Wednesday, 30 April 2014

PBOTD 30th April: The Black Beauty Annuals

Here's the last of the Black Beauty themed posts: this one is annuals, annuals all the way. If you were obsessed with the television series The Adventures of Black Beauty, then the annuals were just what you needed while the series was off the air, because in those days there were no such things as videos, or iPlayer. Once it was off the air, that was your lot.  So here, for your delectation, are the Black Beauty annuals:



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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

PBOTD: 29th April, Richard Carpenter:

Following on from the Black Beauty theme is a book which takes up where the book leaves off: though it does turn Beauty into a Victorian version of Champion the Wonder Horse, full of amazing abilities. I didn't care when I watched the series. They could just have replayed the opening scenes with Beauty galloping up the hill a hundred times, and I'd still have watched. 

I can't actually remember much about the series now. What I do remember is that I wanted to be Judi Bowker. I was quite some way off. I've got over wanting to be Judi now, but Beauty - I still want him.

The Adventures of Black Beauty stories were written by several scriptwriters. Richard Carpenter (who also wrote Catweazle, Robin of Sherwood and another favourite of mine, The Ghosts of Motley Hall) contributed 17 out of the 52 episodes. Some of them were turned into book form. and that's how The Best of Black Beauty came about. The stories see Ned learning to ride, Jonah the donkey (I have completely forgotten Jonah the donkey, sadly, which says much about my ability to be swayed by beauty), Kevin rescuing a damsel in distress, and here's what Black Beauty does:  "....and through it all the reassuring figure of Black Beauty looked on - helping out where he could, defending the family who looked after him, and joining in the happy endings." What more could you want?

I can't resist it. Here's the theme music and the opening credits:


Monday, 28 April 2014

PBOTD: 28th April, Phyllis Briggs: Son of Black Beauty

There's a bit of a theme over the pony books featured in the next few days. Anna Sewell's Black Beauty has already featured, but it inspired many spin offs, and that's what the next few days will cover.

Today's book is Phyllis Briggs' Son of Black Beauty. I will be charitable to this book, and assume that Anna Sewell drew a Victorian veil of decency over Beauty's exploits before he was gelded, and his foray into a nearby field full of mares.

Thames Publishing, 1952, 1st edition
Phyllis Briggs does acknowledge the fundamental liberty she's taken. In the introduction to my copy, she says: " “in this book the art of the storyteller has been enlisted to produce what Black Beauty the horse could not - a son.”

Dean, 1973

I hadn't realised until I started researching this post, but the latest Dean edition, illustrated below, is retold by Georgina Hargreaves. The earlier Dean is abridged. So, stick to the first edition if you want the full text!

Dean, 1978, retold
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Sunday, 27 April 2014

PBOTD: 27th April, Sheila Chapman - A Pony and His Partner

Today's pony book was written by an author who had four books under her belt by her mid teens: they were written between the ages of 12 and 15. A Pony and His Partner, the first of them, was published in 1959. The books are much darker than the usual teenage pony book. Death and disaster stalk the books, but the heroines always win through in the end.

Burke, 1959, 1st edn, illus Geoffrey Whittam

Carmen, the heroine of A Pony and His Partner and The Mystery Pony (1960), has come to live with her cousins after her parents' death.  Carmen does find a new home with her pony, Oberon, though in the next book, the pony dies. The books appealed to those teenagers who have realised that life is not all sunshine. 13 year old Roberta Wilkinson, reviewing A Pony and His Partner in Pony Magazine, called the story “moving” and “thoroughly enjoyable.”

Burke, pb, 1964
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For more on the author, see her page on my website.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

PBOTD 26th April: Sam Savitt - There Was a Horse

It's the Maryland Hunt Cup today, so to celebrate, here's the one book I know about which features it. If you know of more, please let me know.

The Maryland Hunt Cup started in 1894, when the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club challenged the Green Spring Valley Hounds to a race over timber. The next year, the race was open to members of fox hunts in Maryland, and in 1903, members of Hunt Clubs throughout the USA and Canada were able to enter. The Cup has a permanent home at Worthington Valley, and is run over four miles, with 22 fences. 

The Dial Press, 1961, 1st edition
There Was A Horse (1961) is the story of high school senior Mike Benson, who buys a grey horse called Viking. His brother, Chris, encourages him to train Viking, but it doesn't go well. Mike falls off, again and again and again, and he can't control Viking. However, a new farmhand solves the mystery of why the horse behaves as he does, and they train the horse to steeplechase with such success that he enters the Maryland Hunt Cup. 

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For much more on Sam Savitt - well worth a look as he is a sublime illustrator, see his page on my website.

