Wednesday, 31 December 2014

PBOTD 31st December: Ruby Ferguson - Pony Jobs for Jill

I have changed my mind a couple of times over what book I would choose to round up the year with. In the end, Pony Jobs for Jill (1960) seemed ideal , because if ever a book encapsulated the tension between the pony-filled dreams of childhood and the harsh realities of adult life, that book is Pony Jobs for Jill.

In the her earlier Jill stories, Ruby Ferguson created an idealised world which we, her readers, loved. Whilst we were prepared to accept (and might even have welcomed) the total absence of romance in the series, we did not feel the same when Jill was not allowed to take up the horsy career we hoped she would have. That's not to say Ruby Ferguson disapproved of working women as a species: the series is filled with them. Mrs Crewe supports Jill and herself through her writing; the local stable is run by Mrs Darcy. No one ever doubts that Jill will work when she leaves school. In Jill Has Two Ponies, Catherine Crewe says:
“When all is said and done, Jill is the one to decide. I should like her career to be entirely her own choice, and whatever it is I shall help her in every way.”
Mrs Crewe alas has recanted these high ideals by the time the next book, Jill Enjoys Her Ponies, appears. Jill gets the dream offer: a job after she finishes school in the stables of a member of the British Show Jumping Team, Captain Cholly-Sawcutt. It is, as Mrs Darcy says, the sort of chance she really needs if she is to make horsemanship her career. But Jill says her mother wants her to take a secretarial course, and the implication is that however much Jill might want the dream job, her mother won’t agree. 

In the last book (chronologically) Pony Jobs for Jill, Mrs Crewe announces “A girl can’t learn too young to run a home.” Jill and Ann would much rather run a stable. And so they do, for a while: having finished school, they take a succession of short term horsy jobs. None leads to anything important. Mrs Crewe is not alone in her new views: Captain Cholly-Sawcutt appears to have thought again about his job offer. “You’re going to get yourselves seriously trained for some proper job, and you’re going to keep up your riding for a hobby,” he tells Jill and Ann at the end of Pony Jobs for Jill. And they do. In the very last paragraph of the book, Jill’s set for a secretarial course, and feels she’s “secretary to the Prime Minister already.” She wanted to be an MP several books earlier.

The effect on Jill’s readers was profound. To us, Jill was a role model who went out and forged her own way, but when she meekly accepts a limited and conventional view of what a girl should do their ideal world was shattered. Although some readers might, as Liz Thiel says , go on to “seek an explanation for Jill’s heroic demise, to question the influences that have encouraged her to submit to conventionality and to consider the possibility of an alternative ending,” those readers I have asked do not consider an alternative ending: they simply reject the one that is provided. 

Jill’s calm acceptance of the end of her dream came as an almost physical blow to me when I read it first as a child. Pony book devotee Konstanze Allsopp said: “I will never forget the disappointment of reading that Jill book”; fellow fans agreed. Kate Hill said “So here is someone who largely through her own determination, has progressed from knowing next to nothing to becoming a talented horsewoman who is valued by Mrs Darcy and the champion Captain Cholly-Sawcutt, but who ends up doing a pedestrian office job. What a waste of all that experience and talent!”

Did Ruby Ferguson intend readers to question the ending she gave to Jill? Or was Ruby Ferguson reacting to the thousands of girls she felt she was inadvertently encouraging in ridiculous dreams? Ruby herself did a secretarial course after Oxford. Maybe she too had dreams, but they were dashed by the realities of finding work in post war Britain. It is noticeable that Jill was still allowed to write: was writing Ruby Ferguson’s escape? Pony Jobs for Jill, in which the moral voice of the sternly practical parent obtrudes and rips apart the dreams we have all built up for ourselves and for Jill, is the least popular of the series. Ruby Ferguson made a romance of her own life: perhaps therein lies the key. Her best creations, and she knew it, were those in which reality was not allowed too free a rein.

In the last book in the series, Jill’s Pony Trek, Ruby Ferguson takes Jill back to schooldays, when all she had to think about was enjoying the holidays with her ponies. It is Jill in the earliest books of the series that her readers remember best: lively, pony-obsessed, and with a world of possibilities at her feet. And it is noticeable that the authors who wrote the pony book series that followed in Jill’s footsteps kept their heroines firmly within the boundaries of their ideal, and pony-filled world.

