Friday, 31 January 2014

PBOTD: 31st January, Catherine Harris - We Started a Riding Club

Catherine Harris was another pony book author who started young. We Started a Riding Club was her first book, written while she was in her teens. It's one of those pony books with no mystery at all about its title: the protagonists, Simone, Monica, Dean and Charles, start a riding club. They're fortunate children, as they have ponies, and all the help they need, as their grandfather fortunately happens to be an MFH.

Blackie, 1954, first edition
The grandfather was one of those terrifying MFHs who probably bellowed at anyone who sinned on the hunting field, and would have slaughtered anyone who dared to run into hounds. There is little chance for the riding club to stray from the straight and narrow under his patronage, and they go on to have a thoroughly respectable mock hunt. The riding club does require hard work from its youthful founders though, and you can't help but feel life is in some ways easier today when you see the children typing out each individual notice rather than simply running them off in seconds on the computer.

The book is an entertaining and undemanding read. Catherine Harris was an author who definitely improved as she grew older, but We Started a Riding Club doesn't promise anything it doesn't deliver.

Blackie, reprint, 1966
We Started a Riding Club was originally published by Blackie in 1954. with a cover illustration by Maurice Tulloch, who was also responsible for the internal illustrations. In the 1960s Blackie produced a cheaper reprint edition of many of their books, with new cover illustrations, and a rather startling orange background to the dustjacket. Harry Green was the artist commissioned to do the illustrations: We Started a Riding Club is one of the less startling. Take a look at the Catherine Harris link below and take a look at They Rescued a Pony if you want to know what I mean.

~  0  ~

For more on the author, and pictures of all her other pony books, see here.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

PBOTD: 30th January, Primrose Cumming - Silver Eagle Riding School

Primrose Cumming, were she writing today, would never have been able to publish the sheer variety of books she did. Out of her twenty books, only three made a series. If she’d been writing today, Silver Snaffles would have been the start of a lengthy series: today, publishers like series, and like to commission children’s books as a series, because series sell. Perhaps if Silver Snaffles had not been published just as World War II started, in 1939, there would have been more pressure from her publishers to do so. Silver Snaffles, however, remains a one off, and is probably all the better for it.

Primrose did, however, write one series, which was about the Silver Eagle Riding School. The Silver Eagle Riding School (1938) was the first pony story to be centred around a riding school. Almost all previous pony books featured children who, if they didn’t have a pony at the beginning of the book, did by the end. It wasn’t the first book to feature what became a well worn trope of a family who have fallen on hard times, and who, in order to keep their horses, need to put them to work: that was  Eleanor Helme’s Mayfly, the Grey Pony (1935). Poverty is relative in pony books. The families experiencing these hard times still have roofs over their heads, and destitution is not knocking at the door.

A&C Black, first edition, 1938
So it is with Mary, Josephine Chantry and their younger sister, The Doctor, the only one of them still at school. The Chantry girls’ father has died, and he has left them with no money with which to maintain their establishment. Their strict uncle has the answer: the girls must sell their horses and must take suitable courses to make themselves employable.

They resist, aided by their mother, who is finally pushed to fury by Uncle Edward’s bossiness, and start up a riding school with their horses instead. They only have three, but this doesn’t seem to hold them back.  What does hold them back are their characters: Josephine doesn’t really like her mare Anna being ridden, and has a tendency to swan off and leave Mary with all the work. The Doctor comes up with continual  mad schemes which threaten the riding school – perhaps her finest moment is deciding to play cowboys and Indians with the a little boy whose first lesson it is, and tying his arms up and gagging him before dragging his pony off at a gallop. It does not end well.

You cannot help but feel for poor Mary as she tries to make a success of the riding school despite her sisters. Eventually, with the help of an obliging American girl, she does, and the series continued in 1940 with a rare foray of the pony book into wartime: Silver Eagle Carries On.

A&C Black, reprint

Silver Eagle Riding School was published as a good thick hardback first edition, with that lovely thick pre-war paper, and the neutral toned dustjacket so popular in pony books of the period. There were several reprints, all of which, as far as I'm aware, used the same Cecil G Trew cover illustration, with the addition of green stripes top and bottom. 

~  0  ~

For a full illustrated bibliography of Primrose Cumming's books, plus a biography, see here.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

PBOTD: 29th January, Michelle Bates - A Horse for the Summer

The Sandy Lane stables series has been in print since the 1990s. It's set at a stables, and features a group of girls and boys and their equestrian adventures. A Horse for the Summer, published in 1996, was the first in what was to be a series of nine books. The series was written by two authors: Michelle Bates and Susannah Leigh. The exact authorship isn't terribly clear. Some titles can be found with both authors credited.

Usborne first edition, 1996
The first printing of the series had photographic covers. The next printings, both, as far as I know, produced in 2009, go a little way towards the current trend for the pink and sparkly. 

