Monday, 31 March 2014

PBOTD: 31st March, KM Peyton - Blind Beauty

If I had to chose a favourite K M Peyton, Blind Beauty (1999) would be well up there. When I came back to reading pony books, I hadn't realised that K M Peyton had carried on writing long after The Team and the Flambards series. Blind Beauty is one of her later books, and it picks up one of K M Peyton's best-used themes: the girl who has to fight to make sense of her life.

K M Peyton's heroines don't get dealt an easy hand, and Blind Beauty's Tessa is dealt one of the nastiest of all. Her mother's married again: to Maurice, a rich but sadistic bully. Maurice can terrify Myra, Tessa's mother, into submission, but Tessa's not so easy.

Scholastic, 1999, cover by the author
Maurice loathes being defied, and as Tessa's behaviour gets worse and worse, he decides to pack her off to work at a local racing stable.

This doesn't go well at first, either, because Tessa hates everyone and trusts no one, but there's a horse called Buffoon, and slowly Tessa starts to find her way out from behind the walls of barbed wire she's built herself.

If you haven't read this, do. When I read it first, life stopped until I'd finished it. K M Peyton sucks you into Tessa's world. She's not easy, but you are right behind her, even during the book's most shocking moments.

~  0  ~

For much more on the author, see her page on my website.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

PBOTD: 30th March, Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock - The Far Distant Oxus

The authors of The Far Distant Oxus (1937), Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock, wrote the book when they were teenagers themselves. They sent the manuscript off to Arthur Ransome, author of the Swallows and Amazons books. He was so impressed by the book he persuaded his publishers, Jonathan Cape, to publish it, announcing "I’ve got this year’s best children’s book under my arm.”

Jonathan Cape, 1937, first edition
The Far-Distant Oxus isn't a classic pony book, but it's important as a book which helped define the change the genre underwent in the 1930s. It's a book full of adventure, and was one of the growing number of books where the focus was on the child and its adventures, rather than the pony.

Collins, 1960
Nevertheless, the book doesn't take long before it lets you know just what is important to Bridget, Frances and Anthony:
"'The ponies!' shouted Bridget, pulling back the stable door and gazing with adoring eyes at the long line of flickering tails."

Armada, paperback, 1971
Although there are some lyrical descriptions of the joy of riding - "You heavenly pony. There is only you and me in the world...." the ponies are not the centre of this world. They're companions, and enablers in adventure. The Far Distant Oxus could have happened quite easily (though rather more slowly) without the ponies, but they made the adventure richer.
Fidra paperback, 2008
The Far Distant Oxus was first published by Jonathan Cape in 1937. It was reprinted in this edition several times. Collins reprinted the book several times: the first in 1960, I think is lightly abridged. The next edition I believe returned to the original text. Collins' paperback arm, Armada, produced an edition of the book in 1971 with a photographic cover. I do not know whether this was abridged. The most recent edition was published by Fidra Books in 2008 as a large format paperback. They have recently brought the book back into print again.

~  0  ~

For more on the authors, see their page on my website.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

PBOTD: 29th March, Patience McElwee: Match Pair

Patience McElwee (1910-1963) was a fine writer best known as an author of books for adults; her three pony books although nominally aimed at children are really a far more successful read for the adult reader who enjoys a biting appreciation of the snobberies and silliness that infest the world of the pony. Her plots are straightforward – in all of them problems are overcome, and a happier place reached; but it is in the observation of character and situation that the books are most successful. Perhaps it was Patience McElwee’s distance from the horsy world that helped. She was not herself a rider: her daughter Harriet Hall said “My father and I both hunted most weeks and my mother would come to the meets, but she was terrified of horses and never willingly had direct contact with one. She did, however, know a lot about the racing world and could talk horse brilliantly.” It was Harriet’s experience of the Pony Club that Patience McElwee drew on; particularly for Match Pair, where the ruthless depiction of Pony Club parents stings; a portrait that could perhaps only be written by someone watching that world but not part of it. 

Hodder & Stoughton, 1956, 1st edition, cover Caney
The children in her books generally have considerably more sense than the adults: Jane Howell, the teenage narrator of Match Pair (1956), looks on the grown ups surrounding her with an unsparing eye. Jane and her twin brother Adam have been shipped over from America, where they live with their diplomat father and their stepmother, and Mademoiselle, who “looked after our stepmother’s clothes and nervous system.” They are to live in England with their Uncle William (who is what Patience McElwee’s daughter called “her standard hero, bad-tempered and taciturn”, versions of whom appear in her ten adult novels). Jane, on going to Pony Club Camp, is a stern critic (and given to immense sentences; almost Miltonic in length – succeeding books had more full stops).

“A few more children had arrived, but mostly it seemed a gathering of men who had been waiting for just this opportunity to get away from their wives, judging by the way they threw their weight about in quite unnecessary directions...”
“Miss Jardine thanked me nicely for having disentangled the pony, and Mrs Allibone said: “Oh, Jane doesn’t mind making herself useful, do you, dear?” as if she would have liked to say Jane is one to push herself forward on every possible occasion. “
“I managed to buy my way into a faint sort of popularity by providing sweets for other people to eat under the bedclothes at night.”