This piece was taken from the Jill chapter in my book, Heroines on Horseback.

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More on Ruby Ferguson

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

PBOTD 30th December: Joan Selby Lowndes - Family Star

Today's PBOTD is Joan Selby-Lowndes' Family Star (1961), it is Jenny's birthday. It's a day which starts well, but it ends badly when Jenny finds the family's pony, Kitty, is lame. Kitty is not just any pony: she works for her living, pulling Jenny's father's flower cart.

The family is now up against it, as with no pony to pull the flower cart there is no income. Jenny, however, has some talent as an actress, and she gets a part in a pantomime. Fortunately, there's a part for Kitty too.
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More on Joan Selby Lowndes

Monday, 29 December 2014

PBOTD 29th December: Carol Vaughan - Dancing Horse

Carol Vaughan did write some pony books, but her main literary output was short stories. If you've read a PONY Magazine Annual or a Pony Club Annual from the 1960s or 1970s, you'll almost certainly have read one of her short stories.

She wrote Dancing Horse in 1966. It's the story of the Manorfields Stud, which is invaded by a herd of stray horses and ponies. They have come from a visiting circus, and escaped after the train transporting them derailed. The children who live at the stud dutifully return the horses to the circus, but they are very struck by the beautiful Arab, Roi Soleil. His rider, Fleurette, was injured when the train was derailed, and cannot ride him.

The Manorfields au pair, Monique, provides an element of mystery when she refuses to have anything to do with either horse or rider. In the end, of course, everything works out, and Roi Soleil goes on to have his glory day at the circus.

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More on Carol Vaughan

Sunday, 28 December 2014

PBOTD 28th December: Judith M Berrisford - Sue's Circus Horse

The next little section of pony books are all on pantomimes and circuses. Circuses tend not to be the sort of thing you do now after Christmas, but they were extremely popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and were often advertised in PONY Magazine.

Sue's Circus Horse is a very early Judith M Berrisford - the second. In it, heroine Sue buys the beautiful cream mare Ballita from the circus. Ballita is of course trained for the circus, and not as a riding pony, and this causes poor Sue all sorts of bother.

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More on Judith M Berrisford

Saturday, 27 December 2014

PBOTD 27th December: Gillian Baxter - Ponies by the Sea

Today's PBOTD doesn't fit in brilliantly to the panto theme I thought I'd fit in between now and New Year, but this is all my own fault because I'd already used Gillian Baxter's Pantomime Ponies earlier in the year.

So, today's book is Ponies by the Sea, which is another from the same series. Actually, I will bung Pantomime Ponies  in too, just because I can, so here it is:

The series is about the ponies Magic and Moonshine, who work on stage. In Ponies by the Sea, Magic and Moonshine have been taken to the seaside to star in a summer show. There. I told you it didn't fit in to the theme. Or the season. Couldn't fit in less, in fact. But there you go. If the weather's vile after Christmas (I am writing this well before), it's always good to look forward to the better weather, so that's what this post's here to do. Look forward to a time we can paddle in the sea with our trousers rolled up and not need to be treated for hypothermia.

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More on Gillian Baxter

Friday, 26 December 2014

PBOTD 26th December: Lorna Hill - Northern Lights

Lorna Hill hasn't featured in the PBOTD at all, mainly because I am not a huge fan of her work. Her hero Guy is someone who divides readers sharply. There are those who appreciate his caveman attitudes, and there are those who don't.

Be that as it may, today's book, Northern Lights (1999), does feature a Boxing Day hunt, which makes it quite a handy book for today. The book is the fourth Marjorie story, but it was rejected for publication when it was written, in the late 1940s, as the publishers thought people would far prefer to read stories which did not mention the war. The book languished until 1999, when publishers Girls Gone By visited Lorna Hill and were told about the story. They published it.

In Northern Lights, the children have a Christmas holiday in a vicarage, where Guy is mugging up his Latin as well as teaching at the local riding school. Guy maintains his position of moral authority, having not just his usual battles with Marjorie, but also spats with the arrogant Avril, and Gina the Polish refugee.

When it comes to the hunt, Guy, Marjorie and Peter are keen, but Esme is vehemently anti. Pan struggles to reconcile her appreciation of the tradition with her acknowledgement of hunting's cruelty. Lorna Hill does provide a rather more nuanced view of the hunt than was usual in pony books, who tended to accept it without question.