Friday, 25 April 2014

PBOTD 25th April: Eleanor Helme - Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony

Eleanor Helme, like so many pony book writers after her, believed firmly in the superiority of the countryside over the town. Her first two books (Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony (1930) and The Joker and Jerry Again (1932)) were both co-written with Nance Paul. 

The hero of the book, Robin Marson, and his family are well off enough to buy the pony. The only thing that stops them riding is the fact they live in London. Robin's foal is kept by a local farmer until the family move down from London to Exmoor.  Fortunately for the progress of the story, this move takes some years, by which time Jerry is old enough to be broken in and ridden about the moor.  

Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1930, 1st edn, illus Cecil Aldin
I do like the description of the pot-hunting boy who appears at Exford Show, which Robin and his pony Jerry have also entered. Here he is, dressed in splendid newness, but somehow all wrong. He's the precursor of Susan Pyke and all those other pot hunters who ruined things for the honest but poor pony lover. (And, if you read Horse and Hound, every year the correspondence columns bring the same thing up again: beautiful ponies, professionally produced, sweeping all before them at minor shows). 

The boy's beautiful black pony has won at Olympia. The Londoner has clothes which are loud and exaggerated , he has “artificial show-ring mannerisms” and has come down from London specifically to win at a small country show.  Not only that, he relies on a groom, rather than looking after his pony himself, a character defect that was to resonate through many pony books to come.

“Now then, Jerry boy, we’re just going to beat him.  He’s not going to come down from his old Olympia and think he can mop up everything just because it’s a little country show.  It’s a jolly good show, and I’d like to see him out on the moor…..  And what d’you think, he’s only just gone out – hasn’t done anything for the pony himself, and there’s the Olympia prize ticket stuck up on the post where the pony is!””

 The Londoner is a good rider, but Robin and Jerry eventually vanquish him; the honest, hardworking countryside wins out over the affected, idle  town.  

Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1949
Without Cecil Aldin, who illustrated both the Jerry books, there would have been no gymkhana. His grandchildren complained to him that very few classes in shows were open to children, so he organised a show at Cloutsham Meadow on Exmoor in 1926.  The show, with 14 classes open only to children, was a roaring success, and Aldin was asked to organise another at Dunster.  This he did, and it featured a Handy Hunter course designed by show expert Captain ‘Chips’ Russell Wood (then as now the worried parent was in evidence:  parents complained the course was dangerous, not realising the vicious barbed wire on the course was actually string which had been knotted and painted).  Cecil Aldin gave the pony book heroine and hero something to aim at:  the Handy Hunter class.  
The Jerry stories were the only pony books Aldin illustrated. They were done towards the end of his life, when his output had decreased because of his arthritis. Sadly, Jerry and the Joker fell victim in a later printing to a different non-Aldin jacket:  Aldin’s jackets had been produced when pen and ink drawings on the equine dustjacket were the preferred method of illustrating them (why, I am not quite sure.  The school story fan had colour in plenty, with the gaily jacketed offerings of Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School.  Biggles’ dustjackets were in full colour, so why was the horsy child denied?  Did the stern workmanlike appearance one was supposed to observe in one’s riding dress extend to what one read?)  Aldin’s jackets for Helme do appear a little dour, printed as they are on a wrapping paper brown background, with the red title lettering not quite managing to lift the whole.  The replacement is a reasonable effort but it is not Aldin.

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I have a page on Eleanor Helme on my website.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

PBOTD 24th April: Monica Dickens - Spring Comes to World's End

Today's PBOTD is the last in the World's End series - but it is the most appropriate for the time of year. If you're wondering, the series order is:

The House at World's End
Summer at World's End
World's End in Winter
Spring at World's End
Heinemann, 1973, 1st edition
Spring at World's End (1973) sees the Fielding parents absent yet again. They're crewing yachts to try and earn enough money to buy World’s End.  Mr Fielding is just as feckless and self-absorbed as he is in the other books. He leaves the cash he and Mrs Fielding have earned in a jacket pocket; forgets to tell his wife that's what he's done, and she gives the jacket away to a beggar. When Uncle Rudolph makes over World’s End to the Fieldings in gratitude for their rescue of his wife from kidnappers, he makes it over to the children, not their father:

“I’ve given it away.” Uncle Rudolf paused for an eternity.
‘To you. Not to that feckless father of yours. He’d gamble it away, or set fire to it, or let it get dry rot.’

And knowing what we do of him, this seems only too true. It's the children who are really the heroes in this series. In this last book, however, it's adult benevolence that ensures the family can stay at World’s End, but one that only comes about because of a thoroughly unrealistic kidnapping. Why the children's aunt, Valentina, should be kidnapped is never made clear. The incident does reveal an unexpected softness of feeling in Uncle Rudolph, and of course serves its main purpose by allowing the Fieldings to keep World’s End.