Jane Howell’s Pony Club is clique-ridden and unkind; those who do not fit in are ruthlessly excluded; Patience McElwee’s is certainly a more realistic view of the depths children’s behaviour can reach than is normally seen in the Pony-Club-is-Heaven plot. Mrs Allibone runs the Pony Club for the greater good of her daughter, and the Master’s daughter, and not from any desire to promote horsemanship and sportsmanship.

~  0  ~

Match Pair was published just the once, by Hodder and Stoughton in 1956. The book's covers by Caney: it is uncredited, but his style is unmistakeable. The book had no internal illustrations. I imagine that when Hodder took Patience McElwee's pony book on, they were hoping they had another Ruby Ferguson. They didn't: Patience McElwee is a far more biting writer, whose books read wonderfully for adults, but perhaps not quite so well to someone under the spell of the Pony Club.

Most of the text of this piece is taken from my book, Heroines on Horseback.

For more on the author, see her page on my website.

Friday, 28 March 2014

PBOTD: 28th March, Patricia Leitch - A Devil to Ride

Today's pony book is the second in the Jinny series, A Devil to Ride (1976). Most pony books, when they have actually achieved the hard work of getting the pony, have the hard work behind them. Not Jinny. At the end of the first book, she succeeds, in nursing a Shantih almost at the point of death back to life. In A Devil to Ride Shantih is fighting fit. Jinny dreams of becoming like the pony book heroines she reads about, but her efforts to ride the recovered Shantih meet with dismal and constant failure.
“Always finish your schooling on a happy note so that both rider and mount feel satisfied with what they have achieved,” Jinny quoted from her book. “So that’s what we’ll do. Not that we’ve achieved much,” she added, knowing that if she tried to take Shantih round the field twice there wouldn’t be a happy note."

Unlike earlier Leitch books, successful show ring appearances are not the central point of the Jinny books. Jinny may well have swallowed the pony book dream of competition success, but much of the series is taken up with Jinny coming to terms with Shantih’s essential nature, and with learning to share. 

Armada paperback, 1984
Alison Haymonds comments that in earlier books like A Dream of Fair Horses, Patricia Leitch had “serious things to say about the dangers of trying to possess living beings,” and she continues this exploration with Jinny. Jinny’s love for Shantih is all-consuming, and possessive. She wants to be all in all to Shantih; wants the pony-girl dream in which Shantih is the horse only she can ride. But Jinny is very far from being the only one who can ride Shantih: on the contrary it is Ken, the 18-year-old former offender who lives with the Manders family who rides the mare effortlessly.
“Jinny could just make out the comforting whisper of his voice as he soothed Shantih, gentled her, assured her of the rightness of the world when he was with her. Jinny sighed to herself, feeling her own distress flow out of her into the calm silence of the hills. She let go of her jealousy – jealousy that Ken could ride her horse better than she could. It didn’t seem worth bothering about. There was nothing in Ken that said, “Look at me. See how clever I am.” He only showed you how easy it all was, how simple, if you would only learn to let it be.”
Severn House hardback, 1980
Armada, paperback, 1993
Jinny and Shantih eventually come to an accommodation, but what Jinny and indeed Shantih love most is galloping over the moors; the speed and excitement is used by Jinny as a method of blocking out the problems that assail her. When she is flying over the moors, she does not have to think about the things her conscience is prompting her to do, or the difficult situations she has to face. Jinny does succeed in schooling Shantih, and does manage the mare with tact and sensitivity, but it is the combination of speed and the utter joy of being with her horse that she loves most:
“she was all lightness and air as she danced her way across the field.”
Jinny fails frequently, but she is a fighter. She is part of a loving family, but is slowly separating herself from it and learning to find her feet in the adult world, as must many of her readers have been. She is pigheaded and stubbornly pursues her desire for conventional equestrian success, despite knowing what Shantih is like. She makes friends with wealthy Clare Burnley in A Devil to Ride (1976) purely because the girl is a success at shows and Jinny believes Clare will be able to help her make Shantih a well-schooled, competitive, horse. Jinny knows full well that Clare is a selfish bully, but she manages to suppress the knowledge, dazzled by the golden glory of the Burnley’s wealth, and their apparent achievement of the successful equine dream Jinny wants.
“D’you think,” Jinny asked her mother, “you could alter that pair of Petra’s cavalry twill trousers for me?”
Arms full of shopping, half in, half out of the car, Mrs Manders turned in astonishment.
“I’ve been trying to get you to try them on for months!” she exclaimed. “Whatever made you think of them just now?”
“Dunno,” said Jinny, but she did. Clare had been wearing cavalry twills.
Patricia Leitch captures brilliantly Jinny’s dazzling by those who seem to have everything she ever wanted; she wants to be like them, dress like them, impress them. The Burnleys are only interested in Jinny when it suits them, and she knows it, but still longs for them to like her. On the moors, a pair of ospreys is nesting. Their presence is top secret, but Jinny tells the Burnleys about the birds. It ends in disaster when Clare’s brother destroys the osprey’s nest for the eggs. It is a terrible moment for Jinny, but she gains resolution when she finally confesses to her family:

“I wanted them to like me,” said Jinny, and she told them all that had happened. It was like talking off layers and layers of heavy clothing that had been stifling her and being able to move again, being able to breathe.”
Catnip, 2010

~  0 ~

A Devil to Ride was first published in paperback by Armada in 1976. It appeared in the white horseshoe style cover in 1984, and in the gold horseshoe style in 1993. The book had one hardback outing as a Severn hardback in 1980, with a generic photographic cover that reveals whoever was responsible for cover design hadn't read the book. However much Jinny might want to ride with the Clare Burnley like that, it doesn't happen. Catnip republished the book in 2010, and it is still in print.