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More on Lorna Hill

Thursday, 25 December 2014

PBOTD 25th December: Patricia Leitch - Horse of Fire

The Christmas Day pony book is Patricia Leitch's Horse of Fire, which contains some of my favourite Christmas pieces. Patricia Leitch isn't a judgemental writer, and she's certainly not judgemental about spirituality. Mysticism, Celtic mythology and Christianity all get equal respect in her books. Horse of Fire (1986) is the eleventh book of the series, and in it Jinny and Shantih are roped in to the local nativity play. Jinny has fine and splendid dreams about how she and Shantih will appear as glorious king and even more glorious horse, but when the moment comes, it's not like that at all. Jinny is cast into utter misery, but then, as they're leaving, a little boy stops and stares up at Shantih.

"The little boy stared up at Shantih, his eyes wide with tiredness and excitement.'I saw them,' he stated stubbornly. 'It was the golden wings it had.''You're right,' said Ken, speaking directly to the little boy. 'I saw them too.''Filling his head with such nonsense,' snapped the woman, but the child's face lit up as he smiled at Ken.'You see,' said Ken, as they watched the little boy being dragged away. 'It is always worthwhile. All his life he'll remember Shantih's golden wings. Tell his grandchildren about them.' A surge of gratitude lifted through Jinny. It had all been worthwhile - the hassle, the striving, the not giving in. For the little boy the nativity play had been as wonderful as Jinny had wanted it to be for everyone."

And then Jinny and Ken, after they confound the deer smugglers who've been plaguing the moors, go to the Tinkers' celebration of Christmas.

"Here there were no costumes, no kings, no one striving to make this simple ceremony the best ever. It was as it was. Suddenly Jinny saw that all her efforts to turn the Glenbost nativity play into a spectacular happening had only been a way of showing off, wanting to make people see her as the best king, to admire Shantih. She hadn't really cared about the nativity. She had only cared about Jinny Manders being the most.
They went one by one and knelt before the Child. Sara first, the other tinkers, then Ken, and last of all Jinny. It seemed they moved in a formal, precise dance in which all played their part - those who waited and those who knelt. Jinny would have left Shantih as Ken had left Bramble but Sara motioned her to take Shantih with her. While Jinny knelt Shantih breathed warm sweet breath over the baby, who opened his eyes and laughed."

Happy Christmas.

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More on Patricia Leitch
And yes, this is a repeat of the piece I wrote this time last year, because I don't think I could add to it.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

PBOTD 24th December: Jill's Gymkhana

If you'd been wondering when I'd get round to featuring Jill's Gymkhana, here it is at last, and here is Jill, at her first Christmas in Chatton. Earlier in Jill's Gymkhana, from which the illustration and extract come, Jill walks some children to school, for which she's paid. Mrs Crewe doesn't approve of Jill being paid for this at all - she's allowed to accept an apple or some sweets, but that's it. Jill's devastated, as she'd planned on using the money to feed Black Boy during the winter.

Now I'm older, I must admit I do wonder what those parents who paid Jill must have thought when their payments were returned. I like to think that they sympathised with her efforts to keep her pony, and I'm glad they gave Jill something splendid for Christmas which her mother couldn't reject.

"The magnificent thing was soon revealed, a lovely dark-blue pony rug bound round with scarlet. I was speechless. It was Mummy who picked up the card and read aloud, "To Jill Crewe, with many thanks, from the mothers of Jennifer, Angela, Jane and Elizabeth..... Of course the first thing I did was to rush off to try the rug on Black Boy. He looked wonderful with it on, and exactly like a blood pony, and he arched his neck and bucked a bit, just showing off because he knew how nice he looked; so I walked him up and down in front of the cottage windows and Mummy and Martin waved approval.
After getting all these wonderful presents, especially the horsy ones that I hadn't expected, I think you will agree with me that it was a very nice Christmas."

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You can read more about Ruby Ferguson here

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

PBOTD 23rd December: Wendy Douthwaite - The Christmas Pony

Here's a 1980s pony book which really couldn't be better titled for this time of year. Wendy Douthwaite's Christmas Pony (1985) is a gentle story about 11 year old Lindy, who is finding it very difficult to adapt to having a new stepmother, now her father has remarried after the death of her mother. She and her mother had a plan for Lindy to save for a pony and buy a foal. Eventually, Lindy has saved enough to go to the local Sale and buy a foal, but she gets rather more than she bargained for.

