations for a book about the doomed ship Titanic.
More details on the Sanders website.

Brian also writes and illustrates his own books – his most recently published book is: “Evacuee a Wartime Childhood”, the first of a graphic trilogy.

The Muse sends a bucket of unicorn glitter to Brian for contributing his beautiful maps to this blog! Please leave him a comment below.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Great Horse 11 – Titles

At last we come to the title. You might be wondering why it took so long to get to this point, but titles can be trickier than you think. Sometimes they come straight away and everyone loves them – like the first book of my Seven Fabulous Wonders series, which I knew would be called “The Great Pyramid Robbery” before I wrote a single word. But more often the published title comes after much discussion with the editor, and the author’s original ideas can usually be improved upon.

This might seem overly fussy, but the title is probably the most important word(s) in your book, because title and cover image taken together must inspire a potential reader to pick it up in the first place. They may then turn it over to read the back cover “blurb”, or leaf through the pages to get a feel for the story, but if your book is shelved the traditional way in a bookshop then chances are people won’t even see the cover image, only the spine with title and author’s name. So unless you are a celebrity who can guarantee sales on name alone, the title has to work very hard indeed. (Muse: this is why you sometimes see authors or their agents sneakily turning their own books face-out on the shelves so people can see the cover as well!)

Up until this point, in early 2005, my book was still known as “Bucephalas”. But my editors soon dropped this title because of being difficult to spell… Bucephalas? Bucephalus?… as well as being difficult to pronounce. Bookshop assistants would struggle with it, they decided. They also felt that younger (and many older!) readers might not realize this was the name of Alexander the Great’s horse. I squirmed a bit, because I’d become quite attached to my working title after living with it for so long, and had difficulty thinking of my book as being called anything else. But I had to admit my editors were right, because I’d often spelt it wrong myself to begin with - Bucephalus was the breed of horse; Bucephalas was the horse’s name - so out it went. With no obvious alternative, Chicken House began to call the book “The Amazing Horse Story Without A Name”.

And so it remained throughout the editing process. While I tried to get “Bucephalas” out of my head and think of something better, my editors tossed ideas back and forth between them, and since this book was to have a simultaneous American edition my US publisher Scholastic got involved, too. We wanted a title that would suggest this was a story about Alexander the Great being told by his horse… yet at the same time one that did not sound too historical, in case people thought this was a history book about Alexander and were put off by that. I don’t know how my editors went about their brainstorming. I have an image of them curled up before a roaring fire in Chicken House’s office with coffee and doughnuts having fabulously creative sessions, but at home alone in my study I had to rely on other methods.

Normally I just scribble down ideas until something jumps out at me. But in this case nothing did, so I decided to try a word collage.

I took a piece of white card and wrote down all the words I could think of that suggested the book to me, or occurred many times in the text… such as HORSE, ALEXANDER, GALLOP, EMPIRE, PERSIA, WAR, ILIAD, SQUEAL... Then I cut these up into single words and laid them all out on a table. To find a title, I tried random picks with my eyes shut, as well as looking at the table sideways and grabbing a few that appealed as I passed it on my way to make cups of tea. I left the cards lying there for several days and mixed them around from time to time to freshen them up a bit, adding new words as I thought of them. This threw up some interesting combinations, which I wrote down on a list and emailed to my editors. They must have been doing similar things, perhaps with doughnuts, because they came back with their own list of brilliant ideas I hadn’t even thought of.

Here are a few of my personal favourites:
BUCEPHALAS THE GREAT (couldn’t quite give him up!)

There were many others and different combinations of these, but one that kept springing up in all our lists was the fairly simple "Great Horse". Indeed, the book almost ended up being called this, except Barry Cunningham at Chicken House had the bright idea of putting I AM in front of it to make "I am the Great Horse", suggesting that the story was being told by a horse and not a human. (Muse: you can see it is almost there in the middle of Katherine’s word collage). The Americans favoured "I am the Dark Horse" at this stage, and sent us a jacket rough showing how this would work:

But aside from the fact it looked lovely on their design, we didn’t think “dark” really described Bucephalas’ character. (Muse: Maybe we were we wrong… what say you, American readers of this blog?)

And so we arrived at the final title you see today. It took about two months to find, and has been the trickiest title of all my books so far. I think it works very well with the fabulous horse’s head cover. The only thing I wish we could have added is a strap line on the front mentioning Alexander the Great, because without it the book looks like a standard horse story until you turn it over to read the blurb – though perhaps this would have put off more readers than it attracted?

