Fans young and old of The Secret Garden will devour critically acclaimed author Megan Shepherd’s poignant new novel, THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL (Delacorte Press | On sale October 11, 2016 | Ages 10 and up). Brimming with magical realism, this is a superbly written tale of hope even in the darkest of times.
When Emmaline arrives at the tuberculosis hospital during World War II, she discovers a secret: there are winged horses living in the mirrors. One day, she enters the abandoned garden to find that a real winged horse from the mirrors has entered her world and needs her help.
Emmaline begins to receive letters from the Horse Lord, asking her to protect the white winged horse named Foxfire from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by moonlight but is blinded by bright colors. As Emmaline searches for colorful objects, her friend Anna becomes increasingly ill, and Emmaline begins to remember for the first time what happened to her family.
Through war and illness, darkness and danger, Megan Shepherd brings strength, light, and hope to this incredibly well-crafted emotional tale.
MEGAN SHEPHERD grew up in her family’s independent bookstore in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is the author of several acclaimed young adult books. Shepherd lives and writes on a 125-year-old farm outside Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband. You can visit her at meganshepherd.com and follow her on Twitter at @megan_shepherd.
MS: I was a typical horse girl. I didn’t have a horse or take many riding lessons, but I was obsessed with them. Like my main character, Emmaline, I loved to draw them. They seemed strong, intelligent, and somehow honorable (can a horse be honorable? I think it can), which I think is why many girls are drawn to them. Little girls often feel like the most powerless, overlooked creatures in the world—except when they’re on the back of a horse. Then they’re invincible.
GC: Unlike the main character of The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, who is growing up in a hospital, you grew up in a library. Has your childhood affected how you write for a younger audience?
MS: Memories of my childhood are filled with books. My parents ran an independent bookstore in the Blue Ridge Mountains for forty years, and as a girl I would hide behind shelves and get lost in magical literary worlds. My childhood was a very happy one, unlike that of many of the young characters in The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, who are dealing with illness and war. Maybe having had a secure young life gave me the confidence to turn around and take a hard look at childhood from a different angle.
GC: How did you find the experience of changing genres after writing two YA series—the Madman’s Daughter trilogy and the Cage trilogy?
MS: The thing about young adult books is, they’re long! And the thing about trilogies is, they’re VERY long! So after years spent working on each of my YA projects, I was itching to write a shorter, tighter, more concise story. Also, my young adult books tap into my own teenage years, which were filled with angst and big dreams and curiosity about the world, while my middle-grade books tap into my younger years, which were more innocent and sweeter and felt magical. I love exploring these different sides of my own history.
GC: Why do you believe it is important to tell children stories?
MS: Stories were how I learned about the world. Growing up in a small town, I was able to visit ancient Egypt and modern-day Nigeria and Boston on the eve of the Revolutionary War through books. They let me understand characters who weren’t like me. They let me see how rich—and also scary and beautiful—the world beyond my hometown could be. I believe that for children, books fall somewhere between daydreams and how-to guides for life. Their importance in growing into a capable, sympathetic, thoughtful adult cannot be overstated.
GC: What’s next for you as a writer?
MS: The final book in the Cage series, The Gauntlet, comes out in May 2017. After that, I plan to continue writing both YA and MG fiction, as well as continuing to teach classes and speak at writing festivals across the country. Meeting readers face to face is one of my favorite parts of the job.