Thursday, 29 November 2007


Today I ventured out beyond Peterborough to the excellent Peakirk Books, run by the equally excellent Heather and Jeff Lawrence (and Debi, and their wonderful Gordon Setters. Golly and I are in love. There is a picture of Golly here.) If children's books are your thing, then Peakirk is heaven, as that's what they stock: bookcase after bookcase, and shelf after shelf.

I went there to photograph some of their stock for the website, as they have a section dedicated to pony books as well as plenty of pony titles spread about the stock. So, photograph I did, with the result that the soon-to-hit-the-site section for Judith Berrisford now looks halfway decent, and there was also the hardback of Spanish Adventure, Rachel of Romney with a dj, Patricia Leitch's Black Loch, some Silver Brumbies with dustjackets, some Chipperfields with dustjackets... and lots and lots of other stuff.
There are pitifully few shops who specialise in children's books, let alone have an entire section for ponies, so if you are anywhere near, go. You will love it.

A quick thought

This is following on from the previous post. Coping with a hardback whilst reading in bed some of us find tricky, but the problem I have is reading at the table. Hardbacks I can cope with by propping them up on other books to get the slant, and the book then generally stays open of its own accord.

Paperbacks though are a totally different matter. You can't get the dratted things to stay open - or at least I can't, unless I deliberately break the spine, which I can't bear to do. Usually I resort to a peculiar arrangement of jam pots on their sides, propped over the bottom edge of the pages. This is fine until I want to turn the page (and I am a very fast reader) as then the whole thing has to be dismantled.

Does anyone have any better suggestions?

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Will the hardback disappear forever?

This follows on from the post about Gillian Baxter's reappearance in hardback. I am a dedicated Radio 4 listener, and recently heard a piece about the publishers Picador, who are going to release paperback versions of their books simultaneously with the hardbacks. As, apparently, most buyers want paperbacks, this is cause enough. (I can't find the programme on the BBC site, but here's the general thing in The Guardian.) I suppose there's an argument for this: the content of the book won't presumably change and if you read an author's golden words in paperback they're no different to their golden words in hardback.

But it's the book as an object that means so much, I think (this apparently means I am a book fetishist). The best hardbacks are objects of beauty: decorated endpapers, beautiful dustjackets and clean crisp pages which stay clean and crisp. I've put two very different versions of Monica Edwards' Cobber's Dream here. I know which I'd rather have.

Though having said that, I am very fond of the earlier Puffin paperbacks and have several series I've collected deliberately in that edition: Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Peter Dickinson's Changes and Barbara Willard's Mantlemass.

I do find though that the modern paperback is generally such an unattractive object, whose cheap rough paper browns at the edges within a year. Hey ho. Am I just a dinosaur?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


I don't know whether Follyfoot was ever repeated: for me it's a creature of the 1970s, which happened on weekend teatimes. I watched Follyfoot of course, because it had horses in it, but I never liked it, or the books, as much as Monica Dickens' World's End series.

It was the hopelessness of some of the story lines, I think, that got me. It depressed me, and I like a bit of fight with my stories. Dora in particular I found difficult, though I suppose the desperate fight the Farm had to stay afloat, and its awful cases were at least realistic.

When I was doing the Monica Dickens page for the website, I came across this site: whose owners obviously didn't suffer from my dislike! So, if you are at all interested in Follyfoot, this really is the site for you.

I always thought the World's End series would make a good television series. It was one of my absolute favourites as a child. I cherished my Piccolo paperbacks, and I still have them (have not yet managed to upgrade them to beautiful firsts). The difference between the two series for me was that however awful life at World's End got (and things did get extremely sticky at times) things usually worked out, even if it wasn't as you expected, or even wanted. I loved Carrie and Lester, and her horse John, and the way she would ride him amongst the stars at night. And I liked the cast of adult characters; more or less concerned, and the frightful aunt tiptoeing amongst the animals trying not to touch them.

