Local author, screenplay writer, and horse breeder Derina McLaughlin has recently published her latest children’s novel, The Duchess of Summerhill Park. Aimed at 9-12 year-olds, the novel is set in Yass Valley’s very own Murrumbateman and Yass Town, where main character Alexia and her horses have fun and fast-paced adventures throughout the area, including the Yass River and Wargelia Lane.

Local Author Derina McLaughlin

The book is based on a real horse, Charisma Park the Squire, who belonged to former Yass council staff member Jeff Cartwright before being sold to the McLaughlin family. Charisma the horse received much press coverage in his day, becoming a famous pony due to being so photogenic. 

Duchess of Summerhill Park is the second in its series, following the acclaimed Brumby of Summerhill Park, which won the Charlotte Waring Barton Mentorship Award presented by the Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW Branch. McLaughlin has long held a passion for creative writing and after training in scriptwriting at the University of Canberra, she continued writing and won a Canadian award in 2012. Her work was then produced on stage at the Toronto Film Festival. While in Canada, another horse breeder suggested she combine her passions for horses and writing, leading to the creation of the Summerhill Park series. 

McLaughlin’s horse series appeals to a wide audience, with both international and local readership.

“What I really wanted to do was to create a series where city kids could escape to a world on a farm, in the country. It’s a life that some children will want to be involved in and want to live in, so it’s about creating that world for children to escape into. So they can go and relax, and read a book, and get involved, and feel like they’re a part of the family and ponies at Summerhill Park,” she explained.

Duchess of Summerhill Park, one of Derina’s horses

“That world is the world of Yass and Murrumbateman. Going to country shows, and doing stuff with your ponies and fighting with your brother and sister. All the things that go on in families,” she said last year, after receiving a Gold Award at the International Independent Film Awards for her screenplay ‘Prince of the Wild Horses’.

Also explored in the novel is the bittersweet parting of a child and horse when the child outgrows the first pony that they’ve grown with, worked with, and bonded with. “I used to chat with the kids at Sydney Royal, I’d say, I’m writing a book, how do you feel when you swap ponies, when you’re too big for the pony you’re on and you’ve got to go up a size?” McLaughlin recalls.

“That’s built into the story, about how it is really hard to go from your first to your second pony because it loves you, and you love it. It’s hard for the kids because they’ve got to have courage to go to a harder ride, but also they’ve got to wave goodbye to their current pony, so the story is partly that, dealing with loss and realising it’s not the end of the world.”

McLaughlin is passionate about enriching her children’s novels with historical and cultural information and themes, so children can learn about the Yass region’s heritage while they read about ponies. She includes complex levels of horse knowledge in the books to engage children who are already familiar with living with, riding, and caring for horses or ponies. “It’s written by someone who owns and has bred horses and has kids and ponies, and I get it. That level of understanding that world and understanding how much the kids just enjoy their relationships with their ponies. It’s just an amazing thing when a kid clicks with a pony and the pony looks after the kid.” she said.

Duchess of Summerhill Park is described on Amazon, where it can be purchased as follows:

“Alexia and her brother Brad travel out beyond Yass River to bring home Duchess, the beautiful black pony with the four white socks. The clever Duchess has many pony tricks in store for her new family, but proves to be very brave, when things go amiss at Pony Club Camp. Alexia dreams of competing with Duchess at the annual Royal Show, but there are lots of obstacles to jump first.” 

The novel is also available locally at The Horse Whisperer, 133 Mackintosh Cct Murrumbateman, and through Dymocks and Angus & Robertson.

Southerly Jones