Thursday, 30 June 2011

The exam season part 2

If you managed to negotiate part one of the be-your-own-pony-book-hero exam, here is part 2.

Probability Paper

A. Rank the following outcomes in order of probability, showing your working:

An evil tempered stallion has entered the yard:

a.  The livery yard owner warns you against going anywhere near the horse.  So you don’t.
b.  You creep up to the yard in the dead of night and sneak into the evil stallion’s box to lay soft hands on his neck.  You know the two of you have a special connection.
c.  After much struggle, you and you alone rescue the evil stallion, but it will take you at least 12 books before you have any sort of connection.  
d.  The evil stallion is to be put down as he is Beyond Saving.  You and your friends come up with a cunning plan to save him.

B. Work out, using examples, the probability of the following appearing in a book published during the last ten years:

a.  Unicorns
b.  Mythical sky ponies
c.  Parelli/natural horsemanship/TT/equine yoga
d.  You and your very ordinary pony jumping a 3’ course as a matter of course. And winning the showing too. 

C.  The riding school you attend is run by a single lady of uncertain years.  She is taken seriously ill and rushed off to hospital.  What will happen to the riding school?

a.  The owner’s daughter will turn up to run the school, delighted to have this opportunity to help her mother and turn the school into a really top-flight establishment, which she does.
b.  The owner’s daughter will turn up to run the school.  She is a fiend in human form, intent only on making money out of the hapless ponies, and indeed, you.  You and your friends band together to get her out.
c.  The owner's daughter will turn up to run the school.  She is not in fact the owner's daughter, but a property developer intent on covering the lovely fields with soulless boxes.  You and your friends band together to get her out.
c.   Fortunately it is the start of the summer holidays, and you and your cousins are all staying at the stables anyway.  Gathering together your weeks of experience at running a stable, you keep the old place going until the owner is able to return, dripping gratitude and offering years of free rides.

External examiner, Linda Newbery, adds a supplemental question:

You are at an auction when a poor, bedraggled, unloved pony looks at you with its melting brown eyes. Will it:

a.  be sold to the knacker
b.  nearly be sold to the knacker, but you and your friend manage just in time to scrape together a few pounds to buy it
c.  turn out to be lame and decrepit
d.  turn out to be a brilliant show-jumper whose talent only you have discovered?

===End of paper===

Pencils down.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

War Horse - the Film

I would have to be manacled to my desk to keep me from going to see this, but I wonder how Spielberg has dealt with the fact it's the horse who is the narrator, as it's not immediately apparent from the trailer.  Maybe that's deliberate?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Mary Stewart giveaway

Hodder and Stoughton have done a glam re-issue of Mary Stewart's books (at last).  I like these.  They're the right side of glamorous, without being annoyingly and self-consciously "vintage".  All Stewart's heroines had those tiny waists, as well of course as oodles of inner strength and resourcefulness. And for those wondering if I can go a whole entire blog post without mentioning the horse, she did of course write the Lipizzaner adventure Airs Above the Ground.

If you fancy winning the title of your choice from the re-issues (and I do) go on over to the Brown Paper blog, where you can enter a giveaway to win the Mary Stewart of your choice.  I've gone for The Crystal Cave, which I can remember getting out of the library and lugging to school.  

The exam season

Daughter has gone off to do her latest GCSE science module exams today, with our big question of the day being "Can you resit a resit?" Answer comes there none.

For those of us for whom the exam season is a thankfully far distant memory, but who yearn to share their offspring's pain, or revisit their revision-strewn youth, here is an entrance exam to the world of the pony book.


A.  What part should poetry play in the fully rounded pony book hero’s life?

1.  You quote poetry in a dashing way as you sweep around the countryside on your pony – you thrill to the way the cadence of the words matches the rhythm of your pony’s movement.
2.  You have learned by heart John Betjeman's Hunter Trials, and that will do nicely, thank you very much.
3.  What is poetry?

B.  You have gone to visit a cousin.  She thoughtfully puts out a selection of literature on the bedside table for you.  What would your ideal selection be?

