Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas Day 2015

Patricia Leitch died earlier this year. She wrote one of the best ever pony series with the Jinny books, and book eleven, Horse of Fire, has one of the most magical Christmas scenes in a children's book. This post is dedicated to Patricia with thanks for the many presents she gave the world through her books.

Jinny and Shantih are appearing in the local nativity play. Jinny has fine and splendid dreams about how she and Shantih will appear as glorious king and even more glorious horse, but when the moment comes, it's not like that at all. Jinny is cast into utter misery by the rude disconnect between her dreams and reality, but then, as they're leaving, a little boy stops and stares up at Shantih.

"The little boy stared up at Shantih, his eyes wide with tiredness and excitement. 'I saw them,' he stated stubbornly. 'It was the golden wings it had.' 'You're right,' said Ken, speaking directly to the little boy. 'I saw them too.' 'Filling his head with such nonsense,' snapped the woman, but the child's face lit up as he smiled at Ken. 'You see,' said Ken, as they watched the little boy being dragged away. 'It is always worthwhile. All his life he'll remember Shantih's golden wings. Tell his grandchildren about them.' A surge of gratitude lifted through Jinny. It had all been worthwhile - the hassle, the striving, the not giving in. For the little boy the nativity play had been as wonderful as Jinny had wanted it to be for everyone."

And then Jinny and Ken, after they confound the deer smugglers who've been plaguing the moors, go to the Tinkers' celebration of Christmas.
"Here there were no costumes, no kings, no one striving to make this simple ceremony the best ever. It was as it was. Suddenly Jinny saw that all her efforts to turn the Glenbost nativity play into a spectacular happening had only been a way of showing off, wanting to make people see her as the best king, to admire Shantih. She hadn't really cared about the nativity. She had only cared about Jinny Manders being the most.
They went one by one and knelt before the Child. Sara first, the other tinkers, then Ken, and last of all Jinny. It seemed they moved in a formal, precise dance in which all played their part - those who waited and those who knelt. Jinny would have left Shantih as Ken had left Bramble but Sara motioned her to take Shantih with her. While Jinny knelt Shantih breathed warm sweet breath over the baby, who opened his eyes and laughed."

Thank you very much for sticking with this Advent Calendar. A very Merry Christmas to you all.

~  0  ~

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Advent Calendar 24 - Catherine Harris: The Ponies of Cuckoo Mill Farm

Catherine Harris' Marsham family crash through her series about them, and Christmas is no different. This Christmas they have to suffer the terrible (in their opinion) Forrest family, whose father has died. The initial meeting between the families did not go well. Mrs Marsham has to dole out some harsh home truths - but before she does that, she describes what Christmas Eve is like for her:

"I think Christmas Eve is the most beautiful of all nights," said Mrs. Marsham. She pointed towards the uncurtained window. 'Look how bright the stars are tonight. One couldn't help but know that it's Christmas night just by seeing them. And then there's a sense of silence somehow. I know we all rush about and make lots of noise and upset things, but beyond ourselves, the very atmosphere close around us seems so very still, waiting. It's the one night when I believe in magic.'
Happy Christmas Eve.

~  0  ~ 

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Advent Calendar 23 - Veronica Westlake: The Ten Pound Pony

Veronica Westlake's The Ten Pound Pony is one of my absolute favourite books, and hopefully one of Susan Keith's, who suggested this, too. This excerpt is set on Christmas Eve (as is tomorrow's), and I really need to say nothing about it as it makes all the points it needs to perfectly well on its own.

We all went to bed for a short time after that, as later on we should be walking three miles into New Fratton (and back) to go to Midnight Mass there, and I think we were all in a strange, dreamy, unreal state when, with a slight shiver, we stepped out into the brilliant moonlight and started our long walk through a shining fairy-land of frost and snow. 

It must have been that queer trance between sleeping and waking that set me thinking and wondering about Colonel Mainwaring. Beastly as he had always been to us, incomprehensible in his headstrong rages, I yet felt sorry for him as I sat in the warm, glowing little church looking at the bright colours on the altar and hearing the first strains of the Adeste Fideles pealing out.  
Later on, as laughing and joking we pelted towards home and saw our funny little cottage, looking just like a Christmas cake in the moonlight, with the little candle in the window burning steadily in its bowl of moss, and a log fire, and the tiny glittering Christmas tree waiting for us inside, I wondered if he were shut up alone reading in his big, empty shuttered house from which all life and love seemed to have been driven - lonely and alone."

~  0  ~

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Advent Calendar 22 - Ruby Ferguson: Jill Has Two Ponies

I couldn't let Christmas pass without another episode of Jillish Christmas. In Jill Has Two Ponies, Jill gets an early Christmas present of two loose boxes. She gets her mother a splendid white cushion "from a shop that appeared to be the kind of place that furnished palaces," and both are delighted with their presents.

Jill's other presents more than make up for this bounty. They are presents with a theme.