Pan, paperback, 1975
Spring at World's End was the last of the series, but I like to think that the family carried on living there, and that Tom became a vet, Carrie a writer and Lester a maker of wildlife documentaries. And I think they carried on, to the end of his life, supporting their father.

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For more on Monica Dickens, see her page on my website.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

PBOTD 23rd April: Helen Griffiths - Wild at Heart

Helen Griffiths was one of those authors I encountered as an adult. I honestly don't know what I'd have made of her books if I'd read them when I was small. They are a whole world away from nice families, ponies and gymkhanas. From her earliest book Horse in the Clouds (1957), written when she was 16, she steered away from the conventional. Horse in the Clouds was set in the Argentine, and most of her succeeding stories were set in the Spanish-speaking world. Her books are often about the casual cruelty with which man treats the horse; and if you read pony books as escapism, these are emphatically not the books for you.

Hutchinson, 1963, 1st edn, illus Victor Ambrus
The Wild Heart is my favourite of her stories. It is the story of La Bruja, a wild South American horse, who is blessed (or cursed) with great speed from her Thoroughbred grandsire. She is hunted for her speed; and in the end a seeming cruelty is her only hope of survival in freedom. 

Peacock, 1965, paperback
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For more on the author, she has a page on my website here.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

PBOTD 22nd April: Monica Dickens - The House at World's End

Monica Dickens was expelled from St Paul’s School for Girls for throwing her school uniform over Hammersmith Bridge. Her children's books saw a similar dislike for convention. Not for her the comfort of carefree holiday adventure: her children meet real, and awful problems. Her Follyfoot series left its readers in little doubt about the cruelties man could, and did, visit upon horses. Her World's End books don't have quite the strident confrontation with reality as Follyfoot, but these are children who have real problems. 
World’s End, had its initial premise in that hoary chestnut of children’s book plots: the absent adults. In most books using this device, any adult who might control what will happen disappears for some convenient reason in the first few pages of the book, leaving the child heroes with the length of the summer holidays for adventure. In most cases, we know that adults are hovering on the edge, just in case: Uncle Quentin is not too far away from Enid Blyton’s Famous FiveThe pony book does not tend to enter this world. There are any amount of unaccompanied treks (Ann Stafford’s Five Proud Riders, innumerable Jackie stories by J M Berrisford), and the occasional  journey to escape from an unpleasant situation to a better one: Sheila Chapman’s Ride to Freedom has her heroine leaving her foster family, and riding to find her family with her pony, but survival on one’s own for any length of time with animals is such an implausible task it is almost never attempted in fiction. One of the very few exceptions is the World’s End series. The first, The House at World’s End (1970), opens with the Fielding family, Tom, Em, Carrie and Michael and their animals, living with their Uncle Rudolph and Aunt Valentina. Their father is trying to sail round the world; their mother is in hospital after being severely burned.

Heinemann, 1st edition, 1970
The Fieldings are initially agog with excitement when their Uncle Rudolph, only too glad to get rid of the children, allows them to live in an old pub he has bought,  and be supported by the teenage brother Tom, as long as he can find a job. Carrie, whose love of horses means she has a dream world peopled by horses that talk, is delighted by the move. At last she will be able to have a horse, she thinks. And the animals do appear, rescued from cruelty by the children, but life for the family is a constant, and at times desperate, struggle. Social workers pursue them, and the family being taken into care is only averted by the last-minute appearance of Mrs Fielding, spirited too early out of hospital by Tom.  In only one book of the succeeding three are the Fielding parents present, though in World’s End in Winter (1972) Mr Fielding is shut away in his study, writing a book about the unsuccessful attempts to sail round the world that took them away in Summer at World’s End (1971). They are off sailing again in the last book of the series, Spring Comes to World’s End (1973), crewing yachts to try and earn enough money to buy World’s End.

This series is peopled by a cast of characters often larger than life; Mr Mismo and his fat, much- boasted- of cob, Princess Margaret Rose, Carrie’s friend Lester, completely unbound by rules. Uncle Rudolph and Aunt Valentina are at times almost cartoonishly awful; virtually every appearance offers a new opportunity to smile at their towny pretensions. There is a sly humour that makes the exaggeration bearable: Aunt Valentina has some finer feelings, though she does an excellent job of suppressing them, in the interests of maintaining her own lifestyle:

“That boy sounds wheezy,” Valentina said. “Are you sure you’re all right here on your own?” Her painted face was twisted with the struggle between feeling she ought to say, ‘You must come back with us,’ and dreading they might say, ‘Yes.’”