1.  School stories.  Not your cup of tea, but reading them would help you reach out to your cousin and understand  her way of thinking.  There is more to life than ponies, after all.
2.  The latest copies of Horse and Hound and Horse.  Dressage Weekly might not go amiss, and a Breed Society magazine is always good.  You never get the chance to read any of these, and it will stop you trying to read other peoples' copies over their shoulders in the train on the way home.
3.   A completely irrelevant question, as you have brought your own copy of The Horse in Sickness and in Health.

C.  You are no stranger to literature.  Your bookshelf is stuffed to overflowing with pony stories.  Alas your local bookshop and library do not share your obsession.  Do you:

1.  Read your collection again.  And again.  And possibly again.  If there's no pony, you're not interested.
2.  Write your own book.  Your youth is not an obstacle, and there is bound to be a publisher keen to print your story Hard Times, a Pony who Fell and Rose Again, particularly as it has been illustrated by your talented friend Mary.
3.  Give up the attempt to read and spend the rest of your life regarding people who do with deep suspicion.

===End of paper===

Saturday, 25 June 2011

More on that hat

The filly-in-the hat I blogged about a couple of days ago is a real life racehorse.  I had wondered if she was photoshopped but due to not reading Horse and Hound closely enough last month I entirely missed the fact that Ambers is a 2 year old filly owned by Fox's Biscuits, and she is going to star in an advertising campaign for their biscuits later on this year.  In fact, she might be starring in it already.   I must

a. pay more attention to Horse and Hound and not just read the horses for sale ads at the back and daydream and

b. not switch off brain when the tv advertisements come on.

I had quite hoped there would be something about milliner Stephen Jones' foray into equestrian design on his website, but alas no, possibly in my opinion as a keen observer of fashion because Amber's hat doesn't fit into his Spring/Summer 2011 theme, which is drifting and dreaming.  Definitely has the colour block thing covered though - the hat is the sort of technicolour dream you're not going to forget in a hurry.   More pics here.  I bet trainer Richard Hannon hadn't expected hat-wearing to be part of the brief when he took the filly on.  He's done a good job.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


Last week we had a bee swarm.  A few days ago my daughter came in and said that we had bees flying around the north wall of the house, which I took I must admit not a lot of notice of, as we always have a lot of bees about.   Those bees have now taken advantage of our complete failure to do anything about our dodgy pointing and made themselves at home in the wall.

So far we have not much in the way of encounters with the bees, though when I went out to the bins, which are round that side of the house, a little cloud of bees flew down to have a look at me, and then swept back up again, which was momentarily disconcerting.  I was glad I was not Pooh Bear and holding honey. Alas they are far too high up for me to do anything about collecting the honey, which is a shame, as I am very partial to honey  If I am honest I have not the faintest clue of how to start collecting honey, though dismantling the house wall to get at it probably wouldn't be a good first step, and one tricky to explain to English Heritage.   And probably not too popular with the bees either.

My husband appeared in the office a few days after the bees arrived and asked if I'd looked outside recently.  The front garden was a buzzing mass of bees; the first time I'd seen a swarm starting out.  I did a quick google and found out that the bees stock up on honey before they swarm, and are in holiday mood.  They eventually settled in one of our yew trees, and were removed by local beekeepers.   I asked what would happen to the scouts left behind, and was told they would go back to the hive they'd come from.  They haven't made it yet.  There's a little grapefruit sized swarm still left. 

They don't show any sign of leaving Badger Towers.  They are very handily placed next to my two very long lavender hedges which are just coming into flower, so it must seem like camping out next to the Ritz for them.  

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bookselling bits

On a listing on ABE for Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven:

"Don't forget that buying this book means my Jack Russells get their supper!"