"As for my other presents, by some strange trick of Fate they nearly all turned out to be handkerchiefs. As I opened mysterious parcels in the cold light of that Christmas dawn and more and more handkerchiefs fell upon my bed I began to think I was under a spell, like people in fairy-tales. Of course I could understand getting handkerchiefs from rather soul-less people like my Aunt Primrose and my cousin Cecilia (of whom you have read in my previous books) and handkerchiefs I got, six white linen ones of a rather dainty size with a white J. for Jill in the corner; but when it came to Ann Derry I just couldn't guess what she was thinking about! The six she sent me were jolly big ones and would come in for stable rubbers, but why shouldn't a horsy person send another horsy person stable rubbers and have done with it? 

Mrs Lowe, Martin's mother, had also sent me handkerchiefs. Seven of different colours with the name of the day of the week in the corner, upon which day I suppose that particular handkerchief had to be used. I began to wonder if some awful Fate would befall the careless person who used the wrong handkerchief on the wrong day. In any case it would probably put you off pretty badly if you pulled out your handkerchief and found it said Monday when you knew perfectly well it was Saturday.

 ...When I went into Mummy's room and told her about all these handkerchiefs she laughed like anything and said it was a judgement on me for all the hundreds I had lost in a long and energetic lifetime. Then we heard Mrs. Crosby (No Relation to Bing) letting herself in downstairs and I went down to give her her present. Then she gave me what she had brought for me, which was a handkerchief, an enormous yellow cotton one with red horses' heads all over it.

~  0  ~

Monday, 21 December 2015

Advent Calendar 21 - K M Peyton: The Team

Jonathan Meredith is sitting watch his mother sort out the Pony Club files at Christmas time as she tries to work out which Pony Club members are possibles for the team.

"Jonathan heaved another half-hundredweight log into the ancient fire-place and watched an explosion of sparks spray across the soot-dark recess. It was snowing outside, a wet slow drift spattering the dusk. He was grateful for his privilege,sitting there with his knees close to the embers, feeling the warmth striking through his thin denims. He had been selling Christmas things in the Oxfam shop all day, and now didn't even have to go out and do his own horse for the night, for there was a groom to do it for him. Having been surrounded all day by posters of starving children, his own life suddenly seemed a bit odd, even pointless. He mother, for example, frowning over her card index. As if it mattered! 
'There's Peter NcNair, of course, if he happens to have a decent pony when the moment comes. You can never count on his father doing the right thing. He only thinks of the money.' 
'Well, it is his living,' Jonathan pointed out. 
Mr. McNair was a horse-dealer and his son's mounts came and went. The good ones mostly went, and Peter was left with the pigs. 
'If only he hadn't sold that chestnut, Toadhill Flax,' Mrs. Meredith grieved. 'Peter and that animal - what a combination. They could have gone right to the very top. Made for each other. I wonder what became of that pony? I've never heard of it since it was sold.'

And so is set up the scenario in which Ruth, who has outgrown Fly-by-Night, buys a lame pony she thinks is Toad at the local sales, and sets off a whole chain of reactions she doesn't, at first, understand.

~ 0  ~

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Advent Calendar 20 - Golden Gorse: Moorland Mousie

Moorland Mousie is an even earlier pony story than Joanna Cannan's A Pony for Jean, and it's one of the best examples of the pony-tells-its-own-tale stories that were so popular in the early decades of the 20th century.

Moorland Mousie is an Exmoor pony, and the book tells his story from foalhood through being rounded up and broken, to his somewhat chequered career as a child's pony. Mousie and his companion Tinker have been left terrified of humanity after being rounded up. Fortunately Patience, the daughter of Colonel Coke, who bought both ponies, takes things very, very slowly, and provides an object lesson in how to treat a wild pony. By Christmas, she's made progress.

"From now on life became pleasanter. Fear is a terrible thing, and it is the greatest trouble of all horses. It was a wonderful thing to feel that there was at least one human being of whom we were no longer afraid. 
By Christmas Patience had succeeded in getting us both haltered, and that without scaring us one little bit. She did it all step by step, making a tiny bit of progress each day - never impatient, never in a hurry - and it was not till a very long time after, when I had met all sorts of human beings and realized how little they understand horses and how impatient they are, that I realized what a wonderful child she was."

~  0  ~

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Advent Calendar 19 - Wendy Douthwaite: The Christmas Pony

Today's book is supremely well titled for this time of year: it's Wendy Douthwaite's Christmas Pony. Many thanks to Sue Howes for suggesting it, and also for providing the text. My personal collection of pony books stutters to a stop around 1980, so Wendy Douthwaite rather passed me by.

Sue has however swept to the rescue from the deepest South West. The Christmas Pony is the story of farmer's daughter Lindy, whose mother died. Her father has now remarried, and this is Lindy's first Christmas with her new stepmother, Susan. They don't get on, but the relationship improves over the course of the story, and Lindy ends up with guess what.... actually rather more than she bargained for. HUGE spoilers about to follow, so don't read on if you'd like to read the book for yourself and discover the surprise.