Most of the text of this piece is taken from my book, Heroines on Horseback

For much more on Patricia Leitch, see her pages on my website.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

PBOTD: 27th March, Monica Edwards - The White Riders

Monica Edwards was one of my favourite authors as a child, but she was one of those who tantalised me. Armada, who published some of her books in paperback in the 1960s, liked to advertise other titles by their authors at the end of their books. So, I knew far more books existed than I had managed to get my hands on, but though I pleaded, I was not allowed to send away the 2/6 (12 1/2 p in today's money) needed to have a copy of a book sent to me. I am not quite sure why. Maybe my mother thought once I started sending away for books in the post, there'd be no stopping me. I have no idea what she meant. I only get one or two books a week that way now.

Collins, London, 1950, illus Geoffrey Whittam
However, denied that source when young, I had to rely on the local library as my only other source of supply for things horse. It only had No Mistaking Corker available as part of the Vanguard Book of Horses, and school had The Midnight Horse as part of a book of three pony stories. I was leant The White Riders  paperback by a friend, and I am ashamed to say I kept it. I did, when I was in the sixth form, have a fit of conscience and tried to give it back, but the friend's mother looked at me rather strangely and said she thought the moment had passed, and perhaps I'd better keep it. I can feel the shame now. I am quite sure Tamzin, Rissa, Roger and Meryon, would not have approved. Well, I'm not sure about Rissa.

The White Riders (1950) is one of the Romney Marsh series. The first books in the series, Wish for a Pony (1947), The Summer of the Great Secret (1948) and The Midnight Horse (1949) were all firmly horse-based, but Monica Edwards was keen not to be regarded as a pony book author. The White Riders saw the ponies moving out of the main focus to becoming enablers of the plot.
Puffin, paperback, 1956
In The White Riders (1950) Tamzin and her friends try and frighten off builders brought in to develop Cloudesley Castle by convincing them the area is haunted by wild and ghostly riders. Tamzin's Cascade is, helpfully, white, but an awful lot of white paint gets used before they succeed in convincing the developer that there are other, more suitable, places to build a holiday camp.

Goodchild, 1984 (revised)
The tension that existed then, between those who want to build and provide what they think people want (and what will make them money) and those who want things to remain wild and unsullied by man, is even more acute now. The landscape Monica Edwards loved so much around Rye Harbour in East Sussex, is to a certain extent protected, but the holiday camp Tamzin and her friends fought against invaded the village of Rye Harbour. The castle still stands, just about alone on its marsh.

~ 0 ~

The White Riders was originally published in Collins in 1950, with a cover and illustrations by Geoffrey Whittam. It was printed again in 1960 by Collins in a slightly smaller edition with the same artwork. The Puffin paperback used a different cover illustration, again by Geoffrey Whittam, and was published in 1956. The last edition was published by Goodchild as a hardback in 1984. The text was revised and modernised by the author.

For much more on Monica Edwards, she has a section on my website.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

PBOTD: 26th March, Zita White - The One Day Ponies

Zita White was an Australian author who wrote two pony books and two books of equine non fiction. Both her pony books appear to have been published by British, not Australian companies.  Why, I'm not quite sure. The book only had one publication in the UK. It seems that the British preferred their Australian horses wild and galloping over the mountains. Elyne Mitchell's Silver Brumby series is far and away the most popular Australian horse series. Perhaps a life lived on a sheep station was just too remote for those brought up on a diet of green fields and gymkhanas. 

Lutterworth, 1958, first edition, illus Sheila Rose
The One Day Ponies (1958) is a story of contrasts: it's a challenge between town and country; between a life where even to practise is a major struggle, and one where life is considerably easier because you're at a fee paying school with everything on tap. 
~  0  ~

For more on Zita White, she has a page on my website.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

PBOTD, 25th March: Marjorie Mary Oliver - Riding Days in Hook's Hollow

Marjorie Mary Oliver was one of the earliest writers to produce a story which focused on children rather than ponies. Her first three books, The Ponies of Bunts (1933), Sea Ponies (1935) and Ponies and Caravans (1941) are loosely connected paeans to the beauties of the countryside and its healing qualities.

Country Life, 1944, 1st edition, illus Stanley Lloyd
The Hook's Hollow series, of which Riding Days in Hook's Hollow (1944) was the first, dropped the photographic illustrations ("from Jenefer's camera") that were used in her first three books. I can only speculate as to why: perhaps Jenefer's camera was broken; perhaps the photographs didn't illustrate the events of the book clearly enough, or perhaps they simply weren't popular. Stanley Lloyd, a well known equine illustrator was used for the first two books, and Charlotte Hough for the third.