Usborne reprint, 2009
Usborne reprint, 2009

~  0  ~

For more on the Sandy Lane Stables series, there's a page on my website.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

PBOTD: 28th January, Monica Edwards - No Mistaking Corker

No Mistaking Corker is I think the first Monica Edwards I ever read. It was published in the Vanguard Book of Horses and Riding, of which our local library had a copy. I think I had the book out on almost permanent loan, as it was the only Monica Edwards the library had.

Collins, 1972
No Mistaking Corker, published in 1947 was one of the first books Monica Edwards published: Wish for a Pony, the start of her other series, Romney Marsh, was published in the same year. Both series involve families and groups of children, and both to some extent, ponies. Monica Edwards hated being known as an author of pony stories, but her first books fell firmly into that camp. No Mistaking Corker is the story of the Thornton family, who are off on a holiday in a horse-drawn caravan. Andrea, Dion, Lindsay and Peter journey through Devon, with various problems caused by the fact the horse pulling the van, Corker, can indeed be mistaken for other brown carthorses. The book ends with daring rescue of stolen horses, and Lindsay being offered a foal as a reward. (This foal is mentioned once more in the series that was to come, but then vanishes from view, never to be mentioned again. This ruthless editing of characters that did not suit her plots was something that came to characterise the author.)

Collins first edition, 1947
The book is unusual in that it's told in the first person, from Lindsay's point of view. It was presumably an experiment with which the author wasn't comfortable, because the rest of her books all had an omniscient narrator. The rest of the Punchbowl Farm series was based in one location: Punchbowl Farm, in Surrey. The family moved there in November 1947, and the Thornton family moved there too, to do battle with a tumbledown farmhouse and neglected land, but in No Mistaking Corker that is all a long way away, and they're happy negotiating their way through conventional pony and holiday adventure.

No Mistaking Corker was published several times. The incarnation I knew it in was the most recent. The first edition had a lovely cover, and internal illustrations, by Anne Bullen, who illustrated the first four Monica Edwards titles. The Collins Seagull edition appeared in 1962, having lost its Anne Bullen cover.
Collins Seagull, 1962
The last edition I know of was the Armada paperback version, which appeared in 1965. This had a lively cover by Mary Gernat.

Armada, 1965, cover Mary Gernat

~  0  ~

For more information on Monica Edwards, plus an illustrated bibliography, she has a page on my site.

For even more Monica information, try the wonderful John Allsup's site: The Monica Edwards Website.

Monday, 27 January 2014

PBOTD: 27th January, Jessie Haas - Appaloosa Zebra

Jessie Haas is one of my favourite American horse story authors. She seems to be able to write for any age, from pre-schooler to teenager. Appaloosa Zebra - a Horse Lover's Alphabet (2002) is a delight. The book doesn't just cover breeds, which it does, from the obvious like Clydesdales, to the obscure, but also other horsey goodies like hard hats and hacks.

Greenwillow Books, New York, 2002, illus Margot Apple
I have done a lot of reading aloud in my time, and there some books my children were obsessed with that made me want to run for the hills when they asked for them, yet again. This is definitely not one I would have edited as I went along, invented new incidents for out of desperation, or have suppressed. There's plenty there for the adult too - marvel, say at the fact the Icelandic Yakult is a breed of horse that's, so far, escaped you.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Margot Apple, who worked with Haas on the excellent Runaway Radish and Scamper and the Horse Show 

internal illustration

Sadly Appaloosa Zebra is no longer in print, but it is reasonably easy to find secondhand.

~  0  ~

You can find out more about Jessie Haas on her website, and she also has a page on my website.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

PBOTD: 26th January, Anne Digby - A Horse Called September

If you were a fan of school stories, you might well have read Anne Digby's fourteen book Trebizon series, published from 1978-1994. Heroine Rebecca and her friends Tish, Mara and Susan move on up the school from their first uncertain years until they hit the fifth form. Anne Digby was good on the tricky relationships between girls in this series, and she brought the same sympathetic eye to the first of her pony books, A Horse Called September (1976). At the beginning of the book, Mary and Anna are inseparable, sharing everything, even Anna's horse, September.

Dennis Dobson, 1976, first edition
Granada paperback, 1978
Anna's father has big plans for her. He wants social success, and he sends her away to boarding school at Kilmingdean, which specialises in producing champion show jumpers. Mary is left behind, employed by Anna's father to look after September. At first Anna does write, as she's promised, but the letters dry up as Anna is caught between the desire to be like the girls at school, and her old friendship.

Not only does it look as if Mary is losing Anna, she's losing September. Although she looks after him, she is not allowed to ride him, as Anna's father is in charge of exercising him. He overdoes it, and September suffers from overwork. It seems as if Anna is powerless: she has no money, which is the one thing that would give her clout. Eventually, of course, it does work out, and it's interesting to see a book which focuses not on the excitement of boarding school life, but what it's like for those left behind, and on the tensions between old and new lives.