"The house was quiet, but all around Lindy could hear the gentle roar of the blizzard. It was a noise that she had never heard before, and it sent a shiver of fear through her. As she crept down the stairs, lighting her way with the torch, she thought of all the wild animals out in the storm. But most of all, she wondered about her pony. 
She made her way through the kitchen, where the range, closed up for the night, clinked occasionally, like some big warm animal, sighing in its sleep. In the scullery, Lindy thrust her feet resolutely into her wellington boots.  
Now that she had arrived at the back door, Lindy hesitated. The world outside sounded somehow alien and sinister as the blizzard roared. Then she thought again of Gypsy, and she lifted the latch..... 
At last, Lindy reached the shed. She stopped, her hand on Gypsy's quarters. The snow was driving across the open front of the shed, but inside it was less cold, and it was dry, and at last Lindy was able to walk without lifting her feet high at every step.
"Hullo, you lovely little pony," Lindy murmured, smoothing Gypsy's neck, which was still lowered. Gypsy seemed to be eating the hay which Lindy had left in the corner of the shed for her. 
"So you decided you liked the hay after all," she said. "I told you it was Dad's- " She stopped, suddenly, unable for a few moments to believe her eyes. 
Gypsy was not eating the hay. She was gently licking a tiny black foal which lay in the corner of the shed!"

~  0 ~

Friday, 18 December 2015

Advent Calendar 18 - Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Prince Among Ponies

The Advent Calendar choice for today is Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Prince Among Ponies. Like Diana's I Wanted a Pony, this doesn't really focus on Christmas, although there is a mention. The whole glorious focus of this book is Adonis, the beautiful but wayward grey pony Patrick and Sara discover when they go and visit some family friends.

He is possibly the uber-pony gift (although there is of course Cascade, Tamzin's part-Arab pony in Wish for a Pony). Prince Among Ponies ticks all the Pullein-Thompson boxes - there's good and sensible riding set against the bash and point school, humour, and a good set of relationship dynamics.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Advent Calendar 17 - Ruby Ferguson - Jill's Gymkhana

Many thanks to Vanessa Robertson for suggesting this book for the advent calendar. The advent calendar thus far has had only a cursory mention of Jill - or to be more accurate, Black Boy, and not even him, his day rug. The day rug crops up again here, because it's one of Jill's Christmas presents in the first Jill story, Jill's Gymkhana.

Some pony books shoot through Christmas at a rate of knots, but in Jill's Gymkhana you get an entire chapter titled Christmas. 

While writing this, I've changed my mind and am going to focus on a different bit of the chapter, as I have covered Black Boy's day rug every year I've done this calendar. Why? Why am I obsessed by this?

So, here is the scene where Ann says there are other things in life other than pony books. Ann, being super organised, has already given Jill a present (yellow riding gloves), and Jill is mortified as she had not even thought of giving Ann anything. However, Mrs Crewe comes to the rescue with a signed copy of her latest book.
"After dinner we cleared away and I washed up while Mummy wrote one or two thank-you letters, because if you don't do these in the first flush of enthusiasm you can't think what to say and even forget what the person sent you. 
I had hardly finished when Ann arrived. She had got one of her little sisters with her, riding on a new tricyle, and Ann had to see that she didn't fall off or twist her ankles or do any of the dire things that her mother thought she might do. 
To my surprise Ann was quite thrilled with the 'Winnie' book, and couldn't get over the fact that Mummy had written it. She said she would start reading it as soon as she got home and was sure she would love it as it would be a nice change from pony books.

I am quite tempted now to follow Mrs Crewe's lead and search out the fluffiest, gooiest children's books I can find to finish off this advent calendar.

~  0  ~

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Advent Calendar 16 - Diana Pullein-Thompson: I Wanted a Pony

Today's book is Diana Pullein-Thompson's I Wanted a Pony. Many thanks to Kerry Newson for suggesting it.

I wonder how many of you spent the run up to Christmas wishing fervently for a pony, and whose Christmas lists to Father Christmas featured one thing, a pony? Mine certainly did, and I would usually be told to write another one because Father Christmas needed a few other things to go on in case he couldn't get a pony. Sadly, Father Christmas never did prove equal to the task of providing a pony for me.

I made do with other people's experiences, and Augusta, heroine of I Wanted a Pony possibly remains my favourite girl-gets-pony story. I love Augusta's feisty refusal to accept her cousins' view of her, and her dogged persistence in raising the money to buy Daybreak.

When I met Diana Pullein-Thompson we discussed the fact that she thought it one of her worst books. I asked her why, and she replied that she thought it was derivative. Derivative of what? I asked - and it was her mother's books on which she thought it was based too closely. I can see what she meant. Augusta is in some ways very similar to Jean, and is another determined and solitary character who doesn't particularly care what other people think of her and works things out in her own way. And of course Jean too has cousins, albeit not ones on the same plain of nastiness and snobbery as Augusta's.

Augusta may have been Jean's sister, but I don't think that matters - Augusta is just as believable as Jean, and the story has a sense of humour to it that perhaps Diana's later books did not have. I always think the mark of a truly good story is that it sticks in your brain. When someone mentions it to you, you are not left groping about in your brain for plots, wondering what happens in this one. And who has read I Wanted a Pony, and not come away knowing that the answer to a head shaker might well be a too-tight browband?

And Augusta does, of course, get that pony. This post is dedicated to all those children, everywhere, hoping that there might be a pony for them this Christmas.