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More on Wendy Douthwaite

Monday, 22 December 2014

PBOTD 22nd December: The Princess Pony Annual

I never had a Princess Tina Pony Book for Christmas, or any other time either, come to that. The one childhood experience I had with them was with the first one pictured, which a friend found secondhand, and brought to school, because it had a pattern in it you could use to make felt ponies. I was then, and am now, not a good sewer, but I set to with enthusiasm and made my ponies, as did my friends.

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More on the Princess and Princess Tina Pony Annuals

Sunday, 21 December 2014

PBOTD: 21st December - The Pony Club Annual

I loved the Pony Club Annual, which was as close as I ever got to the Pony Club. My sister and I had two. I hung on to mine for years, and then decided that I would sell them, which I did. The next year I decided that Pony Club annuals were a subject ripe for investigation, so I had to find new copies of the ones I'd sold. And copies of pretty well every other one published (I still don't have a complete run, but am not far off).

I loved the stories in the Pony Club Annual. The ones in the purple one below from 1972 were by Josephine Pullein-Thompson, Primrose Cumming and Carol Vaughan, and I think I knew them off by heart. The same authors also contributed stories to the 1974 edition.

The annuals I had were edited by Genevieve Murphy, who was the second editor. The first, who started the whole thing off, was Alan Delgado. And below is the very first Pony Club Annual. It appeared in 1950, and included a short story by Pamela Whitlock. It was beautifully illustrated, with contributions from Michael Lyne, Marcia Lane Foster,Joan Wanklyn, Sheila Rose and Peter Biegel.

The Pony Club Annual does still exist, but is now a recitation of Pony Club members' achievements. The last traditional annual appeared in 1985, and here's a picture of it. 

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More on the Pony 

Saturday, 20 December 2014

PBOTD 20th December: the Follyfoot Annual

I, like I imagine every other horse-mad child in the 1970s who had a televsion, was glued to the screen during Follyfoot. Sadly, I never had a Follyfoot Annual, so here, to make up for that, are all the annuals I know about.

There were five annuals, from 1973-1977, and all included stories, comic strips and puzzles.

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Friday, 19 December 2014

PBOTD 19th December: Percy's Pony Annual

The next few blog posts are going to feature pony annuals, because it will be a rare pony loving child who did not receive one for Christmas.

My sister and I had a few PONY Magazine annuals between us - a big favourite was the 1973 one, because it had an article on Julip horses. The lucky subject of the article had a whole stableful of them. At that time, my sister and I had precisely none, but that didn't stop us wanting. We lived through that child and her table top crammed with horses.

Of course, at that age, it doesn't occur to you that the annuals you love have to start somewhere. Percy's Pony Annual wasn't the earliest pony annual - that honour belongs to the Pony Club, but it's certainly the most charming of the early efforts. It was the first annual published by PONY Magazine, and was quite unlike the ones that came after it. Percy the Przewalski, and his friends, had their own little section in the magazine. Readers could join the Percy and Allsorts League (PAL). For 2s 9d you could get a PAL badge, but that wasn't compulsory. The objects of the club were to unite its readers and make them as happy as possible, and for you to save a little money as often as you could for societies who helped horses and ponies.

In 1953, Percy's Pony Annual appeared. It contained stories, poems (one by Primrose Cumming), non fiction articles, and a young readers' section with stories, and instructions on how to make your own miniature steeplechase course out of plasticene, matchsticks and bits of greenery.

The book had an amazing full colour dustjacket by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone, which I reproduce in full below because it is such a thing of beauty.

I can only guess that the annual didn't sell as well as the publishers hoped, because no more appeared. The next PONY Annual made its appearance in 1962.