Granada hardback, 1985
A Horse Called September was first published by Dennis Dobson in 1976. It was reprinted in paperback, and hardback, and you can now buy it as an ebook.

~  0  ~

Read more about Anne Digby and her pony books

Saturday, 25 January 2014

PBOTD: 25th January, Lois Castellain: Adolphus the TV Horse

Adolphus is one of those creations you look at and wonder how you missed. He seems such an ebullient creature, it's difficult to believe how completely he and his friends have faded from view.

Adolphus, Constable, 1964
Adolphus the Clydesdale was created by author and illustrator Lois Castellain, and first appeared as a sort of cross between cartoon and short story in Riding Magazine. Riding had a Young Rider's section, which included a short story, two pages of letters from young readers, and, from September, 1939, Adolphus and his friend Dodie, the Shetland. They were there to do a job: Adolphus was a walking anatomy lesson. He was so bony that it was easy to see his points. His sidekick was a much better covered equine: a Shetland called Dodie.

Adolphus in Riding Magazine, September 1939
The books are not particularly easy to find. The first book, Adolphus, was published in 1939, presumably to tie in with their introduction in Riding. The second, Adolphus the TV Horse, was published nearly 30 years later, when times had changed, and the farm horse was a rare beast. Adolphus has been made redundant, and is not happy. He runs away and finds a brief spell of fame on a tv show until he finds he is needed, after all, on the farm.

~  0  ~

Friday, 24 January 2014

Review: Amanda Wills – The Lost Pony of Riverdale

The book is free this weekend ((1-2 February 2014), and there's a link here.

Poppy McKeever is a lucky girl: she and her family are moving out of London to the country, Dartmoor, to be precise, and a pony comes with the new house. It all sounds like the pony fantasy come true, but that’s very far from the case. Poppy’s mother died when she was little, saving her after she ran out into the road, and her father’s married again. Her stepmother Caroline, seems lovely: endlessly kind and patient, but Poppy has never forgiven Caroline for not being her mother, and for having her little brother, Charlie, whom she’s convinced Caroline loves more than her. The problem is that Poppy’s thought this way for so long; her thought patterns are so much part of her, that she finds it almost impossible to think any other way.

How Poppy finds her way through to understanding what her stepmother’s really like, and that there’s a real person behind what Poppy’s constructed, is the central point of this novel. Caroline has given up a lot to move out to the country to make a better life for the children, and she’s on her own because Poppy’s father is a BBC reporter, and he’s away a lot. It’s an enormous strain, and she buckles under it. That is my one niggle with the book: Caroline's depression is portrayed realistically, and she does come out of it, but that's the thing. I know about being depressed, and sadly, not just though my own experience. I wish it was as it is in this book: that a few things start to go right, and the depression is well, over, but it's not. I wish, more than anything I can think of, actually, that it was like that. I suppose actually that the long and complicated trawl through the mental health services, the slog to get help, the desperation and the sheer bloody awfulness of the whole thing are not the stuff of which cheerful children's books are made. 

But still, it's brave of a pony book to feature it, and I certainly don't wish on even a fictional character chronic clinical depression.

There are several things that help Poppy find her way: she makes friends with the woman who used to own their house, Tory Wickens, and who left them the pony (though as it turns out, it’s a donkey). Together with her brother, she explores Dartmoor. Charlie’s convinced there are big cats loose on the moor, and while they’re searching, they find a pony who doesn’t fit in with the wild Dartmoors: a grey Connemara. He used to belong to Tory’s grand daughter, but after tragedy hit the family, the pony was sold. He got loose onto the moor, and Tory has helped him, every year, to evade the annual round up which would return him to his last, utterly unsuitable, owner.

It’s nearly time for the round up, and Poppy and Charlie need to find Cloud and hide him. But it all goes horribly wrong and the two children are left on their own, lost in the fog on the moor.

For a pony book, there’s not a lot of actual pony in this: but then there can’t really be when the whole point of the story is that the pony is loose on Dartmoor and you can’t catch it. I don’t think that’s a weakness of the book though: the best pony stories are driven by the characters of the humans in them, and this one is. I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

 ~  0  ~

Amanda Wills: The Lost Pony of Riverdale
Kindle, £1.99
No physical edition, as yet

Age of main character: 11
Themes: grief, step parents

PBOTD: 24th January, K M Peyton - Fly-by-Night

K M Peyton's Fly-by-Night is a book I loved because I saw so much of myself in its heroine, Ruth. Ruth does not have a pony, but she longs for one. Her family struggle to make ends meet, and the only way Ruth will have a pony is if she does it herself. For the moment, the nearest she can get to ponies is skulking at the edge of the field where the local Pony Club are having a rally. I too have stood there, longing beyond all things to be part of that world, but knowing I wasn't. I knew that, save for a miracle, I never would be, but Ruth made it happen. She uses her savings, and buys the sort of pony a girl who doesn't actually know anything would buy: an unbroken New Forest pony called Fly-by-Night.

