Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Amazon news

The OFT has postponed its decision on Amazon's proposed acquisition of The Book Depository until 2nd September.  I presume that means the decision has not been straightforward.

Guest blogger - Hannah Merson, artist

One of the artists exhibiting at the Society of Equestrian Artists' exhibition in Nottingham from 18th September is Hannah Merson.  Hannah's my guest blogger today, talking about trying to doing something that is certainly less complicated to do when you don't have children.

My Addiction

I've never been particularly maternal.  Even as a little girl I shunned dolls in favour of farms and all the exciting things that came with them like tractors, cows and horses.  So, it was with some surprise in 2004 when I was working as a Senior Finance Manager for the Alliance & Leicester banking group that I fell pregnant with my son Thomas.

Now, much as I love my children, and would do anything for them, I was completely unprepared for motherhood:  the lack of sleep, the crying, the dirty nappies, the vomiting, the tantrums.  Life as I knew it was well and truly over.  My daughter Gemma followed on 17 months after Thomas.  I will never forget one particularly bad night.  It was 3 am, and I'd been up for hours with Gemma as she'd been sick.  I was exhausted, covered in sick, and still had to get up at 6 am to cope with a hyper toddler.  I'm not really sure why, but the very next day, I dug out some pencils and started drawing.  From then on, drawing and painting became my means of coping and preserving my sense of self worth.

People often ask me how I make time for painting when looking after two children.  It's easy.  I make time for it!  There is always something that needs doing:  cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing, school runs.  But chores really are only as important as you make them.  I spend the day with the children and then every evening after I've put them to bed I paint.  I can normally get two to three hours in a night.  If I have a spare hour during the day when they're at school or pre-school I'll go to our local park and do a small 6 x 8 inch painting.

Thomas started school last year and this September Gemma will be off.  Like most mums, it's not a day I'm looking forward to.  Not because I'm sad to wave her off (we're both more than ready for that) but because it means I have to make a decision about my future - go back into finance, or consider trying to make a living from painting, if that's even possible?  My heart says one thing, and my head another.  So, this really does feel like a crunch year for me, and I know I need to focus everything I have on improving my painting if I'm to stand any chance at all.  But unlike housework, painting is an absolute joy for me, not a chore, and whatever I decide to do, I'll never give it up.  I'm not sure I could if I wanted to.  I'm addicted.

Hannah won the prize for the best sporting painting at the recent Society of Equestrian Artists' annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London, with Huntsman & Hounds.

You can follow what Hannah is up to on her blog, and see more of her paintings on her website.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Society of Equestrian Artists' Exhibition

I wouldn't have a proper horse obsession if the horse in art didn't also make me ridiculously excited.  Just up the railway line from me in Nottinghamshire is the Sally Mitchell Gallery, which will be putting on the East Midlands Open Exhibition of Equestrian Art, in conjunction with the Society of Equestrian Artists.

The SEA is a charity that "promotes the best in contemporary equestrian art and supports and encourages artists who share that passion."  Their website is very well worth a look.  I have a Christmas present list filled up for years now.

If you're an artist, you have until 2nd September to submit works for the exhibition; if you're just interested in looking, then the exhibition is open online from 18th September to 22nd October, and at the Gallery itself from 25th September to 8th October. Although the chances of me, or my nearest and dearest coming up with any major money making scheme any time soon is remote, I will not lose heart.  Pieces are on sale for under £100.   You can of course, spend considerably more, but my, it will be worth it.

The piece above is One Day, by Michelle McCullagh, which is appearing in the exhibition. When Jennifer Bell, pony book illustrator as well as an artist in her own right, told me about this exhibition, I went and had a look at the SEA site, and told Jennifer that were I to be put up a wall, and forced to take a painting, it would be Michelle McCullagh's Reverie.

Artists wanting to submit:
See for entry forms.  You do not have to be a member to submit. Handing in day is 11th September.

Fancy Dress

I've just bought another set of vintage Pony magazines, which has an article on a perennial favourite of mine, the dressing up class.  Alas the quality of the photographs is pretty basic so it's not always easy to tell what's going on.  I think a better photograph would have done justice to the splendour of Miss Middleton's Panshanger Riding School doing A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Pamela Templeton at Ayr got her man...

