Sunday, 31 May 2009

Sheila Rose

Sheila Rose is one of those classic pony book illustrators: her style is instantly recognisable: quite spare, and swiftly drawn, and she has the rare ability to draw both horses and people. Many pony book illustrators seem to fall at the fence of producing recognisable humanity, though there are those, like Geoffrey Whittam, who have the people alright, but seem to have a block when it comes to horses.

Sheila Rose was born in Bishop’s Stortford on September 26th, 1929, and was educated at Hitchin Grammar School and Harrogate College. She started riding her own ponies, and drawing them, when she was four, and, according to her entry in Who’s Who in the Pony Magazine Annual 1968, “competed at all shows in Hertfordshire between 1940 and 1945.” Allowing for the fact it was wartime, when there were less shows than normal, that still shows formidable determination, especially as she also found time to hunt with the Puckeridge and South Herts.

She illustrated her first book in 1948, although I haven't yet been able to find out exactly what that was. The first book I can find in any of the copyright libraries is Pamela MacGregor Morris's Not Such a Bad Summer, which was published in 1950. It's quite a brave composition, showing the ponies and children from the back, looking up towards the skyline, but I think she has captured that moment when everyone's attention is attracted wonderfully (though I could quibble with the over thick necks of the ponies on the skyline.)

Very swiftly after this, Sheila Rose started to illustrate the Pullein-Thompson sisters' books, starting with Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Pony Club Team (she did, in fact, illustrate five of the Noel and Henry series). When Collins began to publish its pony authors in the Armada paperback editions, they usually kept the internal illustrations, and so this is probably how many of us will have come to know Sheila Rose's illustrations.

This edition of Pony Club Team is another done from an unusual viewpoint, though I think this is less successful than Not Such A Good Summer - it seems a little awkward.

Sheila Rose illustrated many of the Pullein-Thompson's oeuvre during the 1950s. I am particularly fond of her illustrations for Christine Pullein-Thompson's The Horse Sale, and below is one without any sight of a horse. I think she has the artistic Olga off just right, still hopeful that the second hand book dealer will give her a decent price for her books (alas...)

She also has the cover of this book off wonderfullly: I love the way she has captured the feeling between the boy and his pony:

Most of the illustrations I remember best are those which feature horses jumping: she had a particular gift for capturing the movement of a horse in the air, as in this example from Mona Sandler's Steep Farm Stables:

Besides illustrating new works, Sheila Rose also did new illustrations, in particular for Black Beauty. I like them, but I'm not sure her style was suited to a period piece: somehow the horses seem very modern.

By the time of her entry in the Pony Magazine Annual of 1968, she had done the illustrations for over 80 titles. I can't find any books she illustrated which were published after 1967 (the last was Margaret MacPherson's Ponies for Hire), so I suspect that she died then. If so, it was very young: she was born in 1929. Maybe she gave up because she has a family: but she did, in her time illustrating, make a strong claim to be one of the best pony book illustrators in the post war period.

I have more biographical information on Sheila Rose on my website here, together with examples from the pony books she illustrated.

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Way Things Were: Pony Magazine in the 1960s

As you have probably realised by now, as a child, I was pony-obsessed. My favourite monthly reading was Pony Magazine, which I read cover to cover: every advert; every word. I recently bought a set of Pony Magazines from the 1960s. I actually took Pony in the 1970s, but there wasn’t a lot of difference between the decades in the style and contents of the magazine.

One advert which took me instantly back to that state of childhood wanting; longing for things I couldn’t have, and trying to work out what I could do to afford them, was for Jacatex riding clothes. How I loved that ad. The Pat hacking jacket; the Pat riding mac and the Pat jodhpurs. Who was Pat? Was there a Pat? Or were the clothes just something that was off pat? It was never explained. Jacatex adverts didn’t change much over the years. The 1969 ad below is the same one that I remember from the 1970s, a cheerful pony girl in immaculate clothes. I don’t know whether Jacatex ever did haul themselves into the modern age and replace their advertising: the fact that they no longer seem to exist would suggest not.

That style of advertising, using a commercial artist, was something that Jacatex’s main competitors used too.