Gillian Baxter News

Evans, Gillian Baxter's publishers, have their fiftieth anniversary next year, and so are re-publishing some of their children's books. As far as I can tell from the very scanty information on their website (it's here in a PDF file, and you want page 12) the books are hardback versions of Ribbons and Rings and Tan and Tarmac. Evans are also doing some of Malcolm Saville's Buckinghams series, and Enid Blyton's Nature Lover's Book, which I absolutely adored as a child: it has the most enchanting pictures and I think I will be in the queue for one when they're published. The Savilles and Blyton are out in March 2008; the Gillian Baxters and a Worzel Gummidge in September 2008.

I'd be interested to know why they've decided to do this - does it have anything to do with the resurgence in re-publishing classics by companies like Fidra?

Still, it's been a very, very long time indeed since a hardback pony book with a dustjacket was published (except I suppose for some of K M Peyton's), so all power to Evans' elbow. I hope they sell well. Maybe if they do, Evans could be persuaded to re-issue some more.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Hazel M Peel

Whilst not packing away far more sweet stuff than my dentist would like, I have been hard at work on the Hazel Peel interview, and it's finished! It's here. I don't think Hazel would have had any truck with Cadbury corporate speak at all: she'd have been in there in the factory, mixing the discontinued stuff up herself and organising distribution!

In case you're wondering what on earth I am blethering on about, see my post on Memories; which is basically me giving my sweet tooth (or teeth: I do have more than one left) a trip down Memory Lane.


Earlier in the week my daughter bought me some Flying Saucers - which are sweets made of rice paper with sherbert in the middle. I hadn't had these for years and years; not since the days when my sister and I would trot off down the road and spend our sweet money at Tarry's. Tarry's was a tiny shop which sold absolutely everything, but the best thing as far as we were concerned was the wooden compartmentalized tray which held the penny sweets (and I'm talking 1d here, not 1p!) Mrs Tarry was the most remarkably patient woman, and would let you stand there for ages while you mulled over the delights of Fruit Salads, Black Jacks or milk bottles. We always hoped the shop would be empty when we went, as then we might be allowed into the kitchen behind to inspect the terrapins. Now you don't get that in Tesco.

A lot of the penny sweets seemed to feature liquorice, which I was never particularly keen on, apart from Sherbert Fountains, which can still be got today, and which I like to indulge in every now and then. The great disappointment with these was that the liqourice was never quite long enough to get to the bottom of the tube, meaning if you were messy and not that well co-ordinated (which would be me) that when you tipped the tube up to get the last of the sherbert disaster would follow. Another sweet that caused me a lot of grief at the time was Flakes, which under my inexpert munching would disintegrate into a thousand chocolatey particles, all equally determined to leap over the side of the wrapper. I am pleased to tell you I have got better at Flakes over the years, but think the adverts show Flakes eaten in the bath not because it is such a sensuous experience: it is the only way you can keep the blessed things under control.

I had some of my best sweet experiences in Tarry's, but there are so many things that have vanished now: to quote dear Cadbury's corporate speak:
"Consumer preferences change from time to time and as a major manufacturer it is
important that Cadbury maintain a wide range of products that are in line with
changing consumer demands."
There were large jars of what we in Northants called kayli, which was red sherbert which was quite incredibly vicious, toffee nuts, and little sherberty pips that came in red and yellow, and which you had to eat fast or they would pick up moisture from the air and stick together in an impentrable mass. And Amazin' Raisin Bars. I absolutely loved these but they have vanished without trace, victim of the corporate executioner.

Blimey. Have just googled Kayli to see if I could find any and IT IS A GIRL'S NAME now. Good grief. I wonder if there's any in Northants? Can't believe anyone here would call a child after a sweet, but then you never know. But I have just found this excellent site; I'd forgotten about Treets, and Spangles, and Texans. Really it's a miracle I have any teeth left at all.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007


Thank you everyone who emailed me and left messages. I am very grateful. As you've probably worked out, I survived the experience, and so did White Star, though it was a close thing for us both. When I try and look at this scan thing rationally, I know perfectly well that the odd doughnut shaped thing that is the scanner is not going to hurt me; and that I was not actually trapped, because if I made enough fuss someone would have come and let me out.