The hounds were ready for the hunt,

But to no avail, as the fox got there first, in the Bucknall family's Fox's Frolic.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Guest blogger - Linda Newbery on Monica Edwards

Linda Newbery,  Carnegie Medal nominee for The Shell HouseSisterland, At the Firefly Gate, silver medal winner, NestlĂ© Children's Book Prize for Catcall, and Costa Children’s Book winner of 2006 for Set in Stone, is today's guest blogger.  Linda was a fan of the Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm books of Monica Edwards, and this piece, which first appeared in The Martello Magazine in 2007, explains why. 

I can say without doubt that Monica Edwards made me want to be a writer from an early age.    

Wish for a Pony was my first encounter, at the age of eight.   There’s something special about the books we love as children, something I don’t think we can experience as adults.  I read and re-read Wish for a Pony so many times that I could recite chunks now, smell the paper, and see the Anne Bullen illustrations.  I virtually inhabited Westling; wanted Tamzin and Rissa for my friends and Jim Decks to confide in.  At that age I was taken with the wish-fulfilment of the plot, but what has lingered most is the warmth and solidity of the characters and the setting.

No Mistaking Corker came next; then Armada paperbacks appeared, and I was delighted to discover how many books there were; I felt they’d been written just for me.  I was addicted, buying Armadas, requesting hardbacks from the library, growing up with Tamzin and Lindsey.  Punchbowl Midnight and The Spirit of Punchbowl Farm were my favourites, together with Hidden in a Dream.  I pored over the maps; identified strongly with Lindsey (more than with Tamzin; I wasn’t brave or beautiful enough, and would certainly never have attracted a Meryon); agonized with her over the fate of the yew tree, the dehorning of cattle, the shooting of deer.   Monica Edwards was a pioneer environmentalist, writing about such things as the capture of dolphins, the destruction of habitats and the oiling of seabirds long before these were the familiar topics they are now.   Elaine, the main character in my first published book, Run with the Hare, who becomes involved in an animal rights group, surely owes something to Lindsey.  (And I couldn’t resist using the name Tamsin – with this more common spelling – for the heroine of A Fear of Heights.)

From the age of ten I was trying to write novels, hiding them in my wardrobe.    Of course, I wanted to be Monica Edwards; later, other writers exerted their influence.  But what has always stayed with me is her evocation of place.   I knew Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm in all seasons and all weathers; I saw them with Monica Edwards’ painterly eye.  This sense of place is important to my own books.   I don’t write series fiction, but several of my novels (The Shell House, Set in Stone, The Sandfather, Nevermore – well, nearly all of them) have started with a particular place and atmosphere.   Like Monica Edwards, I want to take my readers there, make the places real in their imaginations.   Most are set in the countryside, several featuring a central character who has moved there from town or city.   

I met Monica Edwards through an act of what now seems colossal cheek.   Returning from a Sussex holiday, I made my parents take me to Punchbowl Farm, overruling their protests that it was just a place in a story.   I marched up to the kitchen door and was astonished when Monica Edwards herself opened it.  She didn’t mind us arriving on her doorstep.   She spent two or more hours with us, inviting us into that kitchen, taking us down to the woods, showing us the badger setts.  She was the first author I’d met, and I couldn’t believe that she was so ordinary and so friendly.

I’m sorry that I didn’t send her one of my books before it was too late, thanking her for my enormous enjoyment of her work, and for making me a writer.  I know now how much it would mean to me if I could be someone else’s Monica Edwards.   Maybe …

You can find more information on Linda Newbery on her website, and more information on the books she's written which involve horses here

Monday, 8 August 2011

New hens

I've put off getting new hens for months; mainly because neither of us could face the thought of more months trying to prevent our Black Rocks, who are the Al Capones of the hen world, making determined efforts to keep the hen population at what they considered an acceptable level: them, and their hench hen.  Last time we got new hens it took months of keeping the hens separately, Black Rocks patrolling the dividing fence like sharks hoping for seals, before peace finally broke out.

It's not as if our hens lack space.  Here is the hen area at Badger Towers, all surrounded by electric fence. 

They have a large bramble hedge that they spend hours and hours in.  "What do they do in there?" I asked my husband.  "Just chill, like teenagers," he said.  I think that's pretty much it, though now it is blackberry time, they do make the occasional foray out to snaffle any blackberries which have ripened since the last time they looked.  Or have a sandbath in any one of many they have dug out in their time with us. Here's one:

They are not short of things to do, or of space, both supposed to be contributors to violence.  My Black Rocks are just thugs.  Born mean, and carried on mean.  Here is Tiger, chief hench hen of Queen Hen, Bess.

