The Starlight Stables Gang Blog Tour: Author Interview with Esme Higgs and Jo Cotteril

Hello everybody! Today, I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for the Starlight Stables Gang, the first in a new equestrian middle grade series by influencer Esme Higgs and author Jo Cotteril. Onto the post!

Hi, thanks so much for being here!

1. To start us off, can you please describe the book for us in 5 words?

EH: Friendship, adventure, mystery, horses, relatable

2. The book has a lot of equestrian knowledge, as well as being a fun mystery/adventure book with some great messages. What message do you most hope readers take away from it? Are you hoping it might inspire readers to try horse riding themselves?

EH: A lot of the messaging is about not judging people, letting friendships grow, and being kind. There are so many positives to being around horses, just being outside, away from screens, learning about responsibility and trust. You need to create a connection with the horse to enable you to ride successfully and this can take time and patience. Also it might look like you are just sitting there, but riding a horse is a very physical experience, you need to be fit!

3. I would love to hear about some memorable horses (/animals in general) you’ve known throughout your life? Who are some of your favourites in fiction?

EH: Mickey who was my first pony and I still have today who is now 24 has a huge personality. He is always pulling funny faces and will give you an affectionate lick like a dog. He never fails to cheer me up on a bad Day. Casper is a more sensitive horse who takes a while to trust new people. A bit like a cat, he has to come to you for a cuddle, rather than the other way around – but once he likes you, you have a friend for life. Duke and Joey, although very different in size, both have a cheeky yet charming personality and love to have cuddles from anyone, even the vet!

JC: I’ve always loved ‘Yes, But Today Is Tuesday’ by Joan Aiken, which tells the story of two children who find a unicorn on their back lawn one morning. For years, I hoped it would happen to me!

4. One of my favourite series when I was little, Pony Club Secrets, shares a lot of similarities with the Starlight Stables Gang and it makes me blissfully happy to see a more modern version coming into the world. What were your favourite books as a child? Are there any concepts you’d love to see modernised for a new generation?

EH: Growing up I really enjoyed lots of animal books especially those by Michael Morpurgo. I also enjoyed reading Jacqueline Wilson, which often concentrated on real life problems.

5. Something I also wanted to bring up was the fact that there are several forms of disability representation in the book. I’d love to hear about how that came about, and what sort of research went into it?

EH: 1 in 5 people live with a disability, yet still they can be marginalised by society. In the book Ellie is a wheelchair user and for me it was really important that we had a rider with the RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) in the gang. I’ve supported the RDA for a number of years and have seen first hand the amazing things they do. Horses and ponies can help with both your physical and mental health. Horses sensitivity helps with controlling your own emotions and learning empathy, whilst to ride a horse is also physical. Riding can be used as a form of physio for individuals with a disability – more fun than being in a gym! The RDA’s motto is ‘it’s what you can do that counts’ and this encapsulates a lot of Ellie’s character. I myself have a friend who is a para-Olympian and she says that when she is on a horse, she has a super-power, in that she can do things that able-bodied people can’t. Summer has dyslexia, something I struggle with. My love for reading took time, and came later in life as I became more confident. I remember early in my school career everything seemed so much harder for me than others, and I thought it was my fault, or that I was stupid. Summer is an amazing artist and has skills that could be overlooked, I wanted to show that people have different strengths and weaknesses and shouldn’t be judged on one thing alone.

JC: As Esme says, it was important to us to represent Ellie’s disability authentically, and I have been really lucky to be able to chat to Alice Summersbee who works at my local RDA and who introduced me to their horses and some of their riders. I’ve also spoken to three other wheelchair users, one a lad of eleven with cerebral palsy, and their input has been absolutely crucial. Both Esme and I care very much about inclusion and helping readers to understand different viewpoints.

6. I think my favourite thing about the book was how lovable these characters were, and that goes for both humans and animals. What advice would you give other writers on creating characters that readers can’t help but adore?

EH: Successful characters need to be relatable, and you as a reader need to care about them to be invested in the story.

JC: Yes! That’s so true. I would also say that as readers we want our characters to have struggles just as we do. Showing that a character can come through a difficult experience helps us to feel empathy for that character.

7. Also on the theme of writing, what’s your writing routine like, if you have one? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks?

EH: A lot of my job is writing scripts, which I admit I tend to ad-lib a lot, so I tend to use bullet points and work from there. I plan most of this sitting on top of a horse, letting the thoughts come to me – I know some writers do this in the shower. I do it in the rain on a horse – maybe it’s getting wet that helps?

JC: I work best in the morning. I drop my daughter at school and then come home, sit down, and start writing. Writing isn’t always easy – in fact, most of the time, it’s really hard work! When I’m on a tight deadline, I bribe myself with chocolate biscuits to hit my word count! Probably my weirdest habit is that I pull faces while I’m writing: if a character is feeling a particular emotion, I often try it out on myself, so that I can figure out how to describe it. It’s a good thing I work on my own!

8. To expand on this, I was wondering what your process was like as co-writers? What’s your favourite thing about collaborating?

EH: I spend most of my life working with a team of four legged animals, so it was really fun to share a project with someone else that could answer back. Honestly it has been amazing working with Jo, she has a great way of turning thoughts and ideas into words and sentences. She has really worked hard to learn about all things ‘horse’ – and as a result we have had some amusing conversations, mostly along the lines of how much horses poo (about ten times a day). We’ve been to the Blenheim Palace horse trials together as well as watched the first book roll off the printers, and in between we talk, zoom, or WhatsApp most days.

JC: Esme has a wealth of experience – it’s been a steep learning curve for me! I’m in awe of everything she’s achieved so far and her work ethic. The main characters are all hers: I take her ideas and plotlines and shape them into something that I think works. Then we bounce the manuscript between us and the editors at Puffin, until we have something we all love! My favourite thing about this experience is seeing Esme able to connect directly with her fans – her readers!

9. Finally, before a wee quickfire round, can you let us know anything about book two in the series? So looking forward to its release in the summer!

EH: I can’t give too many spoilers but there is of course more adventure, some problems to be solved, and one of the gang needs a lot of support from the others.

JC: I’ll just say that our trip to the Blenheim Horse Trials was REALLY helpful for a particular scene!


Favourite biscuit? Jammy dodger, there are no other biscuits ( apart from chocolate bourbons in an emergency situation )

Favourite equestrian discipline? (Either to watch or to do!) jumping

Top 3 books of 2022?

-The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo

-Good Girls Guide to Murder

-The Inheritance Games

3 books you’re excited for in 2023?

EH: Actually after going to the Netflix premier of Lockwood and Co, I’ve just started binge reading the series – I missed out on the books when they first came out, I really love the characters and the world that Jonathan Stroud has created.

JC: OMG I’m SO thrilled to hear this, Jonathan’s series is my favourite ever! He’s such a brilliant writer.

Thanks for the questions, that was a lot of fun! Esme x

Thank you! Jo x

Thank you so much for reading! Have you read this, or are you planning to pick it up? Who are your favourite fictional horses? I’d love to chat in the comments!

Amy xx


Author: goldenbooksgirl

Disabled book blogger who also writes TV, film, music and other posts from time to time | UKYABA Champion Teen 2018 | Email: | she/her

One thought on “The Starlight Stables Gang Blog Tour: Author Interview with Esme Higgs and Jo Cotteril”

  1. Always love reading your interviews abd it was good to find out a bit more about this as one that’s just come into work but isn’t on my personal stack!


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