But that is not how I feel, which is terrified: pure, blind panic. When the radiographer came back in she said "You didn't enjoy that much did you?" Oh how true. I was holding onto White Star for dear life, and my heart was pounding fit to bust. There was one particularly awful moment when I thought I really couldn't bear it anymore, but I remembered to pray and felt a jolt of surprise when my heart rate instantly slowed down. Make of that what you will!

I hope I managed to keep still enough during it, but shook like a leaf and wept after I was released. Still, at least I have done it. Thank you all for your support.

Radiographer asked if my phobia affected my life - well no, as I have trained myself over the years to cope with lifts and the underground but there's not a lot of training you can do with CT scans is there? Unless you are unfortunate enough to need them a lot. And I do hope I don't. I have huge respect for Vanessa of Fidra, who has epilepsy and so has CTs and MRI scans and is now so chilled, having started off froma position of fear, that she sleeps through them. Cor. What a girl.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Urg. Arghhhh.

Tomorrow morning I have to have a CT scan, which I am not looking forward to even remotely as I am claustrophobic. My daughter has just come back from a week away with the school which included caving, including the notorious Letter Box - a narrow bit you have to wriggle through. Both my children flung (in as far as you can) themselves through this in their respective trips with joy; in fact I think they were both first in the queue. Now I also did this when I was at school, but it took them 45 minutes to get me through (and I still think very, very gratefully of my friends Anne and Deanne, one of whom coaxed at the head end while the other persuaded from the foot end.)

So the idea of having my head encased in whatever it is is making me a tad edgy. I am taking with me a white Britains farm horse called White Star, whom I have had since I was too young to remember getting presents. She is alas a bit brittle now, and only has 3 legs since she fell off the sink. I am hoping that if I clutch her in my paw, it will help, and I am also hoping I can remember the NCT breathing I last did over 12 years ago as well as manage just plain prayer. And I am also hoping I am not sick. Please God, let me not be sick.

So if I am a bit quiet for a couple of days it will be because I am still getting over the experience. I do hope, thinking about it, that I do not break more legs off White Star.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Christine Pullein-Thompson

At last, at last, the Christine Pullein-Thompson bibliography is on the website. It has been an epic task, as she wrote over 100 pony books - surely the most of any pony book author? Unless Bonnie Bryant of Saddle Club wrote more. And that would only be true if Bonnie Bryant is in fact one person rather than a load of different authors writing under that name.
Huge thanks to Dawn of Pullein-Thompson archive who has been the most fantastic help. It really would have been very difficult to do it without her, as she has a much keener eye for detail than me, and also has an amazing collection which she is very happy to plunder for photos.
Christine PT is though the Pullein-Thompson I am most ambivalent about. There are some titles of hers I absolutely love: The Horse Sale, Phantom Horse, I Rode a Winner, and now I am older and can cope with romance, The Impossible Horse, but there are some I find tricky. I think it's the way her characters' despair is so total. One minute they're quite cheerful, and the next it is utter doom and gloom. I found that my own emotional response to the story lagged behind the characters' and felt I couldn't quite keep pace with their dizzying plunges: the book I'm thinking of particularly here is A Pony in Distress, which I read quite recently. She also seems to make a very determined effort to make her characters outsiders and that perhaps pushes her writing further than she was comfortable with.
I wonder too if the reason why I find some of her books uncomfortable is because they stray outside my own comfort zone? The world some of her books describe, from the 1970s at least, seemed alien to me, but then thinking about it, I went to a comprehensive (albeit one that was a grammar school when I started it). However, we weren't poor, and I didn't live in the inner city until I was much older. Hmmm. I'm not sure I've come to any very useful conclusions there.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Displacement Activity

Yesterday I was supposed to be painting another wall of my office, but it was so darn cold that even with three jersies on I couldn't face the thought of painting with the window wide open in a room that was already freezing. Plus, I had managed to lose my one and only radio and the thought of painting without the accompaniment of Radio 4 was just too much.