Heroine Catherine Blakeney is another of Marjorie Mary Oliver's meek and timid children. She has come to stay with her grandmother (enough to terrify anyone, in my opinion). Catherine is shy, terrified of ponies, and is completely overwhelmed by the spectacularly named Wake and Torfreda Conway. Under their influence, she does, of course, overcome her fears, and learn to ride.

Like Oliver's previous books, this one has plenty of adults in it, who haven't been conveniently shunted off out of the way. There's even a little romance, as well as noble self sacrifice. Uncle Peter finds out his beloved Helen is not married after all:

"Just then they heard the gate from the wood slam, and there was Uncle Peter, running across the paddock like a boy. He vaulted the garden gate and burst into the cottage shouting: "Helen! Helen!" till his voice was drowned in the baying of the dogs. 
The three children gazed solemnly but excitedly at one another. Catherine was the first to break the silence.  
"So Miss Carlyon is going to be happy after all," she said."

Fortunately, as Miss Carlyon is of conventional tastes, and not one who'd be pleased because the baying of the dogs indicated they'd eaten Uncle Peter, she is.

~  0  ~

Riding Days in Hook's Hollow was first published by Country Life in 1944, and was illustrated by Stanley Lloyd. The book had at least one reprint that I know of, but it retained the same cover.

For more on Marjorie Mary Oliver, she has a page on my website.

Monday, 24 March 2014

PBOTD: 24th March, Ruby Ferguson - Jill Has Two Ponies and the Jill series

Making an unscheduled reappearance is Ruby Ferguson's Jill Has Two Ponies. That's because it's my sister's favourite pony book, and so specially for her, here is it is.

We had this version, though this isn't ours because that has just about decayed now through overuse. Our collection was a bit of a mixed bag. We had to take what we could get: no chance of getting a beautiful matching set. No one ever seemed to stock a full set of Jill titles, so we bought them whenever we could. It did take us a year or two until we got them all, and here they all are: our childhood collection.

Knight, 1970s, cover W D Underwood
Knight, 1970s, cover W D Underwood
I did love the Armada cover of Jill Enjoys Her Ponies, and I'd love to know who it was by. Whoever it was, they could draw both horses and people, a rarer skill than you'd think. If I'm being really picky, Rapide wasn't a flaxen chestnut, but I didn't care.

Armada, 1960s
It was back to the 1970s versions for Jill's Riding Club. 

Knight 1970s, W D Underwood cover
Our version of Rosettes for Jill was another by the mystery Armada artist. I do remember buying this one. For a brief period, our town had a toy shop, and for an even briefer period, it sold books. Amongst them was Rosettes for Jill which I pounced on with joy. At the same time I also pounced on Barbara Cartland's The Pretty Horsebreakers, thinking it was a pony book. My mother saw it when I triumphantly bore it home, said "Why on earth did you buy that?" and when I said "Because it's a pony book," said "Hmmm," and went off to leave me to discover the awful truth for myself.

Armada 1960s
Knight 1970s
Jill and the Perfect Pony was my favourite Jill. I loved the knots Jill tied herself into when she decides not to tell the family she's staying with that she's not actually Amanda Applewood, whom they're expecting.

Knight 1970s
Knight 1970s
So what was your childhood set of Jills like? Were you presented with an immaculate set of matching hardbacks by your doting aunt? Did you have to wait until you were an adult before you got the full set? Or did you, like us, have a beloved set which didn't match, but you didn't care because the books were quite possibly the best pony books ever?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

PBOTD: 23rd March, Gillian Baxter - The Difficult Summer

Back in January (which does seem alarmingly far away now), I featured the first in Gillian Baxter's Bracken House Stable series, Jump to the Stars. The Difficult Summer (1959) is the second in the series. Bobby has now left school, and is working at the stables with its owner Guy, and the other groom, Heath. When the book opens, Heath and Bobby are packing up the horse box after a successful show. Everything seems to be going well, and they enjoy the sunlit journey back. But on the way, a plane flies very low overhead: dangerously low, and then it crashes. 

Evans, 1959, illus Anne Gordon

Guy is injured trying to get his horse out. The horse dies, as do several others (so if you don't like books where horses die, avoid this one). Bobby and Heath are left in charge of the stables. Things go from bad to worse. The latest insurance payment wasn't posted, and there is no chance of compensation from the owners of the plane, as they're about to go into liquidation. The yard is in a terrible state: half burned. 

Dragon, paperback, 1967
Bobby's old school doesn't help: Bracken House badly need the income from their regular contract with the school, and that hits problems.

Dragon, paperback, 1978
As is the way of these things, the problems are eventually ironed out, and Bobby and Guy finally recognise their feelings for each other. It's a thoroughly satisfying end, actually. Bobby's overcome an awful lot of adversity in a completely believable manner. The fire dragon's been slain.
The Difficult Summer was first published by Evans in 1959, and was illustrated by Anne Gordon. It had two publications after that, both in paperback. Dragon published the first paperback edition in 1967, with a cover by Mary Gernat. They updated the cover in 1978, with another pictorial version. If anyone is able to shed any light on who the cover artist was I'd be very grateful.