And I have wondered over the years exactly how the industrial booksellers work.  There is one similarity between us that might not occur to you straightaway:  central heating obviously isn't an issue in the warehouse, and it doesn't tend to be much here either so I can sympathise with the workers in their coats.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The to-be-reviewed pile

Well, there it is.  It is all my own fault that I am feeling vaguely depressed about it, as I thought I'd really made an impact on the pile recently.  Actually no, it's all Juxtabook's fault, as she posted recently on some of the books on her mantelpiece; a pile she's not yet read.  Ooh, I thought, I should get my to-be-reviewed pile together.  That might be quite interesting, and as the pile is not too frightening at the moment it might be cheering.  Progress is always cheering, particularly when I can see by the size of the pile just how well I am doing.  Alas there is a major difference between books which exist in a theoretical pile in my mind, and books which exist in solid piles on my bookshelves.   The theoretical piles are small, shy little things, skittering around behind the need to get the book orders out, catalogue the new stock and get down all the admin tasks that are the lot of the self-employed.  Well, I've now ensured they're actual and not theoretical.

I'm lying.  There are more than I'm admitting to, and I am keeping them firmly as theoretical piles.

Here's what I am admitting to:

Firstly, two American books I bought in a bulk lot from Book Closeouts before their shipping charges grew beyond me:  Cathryn Clinton's Simeon's Fire, and Carol Emshwiller's Mister Boots. Mister Boots I have read, and it's certainly one that has remained lodged in the easily accessible bit of my brain, even if I'm not sure that's where I want it.

Meg Rosoff's The Bride's Farewell is a brilliant read, and deserves much better than me simply leaping up and down yipping "Read it!  Read it!"  As indeed do Linda Newbery's two, The Nowhere Girl and The Damage Done.  

June Crebbin's Riding High  I bought in a trawl around Hatchards.  Janey Louise Jones' Pony Club Princess I must have bought, but I can't remember doing it.  It has pale blue pages, which have so far put me off reading it.  Why?  There's no logical reason to be put off by the colour of a page.  Mulling this over, I think it seems somehow a little desperate; as if the only way the publisher can ensure interest is by making the book look unique. No doubt I will know once I have read it.

Some non-fiction:  Elaine Walker's To Amaze the People with Pleasure and Delight, about the Duke of Newcastle, and entirely down at the other end of the age range, Compass Publishing's Pony Guides and Punctuation Guides.  I have a bit of a thing about punctuation (or to be more accurate its incorrect use), which is why I was sent these.

Catnip's beautiful reprints of the Jinny series, books 3 and 4, The Summer Riders and The Night of the Red Horse are lurking in the pile, as is a work of adult fiction, Elaine Walker's The Horses.  I'm looking forward to reading this as it "uses magical realism to stunning effect," which will be a learning experience for me who has never, as far as she is aware, read anything involving magical realism.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Responding to comments

I haven't posted for some days this week for family reasons.  The next few days' posts are all ones I've written in advance, and then scheduled over the next few days.  It's highly likely I won't be able to respond to any comments, so I apologise in advance.  I am not ignoring you.

A revolution...

in the world of racing silks, notoriously one where patterns are of a strictly plain variety; the spot and the stripe holding sway.  Racing for Change ran a competition recently for students at Central St Martin's, in which the brief was to design revolutionary new colours.  Henry Griffin it was who won it, with fruit machine designs, and his colours will appear in all their glory at the first race at Ascot on 9th July.

I think we can probably consider ourselves blessed that Cath Kidston designs aren't "vibrant and easily identifiable", otherwise I bet some owner would make an essay at those.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Top posts

One of the useful things about Blogger is the stats.  Below is the list of my most popular posts. I'm slightly depressed by the fact that my two most popular reviews by far are the ones in which I have spread myself somewhat on the book's failings.  It is much easier to be snarky, I find, than to write a really good, positive review.  The position of War Horse (which is a positive review) in the stats is more likely to be because of its current mighty popularity as a play.

The one post whose position in the top five really mystifies me is The Way Things Were:  Pony Magazine in the 1960s, which is a look back at riding clothes adverts and the beauties of the 1960s jodphur.  The stats aren't precise enough for me to work out quite how people find that post, but I'd love to know why it's stayed so popular. 

19 Sep 2008, 13 comments
1,276 Pageviews
29 Jul 2010, 1 comment
738 Pageviews
29 May 2009, 7 comments
410 Pageviews
22 Oct 2009, 7 comments
367 Pageviews
11 Jul 2008, 9 comments
207 Pageviews

Monday, 13 June 2011

The beauty of old documents

If I were a more devoted historian I would do a much longer post on this, but this is a quick skim sort of post.  Recently I was shown this conveyance, in which  Richard Goodwin, yeoman, appears to be selling most of the village of Irchester to Thomas Ekins, of Chester (which in this case I think refers to nearby Chester House, not Chester in Cheshire).  

