Meet author Jean Abernathy & "Fergus the Horse," dynamic duo

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Independent author Jean Abernathy made her creation, Fergus,  practically an equine household name. Through four book adventures, readers follow Fergus the Horse (a crafty cartoon character) on the ups and downs of horse life. His adventures reach readers of all ages and have garnered Jean literary awards. In fact, this summer Jean  traveled to Billings, Montana, to receive a literary award from the Western Writers of America, for her third Fergus book, Fergus and the Greener Grass.  

Book authors are almost unicorns in our industry - it takes gumption to create a character, or a few characters, and then build worlds around them. The Freelance Remuda visited with Jean to get some advice on creating characters and navigating the publishing world. 

 Jean Abernathy and her horse, Willow. 

Jean Abernathy and her horse, Willow. 

We know you as an accomplished author. Tell us about your literary, artistic and equine background.

Thank you. My literary background is self-taught.  I grew up on a steady diet of song lyrics, stories, and poetry. Horses were in the fabric of my soul when I was born, I am convinced. I was fortunate to grow up on a farm, where we could have ponies and horses. After high school I enrolled in an equine studies program at a local college. I was delighted to learn about horses on a professional level in the industry.  My artistic background was self-taught through my young years. I drew horses because that’s what I loved most.  When I gained acceptance into the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD) in Toronto, I learned skills, principles and philosophies that I still use to this day.

What was the first book or story you created?

My first book, the Essential Fergus the Horse, (published in 2015) is an anthology of Fergus images and comic strips created over many years.  The collection is preceded by a back-story of my career.

Tell us about your inspiration behind the Fergus character and his adventures? 

For years I drew comics using generic horses. Then I decided to create a singular character and give him a name.  I named him after my grandfather, Ferguson Abernethy. In developing the humor, I had to create dialog with supporting characters. Fergus, and his colorful herd of friends, shifted the entire slant of delivering the jokes.

What is the most challenging part of getting your books published?

I guess the most challenging part of getting my first book published, was not to become discouraged in the 30 years leading up to it. The book’s success, and Fergus’ continued success with his Facebook audience, led easily to the second and third books.  (published by Trafalgar Square Books)

What is your favorite part? 

My favorite part is the happy anticipation of the next project.  Fergus book #4 is in production, and is grand, good fun!

Do you have a writing or creative routine?

My routine fits around caring for my horse.  She keeps me connected to the horse industry, my clients and Fergus.  That’s where the steel meets the road. In wintertime, she resides at the neighbor’s little farm down the road.  I do barn chores each morning, which is my exercise plan.  The rest of each day is spent working in the studio. In spring I move her to a larger barn and ride each morning to stay fit and inspired. For a few weeks in mid-summer, she and I work a trail-guiding job.

Tell us how your routine has changed as you gained more publishing experience.

I have had to learn how to promote the books, conducting book-reading sessions, book-signing events, and to create Powerpoint presentations for those events.  And for those occasions, I have to keep one pair of boots…clean!

How has Fergus been received by the equine community?

Well, when I learned how to use Facebook in 2012, and began putting the Fergus comics out to the world, he quickly gained a following of over 300,000. Even with Facebook changing tactics, its still over 300,000.  My gratitude toward the fans is enormous.

Why do you think he's so beloved? 

I think it’s because Fergus is simply a horse. He tries (unsuccessfully) to understand humans, but he doesn’t try to be human.  He also confides in his friends, like real horses do. The most common comment I receive on Facebook is “Fergus reminds me of my horse!”

Of all Fergus’ adventures, do you have a favorite?

Well his next adventure is my favorite, but of course no one has seen it yet, because it’s still inside of me. So far I’ve had a lot of fun living it, and thinking it up.

What advice could you give an aspiring artist/illustrator in the equine media world?

1. Educate yourself.  
2. Work hard, have fun. 
3. If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.

Find out more about Jean and Fergus, and shop Fergus’ stories online HERE.  

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Abigail Boatwright