Frances Moloney on City of Horses and animal books for kids

City of Horses by Frances Moloney. Book cover and author photo.

The book we've shared with our Cockatoo subscribers this month tells an inspiring, heart-warming story of family, friendship and community that had us completely gripped. Misty and her father are forced to leave their home and move to a new town, to an estate where ponies run free. City of Horses is incredibly moving, exploring issues around finding your place in the world, overcoming challenges and speaking up for what you believe in. Young readers will find so much to relate to and we're excited to hear what our subscribers think. In the meantime, we're delighted that author Frances Moloney was able to answer a few questions for us. Here she tells us more about what inspired the book and which animal-inspired books for middle grade readers she recommends you read next.

What inspired you to write City of Horses?

I have always loved horses and horsey books. When I started thinking about writing one myself, I wanted to bring in my own experience of growing up in an inner-city environment. It might surprise some people, but even a city like London has horses in it if you know where to look.

Are any of the characters or elements of the story based on real people or events?

I take a lot of inspiration from the world around me. Another inspiration for City of Horses were the working-class equestrian communities in Dublin & Swansea whose way of life is under threat from gentrification and urban expansion. The character of Fred was partly inspired by the actor Cliff Parisi who played Minty in EastEnders!

What research did you do for the book and did you learn anything that surprised you?

Part of my research were the formative years I spent reading every pony book I could get my hands on and going back to these as an adult and thinking about what I could do differently. I watched a great documentary, the BBC’s The City of Horses and Saoirse by the hugely talented Marion Bergin. If you watch that short film closely, you’ll see horses getting the bus and visiting department stores – very surprising!

Which character was the most fun to write and why?

I think Dylan was the most fun to write. I wanted to create a character who was older than his years in some respects but who had also kept hold of the some of the lightness and innocent way of looking at the world that a young child has. I hope I have achieved it.

What do you think is the most important lesson Misty learns?

Past of the importance of Dylan as a character is that he brings out the fun side in Misty. Misty is quite negative and introverted when she arrives in Redbridge, partly due to the fact she is still grieving her mother’s death and partly due to the pressure she is under moving to a new place. When she meets Dylan, she learns to face her prejudices, overcome new challenges, and makes new friends. I think the most important lesson she learns from all this is that the most authentic friendships are made when you don’t prejudge people but appreciate them for who they really are.

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

I adored reading as a child and this age, when I started reading independently, was particularly magical. You choose books that you want to read for yourself, discover the authors you admire and foster a lifetime love of reading. It’s a very exciting time.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I mainly write on a foldout desk in my bedroom – not very glamorous! I do enjoy getting out of the house to gain a fresh perspective sometimes. Two of my favourite places to write are the cosy café at my local cinema and the library. What better place to be inspired than somewhere where you are surrounded by books.

Which other animal-inspired books for kids would you recommend our subscribers read next?

There are a lot of good ones out there at the moment. If you like a fast-paced action-packed adventure, I’d recommend Lauren St John’s Finding Wonder. I was in awe of S F Said’s Tyger which I read recently, a beautifully-evoked vision of London with a strong political and social message at its heart. The illustrations are wonderful too.

Copies of our City of Horses pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!


Children's book news straight to your inbox

Sign-up now