Whether or not this conveyance includes our house and the land that was once associated with it is debatable.  The document mentions "All that messuage or tenement lying next the churchyard in Irchester..." We do know that the farm once stretched down to the Wellingborough Road, which would certainly include the land mentioned above.  We haven't traced the ownership of the house as far back as 1698, which is when the document is dated, but Richard Goodwin and Thomas Ekins look like possible owners, though it's more likely that Thomas Ekins owned the house rather than lived in it himself. 

Besides the historical interest, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the document (which is either on vellum or parchment:  I don't know enough to tell).  It's a wonderfully exuberant piece of lettering.  I hope whoever did it enjoyed it.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Steptoe rides again?

I was in Birmingham last weekend, sitting in a garden, when I heard a terrible wailing from the street outside.  The people I was with were vaguely irritated, but not at all alarmed.  They saw my puzzled face, and explained the noise was the trumpet the rag and bone man blew.  He was a regular, and not a popular, visitor.  He had a van, not a horse.  Maybe that was where he was going wrong.

There was recent article in the Daily Express which extolled the benefits of the resurgent rag and bone man with horse; the horse apparently encouraging people to recycle in France.  Maybe someone should give Mr Birmingham Rag-and-Bone a copy of the article.  Charm might be the way to go.

Thanks to Rosemary Hall for telling me about this.

Friday, 10 June 2011

World Horse Welfare in the Highlands

I blogged earlier about World Horse Welfare's plans to round up a herd of semi-feral horses in Scotland.  Here's what happened.

Pippa Funnell: Tilly's Pony Tails 11-13

Pippa Funnell:  Moonshadow the Derby Winner, Autumn Glory, Goliath the Rescue Horse
Orion, £4.99 each
Tilly's Pony Tails Annual 2011
Orion, 2010

The Tilly's Pony Tails website

Thank you to Orion for sending me these books.

I haven't read any of the Tilly's Pony Tails series since the first one, and the series has been growing apace since then, with 3 more titles due this year. The series is about heroine Tilly Redbrow, who "lives, breathes and dreams" horses.  She has a special way of communicating with horses:  she knows what they're feeling.  The series is about Tilly's adventures with her own horse, Magic, and the horses who go through the Silver Shoes Stables.

The books aren't hugely strong on plot:  the title Autumn Glory the New Horse does rather give away the fact that poor ponyless Mia does get a new horse, as does Goliath the Rescue Horse leave you in no doubt that the skewbald heavy horse found in an emaciated condition will be rescued.  The plots' twists and turns are pretty well telegraphed.  In Moonshadow, the Derby Winner,  the girls are going to have a birthday sleepover at the stables, where a Derby winner has just arrived to stay to prevent him from being stolen.  Tilly's mother,  helping her pack for the sleepover, says:

"Really I don't know why you girls are so keen to sleep out in the stables during winter weather like this."

at which point I  muttered to myself "it's for the plot, the PLOT!"

I have edited out what I then went on to mutter, as I realised I was sounding considerably more snippy about these books than I actually feel.  Telegraphing your plot is not necessarily a bad thing for the younger reader at whom these books are aimed.  For the newly confident reader, or the one who is still feeling their way into the world of reading, a well signposted plot is exactly what they need, and as a way for a pony mad child to learn to love reading, these books are ideal. Tilly's world is a reassuring one where friends are generally kind; adults generally in charge and entirely reasonable, and the horses have no intractable problems.

There is in each of these titles plenty of good, solid technical detail.  Pippa is at her best when describing schooling and looking after ponies.  It's then that the books really come alive.  The insight into the way Pippa approaches her own horses is fascinating.  I particularly enjoyed the (mostly) non fiction offering in this selection, the Tilly's Pony Tails Annual 2011.  The mixture in this is rather more towards the practical.  Pippa has a real gift for communicating how best to look after your pony without being patronising or over-simplistic.