Of course, the book could have been published in America with a different title, which happens more often than you might think. And when books are translated into other languages, the title often doesn’t translate very well and so gets changed for their market – sometimes without the author even realizing, if they don’t speak that particular language. So far “I am the Great Horse” has only been translated into Greek, and I believe the Greek title is the same as the English one… but I’ll leave that up to my translator Anna Vasileiadi-Dardalis to tell you in her exciting interview, coming up at the end of this month.

Next: Maps – a fascinating insight into the artwork of the book’s illustrator Brian Sanders.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Great Horse 10 – Editing, the editor’s view by Helen Wire

The Muse is delighted to welcome freelance editor Helen Wire to this blog, pictured here passing on her love of books to a young reader! This week she gives us a fascinating glimpse into her work on the Great Horse manuscript… over to you, Helen.

Without exception everyone who read and assessed Katherine’s massive 200,000 word manuscript of what was to become I am the Great Horse, “loved it”. Katherine had already been very successfully published by the Chicken House so we – the innovative publisher of great books for children and young adults Barry Cunningham, his deputy managing director Rachel Hickman, their in-house editor Imogen Cooper and I, a freelance editor – already knew what a thoroughly good writer she is. And we weren’t disappointed.

No one reading this Great Horse blog could fail to recognise that Katherine is a gift to an editor – she barely needs editing. And that leaves one free at first reading to simply enjoy her stories. From page one of Bucephalas – the working title for what became I am the Great Horse – I was hooked. I wanted to read on, and not just because I was being paid to. First to read it was Barry, who wrote some notes prior to the manuscript coming to me for a first reading before we all got together to discuss this epic story with Katherine. To give you a real sense of the kind of things editors and publishers say to one another about a book they have agreed from the outset is brilliant, I quote below an email I sent Barry in response to the few notes he had written. The page numbers I quote below must relate to the first manuscript. (Luckily, I found this five-year-old email lurking in the memory of one of my by-now discarded computers.)

From: helen wire […]
To: Barry at the Chicken House Cunningham […]
Cc: Imogen Cooper […]
Date: Wednesday, February 2, 2005 9:13 pm

Dear Barry and Imogen
What a marvellous book ... I didn’t have any of the reactions you mention, Barry, in your notes to me (in bold below).
It is truly extraordinary how Katherine has written this whole book from the horse’s point of view without ever faltering.
Having Alexander talk to his horse is a brilliant device for getting into the king’s mind – he could and did share any confidence with Bucephalas and know absolutely that any vulnerability or self-doubt he revealed would go no further. And now Katherine has let us the readers be privy to those moments of intimacy. What a knockout!

BarryC: I enjoyed it – it’s much more direct and easy to read than the more complicated parts of Katherine’s Echorium Sequence. But it is rather too long
HW: It is long but there’s no part of it I would want to cut. What’s Katherine’s view? Unlike the [other author’s] book you once considered splitting into two chunks, I think it wouldn’t be too hard to break the Bucephalas story up into two or even three volumes. What do you think?

BC: sometimes all the battles tend to blur together.
HW: They didn’t for me. And on the contrary, in her meticulously spare prose Katherine rarely wastes words on anything that is not driving the story forward. She doesn’t overly dwell on each of the battle scenes and they all seemed very distinct and vital to me. And it’s all a lively history lesson too. I could very easily get bored by battle scenes but I wasn’t ever – not for a single moment.

BC: I’m not overly sure about the end – it seems that the final break of the horse bond isn’t really a satisfactory end to the Charm and Alexander thing – even if it is for the horse part of their lives.
HW: It seems to me that the horse bond broke exactly as predicted throughout the book, and when it happened Charm was indeed finally set free to pursue her life with Tydeos. I really liked the clever way Katherine ended it all with the ghost of Bucephalas making the final links – far better than any stereotypical human-to-human ending [with Alex & Charm] would have been. But I would be interested to know if Katherine would consider coming up with any other ideas about how to end it.

BC: Obviously the horse doesn’t develop much as a character either – he’s pretty much the same throughout.
HW: That seems entirely appropriate to me – he is a horse after all. He is a strong and well perceived character though.

BC: The evil horsemaster is perhaps not a big enough adversary either …
HW: Well I suppose he could be developed, but in the big scheme of things he’s actually a minor character who has ghastly consequences whenever he appears. He is at the heart of some of the nastiest plots, and is certainly horrible enough as it is to provide the story with an evil undercurrent. Indeed, he shot the arrow that wounded Alex (p. 512). I was more puzzled that the Macedonians seemed very careless about having him properly dealt with earlier, and Charm sometimes seemed naively fair with him despite the woeful mistreatment to which he’d always subjected her.