The girl looks alright, but the woman is a bit of an anatomical oddity. Change was on the way, however. Both Harry Hall and Caldene embraced the slightly breathy advertising style of the 1960s. They used actual photographs and, from the look of it, the services of an advertising agency. Their adverts are a world away from Jacatex’s: and this ability to adapt has preserved Caldene and Harry Hall, both still going strong, but not, alas, Jacatex.

Moss Bros obviously felt their name and reputation were enough: their 1960s ads simply showed a Thelwell cartoon.

Note though, the style of jodhpur. The elephant ear style was still hanging on: you too could have a pair from Bedford, for a mere £4-4-0 (£4.20) .

I can say from bitter personal experience that these jodphurs were extraordinarily hard-wearing. My first ever pair of jodphurs were not, alas, a Jill Crewe like experience of delight: my riding teacher kept a stock of second hand clothes, and when my mother decided that my sister and I weren’t going to give up riding in a hurry, we were taken in to, oh bliss of blisses, buy some jodphurs. There was nothing second hand to fit my sister, so she was ordered a pair, but there was something to fit me: a khaki pair of elephant ears. I can remember now how it felt as my dream of svelte fitted jodphurs crumpled as Mrs Holton held up that baggy pair of elephant ears. She must have had them for years, and probably couldn’t believe her luck as my mother said “They’ll do for Jane.” Oh woe, oh woe, oh misery. If everyone else had been wearing them, I would have been as delighted as Jill was when she got hers, but they weren’t. Stretch fabric was now the thing, and jodphurs were fitted.

There were of course children for whom price was not an issue back in the halcyon days of Pony, and they could pay 8 and a half guineas for made to measure riding trousers from Bernard Weatherill Ltd.
In comparison, Bedford ready to wear jodphurs in cavalry twill were from £5-15-0 (£5.75), and Jacatex jodphurs in Bedford Cord were from 39/6 (£1.97 ½).

It’s very noticeable that the riding hat doesn’t get much of a look in. In some issues, there was just a single, solitary advertisement, taking up a quarter of a page. Health and Safety wasn’t quite the thing that it was now, and Pony featured many photographs of readers cheerfully hatless. The one attempt Pony did make in the 1960s to persuade riders that a hat was a good idea was via the Percy and Allsorts League. Percy and Allsorts were a pony and a dog who ran a club for readers. There were six rules, and wearing a riding hat made it in at number five, though even then it wasn’t compulsory: “Members will try to remember always to wear a hat or cap when riding.”

Although readers were allowed a cheerful insouciance towards their safety, they certainly weren’t when it came to colour choice in their riding wear. In desperation, Jacatex in one advertisement describe their jodphurs as “a lovely shade of putty.” Yes, well. Other colours you could have had were biscuit, light putty, fawn, or as a special order, canary (this was only for the show ring), but basically, it was any colour as long as it’s beige. Now that beige is restricted to competitions, jodphurs seem to be any colour but.

Catch up

I've been a bit absent lately, having gone down with another episode of my inner ear disorder, which means I am literally prostrate as I can't get up without falling down again. All this happened just as I was doing an interview on the Silver Bridle series with Caroline Akrill, getting my next catalogue ready, and dealing with a fox attack on the hens.

We are, alas, four hens down. One died of shock in the night, and the other three are missing presumed eaten. I had hoped, as I had found no bantam feathers, that the bantams had survived, but unless they've found another home somewhere, I fear the worst. Three hens were completely unscathed, one had a few feathers missing, and poor Scrabbles was in a state, and needed nursing. Fortunately she is now on the mend, and has re-joined the rest. I am on the mend too, and the Caroline interview should be finished next week, barring anything else happening which I don't expect.

The new catalogue is now online, and you can find it here.

In the meantime, here are some wild flower pics.