Tiger and I had just had words when this picture was taken.  We have two new hens, Scrabbles II and Pandora II, a Bluebelle and Light Sussex respectively.  Yesterday we carefully fenced off an area of the field for the new hens.  They loved it.  The Black Rocks clocked the fact they were there, but did not seem too bothered. Result, we thought.  I went back a couple of hours later, to find the enclosure empty as the new hens had flown out and into the main field.  The others were still not too bothered.

Today of course they have remembered that gang violence is quite fun.

I don't know if it's because their horrible natures are sweetened by the huge intake of blackberries, or whether because the yarrow's quite high at the moment they can't see the new hens so easily, but the violence is more what I'd expect from normal hens, so I've left them to it.  The poor new hens do have quite a bit to contend with besides the Black Rocks and finding their way around; the wind for one, as Badger Towers is always up there at the front of the queue for any wind that's going.  It must be like negotiating a prairie for them.

And then there's me, probably first cousin to a known hen killer.  I am slowly, with the aid of mealworms, persuading them that I am a good thing.  At least the face below is an interested one (if a little mad) rather than one fleeing in horror.

Fingers crossed. 

Friday, 5 August 2011

Review: Linda Newbery - The Damage Done and The Nowhere Girl

Linda Newbery - The Damage Done
Linda Newbery - The Nowhere Girl
not in print but easily available secondhand

I usually review books which are in print, as there's not a great deal of point going completely overboard about something brilliant but so gallopingly obscure and out of print it is obtainable only for a small mortgage and the gleaming locks of your first born child.  These two books have made me make an exception. A while back I reviewed Linda Newbery's Barney the Boat Dog, and the author got in touch with me suggesting another couple of her books she thought I might like.  She was right.

The Damage Done and The Nowhere Girl are both YA books.  They both became my car books. I don't know if anyone else does this, but I have a car book.  In fact, I have several car books.  I get panicky, fretful and generally not nice to know if I am faced with having to wait somewhere without a book.  Who knows when you might be stuck, stationary on the M1? Condemned to wait for the RAC by your dodgy battery?  Stuck at the station waiting for a late train?  So, I have a car book. I have a long term resident, which I can pick up and put down and not worry too much about finishing (currently Dombey and Son). And then I have others I will grab on the way out.

I have noticed that if the book is particularly good, my station run gets earlier and earlier.  Instead of arriving with a few minutes to spare, I arrive with more time than even the most obsessive time keeper (and I am an obsessive time keeper) could possibly need.

The Damage Done involved some very early runs to the Station indeed.  The teenage heroine, Kirsty, is surrounded by people whose focus is not her.  Anything, really, but not her.  Her mother has moved out, has a new partner and a new life and very firm ideas on what Kirsty should do.   Kirsty's father had a long ago successful novel and spends his days being waited on by her, and not writing his next novel. Her brother is in America, having left Kirsty to run the livery stable he's started.  Kirsty has a lot on her plate, not least of which is a paralysing fear of going anywhere that isn't home, and an equally paralysing determination not to tell anyone why she won't go out.

Kirsty spends her days working with the horses, and trying to keep the stables going, waiting for the great day when her brother returns from America and they can work on the stables together and make it a success.  One day, she meets the new gardener at the estate where one of the livery horses lives.  He is a skinny teenage boy, utterly self contained.  Kirsty is not sure whether he's a good thing or a bad thing, and neither are we for a good part of the novel.

The novel sees Kirsty gradually finding a way out of her misery: there's no blinding, Damascene moment, but little movements; some forward, some back.  The boy, Dally, is certainly a part of it, but I think the strength of the book lies in Kirsty's character: you feel she would have found a way to peace herself without him; it just would have taken a different course.   I had exactly the same opinion about this book after I'd read it the second time.  It is a fine read.

The Nowhere Girl is also a fine read.  Cass Sutherland is, like Kirsty, a teenage girl at the point of making major decisions about her life.  She is making a long, slow recovery from glandular fever.  As part of it, she is going to stay with her French great aunt and uncle, to work for them during the summer.  Some of her job is helping out on their stud farm, but after an accident fells the stud groom, Pascal comes to help.  His arrival instantly complicates matters, as Cass falls for him.  Pascal is not, however, the only complicating factor.  Something happened in the area during World War II.  Cass's great-grandfather shot himself, and her great-aunt suddenly disappeared.  Cass becomes convinced both incidents are connected with the betrayal of a Jewish family who hid in a cottage belonging to her great-grandfather during the war.