BC: and perhaps we need much more of Alexander at key moments to feel the reality of his awesome character – he often just seems bad tempered.
HW: He did become increasingly bad-tempered as the story unfolded but that seemed entirely well done and appropriate to the kind of pressures he was subject to. He started as a young energetic, forceful young man who was playful with his mates, and gradually became a powerful and determined leader inevitably being corrupted and brutalised by the deaths and pain for which he was responsible. It’s all there in the text.
I thought Alex’s character developed rather well throughout the story and that he displayed a far greater range of emotions than mere kingly rage and cruelty. The device of having him talk to Bucephalas, and also to Charm, was a terrific way to contrast his tough nature with his gentler feelings (p. 427) of friendship, protectiveness, caring (p. 424); fear, remorse, compassion (p. 474; vulnerability and uncertainty (p. 528); repentance (p. 536); irrationality (p. 564); vengefulness (p. 582).
And knowing how much he cared for Bucephalas makes it doubly painful for us when he unthinkingly hurts his beloved horse. We witness his growing madness and fears via his intimate talks with his horse.

BC: I’m tempted to say let’s play a little looser with history at the end – since Alexander is writing his own anyway.
HW: Well yes, but Bucephalas can only tell the story that he the horse is witness to. The horse would tell it straight, not as Alex might have wanted it written. Having a ghost horse is quite a big deviation from known history.

I have marked up the text and started compiling more detailed notes/queries [for Katherine] There’s not much to be changed throughout but of course it is very long and they all add up. I have a few queries but they will be easy for Katherine to deal with.

BC: Let’s chat when you’ve read it.

All very best

Co-incidentally at the time, Katherine and I both lived in Gloucestershire, so Barry and Imogen drove up from their Somerset office and we all met at my house to discuss the text. I have always had the greatest respect for Barry’s publishing intelligence and instinct but I was horrified when he said we would have to cut 50,000 words because Bucephalas was just too long for the children’s book market. I had reckoned the original text to be one of the best and most interesting I’d ever read. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to cut any of it, let alone 50,000 words. Where on earth would I start? Fortunately, Katherine came to the rescue and offered to see what she could do to reduce it. Being the consummate professional she is, Katherine toiled away on the mammoth task of rethinking and cutting the text she must already have been working on for months, years even.
(Muse: the book took about a year part time to research, 9 months full time to write, and 2 years to edit and publish!)

Various communications passed between publisher and author but on 26 May 2005 Katherine emailed us, saying:

Dear Barry,
I have now read through Bucephalas again, and spoken to Helen about it as you suggested.
I am worried that the book has changed somewhat from my original vision, but I agree it is tighter and more of a controlled story now than a wild gallop through history. I think most of the "flatness" you mention comes from having shortened the first part, which makes the rest of the book seem unbalanced. Also, Helen feels some of the condensing I did last time is not as exciting as when it was written out in full, so if we can't have the length then I will need to condense these parts even more to avoid slowing up the story. I also feel that, from the Gordian Knot onwards, I need to make slightly more of the supernatural elements, particularly towards the end in order to build up to the ghostly ending. And we both agree the first chapter should be more explosive to fit the new, condensed version of the book.

She then went on to list the various cuts and changes she could make. As an experienced editor I know that most writing can benefit from cutting and refining to allow the essence of a story its greatest clarity. But there is always a risk that cuts as drastic as those Katherine was having to make could leave the story without its original expansive freshness and vitality – hence the slight “flatness” Katherine mentioned above. It can happen with words just as it often happens when a first, uninhibited, rough sketch in drawing is too carefully redrawn for the final artwork and thereby loses all the vitality of the original sketch. But, as anyone who has read I am the Great Horse will know, Katherine did yet more word magic and the book, like its equine narrator, is magnificent.

Muse: A final question: Katherine broke a few rules in I am the Great Horse, changing from present to past tense and back again several times during the story (e.g. battles told in present tense, journeys in the past). What is your view on tenses as editor?
HW: Without going back and rereading the whole book, I'd say what she did worked well in the service of the narrative and was never confusing, so if a rule was broken that's what makes writing creative.

Thank you very much Helen! And to prove editors never sleep, she has picked up the following typo in this blog and given me a tap on my glittery horn…
FYI Blog typos to correct in:
Great Horse 5 - Research
4. He died in Babylon, aged 33, leaving no heir.
I’m trotting off right now to correct it!

Next: Titles


Related Posts with Thumbnails