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More on the history of PONY Annuals

Thursday, 18 December 2014

PBOTD 18th December: Suzanne Reynolds - Snowy the Christmas Foal

Today's book is one I hadn't heard of until I bought another collection of old PONY Magazines recently. The November 1962 edition reviewed Suzanne Reynolds' Snowy the Christmas Foal, which is a book 10 year old Suzanne wrote and illustrated herself. It's based on Suzanne's own pony, and is the rather sweet story of Snowy, who is born on Christmas Eve night. Snowy is a Christmas present for Mary, who whilst pleased with the kitten and sweets she gets for Christmas, had been hoping for a pony. Snowy and Mary (and a puppy) go on to have lots of adventures before Snowy is old enough to be broken in.

Col C E G Hope, editor of PONY and chief reviewer, wasn't always a fan of works by the junior writer ("I tend," he said, "to view published juvenilia of this kind with suspicion,") but he liked this book, calling it "charming" with "extremely promising illustrations."

The book was published to raise funds for the Institute of Cancer Research, because Suzanne Reynolds died in February 1962, when she was 10. The book was written in the last few months before she died. ICRF printed 5000 copies, and sold out within 12 hours.

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Cancer Research (formerly the Institute of Cancer Research)
Eugene Register-Guard, September 30, 1962, retrieved 24.11.2014

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

PBOTD 17th December: Shirley Faulkner-Horne - Bred in the Bone

Today's PBOTD is the second that celebrates the fact it's the Olympia Horse Show this week.

Shirley Faulkner-Horne was an early contributor to Riding Magazine, for whom she wrote several non fiction articles in the 1930s. Bred in the Bone was her first fictional work, and has a heroine who is not allowed to ride after someone in the family was injured in a riding accident. Cherry, however, is made of stern stuff and is determined to ride. Her grandmother helps in this by giving her a pony, Brownie, and the gardener helps by teaching her. Fortunately he used to be in the Cavalry, and he does such a good job that Cherry gets to appear at Olympia.

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More on Shirley Faulkner-Horne
Olympia Horse Show

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

PBOTD 16th December: Ruby Ferguson - Rosettes for Jill

Today's book is the start of a brief series to celebrate the fact it's Olympia at the moment. I don't think that the major horse show Jill and the Cortmans go to in this book is actually specified: it's obviously a very large one but that's all we know. So, I have stretched a point somewhat to get Rosettes for Jill in, but here it is.

If I was forced to the wall and told to list my favourite Jills, this would probably be one of them. I love the way Jill is, as ever, not keen on the prospect of new people coming to stay who might ruin her plans. This book's visitors are Melly and Lindo Cortman, and their dogs. The Cortmans are dog-mad, and at first take rather a lofty view of Jill and her ponies.

But then they are bitten by the pony bug. Being the fortunate possessors of wealthy parents, they're bought the wonder-pony Blue Shadow. Blue Shadow is beautiful. She is kind natured. She can show. She can jump. There is nothing she cannot do. There are times Jill is tempted to be jealous, when Melly and Lindo's riding improves, and it looks as if they're set for glory, but there is a sting in the tale. In fact, several.

Melly and Lindo manage to lame Jill's Black Boy before the big show. Jill is (justifiably) furious about the fact they've lamed him, and eventually the Cortmans suggest Jill ride Blue Shadow instead of them at Chatton Show.

Jill, as she admits, behaves pretty badly to the Cortmans, and needs hauling up by Mummy before she starts to behave in a half way decent fashion. I do love the way we see Jill behaving at her worst in this book, determined not to forgive, and to nurse her grudges. In the end, she does relent and start behaving decently. I particularly like the way Ruby Ferguson lets us see the whole thing through the points of view of the Cortmans, Mummy, and Jill. 

The book ends in a rather dramatic fashion when Blue Smoke, who until then has been living in a beautiful golden dream of her own, suddenly realises that yes she is a show ring, no she doesn't like them at all, and bolts. It's just as well it was Jill riding and not one of the Cortmans.

In passing, as I read the book now, I do wonder how the wonderful Mr Prescott, who is presented as the sensible approach to acquiring ponies, rather than doing it by yourself which is Jill's first plan, didn't know the common gossip about Blue Smoke - "the pony who used to belong to the Graham girl, and was sold. She's a brilliant jumper, but too temperamental for words. Takes a dislike to another pony and simply dashes out of the ring." Mr Prescott tells Jill he "bought him yesterday from a woman I know whose daughter has out-grown him." 

