Friday, 29 June 2012

Morning walk: 29th June 2012

Grey day. But it's not raining and it's not humid. If you're reading this from anywhere in the UK that flooded I hope everything dries out again soon.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Review: Maggie Dana - Racing Into Trouble

Maggie Dana: Racing into Trouble
Pageworks Press, 2012, £5.35 
Available in Kindle and Nook format: Kobo coming soon

Maggie Dana's website

Thank you to the author for sending me this book.

Racing into Trouble is the second in Maggie Dana's Timber Ridge Riders series. The first book, Keeping Secrets, saw Kate McGregor arriving at the stables to be a companion to Holly, who has lost the use of her legs.  Kate manages to overcome her crippling guilt over the death of a horse, and manages not only to ride again, but to do it successfully. Not only that, she builds a firm relationship with Holly and her mother Liz. This is all despite the machinations of Angela Dean, who loathes Kate.

The second book takes place shortly after the successful competition that crowned the last book. Angela is just as poisonous as she was in the first book. Here, she's cast on her own resources when her "friend" Denise moves, but the family who move into Denise's house are English, titled and their daughter rides. Angela announces that the daughter Jennifer West is her very best friend, in which she betrays her desperation. But Angela is not just desperate: she is jealous. To add to her jealous fury, it is Kate who gets to ride the difficult new horse Buccaneer, not Angela. Essentially lonely, and judging herself by her mother's shallow standards, Angela is desperate to maintain her feeling of superiority over Kate, and this leads her down some dark paths.

Kate does not always help herself: she charges in where angels fear to tread, and this gives Angela ammunition which she is only too happy to use to blacken Kate's name. Things just get worse and worse for Kate. She manages to alienate herself from Holly by a piece of spectacular thoughtlessness: she says the sort of thing that, the moment it's out of your mouth, you want to grab and cram back in, but it is way too late. Why should Holly worry about what she's wearing to a party, says Kate. No one will see it anyway.

Kate continually makes things worse for herself. She has an absolute genius for not quite doing the right thing. Maggie Dana takes you so successfully into Kate's head that you can absolutely see why she's acting as she is.

This book is another fine read: it ends on a positive note, but Angela Dean's not down and out yet.

These are really handsome books: I'm glad they're available in paperback, as they are so attractive. The paperbacks are now readily available, and they're well worth it.

My review of Keeping Secrets

My website page on Maggie Dana

Review: Sheena Wilkinson - Grounded

Sheena Wilkinson - Grounded
Little Island, 2012, £8.99

In an interview after her first book, Taking Flight, was published, Sheena Wilkinson said "Maybe I got the whole pony story thing out of my system with Taking Flight." Fortunately not, as the sequel, Grounded, has now been published. Taking Flight was the story of two cousins; spoiled princess Vicky and out of control Declan. At the end of Taking Flight, Declan has discovered his love for horses, and despite his best attempts to ruin things for himself, has the offer of a job with the owner of the livery stables where Vicky's show jumper Flight is stabled. It looks as if everything is set fair for pony book success - Declan the show jumper; Declan the eventer.... an inspiring story of a tough working class boy made good.

And so it is as the sequel, Grounded, opens. Declan is jumping Flight at the biggest show he's ever taken part in. They win. Declan sees the owner of a big stable approaching him: for a moment he thinks he's to be offered a job, but no. Vicky has sold Flight to him. That's the first blow. But Declan manages to find a new job in a German jumping stable: it will mean starting at the bottom, but it's a foot in the door. And then the major blow falls: Declan's girlfriend Seaneen is pregnant.

At once, Declan's world is rocked to its core. At least his mother, now sober, is still around, but Declan, not out of his teens himself, has to make some important decisions, very fast indeed. Declan is not used to asking for help: it's something he's extraordinarily bad at, and something which alienates him from those who love him and want to help. Although he decides to stay with Seaneen, his heart is by no means in it, and his problems have only just begun.

Grounded is an extraordinary story, and utterly believable. How Declan deals with the latest turn his life has taken kept me turning the pages in a single-minded pursuit to the end.  Sheena Wilkinson handles her themes well; and they are major ones: teenage pregnancy, addiction and alienation. We never lose sympathy for Declan or Seaneen, or the new characters who appear in this story: Cian, a desperate young addict and Folly, the horribly neglected horse Declan takes on. Sheena Wilkinson resists any attempt to take her novel down the thoroughly well-trodden lines of the pony novel: Folly's rehabilitation is no fairytale. Declan gets it wrong. Have a feeling for horses he might do, but not where Folly is concerned. He gets is just as wrong with everyone else in his life, and there is a real sense he might lose everything.

I hope there will be a sequel: Declan seems to have taken on a life of his own now; Vicky has become a minor character, off to university and living a conventional life. Grounded is dedicated to Sheena Wilkinson's sister, Rhona, "who wanted to know what happened next, and made me find out." Get nagging, Rhona.

My review of Taking Flight
My website page on Sheena Wilkinson

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Morning walk, 27th June 2012

Very humid morning (not I'm sure when compared with some of you non-UK people out there, but a lot for those of us not used to it!) Makes a change to be bathed in sweat rather than rain.