For more on Gillian Baxter, see her page on my website.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

PBOTD 22nd March, Judith M Berrisford - Ten Ponies and Jackie

It's hard to track down biographical information on Judith M Berrisford, and there's a very good reason for that. Judith M Berrisford was a joint name used by writers Clifford and Mary Lewis, writers of animal books for children. It is, I assume, Mary Lewis who is pictured as Judith M Berrisford on the jackets of the books.

It took me a while to find this out, but it was one of those satisfying detective journeys to which there actually is an answer. Contemporary Authors gave the author's birth year as 1912, so I set off to see what I could find out about her, particularly as the dustjacket of one of the author's gardening books gave a completely different birth year: 1921. I couldn't find any record of a birth in 1912 under the name Judith M Berrisford, but did find a Clifford Lewis who was born in Staffordshire in 1912. He married a Mary Berrisford, who was born in 1921, in 1945. It was Adrian Room's Dictionary of Pseudonyms which confirmed that Judith M Berrisford was a pseudonym. 

Brockhampton Press first edition,1959
It would be interesting to speculate on how the dynamics of the writing partnership worked: who wrote what, and whose ideas permeate the books, but it's one of those tantalising questions that will have to remain hanging for the moment. 

Judith M Berrisford's Ten Ponies and Jackie, today's PBOTD, is the second in the Jackie series. It establishes several things that were to become central features of the series. Jackie and Babs are absent from their parents, but are at a pony-filled venue, which is having problems. Jackie and Babs long to help, dash in with plans and action, and create as many problems as they solve. All is, at the end sorted out. There's little chance for children to take any truly independent action.

Armada paperback, 1972
In Ten Ponies and Jackie, a young boy, Terry, has taken over a riding stable. Jackie and Babs pile in to help him, with sometimes catastrophic results. The book ends with a sensible adult taking over the stables, and Terry being relegated (though he seems entirely happy about this) to a helper.

Armada paperback, late 1970s
In the Jackie books, youthful enthusiasm almost always goes wrong. Time after time, in book after book, Jackie and Babs long to help. They try their absolute hardest, but somehow it always goes wrong. In a series whose message seems to be that adults know best, one does wonder how these adults reached their position of superiour knowledge and wisdom if they grew up as Jackie and Babs do in the books: never learning from their mistakes, but endlessly agonising over their faults.

~ 0 ~

Ten Ponies and Jackie was first published by the Brockhampton Press in 1959. The next edition was a paperback with a pictorial cover published by Armada in 1972. There was a later photographic edition, probably from the late 1970s.

For much more on the author, see her page on my website.

Friday, 21 March 2014

PBOTD: 21st March, Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Pony Club Cup

I first heard about this title when I came back to buying pony books, years after I'd originally stopped. I'd found a dealer of pony books online (Louise Simmonds of Ozbek Books - who alas no longer seems to be trading), and she had Pony Club Cup in her stock list. I was very excited because I thought Josephine Pullein-Thompson must have added some later titles to the Noel and Henry series, but Louise soon put me right. Pony Club Cup was the first of an entirely different series about an entirely different pony club.

Armada Original, 1983
The Woodbury Pony Club are hopeless. Every other Pony Club within range treats them as a joke. And then, they get a new instructor. They're not particularly impressed with the idea of David Lumley, ex steeplechase jockey, at first, but he takes them in hand, and in true Pullein-Thompson fashion, they begin to improve their riding.

Pony Club Cup was written in Josephine Pullein-Thompson's second period. After All Change, written in 1961, she had a ten year break from writing children's books. She started again in 1971 with Race Horse Holiday, an adventure story, and continued writing books very different from her original output. She moved away from the instructional model that had served her so well, and concentrated on adventure, with books like the Moors series, and historical stories in the Black Beauty's Family series she wrote with her sisters.

Dean, 1994 - compilation of the whole series
Pony Club Cup saw a return to the intructional mould: you could say with a vengeance. The instruction is far more noticeable than in the Noel and Henry series, where there's much more interplay between the characters. Pony Club Cup features little of the home life you see with Noel and Henry: the Woodbury Pony Club members really only live in the rallies and clinics. The instruction, as always, is excellent and it's a tribute to what a good writer Josephine Pullein-Thompson is that she doesn't make this into the Equine equivalent of Prozac. She's brilliant at imparting the information in a non-preachy way and making it come alive by her description of the ponies' and riders' reactions.

There's the usual keen observation of Pony Club mothers. I particularly like the dreadful Mrs Rooke, who has two daughters, Lesley and Sarah. Sarah's the golden girl, who can do no wrong. Even when Lesley, who's understandably bitter and twisted when we first meet her, turns out to be good at dressage, Mrs Rooke can't actually allow this to change her view of wonder child Sarah. Of course, she says, Lesley might be good at dressage, but Sarah's an all rounder. I've heard mothers like that, praising one child endlessly and dismissing the other in a single sentence. It's chilling. (And do hope now that I don't do this with my two: but the fact that they both think the other is the favourite suggests that whatever I've got wrong, it's not that.)