I commented in my first review on the appearance of branded products in the books:  Toggi get a look in in Moonshadow the Derby Winner, where Tilly has "her own Toggi gloves and woolly hat.".  In mitigation, World Horse Welfare have an entire book (Goliath the Rescue Horse) and are badged on the back of each title.

I can't finish this review without a comment on the covers - thankfully a star and twinkle free zone, but whatever happened when they photoshopped Moonshadow's mane?  I simply can't think what could have been wrong with the horse's own mane.  Was it hogged?  Either the replacement is very heavily gelled or someone has little grasp of elementary physics.  Or perhaps local weather conditions meant the breeze was blowing through the horse's tail while leaving the mane strictly alone.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Cadogan Riding School and the Second World War

I wrote a while back about the fate of the Cadogan Riding School in the Second World War, and had thought that its destruction was a terrible tragedy, but this wasn’t owner Horace Smith’s attitude at all.  The War came, he said, when there was a “very bad depression” in the horse world, affecting both Cadogan's dealing and riding school businesses.  Their outgoings in 1939 were very high indeed; they had 250 horses, a large staff and high overheads.  The outbreak of war was actually a help as the Government bought nearly all their horses, though Cadogan lost money on them.  Unlike those owners Josephine Pullein-Thompson described, who shot their horses rather than see them taken for military service, Horace Smith made active efforts to shift his.

“Each county had a different purchasing officer, and if a certain officer cast any of my horses for some small reason - such as their being either too small, or too big—I sent them into another county for inspection by a different officer; and thus I disposed, in time, of all my ordinary hunters and riding school horses."

A (very skinny) remount being measured for the French Army at Cadogan Stables

Horace Smith kept back around 20 of the most valuable horses in order to keep the business going, and the empty stabling and coach houses were let as storage or business premises.  Their largest buildings, which housed over 80 horses as well as offices, were bombed, and two horses and an employee were slightly injured.  The destruction, Smith said, was a “blessing in disguise.” The school's lease had less than a year to run. The delapidations they would have had to meet at the end of the lease would have been very heavy, but all this was avoided after the premises were bombed. 

The indoor Riding School in Cadogan Lane, which had escaped the earlier bombing, was demolished in 1943 by a flying bomb:  Horace Smith had moved his belongings out of the flat above on the day before.  

If you haven't read A Horseman Through Six Reigns, Horace Smith's autobiography, I can highly recommend it.  It is a fascinating picture of a man who lived through, and managed to keep his business going through, the complete turn around from travel by horse to travel by car.  The book is long out of print, but is very easy to find secondhand.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


I'm not quick at going with new technological developments, I must admit.  My mobile is of the strictly pared down variety.  It telephones.  It texts.  And that's about it.  Oh, and I can play Sudoku on it as well.

However, if you have a more advanced phone my blog now has a mobile version, so you should be able to read it on your phone easily.  If you do happen to look at this blog on your mobile, I'd love to know if you think it works OK.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Fifty Pony Books You Must Read

Or maybe not.  Michael Gove has suggested that children should be reading 50 books a year.  Being prescriptive about it is tricky.  I have two children, both of whom were read to every day, both of whom were taken to  libraries and book shops (often these were secondhand bookshops, where I used to park them with a Beano album while I searched the shelves), have a house full of books and bookish parents.   One reads endlessly.  One doesn't.

If your child has an obsession about something, that could be a help.   If your child is a pony obsessive, here is the list that's come out of a recent discussion on my forum.  The brief was that a child should also be able to read complete rubbish, but the list has tended towards the better efforts in the pony book genre, rather than the drivel.  Bearing in mind the age of my forum (ie adult) it's perhaps not a surprise that many of the books were ones from our own childhood.  A good proportion of the books are still in print, and I've highlighted the ones that are (though in the case of series, they're often only partially in print).  Many of the other books are still available cheaply on the secondhand market.