This dock leaf is the most extraordinarily vivid colour - like a piece of virulent and unattractive meat.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Morning walk, 26th June 2012

 I like the way the sheep arrange themselves - they're an instant pastoral painting.

Morning walk, 25th June 2012

Sorry this is a day late - beautiful blue day yesterday. And the sheep are back!

Monday, 25 June 2012

The 1960s and the pony paperback

The 1950s had seen more pony books published than any other decade, but the 1960s were not far behind. It was in the 1960s that the paperback pony book really came into its own, after a rather slow start with Puffin Books, the children’s line of Penguin. Puffin printed Joanna Cannan’s Shetland pony story Hamish in 1944, as part of their Picture Puffin line, following it with classic cowboy-and-horse story Will James’ Smoky in 1945, which appeared in their usual paperback format.

Pony books were a very small part of Puffin’s output.  Puffin’s first editor, Eleanor Graham, produced very few: Kaye Webb, who took over as editor in 1961, was not a fan. Nevertheless, she recognised a quality story when she saw it, and in the 1960s published gems like William Corbin’s Horse in the House, Don Stanford’s The Horsemasters and Florence Hightower’s Dark Horse of Woodfield, as well as K M Peyton’s Flambards series. 

The major producer of the paperback pony book was Collins, with its Armada imprint.  Collins had had a couple of goes at setting up paperback imprints before Armada. In the 1950s, their Junior Fontana imprint appeared. These were attractive books with specially commissioned covers: Monica Edwards’ A Cargo of Horses appeared in 1955 with a particularly good example. Collins also produced Spitfire books: half the price of Junior Fontanas - tiny little books you could shove in the smallest of pockets. Patricia Leitch, under the name Jane Eliot, wrote four titles for them in 1967, but Spitfire faded in the 1960s once the Armada imprint appeared. 

Pony story after pony story appeared in Armadas. Collins plundered their back catalogue, producing Pullein-Thompson and Monica Edwards titles, all appearing with the distinctive spiky cover illustrations of Mary Gernat and Peter Archer.

Collins used other publishers’ back catalogues too, and the first Ruby Ferguson Jill paperback imprint appeared under Armada.  

Knight, the paperback arm of Hodder & Stoughton, realised they were missing a trick with the Jill books, and started publishing them themselves. In doing this, they ignited one of the longest running controversies in pony book history. Knight decided to produce editions that would be immediately distinctive from Armada’s, which had used the original Caney illustrations on their covers. They commissioned Bonar Dunlop to produce new cover illustrations, and some internal illustrations. He drew Black Boy as a piebald: in the original editions, Black Boy was, well, black. Knight changed the text to suit the Dunlop illustrations. In the first book, Jill’s Gymkhana, which appeared in 1968, they even changed Black Boy’s name. He became Danny Boy, but in the next book, A Stable for Jill, reverted to Black Boy, which must have confused readers. Nevertheless, Jill was now launched on the paperback scene, and Knight produced new imprint after new imprint, only stopping in the early years of this century.

Dragon Books (Atlantic Publishing) appeared in the mid 1960s: their first paperback outing was Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka, which was issued with much fanfare, and the chance to win a pony.

Dragon went on to print Gillian Baxter in paperback, and Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series, as well as the rest of Mary O’Hara’s Flicka series. Her books were produced in volume format: at least they didn’t cut them. Armada produced books to a strict page limit, and many of their authors were drastically abridged to fit into the format. Monica Edwards’ The Nightbird and Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Six Ponies were particularly brutally cut. Knight abridged too: Primrose Cumming’s Silver Snaffles was cut, and appeared without the iconic Stanley Lloyd illustrations.  

At least the books were there. Without the paperback pony book, cheap and widely available, perhaps the pony book would have withered. The pony paperback ensured authors went on being published, and brought their names to a wide public. If you couldn't afford a hardback, a  paperback was probably within reach. The strong corporate look appealed to the collecting instincts of a child (certainly this one) and you could build your own library. I still have my own 1960s and 1970s paperbacks. Without them, I'd have been restricted to what the local library offered: and it was nowhere near as much as I managed with the help of Armada, Knight and Dragon.

If you'd like to read more of my posts on the history of the pony book, this is what's appeared so far:

I have a book coming out later this year on pony books - you can follow me on Facebook for more on how that's going. 

AND there's 40% off all 1960s horse books on my site

Friday, 22 June 2012

Morning walk, 22nd June 2012

I'm sorry for posting no walk yesterday - last time it was that wet and I took the camera out it refused to work for the next week. It's drier today, but the vegetation is beaten down across the path and it's like wading through soggy, grasping stalks. It's not like, now I come to think of it. Wading through soggy grasping stalks is exactly what it is. The dog, who usually bounds ahead of me, refuses. I am there to clear her way through the drenching jungle, is her point of view. She will remain behind, and graze on soaking grass. Because that is what Labradors do.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Morning walk, 20th June 2012

A lovely day. I don't know why the snail who had stowed away on my wellington thought it was a good idea. It was an awful lot wetter outside the porch. 

I was fairly wet by the time we got to this point, where the vegetation is beyond waist high. The dog left puffs of pollen behind her with every step she took. Beautiful, but awful if you are sensitive to grass pollen.

It just seems daft to wear water proof trousers when the weather is so lovely. And at least you dry off quickly when it's so warm.