OUP first edition, 1968
Scholastic pb, date uncertain
Fly was based on a real pony: Cracker, the pony K M Peyton bought for her daughter, Hilary. Cracker gave K M Peyton a great deal of material for the book. Although he later became a model pony, with a waiting list of keen Pony Club mothers eager to acquire him for their offspring, Cracker nearly broke the Peytons. 

Not only does Ruth not know how to start riding Fly, she has only the sketchiest idea of how to look after him. Initially he's kept in the family's back garden (something I did many times in my dreams: I had the garden neatly converted to a very small paddock, and had converted my father's garage to a stable. It had been a pig sty in an earlier incarnation, so seemed fair game to me.)

Sparrow, paperback, 1981
Fortunately for Ruth, her cash-strapped family take in foster children, and their next foster child is Peter, son of the local horse dealer. Peter's father is interested only in selling horses: an occupational hazard for Peter is to have the ponies he loves sold from under him. At last he rebels, and ends up at Ruth's. He helps Ruth to get to the bottom of Fly, but even though Ruth starts to achieve the pony book dream, she still clatters through the Hunter Trials, barely in control, her face covered in blood. 

Ponies for K M Peyton were not a matter of doing a bit of schooling until you get plastered with red rosettes. She saw the danger, the thrill and the obsessive love that surround the pony, and made it real.

Fidra, paperback, 2007
Fly-by-Night was first published by the Oxford University Press in 1968, with illustrations by the author, which perfectly suit the book. A Scholastic paperback version appeared, but I think this was an exclusively American publication. The next paperback version was definitely a UK production: published by Sparrow, with a photographic cover, it appeared in 1981. That was it until Edinburgh publishers Fidra produced a new version in 2007, complete with an introduction by the author. 

~  0  ~

For much more on K M Peyton, try her own website. For a full, illustrated list of her horse and pony stories, she has a page on my website.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Review: Maggie Dana – After the Storm

After the Storm is the eighth book in the Timber Ridge Riders series. The last episode had arch villain Angela Dean shipped off elsewhere, but she’s back in book eight, and she’s not been improved by her absence. More importantly, neither has her mother.

It’s winter in Vermont, and when the electricity goes out in the barn, Kate, Holly and Kimberley are left to feed the horses. In the pitch black, the buckets get mixed up, and the pony vulnerable to colic gets the wrong bucket. After they’re rescued from the storm, Angela spreads the rumour that it was Kate who was responsible, and nearly everyone believes her. Holly wants Kate to stand up for herself, for once, but Kate’s useless at confrontation, and Angela walks all over her. Relationships then spiral out of control as Kate’s fury at herself, and Holly’s hurt and desire to protect her mother lead to a major falling out of the ways.

This book has all the things that go to make the Timber Ridge Riders such a good read: the plot moves on, but never so much that you think, “Right, that’s it.” There’s plenty left unresolved, like Kate’s dithering between her notional boyfriend, filmstar Nathan, and the rather more available Brad, and there’s an interesting situation set up for the next book, because Kate’s left Timber Ridge and has moved Tapestry to a new barn. It’s interesting to see the girls paint themselves into corners they don’t know how to get out of, and I enjoyed seeing the changing dynamics between Holly and Kate.

I do enjoy this series. Having been with it from the beginning, I’m comfortable with the characters, and involved enough with them to want to find out what happens next. The author is an excellent plotter, and obviously enjoys her characters. The one I felt I wanted to know more about was the conflicted Kimberley: there were hints dropped that there might be more to her than simply Angela’s sidekick, but they weren’t really developed. Perhaps Kimberley’s time will come in the next volume.

If you like this series, you’ll love the latest volume.

 ~  0  ~

Maggie Dana: After the Storm
Paperback, 2013, £4.75
Kobo, £2.29, Kindle, £1.90, Nookbook, $2.99

Age of main character: 14

Maggie Dana on my website, with full illustratedbibliography

PBOTD: 23rd January, Mary Gervaise - A Pony of Your Own

Today's pony book is the first in Mary Gervaise's G for Georgia series. Mary Gervaise is an interesting author. I discovered (handily, after I'd written my book on the history of the pony book, Heroines on Horseback) that Mary Gervaise played a larger part in the genesis of the genre than I'd thought. In the 1930s, she's combining ponies with family and school adventure. The early books I've found, The Twins in the Third (1932), and The Dauntless Clan (1938) are neither of them classic pony adventure, but neither are they classic school or adventure stories either. They are, however, an attempt to use ponies in stories where they're not telling their own story.