Wild rose:
White campion:



Ox-eye daisy:

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Well, there's a surprise

Vogue's done it; The Times has done it (several times), and now they've done it again. Young women are embracing curves, they say. Turn the page of Times 2, though, and it's back to the model who looks, even though I'm sure she's eats ALL THE TIME and loves nothing better than a large Danish pastry and hot chocolate with whipped cream several times a day, as if she hasn't had a square meal in months.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Patricia Leitch

At last, here is some very long overdue information on Patricia Leitch: the only excuse I have for sitting on it for so long is my occasional tendency to let life descend into a muddle: I thought I’d muddled the letter Pat wrote me right out of existence, but a search for something else turned it up (as is so often the way, though not, of course, the other thing I was looking for. Still not the faintest idea where that is.) The other information came courtesy of Lorraine, who visits Pat in the Care Home where she now lives, and who kindly asked the questions on my behalf.

This is an excerpt from a letter Pat wrote to me in 2008, which I think beautifully sums up her writing:

“It seems long and long ago since the Jinny books were part of me ... I have been reading them again, mostly with a grin on my face. Dear Jinny! And Shantih! She was all dream. In fact, I used to dream about the chestnut Arab mare long before I wrote about her. Perhaps this letter will bring her back, and Bramble who was real flesh and blood, my own Kirsty. I still feel, if I could walk out onto the moor and call her she would hear and come galloping over the skyline to me. But then what is imagination for if not to call up the past?”

Pat and her writing
Pat was a keen childhood reader, and read everything she could get her hands on. The books which made the most impact on her, or at least the ones she remembers reading most, were Peter Pan and Black Beauty. She wanted to write from childhood, and started writing while she was working as a librarian. Her first book was To Save a Pony, published in 1960. It didn’t take long until Pat’s interest in Celtic mythology surfaced in her writing: The Black Loch, (1963) an atmospheric tale of a mysterious black horse guarded over for generations by a Scottish family was one of her more popular books, and was reprinted several times, changing its title slightly in the process. Like writing, Celtic mythology was something that had interested Pat for many years, and this book was a way for her to combine the two.

Although the mythological element didn’t surface until some books in, the fantastic was a major part of the Jinny series. Collins initially asked Pat to write three books about a girl and her horse, and so Jinny, her Arabian mare Shantih (meaning Peace) and their adventures galloping about in wild Scotland were born. Up until these books appeared, Pat’s books were popular, but it was the creation of Jinny which put Pat firmly in the forefront of pony literature. Jinny was an altogether different thing to previous pony book heroines: Ruby Ferguson’s Jill was at heart, sensible (though also opinionated) and Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Noel was diffident and not at all the sort of person you could imagine careering off across the moors. Jinny and her wild background are very well suited: the books just wouldn’t have been the same if they’d been set in suburban Chatton. Comparing the books to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is a little fatuous, but the books share the same sense of Nature as a wild thing, with a life all its own, which reflects the inner workings of their heroes.

The Jinny books may have started off as a suggestion from Collins, but Jinny herself very soon took hold of the series. Pat speaks of her as if she is alive, and perhaps that’s why Jinny has had such a marked effect on her readers: like her or loathe her (and there are passionate followers of both camps) you absolutely cannot ignore her She is headstrong, stubborn, brave, and at times unbelievably irritating, but as a character she obviously lived to Pat, and whatever you might think about Jinny, as you read the books, you can’t help but believe in her.

The series is so convincing it’s difficult to believe that neither Jinny nor Shantih had any existence other than in Pat’s imagination. There never was a Shantih. Pat hadn’t even met an Arabian when Shantih careered into existence. Love Highlands and Fells though I do, you couldn’t generally call them romantic, fiery creatures, elegantly stalking across the landscape, but some of Shantih was born out of Pat’s experiences with her own pony, Kirsty.

Kirsty was a 14 hh Fell X Highland cross (probably!) who ran on the moor until she was around five, and was sent to a farm in West Kilbride as part of a debt. The farmer wanted Kirsty to pull a float, and to be a riding pony for his son, but the boy outgrew her. Poor Kirsty was kept in a stable day and night and nothing was ever done with her. The effect of this imprisonment was so traumatic she never got over it, and had to live out permanently as a result. Eventually the farmer decided to sell Kirsty, and Pat bought her unbroken. Kirsty was a pretty major challenge to break, and nearly broke Pat, but they settled down together, and spent hours riding the moors above Kilmalcolm. Kirsty much more recognisably inspired Bramble, the Highland who acts as such a contrast to Shantih in the books.