Eventing Trilogy  -  Caroline Akrill
National Velvet  -  Enid Bagnold
The Team From Low Moor - Gillian Baxter
Ribbons and Rings  -  Gillian Baxter
A Little Bush Maid  -  Mary Grant Bruce
A Pony for Jean  -  Joanna Cannan
They Bought Her A Pony  -  Joanna Cannan
Horse in the House  -  William Corbin
The Silver Eagle Riding School- Primrose Cumming
Doney  -  Primrose Cumming
Silver Snaffles  -  Primrose Cumming
Cobbler's Dream and the Follyfoot series  -  Monica Dickens
World's End Series  -  Monica Dickens
The Crumb  -  Jean Slaughter Doty
Punchbowl Farm series -  Monica Edwards
Romney Marsh series  -  Monica Edwards

Monday, 6 June 2011

Bookselling mistakes

I've managed to survive as a profit-making bookseller for some years now, but not without the odd self-inflicted wound.  Of course I may well be inflicting others on myself even as I write, but I haven't yet realised what they are.

Overpaying for books does not help your profit margin
As I deal in the books I like to read myself, occasionally I get carried away because I see a book and I want it myself.  My most spectacular effort in this direction was a  copy of J A Allen's reprint of Stubbs' The Anatomy of the Horse. The seller no sooner mentioned it on the phone than I was practically biting her hand off; offered her far too much, and realised as soon the book arrived and I had come down off my cloud of excitement at seeing the book for the first time that no way was I going to make anything on it.  I didn't.  I had the book hanging around for 2 years because I was desperately hoping to sell it at the top of its price range.  I eventually decided that hey, maybe I should just keep the book myself, at which point it sold.

Not being precise enough on terms
I really crashed and burned with the person who sold me the Stubbs.  I bought a few more non fiction titles from her.  In my (then) terms, I said I would pay the postage costs for getting the books to me.  What I had not envisaged is that the seller would send each and every book separately, and by Special Delivery.  Of course I just had to swallow this and pay up, but I have been very, very careful ever since to specify parcel post and as few boxes as possible.

You will never sell anything if no one knows you have got it
If I catalogue regularly, I am less likely to shove boxes out of the way somewhere so I can get into my office, completely forget I have done so, and find them years later.  Some of last month's new stock, I am ashamed to say, fell into this category.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Review: K M Peyton - Paradise House

K M Peyton - Paradise House
Scholastic Books, £5.99

K M Peyton's website

Beware - contains spoilers!

Paradise House sees K M Peyton sticking to the historical novel genre she's followed for the last few years. Aimed at a younger readership than her Small Gains series, this story is set in (I think) Victorian England, with all the social constrictions that that implies. People moved in stratified social circles, but the one thing common to all was the horror of illegitimacy. Alice, the 11 year old heroine of the novel, is, it turns out, illegitimate. When the novel opens she is living a life of cloistered strictness.  No one appears to like her much; she has no friends apart from Robin, the groom's son. Her father is remote and unfeeling. Her mother died when Alice was little.

We don't know when the novel opens that Alice is illegitimate, and neither does she. This could have been a very bleak novel indeed, given how illegitimacy was viewed. I do wonder, if K M Peyton had been writing this a few years ago, if bleak is how she would have written it, but this is a feel-good, Cinderella story. Alice is whisked from her bleak life to one in the bosom of a family. Her real father turns up, and Alice acquires another, a "proper" family. Fortunately for Alice, there is plenty of money. If she had been born to one of the servants rather than a member of the aristocracy, life would have been rather more tricky. Money then, as now, certainly makes some problems more tractable.

I found Alice's real father difficult to credit:  if he's the loving father he appears in the second half of the book, I don't quite believe that he could leave his daughter utterly unvisited for years, explaining it away by simply apologising "My dear Alice! How lovely to meet you at last! All my fault, of course. I apologise deeply."       Mrs Pinney, the housekeeper, doesn't think very highly of him for the way he's treated the children, but she appears to be in a minority. However, I don't think this book is really about portraying a realistic vision of Victorian society, although for the generation who will read this book, brought up when being illegitimate is normal, this book will open a window into a world when your entire future depended on whether or not your parents were married.

If you want to sit down, relax and be transported to another, less complicated world where life works out well in the end, then this is the book for you. Vintage Peyton it isn't, but it's still an interesting portrayal of a period relatively untouched by the horse story genre.