So, what shall I do, I thought? Orders were very sparse yesterday; I'd been cataloguing like mad and really didn't fancy doing yet more. I really needed to go through my old stock and reduce it before Christmas, but the book storage room has no heating. The woodpile outside badly needed some attention, which at least would have had the advantage of warming me up (wood warms you three times: once when you cut it down, once when you cut it up and then when you finally burn it), but I wimpishly couldn't face the thought of getting even colder before I got warmer.

So, I thought I'd look at all the things I'd been putting off doing for the website. Oh, the shame. Because I am such a master at displacement activity I like to have a lot of things on the go but I don't often go through my files to check up on all the things I have started. There were some things there I'd started 2 years ago, and not finished. Poor, bereft, lonely little bibliographies, there they were; enthusiastically noted down and then deserted. So I sat down and, armed with cups of tea which seemed to lose their heat within seconds (always a vaguely depressing experience) I got down to it.

And goodness, I thought, don't I like the obscure? I have now tackled most of the major pony book authors (with the exception of Judith Berrisford and Mary Gervaise) but they certainly weren't the ones I went for first. I'm not really sure why this is. Is it because I like ferreting out information that no one else has thought of putting out there? Goodness knows. Anyway, the fruits of my labours are now on the site here: not all obscure, but if anyone else has ever thought of writing something about John Thorburn's Hildebrand I'd like to know why.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Morning walk

I am normally incredibly slow at seeing birds on my walks with the dog. Although I have a perfectly good pair of binoculars (in fact, I have two) I almost never remember to take them with me. Pooh bag, lead and keys, and indeed dog, I can remember, though I have on occasion got outside the gate to find I don't have the lead, or slammed the door and then realised the keys are still in my bag. And I have had to call in on long-suffering neighbours when I have forgotten pooh bags. The dog knows what I am like, and makes sure when it is near walk time that where I am, she is.

Still, on our walk today, I saw a flock of long tailed tits in an ash tree. They were completely enchanting and took no notice of me whatsoever as they flew from branch to branch, chattering to each other. The RSPB says they can be seen all year round; but I only see them rarely and it is magical when I do.

Another bird I saw recently was a grey wagtail, which I saw out with a friend. My friends are mostly used to my getting very excited when I see a bird I don't normally see. My family regard the whole thing as another of Mum's little oddnesses. Strange then, that they are so very keen on Autumn Watch on BBC. What's the difference between me and Bill Oddie then, I'd like to know? Or maybe, actually, I wouldn't.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Go Cat Go

Our cat (small, black, mostly Oriental) and dog (blonde labrador) exist in a sort of uneasy truce. They don't like each other, and the dog thinks cats are things to chase. Cat soon learned that she could stand her ground and the dog wouldn't come near, at which point dog, who is quite bright for a labrador, developed a new trick. She would walk up to the cat, all quiet, and then suddenly erupt in the cat's face with a fusillade of ferocious barks. Cat would of course flee, and dog would bound after her. (There is a very shame-making photo of her doing this, when she looks like a slavering hound of the Baskervilles, but I won't share it with you!)

Cat has at last learned that this too, means nothing, and now stands her ground. So, peace of a sort reigns indoors. However outside, it was different, until yesterday.

I took dog out into the yard as I was going to be picking apples and didn't want her particular brand of "help". Dog was very happy to see OH and the Teenager, who were stacking wood, but then noticed the cat. She hurled herself after the cat; the cat took three bounds, and then skidded to a halt, obviously thinking "B****r this,", whirled round and yowled, spat and clawed at the dog, who put the brakes on fast. You could see her thinking "this isn't right: this isn't how it's supposed to be...." Cat spat again and dog returned, whimpering, to the safety of the woodpile. Sometimes, for a labrador, life isn't fair.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

November 11th

The Pony Book does romance

I was reading Christine Pullein-Thompson's The Impossible Horse recently, which I hadn't read in quite a while: mainly because it wasn't a book I remembered with much affection. However, on re-reading it I enjoyed it much more, and wondered why this was.