Lutterworth first edition, 1950
What Mary Gervaise liked writing about best was families and their relationships. However her publishers badged her books to fit them into what genre was selling best: school or pony, it is families that are at the centre of the books. The first book in the Georgia series, A Pony of Your Own (1950) starts off with a dramatic horsey incident. Having established the heroine, Georgia (or Georgie) as a girl almost paralysed by her many fears, we see her managing to overcome them enough to sit on the head of a horse who has an accident outside her front door. 

Georgie's family are worried about her fears, and the way she faces (or doesn't face) life, so they make the time honoured decision of the British middle classes to solve the problem by sending it away to school. This of course also allowed Gervaise to make use of another genre she knew well, having started her career as a producer of school stories. Georgie is duly shipped off to the Grange School, but it's a boarding school with a difference, as much of its life is centred around riding and ponies, of which Georgie is unfortunately still terrified.

Armada paperback, 1969
Fortunately, she is able to overcome her fear, which was as well for the future of the series. It's interesting that the book doesn't really included any of those things considered central to a pony story: Georgie gets a donkey, not a pony, at first, and Spot is only given to her right at the end of the book. There is a gymkhana, but it's only there as a handy device to get the rest of the pupils, ponymad to a girl, off the scene so that Georgie is forced to confront her fears when she rescues the Headmistress's horse from a fire.

Armada paperback, 1973
It's the relationships between the girls that we see most of, and Gervaise succeeds in establishing them all firmly in our minds: nervous, but kind and moral Georgie, madcap Susan, and Georgie's twin brothers, Rough and Tough. 

Despite the book's lack of pony content, it was reprinted by Armada twice. The original had a dustjacket illustrated by E Herbert Whydale, and the Armada paperback which appeared in the 1950s is another with an uncredited artist. The last printing in the 1970s had a photographic cover.

~  0  ~

For much more on Mary Gervaise, see her page on my website

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Review: Susan Ketchen – Born That Way

Born That Way is the first of a trilogy of stories about Sylvia, who is fourteen. It soon becomes obvious that Sylvia is not an everyday fourteen year old. She used to get on well with everyone at school, but lately it’s changed. Although everyone else in her class is growing up and entering puberty, Sylvia isn’t. She’s small: really small, and that’s now marking her out as different. What also becomes obvious during the book is that Sylvia’s parents have a great deal of idea of what’s going on in their own lives, and at work, but not a clue about Sylvia and what she’s going through. Sylvia knows things should be different:

“I’m a teenager with the body of an eight-year-old. I don’t mind so much that I’m not developed, but being short is a big problem for me.”

- particularly when your grandfather has promised you your dearest wish, a pony, when you as tall as his shoulder -

“That’s why I stretch, any chance I get. But what I really don’t understand is why my parents don’t say anything. It’s as though my mom is pretending I’m a normal, struggling teenager while my dad pretends I’m still a child. No wonder I feel confused all the time.”

Sylvia’s Mum is terribly, terribly concerned, because she’s a therapist, and so she has to be right in her diagnosis of what’s going wrong with Sylvia, which is light years away from the truth. The confusions this produces are pointed out with subtle humour: I love the way the story twists and turns its way to the truth, because we, the readers, are just as aware as Sylvia that someone needs to diagnose something, and soon.

There’s plenty of horse content too. Sylvia loves horses, but her mother persists in analysing Sylvia’s horse mania: is she afraid they’re going to divorce? Or is riding “an early adolescent phallic activity?” Dad’s response is “Oh, give me a break.”

Sylvia isn’t bowed down by her parents’ total inability to see what’s beneath their noses. She’s self-deprecating, funny, and she obviously got the observational gene that bypassed her parents. Susan Ketchen makes you root for Sylvia every step of the way. The whole book is peopled with characters you can imagine walking off the page and into your kitchen.

The best books to me are those I finish and immediately want to read again to find out what I missed; or those I actually read a few weeks ago, but can still remember when I come to do the review. This book succeeds on both counts. It’s a great read.

~  0  ~

Susan Ketchen: Born That Way
Oolichan Books, 2009: £7.80 (approx)
Kindle: £4.40

Age of main character: 14
Themes: genetic disorder, puberty

PBOTD: 22nd January, Ruby Ferguson - A Stable for Jill

I was going to do a selection of covers for A Stable for Jill, but then I thought, why not go for the lot. It is the title with, I think, more cover variations than any other Jill title. Quite why this is, I'm not sure.

Hodder & Stoughton, first edition, 1951
A Stable for Jill (1951) is the second in the Jill series, and in it Jill's whisked right away from Chatton. You might have thought, if you'd read Jill's Gymkhana (1949), that the next book would see Jill carrying on life in Chatton, riding Black Boy and seeing her friends, but instead Ruby Ferguson chose to put Jill into an environment that's alien to her. Jill has to go and stay with her Aunt Primrose, and her cousin Cecilia for the summer. It's not what Jill planned, at all, but as her mother's going on a tour of America, Jill has to go somewhere, and staying at home on her own isn't an option. 

