Introduction: it was a pleasure, an honour and something of a challenge to be interviewed by the dynamic, respected and prolific Scottish blogger, Fiona McVie. Fiona's blog, which is called authorsinterviews, is well known across the literary community and especially among readers and writers – hardly surprising since she has interviewed thousands of authors over the last four years – no doubt with many more to come.
Fiona: Let's get you introduced. Your name is Joanne Verikios and you're 61. Tell us a little about your self, i.e. where are you from, your education, family life etc.
I grew up in Toowoomba, Queensland, the eldest of three children and the only one who was besotted with horses. We were blessed with amazing parents and my childhood was very happy. I graduated from the University of Queensland with an Honours Degree in Russian. Despite that, I joined the Australian Public Service and spent more than three very full and fulfilling decades in a range of interesting Departments before resigning in 2010. After a bit of a rest and regroup, I reinvented myself as a businesswoman and author. Highlights included getting my first pony, working in Antarctica, representing Australia in the sport of powerlifting and breeding a champion Warmblood stallion.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I have recently finished another house renovation, which I completed with a joint venture partner for fun and profit. I am also plotting my next book and planning a couple of overseas trips.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Writing was a natural progression of story telling and reading. I loved doing morning talks and compositions at primary school and went on from there.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Despite English being my favourite subject at high school and despite writing probably millions of words in the service of the Commonwealth of Australia - along with a few valedictory poems and other creative offerings along the way - I did not consider myself a writer until well after my first book was launched in July 2016. I am starting to believe it now!
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
In my travels around the country as a horse judge, I saw some great horsemanship. I also saw many people with lovely horses and great intentions who were almost successful or, what is of more concern, were just a hair's breadth away from an accident - but who didn't have the knowledge or skills that would make all the difference. My first book was written for them.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
One of my mantras over the years has been to "be honest at all times, write as well as you can and finish what you start". My goal is to write good English in an engaging, accessible style, with a dash of humour.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
From the outset I was thinking in terms of a sequel or even a series and I also wanted a title that would work well on merchandise. As soon as I sat down to work on it, the words "Winning Horsemanship" appeared on the page. I liked the title so much I thought it must have been used already, but a Google search soon told me it was original! Now I have it trademarked.
Fiona: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. I want readers to understand that, while winning can be represented by tangible symbols like ribbons and medals; having a beautiful, harmonious relationship with your horse is in itself winning, irrespective of whether you compete or not. And that relationship comes from becoming a better human being. In other words, to paraphrase Jim Rohn, I want people to learn that they must work harder on themselves than they do on their horses. If I could touch their minds with a magic wand, the message would be: become a student, consider different methods and points of view, then think and decide for yourself.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Winning Horsemanship is one hundred percent based on real humans and real horses and ponies. It's a blend of memoir, education and self help that is packed with practical ideas, tips and life lessons, not only from my own experience but from legions of other horsemen and horsewomen, as well as from the greatest teachers of all - the horses themselves.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
Let's start with the mentor first. I had many mentors, although I never really thought of them as such and that was probably mutual. You have asked for one so I will nominate the legendary Australian bushman, horseman, businessman and author R. M. Williams, with whom I was privileged to ride on many occasions when I was a teenager and who taught me how to cut and sew leather. I treasure the wisdom and bush lore I absorbed from spending time with him. Now for books! Apart from hundreds of horse books, let me offer a few mainstream works which may resonate with a wider audience. These include "A Fortunate Life" by A.B. Facey, "Psycho-Cybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz and "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have been very impressed by a diverting first novel called "The Rook" by Daniel O'Malley and am looking forward to reading "Stiletto". He writes beautifully. As for my favourite author of all time, it is probably Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a master of observation, a compelling storyteller and a bit of a pioneer of the psychology novel genre. He would have made a good profiler.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Going back in time, I remain immensely grateful to the Pony Club movement and to two instructors - Silvia Manning and Jan Turner - who encouraged and guided my earliest equestrian ambitions. Currently, I am equally grateful to my publisher Darren Stephens and the team at Global Publishing Group for their invaluable support during my transition from bureaucrat to author.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I see it as one of the important facets of my life. I am a firm believer in creating more than one stream of income, especially now in the age of information and the so-called new economy.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Apart from modifying one particular verbatim quotation, no. I am pretty happy with it and have had some really pleasing feedback too.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Well, it very nearly began and ended at primary school with an essay called "The Old Bush Hut". Long story short, my teacher opined that it was too good to be original and asked where I'd copied it from. I must have been at a delicate stage of development because that took a bit of getting over.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I'd love to. Rather than quote some of the more specifically horse-oriented or mindset sections, I have chosen this brief excerpt from Chapter 1 of my book:
"As you can imagine, my parents were very well briefed on the fact that I wanted a horse of my own. From the moment I could talk I was asking for a pony. Learning to read and write brought two major advantages. The first was that I could read books about horses. The second was that I could now pester my parents in writing. So I began to leave notes saying “PLEASE BUY ME A PONY” around the house.