When I started senior school at the age of 11, all my friends loved ponies and that was what we talked about. However, when we came back for the second year (what is now year 8), it was as though someone had waved a magic wand. Only a few of us still wanted to obsess about ponies: with all the others it was boys, boys, boys. I was completely horrified by this: there were a few (a very few) boys at the stables but they were generally very wet and tended to cry when they fell off, which I regarded with contempt. We were generally a very female family, and I didn't meet boys really much at all: school was all girls. So, I decided firmly that I was going to stick with ponies, and so I did, for years (you will be able to tell, from the fact that I am married, that my resolution did eventually give out).

But this, I think, is why I didn't like The Impossible Horse. It wasn't my dream. To have a pony was; a boyfriend would have petrified me. I wonder if this was why CPT wrote this book under a pseudonym - Christine Keir - as it was aimed for a very different market.

I read Pony Club Camp, with its romance between Noel and Henry when I was much older, and I loved it, mainly because it was so very lightly drawn. Heartland is much more overt: the relationship between the heroine and her boyfriend is right there at the heart of the books, but then American pony books were always much more upfront about romance, even in the 1950s.

I've been trying to remember if there's even the merest hint of romance in the Jill books. Certainly as far as Jill and Ann are concerned there isn't. In fact, the books are strangely short on the portrayal of normal relationships. It's like the Archers in a way - there are so many characters who simply don't seem to appear. How about Mrs Cholly-Sawcutt? And Mr Darcy? And Mr Derry? Jill's father of course was killed off before the books started.

The only marriage I can think of where both partners appear is that of Martin's parents.

The vast majority of women in the book appear without their husbands, even if they do presumably have them, or are spinsters.

But the Jill books are undoubtedly the most popular section on my website - by really quite a long way, so maybe this complete absence of romance; the safety of predictable relationships; is what most children actually want.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

It was the horse whodunnit

At least, that's what my family always thinks. I had to go and see the ENT consultant today about the disaster area which is my nose. I'd always thought I had sinus problems, but apparently I have a septum which is bent, almost certainly caused by an old injury, and it's now disrupting my airflow, apparently.

I rang my OH to tell him what the diagnosis was, and his response was "Well, that was caused by that horse who catjumped and hit you in the face."

Then I rang my Mama, and she said: "It was that horse that reared and came over backwards with you."

No - no. The catjumper cracked my jaw, but got nowhere near my nose, and the rearer left me shocked but blessedly unhurt, unlike poor Sonia in The Impossible Horse. It was Adeline Burnett, when we were at Junior School. We were playing house rounders, I was bowling; she was batting. She was a phenomenal hitter, and mis-hit the ball straight at my face. It was a complete accident - she was even more distraught than I was.

So - has your equine career left you unscathed? Or are you a tapestry of horse-inflicted scars? And if any of my family are reading this: look away now. I'm only kidding. Horses don't hurt.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Ta Da!

I've wanted for a while to provide somewhere where people could contribute new pony stories. As we all know, most publishers aren't interested in the traditional pony story, so I thought it would be good to give people who write them (and I do know there are some of you out there!) a place where you can put your stories, and which will introduce them to a wider audience.

I have (looks bashful) put a short story of my own on to start things off.

There's also a section on the forum where you can start discussions on pony and other books. I've been quite aware while I've been blogging that it's very much what I want to talk about - here is the chance for you to start things off. In an unashamed attempt to get you to look at the Forum, I've put some information on about Patricia Leitch, with whom I've recently been in touch.

And where is this new marvel? It's here: Jane Badger Books Forum.

Do let me know what you think.

Best wishes

Monday, 5 November 2007

A cheery sort of post

Well actually it isn't, not even remotely. I was reading Pullein-Thompson Archive's excellent blog, in which the question of ponies in pony books dying came up, and that set me thinking. I think it's in DPT's Pony to School in which Seaspray, Pier's and Tilly's grey pony, dies of tetanus. This made a terrific impression on me at the time, as I can't think, offhand, of any other pony book I read as a child in which a pony dies, and I think it was a particularly strong bit of writing on DPT's part.