~  0  ~

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Advent Calendar 15 - Christine Pullein-Thompson - The First Rosette

I've been trawling through my CPT collection to find a book with a Christmas scene - I thought the hunting trilogy would have one, but if so, it's passed me by. Let me know in the comments if you do know of anything and I'll try and include it.

Today's book is The First Rosette, the first in the David and Pat series. David is 10 when the story opens. He is the only one in his family who likes horses, and his parents want him to better himself. Horses, they think, are not the way to do it. David doesn't give up, and helps at a local riding stable. After rescuing the Master's daughter when she falls off her pony, David is given the opportunity to ride the difficult pony Sinbad.

Christmas comes, and it's a special one for David.

"They all opened their presents together at eleven o'clock. Further along the road they could hear the church clock striking. Outside the world seemed full of sunlight. David opened the parcel which said, from Mum and Dad, and inside were jodhpur boots, a marvellous brand new pair. Michael and his wife had given him riding gloves, John, a year's subscription to a magazine called Pony. Pat's present was a riding stick. David didn't know what to say. He seemed to have been given everything in the world he wanted. He realised now how much he had hated the thought of hunting in woollen gloves, how wonderful it would be to leave his working, everyday boots at home. And he still hadn't opened Susan's present. It was soft and floppy and when he undid the Christmas paper he found a tie. It was red and there were foxes' masks on it. 
'That's for you to wear tomorrow,' Susan said, grinning at him from the other side of the Christmas tree. He had given her bath salts and a brooch. Mum had bought them for him. 
It seemed to David then that the family approved of him riding. They didn't mind him not winning a scholarship to the grammar school, or not wishing to go to Cambridge."

 ~  0  ~

Monday, 14 December 2015

Advent Calendar 14: Monica Dickens - World's End in Winter

As promised, here is a regular winter favourite. This is another childhood favourite of mine. I loved the World's End series, with its family existing with virtually no adult input, in a ramshackle old inn (something of a theme emerging here - yesterday's book also features a rackety and dishevelled house) filled with the animals the Fielding family rescue.

This book does actually have the Fielding parents present. Jerome Fielding's brother, Rudolph comes down, with his wife Valentina, to spent Christmas. Jerome, unable to resist a desperate attempt to prove to his brother that he is a success, announces that a newspaper will print his book. This backfires terribly when Rudolph says that now Jerome is earning, they can pay rent for World's End.

Before this disaster, the Fieldings have their own present giving. Elder brother Tom has brought everyone animals, and for Lester, there is a cage of robins.

"Tom gave Lester a cage of Peking robins which he had seen in a shop in the town, with a holly-decorated sign, ' GIVE A YULETIDE REDBREAST.'
Caught wild, the birds had been flown from China in their thousands, crammed into tiny cages, shoulder to shoulder on the perch.
Tortured birds - to celebrate the birthday of Christ? 
Everybody went outside and watched while Lester took the cage to the edge of the beech wood and opened the door. One by one, the frightened birds hopped into the doorway, stretched their cramped wings, looked round to make sure they were not being tricked once more, and flew off into the trees. 
'Will they be all right?' Carrie asked. 'Mightn't they die?'
'A few,' Lester said, 'But they'll die free.'

Now that I am older and know about these things, I do worry in case the Peking robins went the way of other alien species and did our own native wildlife no good at all. But this is fiction, and I think that they did not, and simply added a little exoticism to the native robin genepool.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Advent Calendar 13 - Monica Edwards: Black Hunting Whip

The next two Advent Calendar books are hoary old favourites. I nearly went ahead and told you what tomorrow's will be, but you'll have to check in tomorrow to find that out.

Today's book is Black Hunting Whip. I loved this story when I was growing up, and I still do, even now I have traded in my trusty and very battered 1960s paperback Armada for a smart-ish* hardback. Black Hunting Whip is the first of the Punchbowl Farm series - to be truly accurate, it's the second, but No Mistaking Corker doesn't take place on the farm, and is a rather different animal to the rest of the Punchbowl series.

I have spent much of my house-owning life taking on houses no one else wanted because they were so vile (among my son's first words were "Be careful!" which he would mutter to himself as he negotiated the gaps in the floorboards and other traps that made for a house which was a careful mother's health and safety nightmare).

Punchbowl Farm is one of those houses, though the Thornton family don't negotiate it as toddlers. They do, however, have that magical experience of discovery that you have with a very old house that has been much altered over the centuries. Not everything goes well, and Lindsey is ill for Christmas and has to spend it in bed.

When I first read this book, I was far more interested in Lindsey's watching the ponies being led out of the field and up to the house so she can see them out of her bedroom window on Christmas morning, but now I have a distinctly fellow feeling for Mrs Thornton, as she tidies Lindsey's room after the excitement of present opening.