Before I typed that, I hadn't noticed Blue Smoke's change of sex either. It seems odd that Mr Prescott wouldn't have known about Blue Smoke's peccadilloes if he'd known the family, but maybe that's just a Ruby-ism. Or was Ruby saying that no matter who you were, horses were horses and something could always go horribly wrong?

There's still plenty to enjoy in Rosettes for Jill. Possibly my favourite bit in the book is where Mr Prescott takes the Cortmans and Jill to a large show (I don't think the venue is specified). By the time of the prize giving for the final class, Jill is in a world of her own.
"I simply was not there at all. I was in a sort of beautiful golden dream. I was giving a dressage exhibition in a huge magnificent arena, under the arc lamps, on a horse that did intricate steps like a ballerina. It was so still you could have heard a pin drop, except for occasional Ooohs and Aaahs of admiration which the crowd could not repress.....and then I was all alone in the arena and the Queen in a most glamorous blue dress was handing me a Cup and the photographers were snapping madly.
"do you want to spend the night here by yourself?" said Melly's voice. "Or have you sat on some gum?"
I've sat in too many beautiful golden dreams myself not to utterly empathise with Jill. And with the rude awakening from the golden dream.

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The Jill Series
Jill's Gymkhana
A Stable for Jill
Two Ponies for Jill
Jill Enjoys Her Ponies
Jill's Riding Club
Rosettes for Jill
Jill and the Perfect Pony
Pony Jobs for Jill
Jill's Pony Trek

More on Ruby Ferguson
Olympia Horse Show

Monday, 15 December 2014

PBOTD 15th December: Constance M White - Dream Pony

I'm picking up the theme of the most-wanted Christmas present here: the Dream Pony. For most children with a pony addiction, they'll be lucky if they manage riding school, let alone a pony of their own. The pony who lives in your dreams is the one you'll have most experience of: the pony whom only you can ride, who is touchingly pleased to see you, and who is always obliging, and never does any of the inconvenient and painful stuff that real life ponies do.

That said, Constance M White's Dream Pony (1951) is a more realistic example of the genre than most. For one thing, it has a sympathetic portrait of its gypsy characters, gypsies in most pony books being stigmatised as horse stealers at best. It's the story of a girl who did dream of ponies, and whose dreams were made real.

Constance M White was criticised by the Times Literary Supplement for not knowing enough about her subject, ballet, in her first school story, A Sprite at School, and so when she decided to write a pony book, she made sure she did her research. She stayed on a farm, watched the horses and talked to the groom. She said that as her speciality was school stories, she combined the ponies with school, which she did with Ponies at Westways (1949) and Nutmeg at Westways (1956). Dream Pony is her one straight down the line pony story.

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More on Constance M White

Sunday, 14 December 2014

PBOTD 14th December: Joanna Cannan - Gaze at the Moon

You might wonder what Joanna Cannan's Gaze at the Moon has to do with Christmas: not a very great deal, but the mare in it is called Air Frost, and that's suitably wintry.

I've always been very fond of this book, and apologise to regulars for yet another appearance from my immensely battered Armada paperback, still with me even though I have a first edition now.

Gaze at the Moon plays with pony book conventions: unlike many pony book heroines, including Joanna Cannan's own Jean, the adventure doesn't start with the wonderful removal from town to country. Dinah and her family are doing the exact opposite, and she's not at all happy about it. Fortunately, Dinah is a typically resolute Cannan heroine. Her own particular talent is drawing, and the book looks at the way she succeeds in getting her work used.

Against all the odds, Dinah does actually acquire a horse: Air Frost. I always wondered if Dinah's rather pointed remark:
"I will not describe how we schooled Air Frost because it is all set out in books on how to school horses and really it was very simple..."
was in fact Joanna Cannan's opinion on the careful expositions of schooling that existed in her daughters' books.

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More on Joanna Cannan

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Books of the Year 2014

This round up of the year’s books is drawn from books I’ve read and reviewed this year. Not all of them were actually published in 2014: sometimes it takes me a while to get round to things. One thing that’s really noticeable  is that nine out of the eighteen books that really did it for me this year were self-published. New equestrian publisher Forelock also makes an appearance, with the excellent Beside Me by Carolyn Henderson and K M Peyton’s All That Glitters, and therefore do better than most of the established publishers. Usborne, Nosy Crow, Orion and Faber wave the flag for conventional publishing, with Fidra championing reprints.