Hampton Library edition
Foyles Children's Book Club edition, 1950s
Jill is, eventually, resigned to her fate. We've already met Cecilia in Jill's Gymkhana, and we know they don't get on. They're chalk and cheese: Cecilia is neat, tidy, loves school stories and school, and regards ponies as muddy, dirty things best avoided. She views her cousin in much the same light. So, right at the outset, there's a good does of dramatic tension. How will Jill get on with Cecilia? Especially as there are no ponies, and Cecilia's idea of a good time in the holidays is not Jill's.

Armada paperback, 1963, cover by Mary Gernat
Knight paperback, 1968, Bonar Dunlop
Knight paperback, 1968, cover Bonar Dunlop
Fortunately, Jill sniffs out a pony who actually does live nearby, and befriends her owners. The Walters family are the children of a vicar, and have been told they have to make their mare pay her way, or she'll have to go. Jill suggests running a stables; the Walters jump at it, and off they go. Fortunately they're able to borrow some horses (the wonderfully named Mipsy, Dot and Bungie) from the Walter's uncle, and they're set. 

Knight paperback, 1974, cover W D Underwood
The stable has its ups and downs, but it does prosper, and Jill buys a neglected pony, Pedro, which they rehabilitate. Unfortunately the stable has to close as you can't run a commercial enterprise from a vicarage, but Ballerina is safe, and then Jill's mother arrives home unexpectedly early, with the news that she's met some people on the boat over who have a showjumper for sale, thus setting the scene for Jill's next adventure, in which she'll meet the showjumper. 

The book is full of Ruby Ferguson's trademark humour. The relationship between Jill and Cecilia provides much of it, particularly when Jill turns up to Cecilia's party in a rush, drags her dress on but forgets she hasn't taken her jodphurs on, which provokes giggles and tittering from the other girls, apart from head girl Mary Dangerfield, who happens to like horses. Aunt Primrose and Cecilia from that day on treat Jill quite differently. Cecilia has a massive crush on Mary Dangerfield, and anything she likes must be good. 

Hodder laminated hardback, 1974
Knight paperback, 1982

Knight paperback, 1991
Taking Jill right out of her home environment was a brave decision, and it's one Ruby Ferguson handles with brio. The book is full of the things pony books prosper on: children making a success of a horsey enterprise, without much help from adults; the rescue and rehabilitation of a suffering pony, but it's the characters that make the whole thing sing. There's quirky, and determined Jill, the sensible Walters, and as a counterpoint to them, Cecilia and Aunt Primrose and their radically different view of how the world should be.

A Stable for Jill was the most reprinted of the Jill titles. It was originally published, illustrated by Caney, in 1951, and was reprinted with the addition of an orange title bar, in the cheaper Hampton Library version. Foyles Children's Book Club then popped up with another edition, the only Jill title, as far as I'm aware, that they ever published. The last hardback edition was a pictorial laminated version which Hodder issued in the 1970s. It had a photographic cover, and lost all the Caney illustrations, which were replaced with a single frontispiece by Elizabeth Grant.

Knight paperback, 1993

Knight paperback, 1996

Fidra paperback, 2009
The paperback editions were started by Armada. Most of the other paperbacks they did had re-coloured editions of the Caney covers, but not A Stable for Jill, which used a cover by one of their house artists, Mary Gernat. The 1960s edition that Knight produced had new internal illustrations by Bonar Dunlop, and a cover by him which appeared in two colour variations. Most editions after this, including the most recent one by Fidra, are photographic covers, with the exception of the 1996 version, which has an illustration. It's not, it's fair to say, the apogee of equine art. 

~  0  ~

For much, much more on Ruby Ferguson, here's a link to her section on my website.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Guest blog: Victoria Eveleigh - The Horses In My Stories, And How They Got There

Welcome to today’s guest blogger, author Victoria Eveleigh. Victoria is one of my favourite modern pony book authors. I first discovered her when she self-published her first stories about Katy and her Exmoor pony, and I’ve loved everything she’s written since. Victoria is an author who’s managed to steer clear of the pink and sparkly, and write pony stories which take you into their heart. Her most recent series has a boy as its central character: almost unheard of for a British pony book.  The last part of the series, Joe and the Race to Rescue, is out in March 2014, and if it’s as good as the first two, is well worth waiting for.

You can learn more about Victoria and her books on her website.

Over to Victoria....

~  0  ~

One of the things I love about writing horse and pony stories is that I can invent equine characters. Creating fictional people is laborious and involves lots of sticky notes, but I can conjure up an imaginary horse in an instant. Thank goodness I’ve stumbled upon the only career that can make use of this bizarre skill!