The series is not depressing. The children’s passion for animals, and their ability to carry on despite dreadful setbacks is cheering, and underlying it all is Monica Dickens’ sly observational humour. Carrie and Michael make money for the horses’ keep over winter by selling manure. They smell all the time, and their sister Em will not sit in the same room with them.  A London friend of Aunt Valentina, tottering in her London heels, has a close encounter with a sheep:

“Rose Arbuckle side-stepped the weed with a faint scream. She was almost at the car when Henry, who loved new people, tore himself loose from Michael and bounded at her over the grass with his wool wobbling like a fat lady.

She made a dash for the car, tore open the car door and got in. But Henry was right behind her, shoving, and before she could shut the door, he had pushed in with her. Tom and Carrie and Em and Michael doubled up with laughter as the door on the opposite side flew open, and Rose Arbuckle fell out, with all her scarves flying, and Henry after her.” The House at World’s End

Most children are aware that the holiday adventures they love will never happen to them. The attraction of the World’s End series is that were your own circumstances to be a little different, you might perhaps be like the Fieldings; with animals everywhere; struggling but ultimately surviving. The series has considerable charm, appealing as it does to what critic Nicholas Tucker calls “a host of pre-adolescent fantasies and prejudices.” He goes on to say that this is “at a uniformly undemanding and facile level;” most children I think knew perfectly well it was a fantasy: the charm of the books is that they bring that fantasy almost within reach. Alison Flood, writing in The Guardian on the books’ reissue, said: “in this case it felt like the loving, but scatty and selfish, Fielding parents' departure on a sailing trip could actually have happened.”

Pan, paperback, 1972
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The above is an extract from the earliest version of my book, Heroines on Horseback

Monday, 21 April 2014

PBOTD 21st April: Nancy Caffrey - Pony Duet

PBOTD for 21st April is an American book by an author who's a favourite there, but has been very little published in the UK. The book I'm featuring today, Pony Duet, is the one title of Nancy Caffrey's that was published in the UK as well.

Dutton, New York, 1957, 1st edn, illus Ronnie Mutch
Pony Duet is the story of Cathy, whose riding confidence has been rocked. Just when she thinks she's going to give up riding altogether, her aunt Myla Lee sends her a skewbald pony called Duet. Duet is the absolutely ideal pony for anyone who's suffering from riding fear. Every stable should have one.

Dent, London, 1959, illus Ronnie Mutch
Calm, kind, and utterly sensible, Duet works her magic on Cathy, and they do really well together, but Duet has to go back. Cathy wants to keep her, but she faces her own selfish desires so that Duet can go on and work her magic with another fearful rider.

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

Sunday, 20 April 2014

PBOTD 20th April: Patricia Leitch - The Magic Pony

I'm plagiarising myself here: this is the text of a review I wrote a couple of years ago when Catnip reissued The Magic Pony. I don't think I can usefully say anything more than I said then. This is a fantastic book.

Patricia Leitch’s books are immensely satisfying; multi-layered: they succeed on so many levels. If you want to read The Magic Pony as a pony adventure in which a girl rescues a woman from dying somewhere she didn't want to; rescues a mistreated pony from appalling conditions, and sees her own horse recover from a mystery foot injury, it works perfectly on that level. As a pony story, it is extraordinarily good, but it has much to say on ageing, and on death, and on how we perceive those around us.

Armada 1st edition, 1982
The Magic Pony is the seventh in the Jinny series. Jinny is struggling with school (the intractability of algebra), and the utter frustration of a half term that has seen even she, normally uncaring about the weather, restricted to home in the face of the deluge that lasted until the last day of half term. And now the last day has come; it has dawned fine, but Jinny has to go to the dentist, and finish her algebra. When at last she is free, she rides Shantih into the dusk, but in a fit of fury at the things that restrict her; family, school, she hurtles with Shantih towards a high stone wall. Shantih crashes on the other side, and is lamed. Nothing Jinny or the vet try, over the coming weeks, seems to work.

Armada, 1985
In a search for a horsey expert who will be able to divine the cause of Shantih’s lameness, Jinny tries a nearby riding school. It is a hell-hole, with half-starved horses, overworked and uncared for. Amongst them is Easter, an ancient grey pony in whom Jinny can still see the remnants of beauty. Jinny is determined to rescue Easter. Over-reaching all of this is Kezia, the Tinker woman, who has been taken into hospital to die. She wants to die as she lived, in the hills, within reach of the outside, but she needs Jinny’s help to do it. Jinny is uniquely placed amongst those Kezia knows: a child outside the traveller society, she will be able to marshal the right sort of help.