"Between the Tree and tea-time Lindsey fell asleep. She still had the fur foal, which she had called Ginger Cream, and Appley Dappley in her hands, and though her bed had been tided of the stocking things it was now strewn with presents from the Tree. Another foal, in brown china, lying down with one foreleg hooked up, four books, a checked scarf, a pair of red slippers, a horse-shoe tiepin, several book tokens and postal orders, and a framed picture of a black hunter's head. 
Mrs. Thornton lifted the things one by one and put them on the dressing-table, but the black hunter she hung over the fireplace, removing the windjammer in full sail which was already there and hanging it by the door of the dusty priest hole. This done, she opened the priest hole door and looked in on the rotting floorboards, falling plaster and diamond window so ancient that one could hardly see through it. But what she saw was a neat and shining bathroom, rubber floor, green tiles, hot and cold taps and a shower. And as she shut the tiny door she thought to herself, "All in good time. It will be a lovely house." 

* it's not that smart, actually, as I have just had to scan the shelves several times to find it, having forgotten that the title area is missing from the spine.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Advent Calendar 12 - F K Brown: Last Hurdle

Today's Advent Calendar swoops across the pond, and is courtesy of my friend Christina Wilsdon. Chris introduced me to this book (in fact she gave me a copy). It's F K Brown's Last Hurdle, and it's the story of Kathy, her brother Ned, and her horse, Baldy. Chris calls him a work-in-progress, and that's exactly what he is.

It's a lovely, lovely book. I checked on the book selling sites, and it is, thankfully, reasonably easy to obtain over here. I can highly recommend it. Here's a lovely Christmas excerpt, which captures both the comfort and excitement of family tradition, and the bliss of getting a Christmas present that is so well suited to you it fulfils a need you didn't even know you had..

"Christmas Eve arrived in a blur of anticipation and happiness. She and Ned, after supper, stamped through the house carrying lighted candles and singing carols at the top of their voices.
 'It came upon a midnight clear...' Ritually they walked into every bedroom upstairs and around among the furniture even though the rooms were empty. Their parents were still downstairs getting ready for their usual Christmas Eve hot chocolate and cake.
 'Noel, Noel..." they sang, clumping down the stairs, Kathy first and Ned following with their shadows wavering across the wall, now thin and tall, now fat and squatty. Ned's voice quavered and broke in a squeak on the highest 'Noel' and they both shrieked with laughter.
 Mrs. Nelson came out of the kitchen to join their singing, and their father put down his newspaper to march around the living room, singing 'Silent  Night.' In great excitement they all hung their stockings from the mantel over the dying fire. Mrs. Nelson brought in the hot chocolate while Mr. Nelson put on a recording of the Westminster choir singing carols. They sat around the fire, too happy to talk.
 As always on Christmas Eve, Kathy was sure that she had not slept at all, yet she found herself awakening to the sunshine streaming through the window and the realization that this was Christmas Day. She and Ned raced downstairs for their stockings as their parents, in bathrobes and slippers, stirred from their room to join them.
 The living room was suffused with sunshine and warmth and filled with excited cries and screams of pleasure. Kathy was sure that she had never been so happy. In the pile of packages beneath the lighted tree there was a black saddle blanket with a golden star on either side for her, and a big new horse book with fine illustrations and exciting photographs of horses in action. After the celebrating calmed down somewhat and her mother busied herself getting breakfast, she leafed through the book idly until her attention was focused on the section, a whole third of the book, dealing with the training and showing of jumpers. Her eye was caught by a sentence in the prologue to the section: 'Many fine potential jumpers are ruined beyond rehabilitation by a faulty approach in their initial training while, conversely, many potential jumpers are never discovered for lack of any approach at all.'
 That's it, Kathy thought excitedly and, oblivious of everything going on around her, she sat down on the floor and began to read."

Friday, 11 December 2015

The Pony Book Collectors 1

I'm starting a new occasional series on people who collect pony books. I am also fascinated by other people's collections, because no two pony book collections are the same.

Today's interviewee is Fiona Williams from Canada. I sold several books to Fiona during my bookselling career, and also snaffled one from under her nose recently, as you'll find out.

~  0  ~

JB: When did you start your collection?

FW: My collection basically started when I was a child in the 1960s, as I've still got most of my pony books. I re-started it in the mid 1980s when I found some titles I didn't have going cheap in the second hand shops. Nowadays I do almost all of my book shopping on-line.

JB: Why did you decide to collect pony books?

FW: Nostalgia, really. I wanted to own some of the titles I'd always wanted to read as a kid, or had only read a library copy.

JB: Do you collect anything else?

FW:  Yes. I have an almost complete set of Georgette Heyer hardcovers, and an almost complete set of Elizabeth Goudge hardcovers. I also have most of the Thelwell books in hardcover. I've also got quite a number of the juvenile historicals I read as a child, by such authors as Cynthia Harnett, Geoffrey Trease, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Eloise Jarvis McGraw. I've also got a fair number of antique reference books, many with absolutely gorgeous colour plates. Most of those date between about 1900 to about 1935.

JB: What is your best find?

FW: I've had a number of "best finds", but one that sticks out among the pony books would be about half a dozen Marguerite Henry hardcovers going for 75% off in a store which was closing down.

JB: Is your collection aimed at anything in particular – eg, a particular author/time span?

FW: Most of my pony books were published prior to 1980, with the majority being prior to 1970. I'm not quite so interested in the more modern stuff, although I do have a few. In the past few years, I've mainly been collecting hardcovers, preferably with dust jackets. Many of these are replacements for earlier paperbacks, which had been falling apart. Also, far too many of the paperbacks had been abridged, and I want complete original versions. Living in Canada, I do have both American and British titles.