~  0  ~

Pony Club Cup was published as an Armada Original in 1983 in paperback. As far as I know, it did not have a separate hardback edition. The book was republished several times with the same cover design. In 1994 Dean published a collection of the entire three book series, with the title Pony Club Stories.

For much more on Josephine Pullein-Thompson, see my website.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

PBOTD: 20th March, Christine Pullein-Thompson - The Horse Sale

Here's another of my favourite books - I had the Armada with the pictorial cover that's pictured below. The Horse Sale (1960) takes the same format as the earlier A Day to Go Hunting (1956), in that it tells the story of a single event from the point of view of several different characters. The Welford Horse Sale is being revived, and it has different effects on the Pony Club members. Olga does not own her horse Crusoe. He was leant to her by a dealer to school. She's done very well with him, but not made any efforts to buy him for herself, and the dealer now wants to sell him at the sale. Edwin Christie lives at Dolphin Manor; has outgrown his pony, and now wants a horse. Maurice is seven. He and his sisters have a pony, Titbits, that none of them ever ride, and so Maurice's father has arranged to send Titbits to the sale. Julia is too heavy for her piebald pony Whisky, who is continually going lame. The local riding school has just bought a new young horse, Jupiter, in the hope that he will be something for their more experienced or adult clients. The book winds its way through all these characters' involvement with the sale, until the sale happens, and all the characters find some sort of resolution.

Collins first edition, 1960, illus Sheila Rose
When I was younger I drank these books in uncritically, but a more measured read a few decades later had me being intensely irritated by Edwin: a classic Christine Pullein-Thompson character, who zooms from delight to despair. Olga is much the same way inclined, though is rather better at picking herself up afterwards.

Armada paperback, 1970s
Olga is a genius at prevarication: she's worked very hard on her loan horse, but she's kept putting off the awful moment of doing something concrete about buying him until her hand is forced when Crusoe's sent to the sale. Having spent quite literally years prevaricating about finishing my book, I admit I feel considerable sympathy with Olga.

Armada paperback, 1979
I must admit much of the charm of this book for me is in the illustrations, which I think show Sheila Rose at her best. The scan below isn't brilliant, but I think it's a great example of her work in this book. It shows Olga attempting to raise money to buy her loan horse Crusoe, by selling her books.

The Horse Sale - internal illustration
The Horse Sale was first published in 1960 with illustrations by Collins. In next appeared in an Armada paperback edition in the 1970s, with one of those intriguing uncredited covers - possibly by the same hand as Six Ponies, which was an earlier PBOTD this week. The latest, and last, edition, had a photographic cover.

For much more on Christine Pullein-Thompson, including pictures of all her books, see her page on my website.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

PBOTD: 19th March, Sheena Wilkinson - Taking Flight

Today's PBOTD is a modern book: Taking Flight (2009) by Sheena Wilkinson. Boys don't appear often in modern British horse stories, let alone disaffected, out of control teenagers from Belfast. Declan's mother is an alcoholic, and Declan is one of those boys school labels a problem right from the start. When Declan's mother is hospitalised after a particularly florid episode, Declan goes to stay with his aunt and cousin. His aunt has done well: her daughter Vicky has a horse.

Little Island, 2009
Declan turns out to have an affinity for horses, but this doesn't mean his life instantly goes right. Vicky is furiously jealous of Declan's abilities, resents his arrival into her life, and takes action on her dislike. Sheena Wilkinson succeeds in making Vicky's very brattish behaviour believable, but still keeps you on her side. Indeed the strength of this very good book is that you are on both characters' sides: however horrible their behaviour is, and both them are pretty foul at times.

Declan is ambivalent about the skill he suddenly finds he possesses. His only future had seemed to be a rapid descent into crime, and once he's presented with another way forward, it is not one he is necessarily eager to take. Declan's ability to shoot himself in the foot, time after time, will ring all sorts of bells if you have a teenage child. The wilful refusal to listen and see sense is utterly believable. It's not just the teenagers who are believable: the adults are too. Vicky's parents, divorced, tiptoe round her. At Declan's school, the teachers are divided between those who have written Declan off, and those who keep on and on trying with him, convinced that he can be set on a better path. This is a real world.

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Taking Flight was published in Dublin by Little Island in 2009. There have been no further editions. For more on the author and her books, you might like to see her page on my website.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

PBOTD: 18th March, William Corbin - Horse in the House

If you've been following the PBOTD, you'll know many of my early pony book experiences were courtesy of our local library. Every book in my early library experience was a hardback, but then paperbacks began to be introduced. Except they'd been converted: hard covers had been bonded to the inside of the covers, and shiny plastic film applied over the whole lot. I remember Horse in the House being my first experience of the form, and how odd it looked. Paperbacks treated like that always look oddly apologetic: they seem to know they've been forced out of their usual form.

They could have bound Horse in the House in woven straw and I wouldn't have cared. I loved that book, and I have only to see the cover to be transported back to the place in the library where it lived. I could draw you a map.