Kilmalcom is part of the setting for the Jinny books, but only part. If you want to go looking for the locations you’ll have to be prepared to travel, as the setting is actually a combination of two different places. Finmory House, the house to which Jinny and her family move, is on the Isle of Skye, and is the house at which Pat worked as a housemaid for several summers. The moors around Finmory are in Renfrewshire, around the village of Kilmalcolm. This was where Pat kept Kirsty and rode herself. Kirsty was kept at Margaret’s Mill, a little riding school run by Willie Ross, and where Pat worked for a while as a riding instructor.

Jinny is passionate about many things, and I’d often wondered when reading the books why she didn’t become a passionate vegan like Ken. The reason is quite prosaic: there really was a Ken, and he already was a vegan (and a bit of a hippy) and having two vegans probably wouldn’t have worked! Ken was not the only real person in the books: Miss Tuke, the sometimes stern owner of the trekking stables, was based on Miss Jean Spence, who had her own training yard in Kilmalcolm. Unlike Miss Tuke, Miss Spence had some very good dressage horses.

It’s a tantalising fact, but there could have been more Jinny books. The series was only stopped because Collins (who published Armada books), were taken over, and after they became Harper Collins the series was dropped. As Pat didn’t know any other writers, or have anyone to advise her, she didn’t take the series to another publisher. She wasn’t too unhappy though with the way the series ended, and although she briefly considered a book about Jinny going to art school, or Shantih having a foal, she didn’t feel that it would work as a story, or be in the spirit of the books, and so the series ended, with Jinny as the perpetual teenager, untamed by life.

For lots more on Patricia Leitch's books, including an illustrated listing of all her books, the original Jinny covers and almost all the reprints, click here.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Review: Bernadette Kelly, Naughty Norton

Bernadette Kelly: Naughty Norton
Illustrated by Liz Alger
Black Dog (Australia), 2007 - expensive to import
Spotlight - library binding (out 15 August 2009 on Amazon) £12.1o

I've had two of Bernadette Kelly's books for a while - the other is If Wishes Were Horses, which is the first in her Riding High series, for older readers. I'd put off reviewing them firstly because I am really, really slow at getting down the review pile, and secondly because they were only available in Australia, and therefore cost me a bomb to get over here, and was it, I thought, worth it?

I'm not so sure about If Wishes Were Horses, about which more next week, but Naughty Norton is due to be published in the UK, albeit in a library binding, which does make it a bit more pricey. However, this is one series I'd buy like a shot if I still had children of the right age (ages 4 up as a to be read to, and 7 up for a read on your own).

This book has a straightforward pantomime theme: Molly, Norton's owner, is convinced he is the most wonderful, and best behaved, pony in the world. The story, and the drawings (an excellent job by Liz Alger), make it perfectly plain that Molly is blinded by love. Everytime Molly says how wonderful Norton is, I wanted to shout "Oh no he isn't!" The book is taken up with Molly's attempts to catch Norton to have a ride, but by the time she actually manages it, it's dark.

This book is, I think, the first example of the Shrek formula applied to a pony book: it has references adults are going to get but which will sail over infant readers' heads. Bernadette Kelly has a sly dig at the current fad for natural horsemanship - a much disputed method of working with horses involving understanding why they do what they do. If you want to start a big, fat fight on a horsy forum, try posting a thread on natural horsemanship.

Molly may well have read all the books, but Norton certainly hasn't. Molly may well be convinced that Norton is a flight animal who will flee at the merest hint of danger, but she hasn't quite cottoned on to the fact that if your pony is not afraid of you at all, he can run away for quite different reasons.

The theme of girls devoted to really quite horrible animals is not new: Norton is out of the same stable as Thelwell's Kipper, the beyond evil Shetland. It's tempting to laugh more at Molly than with her, though if I'm honest with myself, I have certainly been completely devoted to ponies who were frankly vile, though of course as adults none of us, of course, are ever blinded to our horse's faults.

This is a book that will succeed with its adult readers as well as with children. It's good to see humour, which isn't always a natural partner with the pony book in a book for such young children, so well done Bernadette Kelly.