What she discovers sends Cass's already fragile balance into freefall, and for a while it is not clear whether she will survive it.

Although the book has moments of intense drama, they are always believable, as is Cass's reaction to them. The sense of sunlit, summer France is almost tangible throughout the novel, and the community Linda Newbery creates is intensely real.   It is a beautifully created world.

If you're looking for intelligent, YA, writing with an element of horse, these books are an excellent place to start.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Re-use, recycle, restore

In the 1980s, there was this:

and now, there's this:

Thank goodness for Photoshop.

Thanks to Hannah Fleetwood for this.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Until I get my dragon

this pony will do instead.

Unless the Apocalypse intervenes, of course.

Thanks to boing-boing for the first, and Susanna Forrest for the second. And apologies for repeating myself if you follow me on Twitter.

Guest blogger - Janet Rising: The Observation of Horses

I'm delighted to welcome my latest guest blogger, editor of PONY Magazine, and author of the Pony Whisperer series, Janet Rising.

The observation of horses         

Car journey boredom is not something from which I suffer, for there are always horses to see! As a young child, even before I swapped a shilling for I-Spy Horses & Ponies, my head would swivel from right to left on any car journey. I was, and still am, an equine-seeking missile.

On the route from the family home to my grandparents’ holiday caravan on the Essex coast every field containing horses was imprinted on my memory like a brand. The cobs on the right, the lone grey on the left, the palomino and bay on the weed-ridden paddock by the mobile home – even the tree-lined lane leading to the riding school advertised in the horsey press, too far away and expensive to attend, caused my pulse to quicken. It was a matter of honour never to miss a pony field. The excitement of any family holiday started the moment the car hit unfamiliar roads. What ponies would I see today?

And nothing has changed. The familiar shapes still distract my gaze from travelling companions and the road ahead. What are their stories? Are they loved, cared for, neglected? Secure, or confused by their owner’s demands? Their shapes, their colours, their markings, prick the dark recesses of my memory, reminding me of horses I have known and ridden, too soon passed to name them, to remember the yard at which we met.

Even on unfamiliar routes I’ve a sixth sense of where to look. There’s something about a field that promises not to disappoint: the way it is grazed, a water trough, the fencing. Even suburban opportunities present themselves: a rare stable yard still used for its original purpose, a paddock squeezed between houses or patchwork gypsy horses mowing tethered circles on a roundabout. The hairy, coloured ponies shadowed by the motorway bridges criss-crossing the M25 at Dartford, scared and stranded on the highest and last dry part of their field, the river swollen after the rains, prompting a call to the horse charities to ensure that someone cared about them. There is no snobbery in this hobby, this addiction I can’t ignore. All horses command equal interest.

And there are riders, indulging their passion while I drive or am driven, cantering by the side of golden and rippling crops or chocolate-coloured plough. Is the pace their choice, or that of their mounts? With such fleeting glimpses it’s impossible to tell. Horses and riders on motorway bridges, centaur silhouettes against the sky, their riders unaware of my thoughts as I hurtle beneath them, my eyes flicking to the mirror for a second glance. Are they heading out for a ride, or returning? Will the jogging horse calm once he is away from the road? Will the dismounted rider be able to mount once again?

There are glimpses and promises of routes I’ll never ride. Where does that avenue of trees, disappearing over the hill with such mystery, lead, that beautiful stretch of perfect grassland, just begging to be galloped on? The rolling fields and moorland – perfect from the car, any poor going disguised by distance and speed. I have ridden in some beautiful places all over the world, on wonderful horses, but like an explorer unable to resist the lure of an unmarked map there are always horses yet to ride, places I shall never observe from the saddle. I am greedy, and every journey offers rich temptation.   

And so it continues on my travels. Behind my husband on our motorbike there are horses and donkeys to behold as we speed through France. And when horses are in short supply I switch, from necessity, to beautiful wide-eyed French cows, grazing with the sire of their calves, both present and future. Cows more fortunate than our own, not forced into a celibate existence with their sisters, denied the company of their own offspring, their suitor replaced by a dispassionate, white-coated inseminator.