I’ve been inventing horses for as long as I can remember. I grew up in London, and loved ponies with a passion fortified by the fact I couldn’t have one. At least I wasn’t alone; there were several girls at school who were similarly obsessed. We used our French skipping elastic as reins so we could steer each other around pretend showjumps, and made up elaborate stories with our Julip models (which were the next best thing to a real pony, and nearly as expensive). We read about ponies, drew ponies, created our own pony magazines and even imagined what our teachers would be like if they were horses. I made the mistake of telling one of them that we’d decided she’d be a Suffolk Punch. I meant it as a compliment, but unfortunately she took it the wrong way and I got a detention.

My parents were incredibly generous with horsey treats, like trips to horse shows and, when I was old enough, riding lessons. I learned to ride in Hyde Park, on a dependable strawberry roan mare called Jenny. She was my first love, pony-wise. My favourite book at the time was Silver Snaffles, so I became convinced that Jenny was really Tattles in disguise, and sooner or later she’d say, “Through the Dark Corner, and the password is Silver Snaffles.” *

Most of the horses and ponies I’ve known since then have influenced my books in one way or another. In fact, without some of them I wouldn’t have written my first story, which was about a girl and an Exmoor pony (now published by Orion as Katy’s Wild Foal).  An Exmoor gelding called Twig introduced me to the breed. He belonged to a girl called Brontë Woodruff, who lived near the house in Kent where we spent most of our holidays. There were six Woodruff children, and they had been given several ‘problem’ horses and ponies whose problems seemed to evaporate under their intuitive care. Riding with the Woodruffs was the best thing ever. For the first time I was able to ride purely for fun, without anyone telling me what to do, and their horses obviously enjoyed life much more than the ones I’d encountered in riding schools. We rode without saddles, bridles or riding hats, and even took it in turns to become human jumps.

Twig - being ridden by a Dutch boy, cheating terribly as he had a bridle!
Twig had been rescued from a horse sale when he was three and Brontë was seven, so they’d more or less broken each other in. He’d been so badly beaten by someone that he had part of an eyelid missing, and he was terrified of adults – especially men. By the time I knew him he was lovely to ride and a brilliant jumper. I can still remember what it felt like to be on his back, hanging on somehow as we bowled across fields, through woods and along the verges of country lanes…

When I visited my grandmother’s farm on Exmoor, I was delighted to find Twig lookalikes all over the place, and I dreamed that someday I’d have my own herd. Grandma always put Golden Gorse's Moorland Mousie by my bedside, and reading it made the dream all the more powerful.

On my eleventh birthday I had to resign from the Pony-less Club and join the Pony Club instead, because I was given a pony for my birthday. What’s more, he was my dream pony: a handsome Welsh cob called Jacko. He’d belonged to a family friend near Dorking, and I knew him well because I’d spent many happy weekends riding him. Jacko is the only horse I’ve put into a book unaltered, as I couldn’t bear to change a thing. In the Katy’s Ponies Trilogy he is entirely as I remember him, complete with his only fault: the ability to cast a shoe at the most inconvenient moment possible.
To tell you about the other two ponies that inspired the trilogy, I’ll have to fast forward ten years or so, past A levels, gap year jobs in Australia, university, my first job and marriage to Chris Eveleigh.  
Chris and I took on Grandma’s farm, and a few years later we started a herd of Exmoor ponies. My brilliant excuse for this uneconomic venture was that we needed to use our moorland grazing rights.
Ilkerton Nipper was one of our first foals. I saw him almost immediately after he was born and, to my amazement and his mother’s consternation, he tottered over to me. From then on he was incredibly friendly, and he used to come galloping up for a cuddle whenever he saw us. Nipper gave me my initial ideas for a story about an Exmoor pony.

Nipper gave me my initial ideas for a story about a girl and an Exmoor pony
 growing up on an Exmoor farm together. The photo above is of him and his mother,
Whortleberry, on the day after he was born (a bleak day in April). 
Nipper at about a month old, having a cuddle with Sarah.
A few years later, when our daughter Sarah was eight, we bought an Exmoor pony called Tinkerbell for her to ride. To begin with Tinks was rather more spirited than we’d bargained for, but we eventually became so attached to her that she stayed with us for the rest of her life. Our plan was to let her run with the herd and have lots of foals. However, like Trifle in Katy’s Pony Surprise, she had other ideas. Sadly, she never had a foal. However, she definitely earned her keep by providing me with storylines.
Sarah and Tinkerbell at Blackmoor Gate Show ?1999?