My book of the year (in a very strong field) is the outstanding novella by Katharina Marcus: Boys Don’t Ride.

Adult reads
KDP £2.99
This is a witty, well drawn romance with thoroughly believable characters and plenty of excellent horse content. If romances are your thing, you will absolutely love this. I did.

Aspen Valley Books £7.57, Kindle £2.40
Another for the romance fan – a rollicking read with a detailed and believable racing background, with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Sadly no longer in print.
This is an account (partly fictionalised) of K M Peyton’s childhood growing up in the London suburbs during World War II. It’s a fascinating account of a girl growing up during wartime, and for whom it is therefore normal to be perpetually cold, to hear air raid sirens on a daily basis, and to experience the petrifying wait for the cut out of the doodlebug

Create Space £3.50, Free to download from Good Reads
This is a novella (or a very long short story). The story of Tull and Liberty, school misfits who share a love of the horse, ended up being my book of the year. I absolutely loved this. There are several writers out there who are (thoroughly undeservedly in my opinion) touted as the next K M Peyton, but Katharina Marcus stands an excellent chance of being just that.

Forelock Books £9.50
The YA field did really well this year, with Carolyn Henderson’s wonderful Beside Me, which was just pipped by Boys Don’t Ride to my book of the year. Carolyn Henderson delivers horsey expertise with a brilliantly realised world which recognises that life goes on beyond the stable door.

Oolichan Press £3.10 - £7.28, Kindle £3.58 - £5.51
There are some characters who get under your skin, and Susan Ketchen’s heroine Sylvia is funny, observant, and absolutely devoid of self pity about her condition, Turner’s Syndrome.

Create Space £9.84, Kindle £2.97
Natalie Kenner Reinert’s heroine also gets under your skin, but often because she’s so plain unlikeable. Despite that, Reinert creates a sympathy for her character that draws you in to the world of someone obsessed.

Kindle £1.88
Another fine read. It’s the story of a family struggling to make their horse business pay, and the awful choices they’re faced with as a result. I absolutely loved Dare to Dream. My only regret is that pressure of work meant it was sitting on my ereader for weeks before I had time to read it. I finished it in tears. It's moving, wrenching, and funny.

Lost Pony - free at time of writing. Against All Hope, Kindle £1.99
Amanda Wills has burst on to the scene with the first two books in her Riverdale Pony series, excellent, character-driven books about Poppy McKeever and the pony she loves.

Forelock Books £9.26
A welcome return to form from K M Peyton, with a girl-gets-pony story enlivened by side swipes on the entertainment value of dressage when compared to that of two hairy ponies who look as if they’ve come off the side of the road.

Orion £5.99, Kindle £2.99
The last book in the Joe series has Victoria Eveleigh’s usual strong sense of community and strength of characterisation. It’s difficult to write a good pony, but it’s something at which Victoria Eveleigh is particularly good. Joe’s new pony Fortune, on whom he’s aiming at the Prince Philip Cup, emerges as a real pony, not something who's the vehicle of Joe's wants and desires.

Pageworks Press £5.71, Kindle £1.81
Turning on a Dime is a departure for Maggie Dana: a time slip story switching between the present day and Civil War America. It’s my favourite historical of the year. After the Storm is another excellent addition to the Kate and Holly series.

Nosy Crow £5.99, Kindle £3.59
This is a series which is getting stronger as it goes. The Palomino Pony Rides Out sees Georgia wrestling with competing in the Working Hunter Team Championships, her friendship struggles, and her mare Lily’s imminent foal.

Young Readers
Usborne £4.99, Kindle £1.71
This is a brilliant read for the younger pony lover, and if you read it to your child, you are in for a treat too. Diana Kimpton is a fine and subtle writer, with the gift of being able to write a story that appeals both to the child and adult reader.

Faber £6.39, Kindle £3.49
Set in India, with rebellious racehorses and nuns. If you want a story of a race horse who overcomes horrible early traumas, you will find it in this book, but that's not the heart of it. This is a story of change: a great mishmash of colour, passion and belief.

Ruby Ferguson: Jill Enjoys Her Ponies & Jill’s Riding Club
Fidra £7.99
There was no way I could leave Jill out of this review. Fidra are flying ahead with their reprints of the fine Jill books, bringing what are probably the best loved pony books of all time to a new audience.

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