After the momentous events in Palomino Sky, the previous book of this heart-breaking trilogy, the opening paragraphs of Strawberry Sky promise contentment at last for Laura and James as they complete the improvements to their equestrian business and plan a happy life together. However, the continued disruption to their lives by Laura’s niece, Jess, and her erstwhile partner, Callum Armstrong, keeps them on an emotional roller coaster.
This time the story is told in turn from the point of view of Laura and her sister, Maggie. Maggie is in torment over Jess’s lack of affection for her daughter Kristle, and her anxiety over the success of the B & B she is running with her husband Pete, is causing her to neglect her younger daughter, Ellie. Meanwhile, Laura is anxiously hoping, each month, that she will become pregnant.
Rob, the local vet, has added a strawberry roan to the stable, a very young Carneddau colt whose mother has been killed on the mountain road and James selects a new young member of staff, who becomes increasingly important to Laura. The rest of their team remain cheerfully supportive and client, Carla, is a good friend when Laura most needs one.
Despite trying events, the relationship between James and Laura remains strong, as Jan Ruth shows in comments such as,
“James caught her eye. He shot her a smile, a real smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes.”
The healing effect of the horses is still a major part of the work James does and we see this especially in the reactions of a tough ex-soldier who comes regularly to help at the farm.
Effective descriptions of the countryside provide a vivid context without departing from the nail-biting events of the plot. The setting of the Carneddau and its wild horses provide both the heart and the pain of this novel and it is the response of those who come from this area which makes the conclusion perfect.
I have included Jan Ruth’s images of James and Laura at the top, as they fit my mental picture of the characters so well!
This is Jan Ruth’s account of the original idea behind the Midnight Sky Series
Inspiration for the Midnight Sky Series began 37 years ago…
Day one, and we stopped in a vast forest throbbing with birdsong to gather mushrooms, easily filling one of the saddlebags with our cache. Hopefully, we’d picked a non-poisonous addition for breakfast the following morning. My horse for the day, Cinnamon, was the colour of, well, cinnamon. Standing at 16th I needed a handy rock to perch from in order to scramble back on as he wasn’t keen on standing still and I’m on the short side. We’d already passed some sort of horsemanship test together by hurtling down the steep grassy slopes of an ancient fort, galloping out through what would have been a drawbridge. An exercise our leader informed us, ‘Sorts out the wheat from the chaff,’ before we got onto the serious part of the ride, a four-day trail across The Cheviots.
The Cheviot Trail – a loop reaching from Jedburgh in Northumberland all the way to Kirk Yetholm, just inside the English border – was no pony trek. Our horses were thoroughbred-cross, corn-fed and super-fit. To the uninitiated, this meant it wasn’t for novice riders. John Tough (pronounced Tooch, although tough suited him just as well), was no ordinary leader. If I had to make a short list of people who’d made an impression on me in my life then this guy would be close to the top. Not one to pander to any British Horse Society regulations, Tough set his own high standards and had little regard for officialdom, preferring to trust his own instincts about people, as well as horses. Hosting riding holidays for total strangers, some of whom spoke no English was clearly not for the faint-hearted, but if Tough decided after day one he didn’t like the way you handled his horse then your holiday ended right there with a full refund and a lift to the train station. There’s nothing like the burr of a Scottish accent in full flow to overcome any language barriers. No one, argued with him.
Once upon a time, John Tough bought a rundown mill on the River Jed and restored it. Then he bought horses, some of them with problems, both physical and otherwise, and nurtured them to full health. His reputation for riding the Cheviots, grew. In 1980 he built a lodge on his land, for rider accommodation. I returned – of course I did – from 1979 to 1986, riding in many different seasons, including colourful autumn trails and once, during the heavy snow of early spring. Tough retired at the end of the eighties due to ill health. Did I set out to write a book about John Tough, and Beryl, the young interior designer from London who never went home after her riding holiday? Surely, this was the stuff of fiction! Not that I was aware of, but I guess it’s an example of how more than 30 years later, the subconscious finds a story somehow, pulling together characters, historical facts, impressions and experiences… one I’ll never forget.
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