JB: Do you try and keep your collection within bounds, or is it anything goes?
FW: Basically anything goes, although I do try frantically to keep it within the bounds of the available bookshelf space. That's kind of a losing battle, as many of my books are double shelved, with the paperbacks at the back.

JB: Where does your collection live?

FW: The pony books live in my bedroom. I have a corner shelving unit in there comprising twelve shelves, six on either side. They have to share that space with other genres, though.

JB: Is there one that got away?

FW: Yes, you beat me out in an eBay auction for a copy of Joanna Cannan's More Ponies for Jean, in hardcover with dust jacket a while ago. I'm glad to report that I have recently found another going fairly cheaply at $25.00, although it isn't in quite such good condition as the one you got.

This is not that copy...
JB: What is your most treasured book?

FW: That's an incredibly difficult question to answer. Is it my complete set of Jill books in hard cover with dust jackets? Is it my almost complete set of Pullein-Thompson hardcovers with dustjackets? Maybe my Walter Farley hard covers? Or is it my 8 volume miniature set of Shakespeare that was published in 1852 and has been in my family since new? Probably the latter. I've never ever seen another set like it, and I've been booking for years. I tried to have it valued once, and the valuer gave me what I suspect was a seriously low ball figure, and then promptly offered to buy it.

JB: What book would you be happiest to see under the Christmas tree?

FW: Right now that would be a toss up between a hard cover copy with dust jacket of For Want of a Saddle, which would complete my early Pullein-Thompson collection, or Joanna Cannan's Another Pony for Jean, also in hard cover with dust jacket.

~  0  ~

Thank you very much Fiona! I hope you have an excellent Christmas, and promise you I am well and truly out of the market for Another Pony for Jean.

Advent Calendar 11 - Diana Pullein-Thompson: A Pony for Sale

Diana Pullein-Thompson's A Pony for Sale is the story of Martini, the pony who becomes a Christmas present that goes wrong. Broken in by Guy Beaumont, he sells her to the Cox family as an early Christmas present for their daughter, Pip. Pip is initially thrilled by Martini, a far cry from her outgrown patent safety pony, Rex, but Pip is nervous, and inclined to be influenced by others. She is too nervous of her parents to tell them that things are not going well with Martini, too afraid of her friend Tessa to tell her to ride sensibly and not hot Martini up, and too afraid of being despised to ask for help.

After a disastrous hunt in which Martini bolts, Pip finally plucks up the courage to tell her parents how badly things are going. They blame Guy Beaumont, and Martini is sold on to the brutal Lydia Pike. Pip gives up riding altogether shortly afterwards after a fall broke her nerve.

Martini goes on to have a truly terrible time at the hands of Lydia Pike, before being bought by Lettie Lonsdale, who is the polar opposite of Pip, and is able to re-school Martini.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Advent Calendar 10 - Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Plenty of Ponies

Today's Advent Calendar book is Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Plenty of Ponies - the early Armada edition below, with the truly awful backward seat, is one I'm sure Josephine disapproved of tremendously. She and her sisters were both fierce advocates of Caprilli's theory of using the forward seat when jumping.

The Esmond family, heroes and heroines of the book, have been ruined by money. When they lived in a cottage and had to scrape round and do everything themselves, they were much nicer characters, Charlotte thinks. Now they have a large house, a pony each, a groom, and people to help in the house. The Esmonds decide to start a society devoted to improving their characters. and all of this is given impetus by what happens after Christmas Day.

Christmas itself went very well:
"The Esmonds were, as usual, all very gay and agreeable on Christmas Day; it was the only day in the year in which none of the children ever quarrelled. On birthdays they thought it permissible to quarrel with any one except the birthday person, but at Christmas it was traditional for everyone to be in a good temper."

But Christmas is, alas, only a short respite in the Esmonds' world of gloom.
"In spite of the breeches and boots and the new lashes which Father Christmas had brought for their hunting whips, the Esmonds didn't enjoy the Boxing Day hunt nearly as much as they expected. From the very beginning everything seemed to go wrong." 

The family get up late, and cannot cope with the fact their groom is having a day off. Paul's pony Turk bolts and runs through hounds. The family prove completely unable of moving their ponies out of the way when the hunt needs to get past, and the Master informs them they are"the worst-mannered lot of children it has ever been my misfortune to have out with these hounds."

The Esmonds have a lot to go through before they can regard themselves as reformed characters.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Advent Calendar 9 - Lucy Rees: The Wild Pony

Lucy Rees' Wild Pony is today's Advent Calendar title, and is the suggestion of Lucy Bruckner. Wild Pony was Lucy Rees' first book, and she wrote it while she had her own riding school, which no doubt provided her with plenty of raw material on which to draw. Heroine Pippa and her parents move to the country (Wales) and Pippa, classic star-crossed, pony-less girl, dreams of having a pony now that having somewhere to keep it isn't the huge problem it was while living in town. 