I can't finish this without at least mentioning the spectacularly pink cover. I don't know if the vaguely broderie-anglaise background to the title is meant to convey that the book is an historical, but if it is, it certainly passed me by. From the blurb, I was expecting a modern day racing story.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

New pony book releases - June

Here's a round up of the pony book releases I know about for June.

Babette Cole - The Enchanted Pony, The Curse of the Pony Vampires
The next two in Babette Cole’s Fetlock Hall series are out in June.  Penny Simms continues her adventures at boarding school Fetlocks Hall, fighting against the evil Devilpeds.  Vampires finally make their way into a pony book in The Curse of the Pony Vampires.  It was only a matter of time.  Bloomsbury Publishing, £5.99.

Monica Dickens - Dora at Follyfoot
Andersen Publishing have the next Follyfoot episode out this month.  £4.99.

Patricia Leitch - Gallop to the Hills
The next Jinny re-issue is out this month, as Catnip continue their lovely series of reprints.  £5.99.

Stacy Gregg - Nightstorm and the Grand Slam
The 12th in the Pony Club Secrets series is due out this month.  This lengthy series is nearing completion now.  HarperCollins, £5.99.

Alison Lester - Noni the Pony
Excellent Australian author Alison Lester has a new picture book out in June.  Noni the pony lives on a farm, but has trouble sleeping.  That’s when her friends step in to help out.  Allen & Unwin, £11.99. Hardcover.

Jerry Hunter - The Cloud Horses
Gomer Press, £4.99.  Out on 20th June is the English language version of this book (first published in Welsh).  It’s a fantasy about Rhian, who is to be the keeper of the secret of the one time of year the cloud horses decent to the earth.

Mary Finn - The Horse Girl
Walker Books, £6.99.  Out 2nd June.  This is an historical story.  Ling’s horse Belladonna is stolen, and she is worried the horse is with the artist Stubbs, who is apparently known for flailing horses in order to study their anatomy.  Together with her friend Thomas, they pay a visit to Stubbs.

Steve Farley - The Black Stallion and the Lost City
Latest in the long-running Black Stallion franchise, now taken over by son-of-Walter, Steve, is The Black Stallion and the Lost City.  It’s out in hardback at the end of the month.  Random House.

Heather Brooks - Hope: Show and Tell (Running Horse Ridge 4)
I have to admit that Running Horse Ridge 1-3 have passed me by, but number 4’s out at the end of this month.  The series is set at Running Horse Ridge, where Emily gets to “look after horses 24/7”.   I can't find any information on the author at all.  Maybe there's some out there somewhere.  HarperCollins.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


If you work in the retail trade, the customer whose connection with the real world is iffy at best will not be news to you.  Jen Campbell works in a bookshop, and she writes here about some of her more memorable customers.

I don't get a lot of direct customer contact, being an internet seller, but my particular favourite variation of this is the person who contacts me wanting to sell me books.  When the email starts off by stating the seller has already looked up their books on Abe/Ebay/Amazon (subtext so DON'T  YOU DARE ROOK ME, you evil grasping witch), my heart sinks.  If they follow it up with a list of the prices they want for their books, all of which are taken from the least reasonable end of the spectrum, I know there is no hope.  If the absolute top price for a book is, say, £50 for a pretty decent copy, then I, who earn my living from selling books, am not going to pay £50 for a frankly rather tatty one.  I wouldn't pay £50 for a pretty decent one, as that's what I'd hope to sell it at, and before I sell it I have to pay for things like website rental, heat, light, seller's fees, packaging, stationery, payment processor fees:  you know the kind of stuff.    When I've taken the expenses off, I then need to set aside a portion of the profit so I can keep on buying new stock.   As I pay fair prices for my stock (I'm not going to offer you a fiver for the £50 book) this takes up a reasonable chunk of what's left.  And after that, I need a bit left over to live on.

Well, that's the theory, at any rate.  I used to try and reason with these hopeful sellers, but now I politely suggest they try selling on Abe/Ebay/Amazon themselves.  The real doozies then come back and say with horror "But that's so much work."  Well yes, it is.

Sorry, that was meant to be a quick link to Jen's piece and I have, well, gone on a bit.