Severn House, hb, 1986
Death is not the normal preserve of a pony book; not the death of another human being, at any rate. Neither is age. It struck me when reading the book that sadly, little has changed since the book was written in 1982. When she learns that Kezia is dying, and wants to see her, Jinny’s first reaction is horror: in her life “people were either alive or else you heard they’d died. You didn't visit them, knowing they were dying.” The dying are tidied away, neatly, in hospital. That is where all right-thinking people believe they should be, and Jinny at first unthinkingly parrots this line. She comes, though, to recognise that the right-thinking way is not necessarily the way for everybody, and she, and those adults she knows will be sympathetic, help Kezia to sign herself out of the hospital.

The unexpected help too. This is one place where Patricia Leitch is so clever: we typecast people, and expect them to react in certain ways. Mr Mackenzie, owner of the farm next door to Finmory, is never slow to point Jinny’s stupidity out to her. He is the bastion of good sense, and has little time for her flights of fancy. But Kezia has asked to die in Mr Mackenzie’s bothy, and Jinny asks him, and he says yes. Kezia was a “bold one” in her youth, says Mr Mackenzie, a beauty. “It’s the sleepless nights I've spent tossing on my bed thinking of that one. Aye, So it is.” Jinny hurries away, not wanting to know. It is difficult to see the old; the middle aged even, and to think that they were once as you are now.

Armada, 1992
The old women in Kezia’s ward “the parchment skins, gaping mouths and white wisps of hair,” remind Jinny of the awfulness of the riding school, where she felt “the same hopelessness, the same empty endurance.” The pony Easter “is like a ghost – so old she seemed hardly there, unable to stand against the assault of the light.” And yet Jinny is able to see, every now and then, what lies within both Kezia and Easter. The outer shell does not matter: there is still fire within.
“She looked up out of the window again. Keziah was tall and stately, the robes she wore about her shoulders trailed to the ground. She rode a white mare, proud-stepping with eye imperial and cascading mane and tail. A handmaiden walked by her side, and a page boy walked at the head of her palfrey. All the fairytales Jinny had ever read, all the illustrations she had ever seen of queens upon white horses, or wise women, or elfin lands, took hands and danced in Jinny’s sight. She watched spellbound.
For a minute they dropped out of sight as the track looped downhill and when they reappeared the spell was broken.”
It is not just the skins of the aged Jinny, and we, need to learn to see beneath. There is Miss Tuke, the generally dismissive owner of the local trekking centre, who sets about the owner of the pathetic riding school. Brenda, who runs the riding school, once had dreams herself, but has been utterly ground down by life.
“For a moment before Brenda turned away she smiled at Jinny, her mask drawn back, and, for a second, Jinny saw quite clearly the girl who had once shared her dreams.”
When Kezia’s death comes, Patricia Leitch meets it head on. There is no “passing away”, or even the dreadful modern “passing” (passing away-light? Is one only half dead?).
“Easter came slowly towards them. She reached out her head and breathed over Jinny’s tear-stained face, exchanged curious questioning breath with Shantih, then stood waiting.
‘Keziah’s dead,” said Jinny bleakly. She’s gone. No more. Dead.’
This is a brilliant book; in which every time I read it, I see different things. There is Jinny herself, meeting life head on; flawed and intolerant but fighting her way towards understanding the world and how it works; “the right thing to do.” There is the glorious mixture of myth and faith: the Red Horse, personification of the horse goddess Epona, and the unspoken communication between human and horse.

It’s the sort of book that pierces you with the beauty of its language. Jinny’s “great camel groan” when she has to get back to her algebra and not ride Shantih, is the sort of thing that resonates over the page to anyone who has had to turn away from what they really want to do and get on with the dull, the oppressive, and the everyday. And the horse, the wonderful Shantih. There are few, if any, pony writers better than Patricia Leitch at capturing the blazing brilliance of the Arab. Shantih, cured by Kezia’s herbs is restored and vital again.
“Jinny felt her drop behind the bit, her weight sink back on her hindlegs as she reared, struck out with her forefeet, then with an enormous bound was galloping up the track to the moor.
Shantih was all captured things flying free, was spirit loosened from flesh, was bird again in her own element.”
Catnip, 2012, pb

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The Magic Pony was published as an Armada original in 1982. Armada reissued it twice after that, with new cover styles, in 1985 and 1992. Severn House released a hardback version in 1986, and that was the last single volume appearance until Catnip reissued the book in 2012. The Magic Pony has also appeared in compilation form in Three Great Jinny Stories in 1995, bundled together with Horse in a Million and Ride Like the Wind. 

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

Saturday, 19 April 2014

PBOTD 19th April: H M Peel - Easter the Show Jumper

Today's PBOTD is another which is appropriate for the time of year: it's H M Peel's Easter the Show Jumper. Easter is the third in the Leysham Stud series. Ann and Jim Henderson have a stud, whose stallion is her piebald stallion, Pilot. In the first two books, Ann's managed to get over Pilot's dreadful temper, and he's turned into a talented hunter (Pilot the Hunter, 1962) and chaser (Pilot the Chaser, 1964). 

