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.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

PBOTD: 12th April, Shirley Faulkner-Horne - White Poles

I was going to write a blog piece on how tricky it is to feature a book when you don't actually have a copy, but then I investigated my shelves and found that I do have one. I do in fact have quite a few books I hadn't realised I'd acquired. And which I haven't read. I have in fact read White Poles (1954)and its sequel, Look Before You Leap. White Poles is one of Shirley Faulkner-Horne's later books, and it has a certain similarity in plot to her first, Bred in the Bone, published in 1938. The heroine of Bred in the Bone, Cherry, is not allowed to ride after someone in her family was killed by a horse, but her grandmother, who doesn't really approve of such fancies, gives Cherry a pony. Fortunately the head gardener was in the Cavalry, and he teaches her to jump so she can fulfil her dream of riding at Olympia.

Witherby, 1st edn, 1954, illus Peter Biegel

The later White Poles has a heroine, Jenny, who was only allowed to potter about on an elderly pony, as someone in her family had been killed in a hunting accident, leading Jenny's mother to be, perhaps understandably, less than keen to allow her daughter to thunder around the countryside, and certainly not to jump. However, her grandmother gives her a pony for her birthday. The cowman used to be in the cavalry, and he teaches her to jump so she can fulfil her ambition to ride at the International Horse Show.

Jenny rides again in Look Before You Leap (1955) where, grown up now, she tackles the far more thorny problem of attempting to marry a jockey. Fortunately parental disapproval melts once it becomes clear Jenny's beloved is from a decent, county family, and they find it in themselves to overlook his unfortunate addiction to riding horses for money.

Shirley Faulkner-Horne's books were very much of their time and class. I did find interesting contemporary criticism of them: Col C E G Hope is unimpressed with the deceit some of Faulkner-Horne's characters carry out. Cherry, in Bred in the Bone, only fulfils her ambition by “telling a lot of fibs to her parents” which the Riding review of the book “must warn them [readers] not to do.” Alas Jenny catches the deceit, as well as the plot, from Cherry. History does not relate, as far as I'm aware, what Riding thought of it.

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For more on Shirley Faulkner-Horne and her books, she has a page on my website.