Methuen first UK edition, 1966
When I was putting together the outline for my book, Heroines on Horseback, there was some dispute about whether I should include non-British books in what was supposed to be a book about the pony book in British children's literature. I argued that you couldn't have been a ponymad child in the 1960s and 1970s and not have devoured the Silver Brumbies and Black Stallions. I didn't care if there were no Pony Club children; no gymkhanas and no tidy Home Counties paddocks. What I wanted was horse, and I didn't care in what form that came. (If you've read my book, you'll know that I must have argued my case reasonably persuasively, because wild horses have a chapter of their own).

Puffin paperback, 1969
Horse in the House couldn't be shoehorned into the book, being American but not being about a wild horse, and so I get the opportunity to spread myself here.

Heroine Melanie Webb's summer activity, as published in the school newsletter is "to teach my horse to live in the house so he can civilise my sisters." Her horse is called Orbit, and he came along when the young Melanie forgot to shut the barn door, and the road gate, and Gigi, her Shetland gets out on to the road and has to be shot. It's a stark and dramatic beginning, but it's brilliantly done. Melanie's father says: "We all make mistakes, bad ones. If we're smart, though, we learn from them all. You're smart, Mellie-girl."

He buys Orbit for Melanie, and the need to look after the foal educates and helps both Orbit and Melanie, until the summer when Melanie decides to teach Orbit to come into the house. Alongside this innocent endeavour, someone is plotting to steal Orbit, because he's an Astronaut colt. Someone else wants to buy him, and Melanie, who loves her sister Katie very much, arranges to sell him so Katie can go to college. Except that Orbit is stolen the very day she makes the arrangement.

What follows is a mixture of adventure, romance, and a quite brilliant portrait of a family. If you can possibly get hold of a copy, do. The Puffin paperback is very cheap.

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Horse in the House was originally published in America by Coward-McCann in 1963. It was illustrated by the excellent Sam Savitt. The first British edition was virtually identical to the American, and was published by Methuen in 1966. Puffin published a paperback edition in 1969, which was reprinted many times. Alas I don't know who the illustration on the Puffin cover was by, so if anyone knows I'd be very glad if they could enlighten me!

You can read more on William Corbin and his horse books on my website.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Review: Lauren St John - Fire Storm

Warning: contains spoilers....

I really enjoyed this. If you follow my blog, you will know I didn't like the first two volumes of this series, The One Dollar Horse and Race the Wind, and I wasn't expecting to like Fire Storm. In the previous volumes, I've had issues with unlikely plot lines and what seemed to me dodgy characterisation. I will just say that it is of course crashingly unlikely that someone will achieve the Triple Crown before they're 18, which is the whole point of this trilogy, but let's just leave that aside. The pony book is all about wish fulfilment, and this trilogy achieves that. After all, one of the earliest precursors of the genre, Velvet Brown, did win the Grand National. And she wasn't even 17.

Fire Storm opens with heroine Casey Blue being unable to ride Storm, who is still recuperating from his Kentucky experiences. She's riding a mare she's been loaned, Lady Roxanne. The mare doesn't like Casey, or anyone very much at all. She'll jump a course one day, and dump Casey the next. Casey's instructor, the eccentric but switched on Mrs Smith, starts Casey on the road to understanding the mare, but it's uber-instructor Kyle West who tosses out a couple of nuggets to Casey which she thinks really do the trick. And Kyle is several things Mrs Smith isn't: young, male, and devastatingly attractive.

I felt for poor Mrs Smith, whose illness it turns out is terminal (though she survives until the end of the book), and who suffers more when Casey has a strop and storms off to be trained by Kyle. Casey does, of course, eventually get to Burghley, the third event she needs to win in order to win the Triple Crown, having already got Badminton and Kentucky under her belt.

Anna, villainess of the first book, makes a reappearance, but she's changed - no cardboard villains here. I like the way she and Casey dodge around each other; neither quite sure of what the other really thinks. The author's moved beyond the obvious characterisation that dogged her other books, and has created a story which hangs together brilliantly. There was one brief occasion when I thought we were going to veer off into sub Dick Francis shenanigans, but the crisis was averted. The tension in this book comes from the drama that surrounds Casey naturally: her relationship with Mrs Smith, her attraction to Kyle when she's still in love with boyfriend of the first two books, Peter, and her struggle to form a decent riding relationship with her new horse.

The equine detail in this book is very strong indeed: Lauren St John has the knack of imparting her considerable knowledge without being either didactic or dull. If you want to know about the current state of eventing, read this book. It's peopled with real-life characters: Mary King; Pippa Funnell; Andrew Nicholson et al, but they're a natural part of the story, and not names flung in simply to impress. Lauren St John has created an impressively realistic slice of eventing life.

The ending certainly comes as a surprise; but the answer to what Casey does next is thoroughly satisfying.

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Lauren St John - Fire Storm
Orion, 2014, hardback, £9.99
Kindle, £3.99

Age of main character: 17
Themes: terminal illness (no actual death), some romance, horse abuse (historic)

Lauren St John's website

PBOTD: 17th March, Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Six Ponies

I had three of Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Noel and Henry series as a child. Of the other two in the series, I never did manage to find The Radney Riding Club, but I managed to read Six Ponies once, before it disappeared from the library, in the way that books sometimes did, victims of some purge I never understood. The book took on a sort of mythical existence: I knew it existed, because I'd read it, but I couldn't find it again, no matter where I looked. Eventually, when I moved on from pony books, I forgot about Six Ponies. 