Harrap, 1965, 1st edn, illus Michael Lyne
The equine heroine of the third book is Easter, Pilot's sister. She has inherited his temperament (as indeed do several horses in the succeeding novels, which though it makes for good dramatic reads, does make you glad they're not breeding for temperament, because it's failing).

Fidra Books, pb, 2009

Easter has ability in spades, but for Ann to make her into a serious show jumper is going to take Herculean efforts. Easter is unpredictable; often jumping, but just as often refusing or bolting. She's not the only equine problem: there's Magic the Shetland, the mount of Ann and Jim's nephew. He's a demon for opening gates and he lets out the prize colt, Night Storm.

I loved the series when I first found them in the local library. They were filed with the horsey non fiction: I assume because they are relatively realistic portrayals of different equine disciplines. H M Peel uses the Leysham Stud series to cover racing, polo, trotting and eventing as well as show jumping: a wealth of ability most studs would give their eye teeth to possess. H M Peel had a background herself in numerous disciplines. In my interview with her, I asked how difficult it had been to reasearch the series:
“Piece of cake because I had already worked in a variety of stables ranging from hunters, livery, point-to-point and show jumpers:  too heavy for racing stables.  I kept moving around to acquire knowledge even if it was the hard way and I was treated pretty badly in quite a few of my digs.” 
The central characters, Ann and Jim Henderson are portrayed as pretty well ideal employers, a world away from the treatment HM Peel hinted at in the first comment. I asked her to tell me more about what it had been like working in the horse world after the war:
“My first  horsey job at 15 years was at some livery stables near Grimsby where I had the most incredible tutor who was stone deaf. This lady and her livery stables became ever afterwards my bench mark. I was badly treated in my digs; kept so short of food (everything was still rationed) I was driven to trying to eat the horses’ food. Ever been that hungry and when growing and doing hard, physical labour? I vowed I would never be hungry again when adult and no one, NO ONE, would ever shove me around. They haven’t either.” 
When I interviewed her, I asked H M Peel if the Hendersons were based on real people:
 “My human characters are all invented.  Safer that way re litigation!” 
Sadly, although Easter is reasonably easy to find as Fidra reprinted it, the rest of the series is monstrously difficult to find.
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For more on H M Peel, including an interview, see her page on my website.

Friday, 18 April 2014

PBOTD 18th April: Elizabeth Waud - Easter Meeting

Today's pony book has a thoroughly appropriate title: Easter Meeting. Author Elizabeth Waud wrote just one pony book, as far as I'm aware. Easter Meeting is the story of Geoffrey, Felicia, Simon and Loraine Knox. They spend their holidays with an aunt, who has a stud farm. Simon wants to look after his animals; Loraine to paint, but Felicia wants only to ride, and it looks as if this will be scuppered as a party of boys are also coming to stay. After initial disasters when they meet the boys, things calm down, and they all go to a point to point and co-operate in rescuing a horse stuck on the quicksands.

Harrap, 1959, 1st edn, illus Sheila Rose
The book is full of well-observed characters. Flicker (Felicia) is one of those personalities whose feelings and impulses tend to govern everybody else’s. Miss Knox, the aunt with whom the children are staying is brisk in the extreme. The children’s parents are away, which they mostly seem to be, and there is a rather poignant moment when Geoffrey, the eldest at 17, is asked if his mother is dead, as they spend all holidays with their aunt. He replies:
‘ “You thought she was dead? It almost seems like it sometimes,” said Geoffrey, so quietly that John could hardly hear."
But the children, as children do, get on with life. They haven't been dealt a particularly easy hand: their parents are absent, and the aunt is emotionally remote, and makes no concessions at all to the children. She does not like Simon’s animal-keeping habit, and that is that. There is some light on the horizon, which comes from the horses, who are characters just as much as the children, from the stallions Golden Boy and Bayard to the riding school horses Heather and Storm.

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Easter Meeting only had one publication, its first edition in 1959. The author has a page on my website, but if I'm honest, if you've read this blog post you've pretty much read the page.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

PBOTD 17th April: Catherine Harris - Riding for Ransom

Riding for Ransom is the third in the Marsham family series (and apologies for not including them thus far - Riding for Ransom makes it in because it's set in the Easter holidays). The Marshams are one of those large chaotic families quite common in pony books, but this family pride themselves on being dashing. This does cause them problems in the first two series, but they're worked out without too much effect on the realism of the plot. Riding for Ransom is different. The youngest son, Timothy, is kidnapped. This it turns out, is because he was mistaken for Simon, the son of the wealthy American family staying with the Marshams.