As is the way of these things, lack of money means compromises must be made, and the compromise Pippa makes is buying a wild pony off the Welsh hills who is at times downright dangerous. This doesn't help her relationship with her parents. Christmas arrives, and Pippa spends some of it with her family, but sneaks off to see her friend Susan, and then to Ty Mawr, where live the bohemian family that fascinates Pippa. Pippa gives them possibly one of the most memorable pony book Christmas presents ever:
"I had a present for them all, but I wasn't at all sure about it, although it was one of my most treasured possessions: a complete goat's skull, with enormous horn, that I'd found up in the hills. I put the parcel on a chair, said goodbye, and left. They didn't seem to notice. But as I was catching the pony the door opened and they all tumbled out.
"Hey, don't run away, you haven't had this yet." It was a heavy belt, with an old brass buckle. All handmade. Lovely. I felt ashamed.
Mum and Dad, of course, were upset and curious when I got back."

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Advent Calendar 8 - Gillian Baxter: The Perfect Horse

Today's book has been chosen by Sabrina Ferguson, and it's The Perfect Horse, by Gillian Baxter. It's the third in the Bracken Stables trilogy, which starts with Jump to the Stars, in which heroine Bobby battles with an unsympathetic school, and a worse than unsympathetic aunt to achieve her dream of working for stable owner Guy Matthews, and riding the chestnut mare, Shelta.

The Difficult Summer had what I would call a bit more than difficulties - an aeroplane crashes onto the stables and causes a fire.  Horses die, Guy ends up in hospital, and buildings are destroyed. All that has been overcome by the time of the The Perfect Horse.

Gillian's cousin, Ellen, reappears, asking Bobby and Guy to find her a horse she can event on - rather a surprising request for a girl who we feel rides because it's socially acceptable. The horse they find is called Minos, and he never puts a foot wrong. Ever.

Minos is the perfect, push button horse. Point him at a fence and he'll work out what to do and jump it. Minos is supremely confident, because nothing in his life has ever gone wrong. And then it does, and Bobby is faced, out on the course at Badminton, with a horse having a major and catastrophic collapse of confidence.

~  0  ~

Monday, 7 December 2015

Interview: Katharina Marcus

Katharina Marcus is a brilliant YA author. I first came across her when I read (and reviewed) her first book, Eleanor McGraw, a Pony Named Mouse and a Boy Called Fire. Her Boys Don’t Ride  blew me away, and was my book of last year (in case you’re wondering, there won’t be an equestrian fiction review this year as I simply haven’t read enough to be able to comment). There are some great perks to working as an editor, one of which is working on books that you love, and earlier this year I worked on Katharina’s latest, The Boy with the Amber Eyes. It’s the sequel to Eleanor McGraw, and I am biased, but it is a great read. I’ve done links below the interview if you’d like to try any of the books.

I was delighted when Katharina agreed to an interview. So, over to Katharina...
JB: Why do you write?

KM: Honestly? I have no idea. It’s a stupid thing to do. It doesn’t make any money; it makes you psychologically unavailable to your children, husband and ponies; it makes you pace up and down in your kitchen; it is boring, annoying, painful and often feels like a complete waste of time. But I do it anyway. And for some unfathomable reason I’m glad I do.

JB: Do you plot everything carefully, or launch in and see what happens?

KM: Hm. Neither, really. Plans are there to divert from. And it isn’t the same process with every piece.

With Eleanor McGraw I had her voice, the character of Blueberry Mouse [the pony – Mouse – of the title] and only the vaguest idea for a story yet a very strong image for an ending. I did write out a rudimentary synopsis which I found a little while ago. It had very little to do with the finished product but the ending is still the original ending. There was a distinct moment in the process when the story took a completely different turn from what I had originally planned. I remember coming down to dinner one night and saying to my husband: “Oh dear, this has just gone into a direction I really wasn’t expecting.” The thing is, that particular turn became the most integral part of the story and I was already half way through! Pike just dropped this bombshell on me and I thought, “Great, cheers mate, you just made this book totally unpalatable to most people.” But that was his story, so I wrote it. I often feel like I am at the mercy of my characters, to be honest. It’s a funny relationship I have with the people in my head – I’m as much at their mercy as they are at mine. Thankfully I was wrong: people haven’t found it unpalatable. I should have given them more credit.
With Boys Don’t Ride, on the other hand, there wasn’t a plan at all. I’d just met a girl through work who inspired the character of Liberty and I started writing one rainy morning and it turned into this beautiful, gentle piece that I still can’t believe came from my pen.

The Boy with the Amber Eyes, well, that particular process was chaos theory at its finest but, like with Eleanor McGraw, I did have a very strong sense of what happens in the end. I wrote the ‘John’s study’ scene almost first. But that didn’t stop certain people from turning up and all sorts of other things from happening until that part of the story became just one element. The friendship aspect became much more important. Let me put it this way: until about two days before I sent it to you for editing, the title was Fire & Ash, hence the [reason that was the] dedication.    

JB: How do you fit writing into your life?

KM: With great difficulty.

Real ponies, real children and the real work that feeds them and pays for the farrier and/or new pairs of Converse always have to come before imaginary people – often to the chagrin of said fictitious folk. One of the characters in The Boy with the Amber Eyes got so annoyed with me for having been left crying by a water trough for months she started appearing my dreams, pressing me to get a move on.

