x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A princess, a pony and poignancy

At the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, the Kiwi author Stacy Gregg spoke to us about her new novel inspired by Princess Haya bint Al Hussein.

Princess Haya bint Al Hussein. Courtesy WAM
Princess Haya bint Al Hussein. Courtesy WAM

Stacy Gregg found great success just from horsing around.

The Kiwi author has penned two successful children’s fiction series, Pony Club Secrets and the spin-off Pony Club Rivals. Both collections, totalling more than a dozen books, involve the young protagonists jumping on their saddles and solving mysteries.

When trends in the children’s publishing industry began to favour one-off novels back in 2010, Gregg started searching for a new story to tell. She found her heroine in the young Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

“She is such an extraordinary woman,” Gregg says. “She is such a feisty, gutsy and amazing girl and I knew she would make an amazing fictional character.”

The resulting book is Gregg’s latest, The Princess and the Foal.

Released in English last year and recently published in Arabic, The Princess and the Foal is not a biography of the princess but a novel inspired by her life. The story begins by showing the close bond Princess Haya, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, has with her family. Tragedy soon strikes and the princess’s mother, Queen Alia, dies in a plane crash.

As a way to heal his daughter’s heart, the bereaved king trusts the princess with the responsibility of looking after an orphan foal from the royal stables. A bond develops between the princess and the foal and they go on to compete victoriously in global sporting competitions.

It was the personal connection that Gregg, who’s also a horse lover, has with Princess Haya’s story that compelled her to pen the novel.

“The more I read about her in magazines and newspapers, the more I fell in love with her and basing a novel on her childhood,” she explains. “It really emotionally moved me so much, because I also lost my own mother when I was young. That bond the princess had with the foal was her strength and helped her be herself again, which eventually ended up in her becoming this amazing athlete.”

Still, permission was needed to use the princess’s name. Delighted when the request was granted, Gregg, a former journalist, began her research, which led her to travel to Jordan. She visited the royal palaces and stables in addition to interviewing the princess’s friends.

Gregg’s adventures also led her to a brief meeting with Princess Haya herself in Dubai two years ago.

“She is incredibly private and modest,” Gregg recalled. “I just promised her that I would try to make the book as true as possible, even though it was a work of fiction.”

With the Arabic translation now available, Gregg hopes the book resonates with local readers.

“I believe the genuine and spiritual bonds the Arabs have with their horses are special,” she says. “There is a lovely part in the book where I talk about how a Bedouin will keep his camels outside his tent but bring his best horse into the tent with him when he sleeps at the night. That breaks my heart because I would love to sleep in a tent with my horse with me.”

As for the finished product, Gregg says she received royal approval. “I have been told that the princess does like the book,” she says. “It delighted me because I do feel so incredibly passionate about it.”

• The Princess and the Foal is on sale at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, as well as in Virgin Megastores and Kinokuniya Dubai. The book fair runs until 10pm tonight at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center. Visit www.adbookfair.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae