Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Self publishing

New readers might wonder why I have the little box warning off the self-published.  This review and book are absolutely nothing to do with me, but the whole thing's a classic example of how not to respond to a review.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Janet Rising: Interview

Regular readers of this blog will know that I like Janet Rising's Pony Whisperer series.  Janet, who besides being a writer is the current Editor of Pony Magazine, kindly agreed to do an interview for the site, and here it is.  

When did you first get the horsy bug?

I have always had the horsy bug – it’s more a disease. I am the only one in my family to be so afflicted and I have no idea where it came from – it must have skipped a couple of generations. As a child I had hundreds of model ponies of various sizes (still stashed away in my loft), I drew, wrote about and dreamed ponies, galloped around the garden and rushed out to feed the rag-and-bone man’s horse whenever it clip-clopped along our road. I had no hope of getting a pony of my own but it didn’t stop me being involved with horses. I loved horses so much, it hurt. I’m still fascinated by all equines, and no time seems wasted looking at and learning about them.

Fortunately we lived in a suburb in Essex on the edge of the green belt, just two miles from a picturesque village rich in history where a beautiful carriage and stable block had been turned into a riding school, and where I learnt to ride from the age of nine – just as soon as I could save up for a lesson. Later, when I was more useful and able to work there at weekends with my friends we had the most fantastic and hair-raising times – we even stayed in the old loft overnight during the summer (very spooky, especially as there was a graveyard next door). I really was incredibly lucky – and gained so much experience. My instructress was a fantastic character, who liked to tell you that if brains were a disease you’d be in the best of health, amongst other choice sayings. Her particular brand of constructive criticism (it hadn’t been invented then) was to yell across the school at you, “VERY BAD, VERY, VERY BAD!” I loved her to bits and miss her very much. 

Do you have any animals of your own?

I am the custodian of one mule, Twoy (pronounced 2e)) who is 32. We’ve been together since he was weaned. He is a seriously cool mule-bay with a mealy muzzle and a black line along his belly where God sewed him up. He lives with my friend’s horses. We also have an imaginary Dachshund called Peanut (my husband and I – the impending royal wedding is getting to me – intend to get a couple of real ones one day).

What did you read as a child?

Pony books, mostly – ever since good attendance at Sunday School won me a copy of Jill’s Gymkhana. I loved visiting the library and would swoop up all the Jill books with their beautiful Caney illustrations – I’ve always coveted Jill lips and jodhpurs. I read as many PTs as I could lay my hands on, although Three Ponies and Shannan was my favourite. I loved the Silver Brumby series and anything by KM Peyton and Caroline Akrill. I was once naïve enough to read a short story of Caroline Akrill’s aboard a crowded train carriage, causing fellow passengers to lean away from me as I cried with laughter. I must have read other, non-horsy books but I can only remember Winnie the Pooh and various works of Enid Blyton.

What do you read now?

Oh, anything highbrow – Booker Prize titles, that sort of thing. Actually, I am appallingly badly read. I love reading children’s books – David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson, for example, plus Dick Francis and Chris Ryan. I can also read the odd western and Agatha Christie. I can’t tackle huge tomes – I get totally lost if I can’t finish something in a couple of hits. I enjoy some non fiction – books about equestrian art and horses in history and war. I love anything that makes me laugh or makes me cry, and I totally don’t get chick lit. One of my favourite books is Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Gossmith, originally serialised in PUNCH in 1888-89. I used to love reading PUNCH (although not in the 1880s), especially anything by the very clever Alan Coren. The cartoons were a delight, too.

If you could be given any book you don’t actually have already, what would it be?

The Medieval Warhorse: From Byzantium to the Crusades by Ann Hyland

If you could give someone a book for World Book Day, what would it be?

Winnie the Pooh. It’s wasted on children and whoever let Disney get hold of it should be banished from the Kingdom.

Can you tell me something about your career?  Did you always want to write?

Yes. Always. I had my first short story published in PONY when I was fourteen, which fired me up a bit. I contributed to PONY for many years as a freelance whilst I was working with horses. I told some woman at school masquerading as a careers adviser I wanted either to be a writer or to work with horses but either she was hard of hearing (or working for a commission) or I was incoherent because she was determined I should work in a bank or building society. Ignoring her ‘advice’ I took myself off to work with horses and then on a donkey stud. After attending secretarial college I worked for an advertising agency and a marketing company before applying to be the editor of PONY. As I had worked for them for so long, and also written for Horse&Rider (a couple of horsy soap operas and a whodunit, amongst more serious pieces), Kate Austin, granddaughter of PONY’s founder, David Murphy, took a huge gamble, and me on and I’ve always been grateful to her.

Did you read PONY Magazine when you were young?

Avidly! I always wanted to be the editor and consider myself extremely lucky. It isn’t quite how I imagined it – there have been lots of serious business things I’ve had to get my head around – but I still manage to write a lot, which is the best bit.

Do you think PONY Magazine has changed while you’ve been editor?

I hope so. Whenever the team looks back over issues even just a year old, it always looks so different! And of course, that is how it should be. If it looked the same then we’d be doing something wrong. It isn’t just the design – although this is probably the most striking change to bring it more in line with the teen magazines. Our copy is shorter and sharper to grab readers and pull them into the feature, and we often joke that you’ll see a subject covered in Horse&Rider over ten pages, then see the same subject condensed into a double-page-spread in PONY! The team has to get a feature across in 800 words so it isn’t for everyone. Crisp, concise copy! That’s one reason why we have so few contributors – précis, précis, précis!

PONY Magazine used to have a regular short story.  You tend to have photo stories now but not a story as such.  Have children’s expectations of magazines and stories changed, do you think?

Horsy girls will always enjoy pony stories. We do occasionally feature a short story but I accept only stories that surprise or move me. Also, most of those submitted are written with much younger readers in mind. We hold a short story competition for readers every year, which attracts a large number of entries. The winner and runners up are published in PONY and the Annual. I am always impressed by the standard and we enjoy reading them all – some have the most amazing plots and ideas – and no, I’ve never pinched any!

PONY Magazine has embraced the multimedia age now.  Do you ever see a time when magazine publication will cease and we will be left only with an internet version?

Clearly we are in a time of transition. The paper product is loved by many and there are still plenty of people who prefer to hold a book to a Kindle but I can’t help feeling that books and magazines will go the same way as cheques and eventually be phased out to save money and resources. PONY is already available as an app. I have to say the idea of having so many books on one little device such as a Kindle must have fantastic implications for schools. I do fear, though, that it is a case of we’ll get what we are told we want. Change is tricky – and the hardest thing to do now is to get people used to paying for digital information, when so much is out there for free, even though you stand a good chance of reading someone’s homework.

Do you think the pony book market has changed over the years?

Yes and no. Yes, there’s more pink, there’s more fantasy, but pony-mad girls will always be hungry for pony stories. They still have angst about not getting a pony, and then angst about getting a pony, about how they fit in, and how they achieve their ambitions. The characters may be from a different demographic, to those of years ago,  and the dialogue more up-to-date, but the basic thirst for stories doesn’t really change. 

What gave you the idea for the Pony Whisperer series?

People would insist on telling me what their horse was saying – and I thought they probably weren’t thinking that at all. I wanted to explore what would happen if you really could hear what horses were saying – and how different it would be from our ideas. Pia imagines Drummer saying all sorts of lovely things – but the reality is somewhat different – although he’s all heart really!

When you decided to write a pony book series, what did you want to achieve?

I just wanted to write a book about a girl who loved her pony, but had lots of issues in her life that she tried, but failed to solve, but was helped through them by her pony. Originally I only had the first book in my head, but Hodder wanted four, then six in the series, which I got excited about!

There’s a fair number of pony/horse whisperer books out there now, where the heroine has this great gift of being able to communicate with a horse, together with an exposure to modern horse whisperer theory.  Pia’s gift is only there because she picked up a statue.  Otherwise, she’s a perfectly normal teenager.  Is this a comment on the horse whisperer genre?

I always feel a bit dim and confused when I read critics’ comments about books I have read, offering all sorts of explanations and dark suggestions the story has thrown up for them, and analysing what the author was trying to say when all I did was enjoy the story. Actually, I didn’t have an agenda or an axe to grind, I just wanted to write a pony story. I think if there was any sort of message in the books it’s that Drummer is the one constant in Pia’s life, and she always seeks his company when she is troubled, in the same way many girls (and boys) do with their ponies. Even before she could hear Drummer, he was always there for Pia, and horses and ponies do appear to have empathy with us when we are down. It’s always helpful to have a sounding board, even when it is one-way. And I also wanted Pia’s enemy to have reasons for being a bit horrid – rather than just being rich and spoilt.

It’s a shame the media is in love with the idea of horse whisperers, rather than behaviourists. Everyone else slaps the title of The Pony Whisperer on Pia, it isn’t something she claims to be. She’s a bit embarrassed by it. And who knows? I struggle with the claim that some people can literally ‘hear’ what animals are saying but like so many things, just because I have no gift for it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

You handled the romance between Pia and James very subtly – like Josephine Pullein-Thompson with Noel and Henry, nothing happens until the end of the series, and even then, it could still go either way.  What do you think about the trend to include romance in pony books?

I think pony girls are divided. Some love a bit of romance, others hate it. Some like the idea of some romance, but recoil from any reality of it. Just as young girls might adore pop stars from afar, if they met their idol, and he wanted to take it further, the reality of it would be very unattractive! I wanted Pia to be attracted to James, but unwilling and unsure how to take it further. She doesn’t know how to flirt, she says she would die if anyone knew how much she likes him. Also, I think a lot of girls are attracted to boys who have horses, and can ride well.

I have to ask about the Ouija board scene, which nearly caused me heart failure in your first book before it emerges as a Thing Best Avoided.  Do you see teenagers flirting with the occult now?  I wondered why you included that scene in the book.

No great secret or reason, I just know that left to their own devices, young people experiment and try things. The séance threw up different responses by different characters: Dee was all matter-of-fact, Pia and Bean were scared stiff, Katy was scared but sensible and unwilling to show it and James, being a boy, just thought it was funny.

Pia has to contend with a broken family and her parents’ efforts at new relationships, but she does not suffer rivers of angst: she just gets on with things.  Do you think this is the best model for life?  

Yes, I wrote this series as a self-help book for young girls! Oh hold on, actually, I didn’t. I get a bit annoyed with books where a character is always moping about and going on and on and on about something. I like to feel a variety of emotions when I read a book – but I don’t want to have to hide the razor blades under lock and key every time I pick it up. I think when you first experience an emotion the intensity can be overwhelming as you have no point of reference. As you get older you get used to various emotions fighting for attention and learn that they ebb and flow. I think that’s why young readers love a bit of sadness and drama – their inexperience exaggerates everything, causing them to feel very deeply about everything.

The Pony Whisperer series has now come to an end with the appearance of the sixth book.  What are your plans now the Pony Whisperer series has finished?

I have lots of ideas – too many, which means I’m having trouble concentrating on just one. But I will! 

Friday, 25 March 2011


Elizabeth Taylor, star of the film of National Velvet, died on 23rd March.  I bet Velvet would have turned up 15 minutes late to her own funeral too (though possibly  not for the same reasons).

I just can't get into cupcakes; just TOO sweet, but I am happy to drool over Rachael's chocolate brownie recipe.

Something to read that is not a pony book: Juxtabook reviews  The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley.

Thanks to Rosemary Hall for telling me about Bartabas, who has only just swum across my ken, despite the fact If Wishes Were Ponies has been to see it.

And another thank you to Rosemary Hall for this:  get the Barney the Boat Dog experience:  try horseboating for an hour or two.

Lastly, thanks to the fact I spent this afternoon finishing off the very large box of Jelly Babies left over from Christmas (someone had to) I can tell you that Jelly Babies were originally known as Peace Babies, as they were introduced to commemorate the end of the First World War in 1918.

Oooh, it's a man

Yesterday my hens had a new experience.  A friend has a lot of hens, and two of her cockerels had attacked each other and had to be separated.  I will take one, I said.  Although it might be a short visit, because my Black Rocks are terrible thugs.

The theory behind having Mr Cockerel was that he would keep the girls in check, so that when I get my late Christmas present hens (hopefully next week) I will not have to spend months keeping them separate so that the Black Rocks do not try to kill them.  My original plan was to put Mr C in the stable and keep him shut in until night and then bung him in with the girls.  I warned my neighbour we had him, and trotted off back to work in my nice thick stone walled house, well insulated from sound.  A couple of hours later I went out into the garden, and there, floating effortlessly over the couple of hundred yards between him and me was Mr C, cockadoodling.  Every 10 seconds.  After frantic consultation with my friend, we decided that Mr C should just meet the girls.

They weren't sure what he was, but they were absolutely sure he was no ordinary hen.  Mr C marched up and down, flapping wildly and posturing (I should say at this point that he is a Bantam cockerel, so not large).  The Black Rocks did not immediately steam out and try to beat him up.  They all goggled in horror.  WHAT had I visited upon them, they thought.  Maybe I am on to something, I thought.  Mr C was also quiet.   I was quietly confident my great plan would work. Bess, Queen Hen, then decided that whatever Mr C was, he was in her territory and needed telling who was boss.  Two forays later, things were pretty much at a stalemate.  I decided to leave them to it.

I went back up to give the hens their afternoon feed.  Oh dear.  Bess had obviously asserted herself.  Mr C was chased across the paddock; barged away from the food, and ignored by the others.  He was quite obviously at the bottom of the heap.  On the plus side, he was at least quiet.  Poor little cockerel.  I returned him whence he came, where he does at least have two wives who appreciate him.  A life at the bottom of the hen heap, not allowed to do your thing, is no life for a chap.  Hens don't really do expression, but if a hen could be said to exude smug superiority, that hen was Bess.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Pony Club Camp

Maybe today's Pony Club members will have to do a five hour ride to camp if petrol prices keep going up, like the members of the Wimbledon Pony Club, who rode down to Bagshot in Surrey for their summer camp in 1953.


You can imagine that Noel and Henry and Major Holbrooke are in there somewhere.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The horse in war

Horses were bombed in the war too; this picture, of Doreen Mason, land girl, and the horse Spitfire, was taken in August 1941, and is part of the Imperial War Museum image collection.  Spitfire was a victim of the Blitz which flattened much of London docklands, and was evacuated to Essex.  He was left unmanageable by his experiences, but Doreen succeeded in overcoming his fears.

Many thanks to Rosemary Hall for telling me about this image.

When Arabs were Arabs


Many thanks to Fiona for telling me about this clip, which I'd never seen. It's another from the glorious repository of the period horse that is British Pathé. The clip opens with some of Lady Wentworth's Arabians, moves through the 1939 Derby, Ascot and the Grand National, and ends with a marvellous montage of sunlit working and other horses.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Suffolk Punch

Susanna Forrest, on If Wishes Were Ponies, posted a piece about sidesaddle on British Pathé.  For those who haven't come across British Pathé before, this was a news service who produced cinema newsreels (and, it seems, anything they thought someone might be interested in) for transmission before the main feature film started.  The site is an absolute treasure trove, and I found this lovely clip of a Country Show at Ipswich during World War One, when the War Office sent "300 overseas farmer-soldiers" to see the show.

Those are proper horses.

For Follyfoot fans

Goodness, this makes me feel beyond old.  Follyfoot, the tv serial, is 40 this year.  The programme was absolutely essential viewing for any pony mad child of the 1970s, with the glamorous Steve and Dora and of course all those horses.

This book has been written by Jane Royston, who was Horse Manager on the series for four years.  If you are yearning to find out what has become of the actors, there are interviews with many of them.  There's also an episode-by-epidode listing and background information from cast and crew.  The book's out in May, and will cost £14.99.  There's no publisher listed on the info I have.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Things I do people would rather I didn't

There is a thread over on one of the parenting websites at the moment about things your nearest and dearest do which drive you bats, unreasonably so.  Some of this is sobering reading, as many of the things that annoy, I actually do. I

  • have hundreds of books on the go, all at the same time, leave them over the entire house and get miffed when they are moved.  And grumble that I cannot find them.  And grumble I do not know what to read.
  • never, ever get up from a sofa and even consider sorting the cushions out
  • always use the same knife for butter and jam and leave jammy marks on the butter.  I know this is irritating, and I then spend ages scraping the jammy bits off the butter with my buttery/jammy knife.  It would be far, far quicker just to use a spoon for the jam in the first place, but I never do.  Got ticked off by Our Vicar as a child for the sin of Using The Same Knife For Everything, and think I have been in a state of rebellion ever since
  • am very, very bad at putting tops back on things properly.   And then get irritated with family when they remonstrate after being covered by juice/milk whatever, and saying "you know what I'm like- take more care!"  Yes, I know.
  • never, ever, ever, wash a paint brush.  I prefer to wrap them in cling film so I can get round to them later.  Later somehow never comes.
  • lick my knife.  Though not at the table.

However, just to keep my end up, I will mention the thing all of my family do without exception, and it drives me bats.  They all leave pans to "soak".  Always the difficult stuff.  Never the easy-peasy, wash it in seconds stuff.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Trit trot

Frankly I prefer Lady Gaga's efforts to these mere pretenders.

Thank you to Susanna Forrest, Karen Krizanovich and Twitter for that.

Review: Linda Newbery - Barney the Boat Dog. And the log jam effect

Linda Newbery - Barney the Boat Dog
Usborne, £4.99

Linda Newbery's website

Thank you to Usborne for sending me a copy of this book.

I 'll get the log jam stuff out of the way first:  this is nothing to do with the Linda Newbery book.  I don't know if other people experience this, but every now and then I get asked to do something that I find tremendously difficult.  The thing in question was to read a self-published book.  I very soon ground to a halt with this book, because it was absolutely not my sort of thing.  The book then sat there like a toad on the review shelf, glaring at me, whilst all around it other books to be reviewed piled up.  I do like to review stuff as it comes in, rather than do the short stuff first (for obvious reasons), or the stuff I like (for further obvious reasons).  Although you might not believe it, I try and apply some sort of a system to life.

So, there I was, every now and then casting sideways glances at the toad book, and then busily getting on with something else.  And I do have an awful lot of something elses to be getting on with, and virtually all of them are perfectly legitimate things.   I would pick the toad book up and take it with me to read elsewhere, but even then, managed not to.  It still sat there, unread, glowering.  That book knew I was a moral lightweight, someone who was making excuses; someone who was prevaricating for all she was worth.  I moved the book to the kitchen.  Then the sitting room.  Then next to the bed.  It moved to the office (several times).  It remained unread.

Finally, FINALLY, I have read it, and oh the relief!  The blessed relief!  All I have to do now is marshal my comments into something tactful and that will be that.  I can now read other stuff, and I have, hence this review.  Coming up later this week will be the last two episodes of Janet Rising's Pony Whisperer series.  And I've also read all the Charles Keeping pony books I can find. And had a gallop through a 1930s edition of Black Beauty.  Mind you, bearing in mind what my weeks are like, I am probably making myself a hostage to fortune here and will not achieve any of these reviews/pieces, but at least I feel there is hope.

So, Linda Newbery.  She is an author about whom I ought to know very much more than I do, and I must plunder my son's shelves for some of her other titles (not an easy task as he is his mother's son and books which are double parked in his shelves are the lucky ones).  Barney the Boat Dog is a new series she's writing for Usborne Books.  It's aimed at a newly confident reader.  Barney lives on a narrowboat.  Jim, Barney's owner, is retired, and the two travel the country on the boat (as far as they can, I suppose, the canal network not covering the whole country, but I digress).  Runaway Horse is the second book in the series.  Jim has made his grandson Freddie a model of the narrowboat as a birthday present, and they are on their way to deliver it to him.  Unfortunately, the boat's engine breaks down.  A birthday being an unmoveable deadline, they have a problem.  Barney has earlier met a horse living next to the canal, and puts two and two together.  The horse, fortunately, is trained to pull a narrowboat, and his owner lends him to Jim.  Jim, however, has not been trained to do anything very much with a horse, and this soon leads to problems.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  My only minor quibble in what is a realistic book is Barney putting two and two together and thinking that the horse presents the answer to their problems.  This doesn't ring entirely true, but the plot had to get there somehow, and Barney is still a dog-like enough dog for you to forgive this spectacular example of canine brainpower.   Linda Newbery gets the horse, Puzzle, well however, and the alarums and excursions caused by Jim's complete lack of horse sense are economically and amusingly described.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Was it what they expected?

Thanks to Rachael from Tales from the Village for this idea.  If you have analytics on your site, which I do, you can track what searches people used to find you.  I've often cast a cursory look at the keywords people have used, but boy have I been missing a trick.

I wonder why anyone would want to know about Chilprufe children's vests, a nightmare I remember vividly from my youth.  Those I think must have been the woollen vests Ann Derry's mother forced her to take on a pony trek in Jill's Gymkhana.  Ann buried them in a hedge.

There was a rather sad search on "nobody loves me enough to buy me a unicorn", which poster must have become all the sadder if they read some of my more trenchant posts on the subject of the unicorn.

Hopefully the people who searched for Black Beauty, far and away the most popular route to this blog, were a bit happier with what they found.  Goodness knows I've done enough posts on the subject.

I am intrigued by the person who searched for Chosen by a horse bad review.  Did they want their opinion confirming?

Quite a few gardening related searches come up too; wild flower compost, compost, lavender hedge... and they must be disappointed as the only gardening posts I do are me moaning on about the state of the garden and my complete inability to get on top of it.

Quite what the people searching for Marmite made of me feeding it to the hens goodness knows.

I bet the five people searching for hard driven pony girls were a tad disappointed when they arrived on this blog, as was the person looking for mallory sex.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Young Entry (or at least some of them)

I’ve recently read a few books by very young writers.  Normally this is a genre I avoid like the plague.  Colonel C E G Hope, later editor of Pony Magazine, wrote when he was working for Riding: “I find that I have to overcome a certain, no doubt unreasonable, prejudice when dealing with books by children...”  I have a lot of sympathy for Colonel Hope’s point of view.  Once I made the mistake of reviewing a book written by a child, a review which I thought was basically sympathetic, but oh goodness, the flack I received for daring to say something even slightly negative (which I did, I admit, about the book’s editors).  That was the first, and only, blog piece I have ever taken down.  I have learned my lesson, and intend not to touch with a bargepole anything written by the young today.

Colonel Hope had a good deal to contend with in avoiding the book written by the child: they were not exactly uncommon in the 1930s, which is when this set of books was published.  Alison Haymonds, writing in the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature described the compulsion to write a pony story as “part of the pony mad phase”, with which my own luckless English teachers would certainly agree.  I seized any opportunity to shoehorn a horse into a piece of writing while I was at school though thankfully none of my efforts ever went near a publisher.

The little crop of books I’m writing about here I hope I can write about without their authors, friends and family setting about me:  they were young in the 1930s and hopefully distance has lent objectivity.

Sarah Bowes-Lyon was a connection of the Queen Mother, and is best known for her facsimile piece, Horsemanship as It is Today (J M Dent, 1933), written when she was 12.  She also flirted with the world of fiction, producing Harum-Scarum (1934), a rather overwritten biography of a horse which she wrote at the age of 13.  The story follows the horse from foalhood to his death.  Harum-Scarum becomes an army horse, but the Regiment is called out to Egypt to “keep under control the Arab raids and riots,” and Harum-Scarum’s owner, not being an officer, is not allowed to take his horse. This is the cue for a fair bit of emotion:

“he gave a loud heart-rending neigh, as if questioning him who had just departed – there was no answer, only the faint steps grew quicker as they hurried across the cobbles; the heart of one could not bear to hear the cry of another from whom it had been torn apart.”

The quivering emotional storms in the book possibly reflected the fact its author was a teenager.  Harum- Scarum and Joe are reunited, but captured by a bad and cruel Bedouin, who purposely demands too high a ransom for the horse so that he can keep him.  Joe persuades one of his more kindly captors to shoot the horse after he has been released.

“...the stillness of the night had been broken by a shot that echoed along the distant hills, then all was still.  Joe still started out across the desert, his face was deathly white and his hands were clenched, he had bitten his lip till the blood appeared.”

It is all rather Twilight; one feels if the author had been writing now there would have been a chaste yet dangerously passionate vampire hovering near. The author was much better on the familiar ground of what to do with your pony, as was Dawn Dodd, another 13 year old who had a brief early flowering as an author.  She produced two books; John and Jerry, and Your First Pony.  This last, a non fiction title, is a brief and to the point exposition on how to look after your pony, and is infinitely the better of the two.  I loved the little vignettes about life chez Dodd:

“Do not let your mother say “Oh what a sweet little pony, you would look so nice on it”, and buy you a Shetland pony.”


“[always] call at the house before going to the stables if you have been out alone.  Your mother probably thinks you are dead in a ditch.”

John and Jerry is a much, much more predictable trot around a boy who acquires a pony (described as a “simple tale about a very human small boy” in Riding, December 1938). 

Yet another 13 year old, Mary Colville, wrote yet another pony autobiography, Plain Jane.  It has the rare attribute of being about a Shetland pony, but is otherwise the usual story of the ups and downs of a pony’s life.   The book’s reviewer in Riding, AP, said that “autobiographies of ponies and horses are legion”, and compliments the book for its “simple straightforward story” and its “illusive charm.”   The book’s publisher, Collins, describes the book rather breathlessly on the flyleaf as “one of the best pony stories we have ever read,” which view I wonder if the writer would still have held ten years later, after Collins had become publishers to the infinitely better Joanna Cannan and her daughters, the Pullein-Thompsons.

Collins published a much better book by a child author the same year, 1938.  My copy has not survived with its dustjacket, so I can’t say whether Collins went into similar paroxysms of enthusiasm over this author.  It is a rare child author who can manage to retain a bit of detachment from her subject, but 12 year old Katharine Harrison-Wallace manages it in Sambo and Susan, a facsimile text.  By the time I came to reading this I was having to exercise considerable self discipline not to slime off and read something else a little less turgid, or just give up altogether and watch Glee on DVD, but this book is an absolute charmer.  The author illustrated it as well, and she is a trenchant observer.  Colonel Hope when he reviewed the book described the stories as “really charming little tales... of high moral purpose, which does not in any way detract from the aforesaid charm,” and said the author had "achieved much" in getting past his aversion to the child author. The book contains three short stories, all told with the author’s unique voice and illustrated by her.

This is the only book in this section of reviews that retains the child’s fierceness of observation.  Sambo and Susan are husband and wife, but Susan’s head is turned by a handsome white horse, with whom she goes off without a second glance.  Poor Sambo is left bereft, and Katharine Harrison-Wallace handles the emotion of the moment much better than Sarah Bowes-Lyon’s more detailed description of emotional storms, simply observing that “Whenever Sambo passed a familiar place, the tears rolled down his cheeks.”  The other two stories, an interesting hunting story in which the fox gets away and lives happily ever after, and the tale of a disobedient salmon who gets his just deserts, are equally readable.

Sambo and Susan, as is the way of these things, is revoltingly difficult to find, but it is the only one of the fictional works by these junior authors I would willingly read again

Running out of bookshelf space?

Try this.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Afternoon walk

Amazing autumn light yesterday on my dog walk.  I have been quite bad about taking the camera with me over the past months, mainly because dog walking done in the pitch dark doesn't offer a lot of scope for photography.  Well, it might if I really got to grips with the interior workings of my camera, but I haven't.

I wanted to photograph the lichens and frost blasted leaves before they are covered up by Spring.

I want to go back and get a better, less hurried look at the amazing patterns on this tree.  I was so struck by it I forgot to look and see if it was elder or hawthorn, and as tree spotting is not amongst my skills, can't alas tell from the photo.

Lords and Ladies (or Jack in the Hedge) is already lurking at the foot of the hedges.  I was cheered to see the nettle sprouting too further along.  It will no doubt get me later in the season.  It always does.

It was too cold for the pigs, whose paddock is out of the sun.  I completely saw their point by the time we got to their part of the valley, though dog did not and plunged into the icy stream.

Monday, 7 March 2011

World Book Night

And the winner is.....

Pullein-Thompson Archive!

I'll get the book off to you asap.

Friday, 4 March 2011

A life of grime

which is a heading I wish I'd thought of, but I didn't.  After my post of gloom on Tuesday, I thought I should post something more cheery, but inspiration there has been none, until today (and before I launch in, thank you very much to the people who have written to me, actual real proper letters, to say how much they enjoy my blog.  I am very touched.  Thank you.)

Earlier this week, when posting out an order to one of the very kind people who ordered from me this week (and thank you VERY MUCH to them too), I explained that the book might take a while as US customs are being a tad picky at the moment.  Never mind, she said.  The book won't go off, unlike some German sausage she ordered from Wisconscin which was delayed by snowstorms and was a very questionable parcel by the time it arrived.

I'd earlier been reading one of the UK parenting forums on revolting things you have found in your house, and behold, a whole rich topic of filth and general grime has come into being.

Last weekend, one of our hens became ill.  Hens, for those that don't have them, are one of those creatures that like to hug their illnesses to themselves.  They appear absolutely fine one day, only to appear the next hunched, immobile and on the point of death.   Echo was in this state on Sunday, and after careful inspection, I decided she had sour crop.  The treatment for this is to turn your hen upside down to make her sick and remove the revolting contents of the crop.  Well, it worked, but I can't say the process was a whole load of fun for either of us.  Since then, Echo has regarded me with extreme suspicion, and I can't blame her, particularly as the next day I thought I'd best treat for impacted crop as well, and administered a syringe of olive oil followed by determined massage.    Fortunately she is now on the mend, and I am slowly winning myself back into her good graces by sneaking up and feeding her surreptitious dried mealworms behind the hen house, having distracted the others by flinging them corn.

The disgusting crop was my own animal, which mitigates the horribleness a bit.  I do jib a bit at awfulness administered by other peoples' animals.  We get pestered occasionally by tom cats, who come in and spray, and there is nothing like stalking the hallway, armed with Febreze, trying to find out where the dratted animal has sprayed, to affect your morning mood.  I have nothing against tom cats per se, but I really can't see the point of not neutering your cat if it's a domestic pet.  Probably my most revolting tom cat story occurred when I was still living in London and commuting into work every day.  Standing on the train one day, I sniffed and thought goodness, someone REEKS of tomcat. How vile. Plenty of people around me were surreptitiously sniffing too.

Yes, it was me. Tomcat had come in a sprayed my coat, unwisely left in the kitchen. I wish I could remember what I did with the coat during the day at work. Must have stashed it somewhere, and got it home again and presumably washed it but all of that has been washed from my mind by the memory of standing on an overheated, stuffy train as realisation slowly dawned.

My own cats have been responsible for more than their fair share of horrors: mummified frogs and flattened mice, disinterred from places you'd rather they hadn't been.  Present cat likes to kill things at night, noisily and in our room.  I don't always remember, once I have got back to sleep again, that she has killed in the night, and the amount of blood and guts I have trodden on when I get up the next morning is legion.  The maggoty things are fun too.  I do wonder why some cat-left corpses go maggoty, and others just mummify.  A year or so ago I picked up what I thought was a fairly innocent corpse, only to realise it was crawling with maggots, whereupon I am ashamed to say I screamed and flung the corpse from me.  Of course this scattered the maggots far and wide, and there was no one else to clean them up apart from me, so I spent an entertaining half hour pursuing them round the kitchen floor.

I once lived next to very superior soul who thought I was the scruffiest, slovenliest being on the planet, she being the Goddess of Cleanliness. One day maggots exploded out of the drain both our kitchen sinks emptied into.  The poor plumber who investigated the drain disinterred mounds of rotting rice and meat, neither of which I ever ate, but we all knew who did, and, who, as it turned out, washed them down the drain.  I gloated. I gloated GOOD.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Bookselling - how it is for me

Here's a truism for you: attempting to browbeat your customers by making them feel guilty for shopping elsewhere is a surefire way to make sure they carry on shopping elsewhere.   No one likes to shop somewhere you feel obligated: that's not the sort of relationship we have with shops.  I like to shop in places which make me feel good, not one where I buy something; anything, out of duty and then scurry out, feeling the accusatory eye of the owner upon me.

But what do you, the shopkeeper, do when things are bad; so bad that you can see the writing on your bank manager's wall and none of it is positive?  When you provide services by the plenty that people happily use and like, but which aren't paid for?  When despite all those said services and added value, your core business is not actually making you any money?  I commend the Wood Green Bookshop for coming out and saying OUCH - we are in danger.  It's the great big elephant in the bookselling room at the moment I'm quite sure.  It's hardwired into most retailers' brains not to say that things are bad, because the moment you do you suspect your already dicey situation will plummet into freefall. 

But maybe if people just love what you do, maybe that might make the difference.  The Wood Green Bookshop aren't beating people about the head, they're being honest.  

So you might wonder from reading this, how are times for me?  Am I skirting round the issue myself?  Well yes I am. Times are hard.   I channel Pollyanna, I am Miss Positive, but when my husband asked me yesterday about this month's figures, I told him they were terrible.  50% of the same time last year.  Figures for the year to date are around 30% down.   Did I see any light on the horizon, he asked?  No, I said, absolutely none.  Couldn't think of a single other thing to do.  A single other thing to try.

I am still making a profit, but it's the most tremendous slog to do it, and I'm not sure how fair it is to my family to continue.  Having said that, I have been self-employed for a long time now, and as I am rapidly approaching 50 I'm not sure getting a job is going to be particularly easy, so might well be carrying on bookselling for sheer lack of anything else, but that's another story.

There is actually a PS to this:  when I opened up the PC yesterday morning after the rather negative conversation with OH, I had had more orders in overnight than in the entire previous month.  I don't know why, but I am very grateful.  Thank you, lovely customers, thank you.

And another PS - been sitting here for a while now wondering if it is the right thing to do to press the Publish Post button, but what the heck.  Doing it now.

World Book Night

World Book Night is almost upon us (March 5th -apologies for leaving this salient piece of information out before.) I don't have any of the set books to give away, and don't actually know anybody who has either locally, but never mind.  Nothing to stop me giving away a book.  So, I will be giving away:

I reviewed this a couple of years back.  I've re read it since, and it more than stood up to it.

 Please add your name to the comments below and I will do a draw on World Book Night.