Blackie, 1960, illus Joan Thompson

So far, so good, but the author's need to maintain the Marsham children's position as dashing above all things leads her into some very odd alleys. I do find with this book the more that I read it, the more blindingly odd it seems. The scene which most makes me goggle is when Mrs Marsham hands the decision on whether or not to go to the police to Simon's father. Here's her justification:

“I still think it’s wrong, horribly wrong,” said Mrs. Marsham, “but it is up to Ensign to do what he thinks fit and we must abide by his decision, because the whole affair is centred around the Baddeleys and not the Marshams. It’s only because of that stupid mistake over Timothy‘s identity that we’re involved at all.”

But he's still your son, I want to yell, and he's just as kidnapped as the other boy, and in just as much danger. Mrs Marsham isn't quite finished. When she finds out the rest of her children have disappeared to rescue Timothy and Simon, she says:

“Aren’t we lucky to have such original children? Oh Roger, wouldn’t it be marvellous if this mission they’ve set out on were a success and they rescued Timothy and Simon and we never had to see another policeman?”

I burst out of the world of the book at that point, completely unable to maintain any belief in it. Of course everything does work out, but I still maintain that in a competition for most unlikely reactions to plot developments, this book has few equals.

Blackie, 1965, cover Harry Green
Riding for Ransom was first published by Blackie in 1960, illustrated by Joan Thompson. It was reprinted in 1965, with a rather more dramatic cover by Harry Green.

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For more on Catherine Harris and her books, she has a page on my website.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

PBOTD 16th April: Elizabeth Wynne - Heronsway

You get two pony books for the price of one today:  the Heronsway books, Pony Quest and Rescue Team were both published in 1989. That was as far as the series got. The author, Elizabeth Wynne, was a pseudonym used by the author Wendy Douthwaite. Under that name she'd already written several books for different publishers. She also wrote at least one title for the Animal Ark series: Donkey Derby (1999). The Heronsway books were the only ones based around an equestrian centre.

In the first book, Pony Quest, Sandy is the classic pony mad heroine: she longs for a pony of her own, and in particular, she wants Quest. She already actually has an owner, and Sandy shares caring for the mare in return for rides. She gets to have the mare on loan for a year at the end of the book, which we learn during what must be one of the cheeriest announcements of a parental divorce ever. Everyone is frighteningly well-adjusted. Stand back Ms Paltrow, the equestrian world was there way before you with conscious uncoupling.

Armada, 1989 1st edition
If you believed the blurb on the second book, Rescue Team, you'd think we get a well-worn trope, with a troop of children having to look after the stables when the owner is ill. It's all a bit more nuanced than that: you get an interesting build up before disaster overtakes the centre, with the emphasis on the normality of the children's lives, and their everyday summer holiday activities.

Armada, 1989 1st edition
It's a pity the books didn't continue beyond these two books. They're both very easy to find, and well worth a read. Both were published, for the first and only time, as Armada originals in 1989.

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 Here's the page on Elizabeth Wynne, and here's the one on Wendy Douthwaite.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

PBOTD 15th April: Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Show Jumping Secret

Josephine Pullein-Thompson had a passion for instruction.  Her own acquaintance with the Pony Club, that usual vehicle of equine learning for the young, was brief. An early rally she and her sisters went to was held at Stonor Park, and centred on stable management.  The lecture was held in a Victorian stable, and as the door was blocked by older children, the Pullein-Thompsons saw and heard nothing. 

Collins, 1955, 1st edn, illus Sheila Rose
Armada paperback, 1969
Josephine's experience of mounted rallies was brief. In Fair Girls and Grey Horses she describes how she hired a “clipped, stabled and corn-fed pony over which I had absolutely no control.”  There were no more pony club rallies after that.  Despite this early off-putting start, as an adult Josephine went on to become District Commissioner of the Woodland Hunt Pony Club, and she maintained her belief that horses should be ridden properly, and that there was always, always, room for improvement.  Angela Bull, writing in Twentieth Century Children's Writers, says that worship of the pony was not enough for Josephine Pullein-Thompson.  “She writes for the serious purpose of turning her readers into better horsemen..... she set about using the pony story, with its well-tried themes of struggle and achievement, as a vehicle for instruction.” And she instructed boys as well as girls. 

Collins Seagull, 1963
Collins Pony Library, 1974
Armada pb, 1980s?
She breaks with tradition by having boys as the principal characters in some of her books. Show Jumping Secret has a hero, Charles, who has to battle two things: his polio, which has left him with a lame leg, and the utter conviction of his horsy cousins that their way (legs forward, hands in lap) is best, and that his modern ways are strange.  Charles eventually wins through, and he and his mare win a Foxhunter Championship – Charles progresses further than any of Josephine’s other characters, in the competition sense at least.   