What does help is that I go through phases of insomnia. It’s one of the characteristics Pike and I share. So when I’m in one of my sleepless cycles I get a lot of writing done; usually between 4am and 7am, before I get the kids up and ready for school. When the house is quiet and reality hasn’t had a chance to infringe upon my imagination yet.

By and large it all greatly depends on what else is happening in my life on the work front. Because I am mostly self employed and client work tends to change rhythm frequently, plus in many cases is entirely weather dependent, I might have a couple of months when I have so little work on I can get half a novel written but then afterwards writing might not get a look in for half a year, as was the case when the water trough incident occurred. It’s useful that I am capable of holding a thought almost indefinitely. So, usually, once I get back to the story, I can slip straight back in. I pin that particular ability on my wasted youth as a barfly - holding a singular conversation over numerous nights while my best friend had to keep flitting off to serve people.

JB: Can you tell me about your own horses? How much do they inform what happens in your books?

KM: You’ll find my two geldings’ alter egos in Boys Don’t Ride (the ebook of which is still free by the way, pretty much everywhere now – Amazon, ibooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords) as the characters of Oliver and Titch.

Blueberry Mouse, the pony who runs Hawthorne Yard in Eleanor McGraw and The Boy with the Amber Eyes, is very much an amalgamation of my two mares. The little one lent Blueberry her height, colouring, paces and ridability. The bigger one, also known as the equine love of my life, gave the fictitious pony her wisdom, sociability, kindness and humour.

In fairness though, I think all the horses I have ever met, ridden or worked with have informed my books. That’s especially true for The Boy with the Amber Eyes. I don’t own a stallion but I’ve worked with stallions and without those experiences I couldn’t have written Inigo. By the same token, I don’t own a 17hh Grand Prix Warmblood either (I wish) but I was lucky enough be allowed to ride one at one point. Again, without that experience certain elements in The Boy with the Amber Eyes wouldn’t have been written. You could say that client horses are the butter to the bread provided by my own four.

My own four keep me humble, amused, on my toes and, above all, grounded. What I come home to is a bunch of woolly, mud-caked Natives, all of whom are under 14.2hh. I’m lucky because at the grand height of 5ft1½  I never had to grow out of ponies. I like horses and they are generally easier to work with but I infinitely prefer ponies. Occasionally I look at my little herd and think, “I should get a bigger one, buy a proper horse.” Usually this is preceded either by one of my taller riding relatives or friends coming to stay and having to pleat their legs around a pony’s belly, or by an especially wonderful ride on someone else’s horse. But at the end of the day, I don’t have the space in my paddock, the scope in my finances or the time in my schedule to add another, big or small, and I would never ever swap any of my existing crowd.

JB: Why do you write about horses, and not, say, crime fiction?

KM: Who says I don’t write crime fiction? In actual fact, the story I tentatively started working on last week could be called a psychological thriller. It does have a horse in it, right from the start even, but if I stick with that particular project I don’t think the animals will be as important as they are around Hawthorne Cottage, or for Liberty and Tull. That said, I tend to get bored if there aren’t horses to write. I’ve been writing for a very long time and in all sorts of guises but I’ve found that only two things seem to make me see a project through to completion: if it is either a commissioned job or if it has a horse in it. I have a drawer full of half finished sci-fi and non-horsey contemporary stories but I simply lose interest if there isn’t a muck heap in sight.     

JB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?

KM: Stop moaning and get on with it.

~  0  ~

 Thank you very much Katharina.

If you want to try Katharina’s work for free, Boys Don’t Ride is available as a free download all over the place (I’ve linked to Amazon, but it’s available on ibooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords too). It’s £3.50 as a paperback. Eleanor McGraw is £5.99 as a paperback, and £1.60 as a Kindle edition. The Boy with the Amber Eyes is £7.99 asa paperback, and £1.60 as a Kindle edition.

Advent Calendar 7 - Diana Pullein-Thompson: Riding with the Lyntons

Today's book is Diana Pullein-Thompson's Riding with the Lyntons. Heroine Lesley has moved to the country from town, and is, until she meets the Lynton family, lonely. The Lyntons represent a totally different world to Lesley. It's one with plenty of companionship, generally good-natured family bickering, and lots and lots of animals. Christmas occurs while Lesley and the Lyntons are still delighted with each other, and before the incident that drives what seems like a permanent wedge between them. The present she's given seems to represent all the liveliness of the new world she thinks she's a part of, and makes the later ostracism seem all the more brutal.
"We had great fun pulling crackers and we made a lot of noise with the trumpets, whistles and rattles which we got out of them. Then Paulla and Jon disappeared, and returning a few minutes later, they said, "Shut your eyes, Lesley, tightly. Don't look or we'll never forgive you." I followed their instructions and suddenly something warm and wriggly was dumped on my knee.
"All right. You can open your eyes now," called Donald.
I looked and there in my lap was a black Labrador puppy.
"She's from all of us and her name is Magic," said Paulla.
For a moment I was too pleased and surprised to speak. I picked up the puppy and kissed her and then I started to thank everyone.
"She's the most wonderful present I've ever, ever had," I told them.