The book obviously had a mythical status with other pony book fans as well, because when I started to read them again, and hunt for them on eBay, early editions of Six Ponies went for stonking amounts: far beyond my purse. Eventually I uncovered an Armada paperback (the one with the skewbald on the cover, which I rather like) and read it, wondering as I did if it was the same book. It was, and yet it wasn't. There were bits I was sure I remembered happening, but they didn't appear to be in the book I read. I shrugged my shoulders and moved on, glad that at least I'd found the book.

Collins, first edition, 1946, illus Anne Bullen
It was Vanessa Robertson, from Fidra, who first explained the mystery to me. Six Ponies had been drastically cut for its paperback appearances. Armada published to a set length, and Six Ponies was way over it, hence the cuts. Sadly, until Fidra published their edition in 2007, the cut version was what most of us had to put up with.

Armada, paperback, 1971
 Six Ponies wasn't Josephine Pullein-Thompson's first novel: that was It Began with Picotee, which she wrote with her sisters as a teenager. It was published in 1946, after WW2 ended, as was Six Ponies, Josephine's first solo novel.

Josephine had run a riding school with her sisters, but had left to go and do war work. After a spell in a remount depot, she moved on to work as a telephone engineer at a telephone exchange in Reading, on whose roof she wrote Six Ponies. Although written during the war, the book doesn't mention war at all. Josephine told me that it was a deliberate decision to leave the war, and all its grimness, out of the book, and so, although she tried to place the book in the future, it was set in the England of the 1930s.

Armada, paperback, 1979
The book was inspired by one of Charlotte M Yonge's books, Six Cushions. Joanna Cannan, Josephine's mother was a fan of the author. Josephine read the book, and said "It was interesting because of its characters. I wanted a broad canvas for my first solo book, not a first person story, and this writer managed to tell you so much about six girls and their families by describing their trials and successes in making six cushions. It seemed to me the six people breaking in ponies would make a much more exciting story. And I could also explore their families."

And explore them she did. Six Ponies was the first of what was to become a series of five books about the West Barsetshire Pony Club and their ponies, and their instructor, Major Holbrooke. Six Ponies introduces the pony club members. There is hapless Noel, almost crippled by her lack of confidence, superior June, cheerful, nouveau-riche Susan, occasionally violent John and the rackety Radcliffe family. A friend of Major Holbrooke's bets him that the Pony Club will not be able to break in six New Forest ponies. Major Holbrooke accepts the challenge, and the ponies are divided out amongst the riding club.

Swift, laminated boards, 1987
The six ponies experience breaking in very differently. June's pony is hurried on far faster than she should be. One is pretty much ignored, and one is beaten. One, Romany, is almost ruined by thoughtlessness, and it's this pony that Noel takes on, despite her misgivings. Of course Noel wins the day, but she never completely overcomes her lack of self confidence.

Fidra, paperback, 2007
 Six Ponies showed that Josephine Pullein-Thompson had, by the time of her first book, hit her stride. It featured themes she was to cover again and again: large families and their dynamics, and the importance of training a horse correctly; riding it properly, and never forgetting there was always something to learn.


Six Ponies was first published by Collins in 1946, with a cover and illustrations by Anne Bullen. It was reprinted several times in that format. Its first paperback publication (much cut) was by Armada in 1971, with a cover I much like, but whose artist I haven't been able to discover. Armada published the book again in 1979, this time with photographic covers, and Swift published it again, with laminated boards and a rather fanciful cover illustration of wild horses, in 1987. Fidra published the book, uncut, and with all the original illustrations, in 2007.

The Noel and Henry series:

Six Ponies (1946)
Pony Club Team (1950)
The Radney Riding Club (1951)
One Day Event (1954)
Pony Club Camp (1957)

For more on Josephine Pullein-Thompson, see her page on my website. There's an interview with her, a piece on the Noel and Henry series, and much more.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

PBOTD: 16th March, James Aldridge - A Sporting Proposition

Today's pony book is by an Australian author. Originally published as A Sporting Proposition in 1973, James Aldridge's book was taken up by Disney, who turned it into a film called Ride a Wild Pony in 1975. Under this title, the book took on a new life and was published several more times.

Michael Joseph - possibly a reprint
It's the story of a pony who disappears, and two radically different children. The pony, Taff, is given to Scott Pirie, the town's trouble-maker, so he can ride it to school. Boy and pony are inseparable, but then Taff disappears to join the wild ponies. When he turns up again, he's pulling a trap. The trap is owned by Eyre, the man who gave Scott Taff in the first place, and that trap is driven by Jo, Eyre's daughter, who can't walk.

Penguin Peacock edition

The whole thing ends up with a town divided, and a court case.

Penguin Puffin edition

A Sporting Proposition was first published by Michael Joseph in 1973. It was republished by the Puffin as a paperback in 1975. After that, the book appeared under its film title, Ride a Wild Pony. It was published in paperback by Puffin in 1976,
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Here's a link to James Aldridge's page on my website.