In response, I received more horse books and a rocking horse.
The real breakthrough came when I recruited my father’s customers to my campaign. Dad had a pharmacy, which at the time was attached to our house. It was easy for me to go into the shop and deploy my notes. I would conceal them under cakes of soap or tubes of toothpaste, but especially in the strategically important veterinary section, adjacent to the dispensary, where I knew people who loved animals would spend time selecting their purchases and talking to my father."
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I tend to produce more words than I really need, and then wrestle with pruning them.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not much, no, although I have done some travel in the course of promoting my book. A nice spinoff from being a published author is that I have been invited to speak at various functions and I enjoy that very much. So far it's been fairly local, but I am definitely open to offers to travel further afield!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My publisher's team designed them, having asked me a lot of questions first. They did such a good job I signed off on the first draft.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part was joining the dots and making it hang together once most of it (i.e., all the easy bits) had been written. By the time I reached that stage we were staying in Rome where my husband was doing an intensive Italian course, so while he was in class, I worked on finishing my book and felt like a real author!
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I guess I got a better insight into my values and beliefs and what inspires me - the key things I have learned that I feel are worth passing on to others.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead.
That's a nice idea! Until I write a novel we're limited to autobiographical cameos, in which case I think Julianne Moore would be a good choice to play the adult me.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
One thing would be to pass on some advice that worked well for me: make a deal with yourself to write for five minutes a day. Anyone can do that, and it's impossible to be daunted by just five minutes. Sometimes all I managed was those five minutes' worth, but other days they stretched magically into anything from 50 minutes to five hours. So employ the Nike Principle and just do it!
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
All the knowledge you need is already inside you. Listen to Mother Nature and listen to your horse (and the other animals in your life). Strive every day to become a better version of yourself; someone your horse would choose to be with.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I usually have a few books on the go in different rooms of the house. Currently they include "I Claudius" by Robert Graves (in the bedroom), "Momentum" by Michael McQueen (in the library), "Dust" by Patricia Cornwell in the lounge room and Charles Darwin's "The Voyage of The Beagle" on the coffee table.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
My Dad used to read Greek mythology to us at bedtime. Of course my favourite was the story of Pegasus and Bellerophon! I can't remember the first book that I read all by myself but I clearly remember reading and rereading the "Flicka" series by Mary O'Hara and everything by the Pullein-Thompson sisters a bit later on.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Laughing is easy. I love a good joke, puns and quality comedy. Sad movies and books can make me cry, as, somewhat unexpectedly, did my first view of the Moab Fault in Utah, USA.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would like to meet and why?
Leonard Cohen. I have loved his music since I was 14 years old and have been to two of his concerts. I am intrigued by his novels, his poetry, his lyrics and his spirituality. He seems to have been a highly evolved being with a nice sense of humour too.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
1956 - 2065, meaning I will have lived to 111!
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Reading, travelling, horse riding, painting, snorkeling, weight training and belly dancing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I don't watch a lot of TV but when I do I enjoy those dark, Scandinavian crime shows. My favourite film is probably "Cool Hand Luke", with "Raging Bull" and "Chariots of Fire" high on the list as well.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Italian and Greek, blue and purple, classical and middle eastern.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
My earliest ambition was to be a bareback rider in a circus; subsequently I would have liked to be an archeologist or paleontologist. On the way to having my first book published at the age of 60, I have worn many hats including public servant, horse breeder, strength athlete, lifestyle coach and real estate investor.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
From a very early age I have been able to tune in to what horses and ponies were thinking and what they were likely to do next.