People are killed off, though generally before the book starts (Jill's father, Carmen's parents in Sheila Chapman's books). Heartland is unusual I suppose in establishing the heroine's mother as a character before killing her off in the first book.

There is of course Ginger, in Black Beauty, which in some ways I think is the least miserable of the deaths: you feel relief that Ginger's awful sufferings are at last over, although there is also the grief that she had to go through it all in the first place. Other ponies I can think of who die are John Steinbeck's The Red Pony - not a book to be read if you're feeling a bit under the weather - and there's Pamela MacGregor Morris' Lucky Purchase, in which the lucky purchase, who is old at the start, dies when the book is nearly over. This is another one that really affects me: the whole thing is treated very well, with the depths of emotion the heroine suffers suggested but not hammered home. The magic pony in Patricia Leitch's Jinny book of the same name dies, but I can't think offhand of any others by her. I have read a few Heartland titles, but can't remember if any horses die.

K M Peyton's race horse in the last of the Ruth series (Free Rein - but that might be the American title - apologies for not being able to remember the UK one) dies too.

My mind is a complete blank at the moment as far as ponies dying in any of the Pullein-Thompson's books go. Do let me know what else you can think of.

I'm interested in the whole thing I suppose because pony books are often accused of being poorly written genre fiction; and although some are, I think that's just as unfair as saying Ian Rankin must be bad because he writes genre fiction, when this is very far from the case. The best pony books don't shy back from tackling real life; or indeed, death.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The blonde dog does it again

Yesterday morning dog and I went out for our early morning walk, accompanied by my friend and her three retrievers. Dawn and I were deep in conversation and realised too late that the two blondes had hurled themselves into what is a pond in summer, but is now just 6" or so of mud. Still, we got them all out of that and headed on. The next thing we heard was a thunder through the undergrowth and some ominous splashing. They'd found a pond they'd always ignored before (and which we'd forgotten about too) and they all emerged reeking of stagnant water; the two blondes an interesting shade of grey, tinged with black slime.

But we weren't too worried: there was a big pond further on which is usually clear and not stagnant and they did all clean off quite well in there (I did feel a bit for the wildlife they disturbed, but succeeded in shoving the guilt firmly down). So, by the end of the walk, I was feeling fairly smug, as I had a dog who was wet but not smelly or muddy.

However, hubris...... hubris..... dog disappeared around the corner, and emerged back almost instantly daubed from head to foot in fox poo - and this was a fox that had obviously not agreed with what it ate last, as what it had left behind was liquid, and had transferred itself effortlessly to my darling dog. She reeked, she stank, she dripped.... but she was happy. It wasn't quite as bad as the time she rolled in an extremely dead squirrel, but it wasn't far off.

These shops that sell clothing for your dog have got it wrong, so wrong. It may be what the human wants, but it isn't what the dog wants. So, as my Christmas special, Jane Badger Books is branching out. I give you Fox, a scent for today's cool pooch. Want the rest of the pack to smell you and think "WOW - there's a dog prepared to get in touch with their primal instincts?" Then Fox, lovingly prepared from only the freshest ingredients, is for you.

Alternatively, there's Corpse Reek: for that special hunt. Always chasing squirrels and never catching them? Do rabbits laugh when they smell you coming? You'll laugh now when you wear Corpse Reek. Catch your own Christmas Dinner the Jane Badger Books and Scent way.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

More pondering

I am painting my office at the moment, having finally decided that the delicious Laura Ashley flowers which cover everything and have done for decades really have to go. All our ceilings are high, but the walls in this room measure 10' 6". Why is it that when I am at the top of the ladder, with a large paint pot only just balanced on the top step, and two paintbrushes clutched in my paw, that the phone rings? And why is it that, every time it rings, I answer it, when I have a perfectly good answering service?