Such thoughts are an indulgence when one does not have the responsibility of the vehicle and they ramble on unchecked as we traverse the miles, as thoughts do, reaching a point at their conclusion far from their beginning and impossible to retrace. But always it comes back to the horses. Horses – the very sight of them after so many years of observation still quickens my pulse and commands my interest. There’s no getting away from them. There is no boredom when there are horses to see, and I’m thankful for that.

The pictures are used under Creative Commons Licence, and come from  They were taken by Ian Britton.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Moorland Mousie rides again

The Moorland Mousie Trust has re-released Golden Gorse's Moorland Mousie: the quintessential Exmoor pony book, and one of the forerunners of the modern day pony book. The book is, I am delighted to say, is hardback, oh joy.  So, not only can you support the endangered Exmoor pony, you can support the survival of what looks like an endangered book form too.  The book contains all the original Lionel Edwards illustrations, and the Trust have tried to stick to the original in format and style as closely as possible.

Moorland Mousie costs £11.99, plus p&p (which is £3 for a single book in the UK - please contact them for postage on overseas orders or large UK orders).  All profits go to the Moorland Mousie Trust, to conserve and promote the rare-breed Exmoor pony.   Since the charity was founded, it has helped more than 400 ponies, most of them foals, to find new homes.   In Autumn each year the Trust takes on the surplus unbought ponies from the moor, and domesticates and trains them so they can have a secure future. You can read more about their work here

You can order directly from the Trust on 01398 323093 and pay via debit/credit card or by cheque made payable to The Moorland Mousie Trust.  They don't have an online ordering system, but you can email your order here:

Many thanks to the Moorland Mousie Trust for the information.

New books for August

Here's this month's releases.

Patricia Leitch - Horse in a Million
Out today (1st August) is the latest in Catnip’s Jinny series is Horse in a Million (£5.99).  In this episode, the sixth in the series, Jinny and Sue are organising the Finmory Gymkhana, but Clare Burnley, pot hunter supreme, decides to compete. After that, two of Miss Tuke’s ponies disappear, and then Shantih disappears...   

A few weeks ago Catnip's commisioning editor wrote a piece on why she commisioned the reprints

Kelly McKain - Daisy and Dancer
Also out today (Stripes Publishing, £4.99) is the latest in this long running series.  I keep thinking that I really must read another, as I haven't read one since the first, about which my feelings were ambivalent.  The series is a popular one, and more new titles are planned.  In this latest, Daisy is the latest attendee at Sunnyside Stables, and her pony for the week is going to be Dancer. Daisy isn’t quite up to the gymnastic brilliance displayed by her fellow residents, and struggles to make her own contribution to the display ride.

Diana Kimpton and Garry Parsons - Doctor Hoof
It’s been a while since Diana Kimpton, author of the Pony Mad Princess series, of which I am very
fond, has done a pony title.  Out on 1st August is her picture book 
Doctor Hoof.  Doctor Hoof is a
horse, and a doctor.  He  only treats horses, which proves a problem when he moves to a new area
and the only horse around is him.  Scholastic, £6.99.

Linda Chapman - Hopes
Out on 4th August (£5.99, and as a Kindle edition, £2.99) is the latest episode in Linda Chapman’s series about a showing stable.  I’m intrigued to see what she does with her heroine this time round, as the first two books haven’t been particularly predictable.

Elizabeth Letts - The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation
A piece of non-fiction:  out on 23 August is Elizabeth Letts’ account of how a horse bound for the slaughterhouse, and bought for eighty dollars, became a winner at Madison Square Gardens.  Snowman isn’t an iconic horse here in the UK, but he certainly is in America, and has already spawned a book by Rutherford Montgomery, which is difficult to find and expensive when you do track it down. 

Jeanne Betancourt - The Clue in the Clubhouse
The second in the Pony Mysteries series published by Cartwheel is out this month.  £2.46.

Andrea M Hale: Skye and Lilly’s French Gymkhana
On the self-published front, here’s the first in what is intended to be a series.  It’s out on 5th August,
and is illustrated throughout.  The author runs Millfields Rare Breeds in Essex, and the book is based
on the adventures of her Welsh Section A mare Skye, and Skye’s friend Lilly, a Hebridean sheep with
“big black horns and lots of attitude.”