What is it about cousins? Are there ever any helpful, decent ones? Jill has Cecilia; Jean's cousins in A Pony for Jean weren't welcoming to start with, and Augusta's cousins in Diana Pullein-Thompson's I Wanted a Pony were uniformly foul. It's a hard calling, being a cousin in a pony book.

Armada paperback, 1981
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Show Jumping Secret was first published by Collins in 1955, and was illustrated by Sheila Rose. It then appeared as a Seagull Library edition in 1963, with a different cover. It was an Armada paperback, appearing in 1969. The Collins Pony Library had yet another cover in 1974, and two the final editions had the classic late 20th century photo cover, and were published in the 1980s. 

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

Monday, 14 April 2014

PBOTD 14th April: Diana Pullein-Thompson - The Pennyfields

Today's pony book is one you quite possibly haven't read. The Pennyfields (1947) was published twice in paperback form by Armada in the 1960s, and that was its lot. It was Diana’s least successful book. The Pennyfields moves away from the first person portrayal of a solitary girl with which she was most at home, and features a large family, bursting with characters. Chaotic and ebullient, the Pennyfields are short of money (in the traditional pony book sense only; the children go away to school, have a large house and a housekeeper, but they lack money for frills). They are trying to earn enough to buy a pony and a shotgun. They already have a donkey
Collins, 1949, 1st edition
 It's rather a frustrating book to read: the family’s schemes are doomed never to work out quite as they should. Their efforts to provide a removal service are almost scuppered by their disobedient donkey, and their transport service comes within a whisker of being wrecked by the spectacularly tactless younger sister Jennet. After a very little while, there is a dreadful inevitability about much of it: an interesting event pops up, only to end in predictable disaster, caused by one or other of this family who have little in the way of redeeming (or differentiating) features.
Armada paperback 1964, cover Peter Archer
The book ends with swift and unbelievable coincidence: the requisite ponies – two in fact – are granted to the family to ride right at the end of the book, as a reward for retrieving a necklace, and a couple of pages further on, more ponies are promised as the children’s father has had a rise in salary. 

Armada paperback 1964, cover Peter Archer, variant edition
This whirlwind of equine acquisition sits rather oddly with the struggles the book has been concerned with up until then. The Pennyfields has not found favour with fans of the genre: pony book aficionado Barbara Mclintock said “It is not only that I didn't find the characters likeable (although I didn't), but for some reason which I can't quite fathom, I didn't find them realistic either. They just never came across to me as a real family.”

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For much, much more on Diana Pullein-Thompson, see her page on my website.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

PBOTD 13th April: Joanna Cannan - They Bought Her A Pony

In They Bought Her a Pony (1944), Joanna Cannan's heroine, Angela Peabody, moves out to the country. You'd expect, if Angela were a conventional pony book heroine, that she would not have a pony but would long for one and would acquire one, before going on to beat the local girls at the gymkhana, most of whom were rich and not, therefore, terribly good riders.

Collins, 1944, 1st edn, illus Rosemary Robertson
However, in this book, it's Angela Peabody who's rich. Very rich indeed. Her family's money is however lately acquired and Angela is hopelessly over-indulged (it's interesting to see this model being used in Joanna's daughter Diana's later book Three Ponies and Shannan, where Christina though indulged is not spoiled). We do see a little of a better Angela: before they move, she buries her little model horses in the window box so they can't be thrown out.

Alas, this is only a temporary retreat into the determined pursuit of right that is the lot of the pony girl. Angela is an object lesson of what too much money allied to too little sense can do. Angela wants a pony, so Angela gets one. She does not have a world-beating pony. She thinks she does. The riding school owner who sold the Peabodys Flash knew perfectly well that Mr Peabody was the sort who thinks the more expensive something is the better it must be: accordingly he sells Mr Peabody a very expensive bad pony. 

Collins, 1960s reprint
When Angela and her parents move into their expensive new house, which they have done up in that way that shrieks new money and automatically makes the rest of the neighbourhood despise you, Angela is still firm in her opinions. She has the best pony, and she's going to win everything.

Collins, 1972
Then Angela meets the bohemian Cochranes. Unbrushed, chaotic and not by comparison with Angela, terribly well off, she patronises them. How can they possibly be as good at riding as she is? But Angela learns, as we know she must, that money doesn't equal talent: it might be able to buy you flattering opinions, but not actual prowess.
Collins, 1971
They  Bought Her a Pony  was one of Joanna Cannan's more widely published works. It was first published in 1944, reprinted several times with a slightly less elaborate cover, and then appeared in two Collins anthologies, Three Great Pony Stories (1971) and in the next year's  Vanguard Book of Ponies and Riding.

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For much more on Joanna Cannan, see her page on my website.