Moving on, the ever wonderful Christina Wilsdon has a lovely piece about the European snail.  I had no idea that the native American snail and indeed slug was a retiring creature and that the European snail is an evil alien invader which has taken its rapacious and destructive qualities with it.  The Americans have of course given us the Signal Crayfish, but the problem of rogue introduced species is alas worldwide.

Reining - is this abuse?

Craig Schmersal is a member of the USA Reining Team.  He (and other reiners) were recently filmed by Epona TV.  Have a look at Susannah Forrest's post setting out what went on.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Review: Jane Smiley - Secret Horse

Jane Smiley – Secret Horse
Faber & Faber, 2011, £6.99

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

Secret Horse is the sequel to Nobody’s Horse, which I reviewed last year

Abby’s father is still horse dealing; Abby’s still at school and working with the horses in what passes for her spare time.  The major difference between this book and the first volume is the relative serenity of it all.  In the first book, Abby had problems.  School was difficult, to say the least.  Here she remains the detached, slightly passive girl she was in Nobody’s Horse, but there is far less exploration of the family dynamics and friendship difficulties in this novel:  the assumption seems to be that we’ve read the first book and therefore understand about the family and their faith, and how they operate, and Abby seems to have reached a harbour where she's accepted what is going on in her life.  There’s almost no family angst in this sequel, and Abby seems to fit in better at school now, though she’s detached about that too.  You almost forget that this child can feel, particularly if you have taken on board the blurb on the back of the British edition.

“What secrets surround the little foal?” it asks.  “Can Abby solve the mystery before it’s too late?”  It’s a fairly common plot device in the horse story:  a beloved horse is claimed by someone else, who may well have a better claim than our heroine.  Here, a detective is investigating whether or not Abby’s foal, Jack, was born to a stolen broodmare, in foal to a successful and fashionable stallion.  In a conventional horse story, the beloved horse being threatened would lead to the heroine having frantic meetings with her friends, who would then devise various fantastic schemes for hanging on to the horse, and that’s what the blurb leads you to believe you’re going to get.

Abby is simply not like that.  As far as I can see, she does not even mention to any of her friends what is going on with Jack.  She barely even discusses it with her parents, but watches and waits for the next development.  Solve the mystery she does not.  This habit of watchfulness is probably why she’s so good on a horse:  she rides Black George by managing to let him get on with jumping, whilst restricting herself to placing the horse properly.  It’s quite a surprise when Abby develops a fear of jumping once the jumps go past 4 feet. 

But Abby can feel.  The part where Abby realises Black George is going to be sold is beautifully written.  If I could write something as good as this I would be beyond happy: 

 "Of course, then I knew what was coming next.  I was amazed I had been so dumb.  Sooner or later - and if Dad had his way, sooner - my horse was going to be Sophia Rosebury's horse, and it didn't matter if she ever patted him or gave him a treat or even remembered his name (which she would certainly change, anyway).  Dad squeezed me around the shoulders and we started walking back towards the truck and trailer, me leading Black George and Dad and Jane walking a little ahead of us.  He had a beautiful face, Black George, with a quiet eye and quick ears - he flicked them back and forth in order to keep track of what was going on, but nothing worried him.  His best feature was his mouth - smooth, long lips, just relaxed, because he didn't wrinkle them all the time. As we walked, I stroked his nose."

There are bits of prose you wreck if you start to pull them apart and comment on them, so I won't.  There is plenty in this book which is just as beautifully done, but somehow it doesn't all pull together with quite the force of Nobody's Horse.  I wanted to love this book, but I can’t quite.  Secret Horse lacks the dramatic pull of the first book, possibly because there’s less conflict between the characters and less to involve the reader.   It’s a nearly book.  Some of it is spellbinding. 

Note:  this book has been re-titled for the UK market.  The original title is “A Good Horse.”

I have wondered for a while now who nabbed, and now I know.  Angela Dorsey, author of a couple of lengthy pony series for Stabenfeldt, has branched out into publishing.  As well producing her own books, Enchanted Pony Books is looking to publish new work.  So, aspiring pony book authors, this might be your chance.