Our wild Exmoors have helped me in all sorts of ways as well. Through them I’ve become interested in natural horsemanship, which I’ve tried to incorporate into my stories without being evangelical about it.
The book I wrote after the Katy’s Ponies trilogy is still my favourite, because I enjoyed researching it so much and made so many wonderful new friends in the process. A Stallion Called Midnight is a fictional story based on the life of a real stallion called Midnight, who lived on the island of Lundy during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s. The idea for writing about Midnight came from Kizzy, a pony our children had in their early teens. She was Midnight’s great-great granddaughter and had definitely inherited his legendary jumping ability and independent spirit. Midnight’s story is particularly interesting to me because the people who tried to dominate him thought he was vicious; yet Peggy Garvey, a knowledgeable horsewoman who bought him when he was eventually shipped to the mainland, discovered that he was amazingly intelligent and talented. I was really pleased when Peggy said I’d got Midnight’s character right.

The real Midnight with Peggy Garvey, on the day she bought him from

Bampton Fair in 1961. She understood him better than anyone.

Our old Lundy x Welsh cob pony, Kizzy (right) and her two foals, with Lundy in the background. 
Kizzy is Midnight's great-great granddaughter.
There are still ponies on Lundy, and they gave me ideas for the other herd members in A Stallion Called Midnight. My favourite pony, Lundy Hannah, became Puffin in the story.
In 2011, I was taken on by Orion Children’s Books. Edited versions of my previously self-published stories were published, and I was asked to write some new books too. I’m sad that so many pony stories are exclusively for girls nowadays, so I was keen to write a story with a boy as the main character for a change. My editors agreed, and I’ve just completed the trilogy. Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe and Joe and the Lightning Pony were published in 2013, and Joe and the Race to Rescue will be published in March 2014. There are several horses and ponies in these stories, but some of the main ones are Lightning, Lady, Fortune, Treacle, Solo, Velvet and Sherman.
When our children were doing Pony Club mounted games there was a pony called Lightning in one of the teams, and it struck me as a great name for a games pony. However, the Lightning in my story is based on a pony called Danny. He belongs to Marcus and Bella Capel, and he took their son Rory to victory with the Devon and Somerset Prince Philip Cup team a few years ago. The Capels helped me a great deal with my research for these stories. They told me it would only be possible for Joe to become really good at mounted games in a short space of time if he had the right pony, so Lightning had to be practically perfect in every way.
My inspiration for Lightning and Joe: Danny with Rory Capel riding him,
in the year the Devon & Somerset team won the Prince Philip Cup
Bargy cobs like Lady aren’t hard to find. I had one after I’d grown out of Jacko. He was called Monty, and he taught me that I wasn’t as brilliant with horses as I’d imagined. I chose the name Lady for my fictional horse because she’s so unladylike, but I felt a bit mean because we had a wonderful part-bred Exmoor pony called Lady on loan for our son George when he was about five.
Treacle is another almost perfect pony. He’s a figment of my imagination, although he’s partly a scaled down version of a fantastic Highland x Thoroughbred called Bushy, who I bought when I moved permanently to Exmoor when I was 22. (Oh, and Twig’s registered name was Treacle, so there he is again!)
When you’re an author, even horrendous experiences can be useful. I’ve already mentioned that we had a pony on loan called Lady. She was a bit of a legend on Exmoor, because she’d taught so many local children to ride. We were very honoured when we were lent her, and dismissed the fact that she’d had a few bouts of colic in the past as nothing much to worry about. Well, one day poor Lady got really bad colic…Enough said, especially if you haven’t read Joe and the Lightning Pony.
Family photo, taken in 1994: L-R: George on Lady, me on Prem,
Sarah on Bluebell, Chris and Jim the sheepdog
Chris driving Sherman (the leader) and Crofter & Basil as a 'unicorn'.
I was delighted to read Janet Rising’s blogs on this website, particularly The Observation of Horses. I, too, am constantly on the lookout for anything equine when I’m travelling by car or train, and I wonder about the lives of the horses and ponies I see. My heart always goes out to the lonely ones apparently trapped in depressing-looking fields, and that’s how Solo in Joe and the Race to Rescue came about.
Velvet and Sherman are Shire horses in Joe and the Race to Rescue. I had to get heavy horses into at least one story because I adore them. Chris and I kept working horses (Shires and Clydesdales) here on the farm for over twenty years. They earned their keep by taking visitors on wagon trips over the moorland adjacent to our farm, and in winter they did some farm work as well. Now the only Shire we have left is a black gelding called Sherman, and he’s enjoying a well-earned retirement. My fictional Sherman is very similar to the real one, except he’s dappled grey rather than black because a dark horse would have been almost invisible against the stormy background on the book cover.
Tinkerbell with me and Sherman with Chris
And here’s another thing about that cover: as a responsible author, I couldn’t let Joe ride without a riding hat – not even in an emergency. The days of riding without a riding hat and not being aware of the dangers are, sadly, gone!
‘I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free…’ Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Many thanks to Brontë Woodruff for reminding me of this.)

Due out in March 2014, Victoria's latest book
* If you haven’t read Silver Snaffles, the first chapter can be found here:

~  0  ~