Thursday, 27 August 2015

Review: Victoria Eveleigh - Katy's Pony Challenge

The Katy stories were what established Victoria Eveleigh as an author. I read those when they were first out, and loved their inspired rejection of the pink, frilly and sentimental. The stories were picked up by Orion, re-written, and after an excursion into an excellent pony series centring around boy hero Joe, Victoria has returned to Katy and her Exmoors.

Victoria Eveleigh never disappoints, and this book is another triumph. One of the things I so enjoy about this author is her fearlessness. If you write pony stories, you can, frankly, churn out any rubbish you like as long as it has the requisite pony in it.  Talking about the 1950s, children’s author Geoffrey Trease said ‘In those days you could have sold Richard III if you had given it the right wrapper and called it A Pony for Richard,’ but it’s just as valid now. Victoria Eveleigh does not do that. Katy’s Pony Challenge looks at what you do when you can’t actually ride your pony, for whatever reason. And what you do when you decide that actually, equine competition is not for you. And at how you can still be involved with horses, no matter what difficulties you have.

Katy discovers horse agility, which is a big help to her as she tries to train her foal, Tinkerbell, with whom Katy has made some pretty major mistakes in her upbringing, not realising that a foal rearing up and putting its hooves on your shoulders might be cute when it’s only weeks old but is an entirely different thing when the foal weighs several times more than you do. I suppose you could say that in some ways this book does carry on that great central trope of the pony story - the morality tale. You learn how to train a foal properly from the off, that competition isn’t the be all and end all and neither in fact is riding, and that just because someone is different, doesn’t mean that you should reject them.

This could make the book one of those you read but feel uncomfortable about, because although you support the ideas behind it, the way it’s done makes it difficult to clear the awful hurdle of authorial superiority. There is absolutely no danger of that here. I think what makes Victoria Eveleigh’s writing so successful is her utter lack of sentimentality. There is plenty of deep feeling, but she never writes for effect; never wrings her readers’ emotions in order to get a reaction. She writes about difficult things: Katy’s jealousy when Trifle and autistic James have an instant bond is a beautifully done scene. Katy and her friend Alice’s Facebook lives are rather different from what’s actually going on in their lives. Friendship is sometimes very difficult indeed.

Katy’s Pony Challenge is a beautifully written addition to the series. It’s difficult to see how you could fail if you’re buying this for a pony mad child, or indeed for yourself.

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Thanks to Orion for sending me a copy of this book.

Orion, 2015: £5.99
Kindle: £3.99, Kobo: £3.99

Age of main characters: 12-13?
Themes: autism, managing friendships
Equine themes: horse agility

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Kate Lattey - Pony Jumpers: First Fence, Double Clear and Triple Bar

I have kept putting off this review until I can read episode four, and the very newly released episode five Five Stride Line, but I am going to give that up. Not because I'm not enjoying the stories, because I am, very much, but  time to sit and read and consider seems to be eluding me at the moment.

The Pony Jumpers is a series of novellas, each centring on a different character from Lattey's earlier Dream On. This very much plays to the author's strengths. There wasn't a character in Dream On that I didn't enjoy, or who I felt was poorly realised. Each of them read as if they were complete people, who could step out of the novel at any time and walk off into their own story. And Kate Lattey has picked up some of those characters, and allowed them to their own stories. 

The series gives you thoroughly enjoyable, character-driven stories loaded with authentic content: just what we have come to expect from this author. She wrote them at great speed, which on occasion shows. The ending of the first book, First Fence, does feel a little rushed. The shortness of the format, and the focus on a single character, leads to plot strands in the previous episode not necessarily being developed in the next. 

Those are minor quibbles though. 

First up is First Fence. It's the story of AJ, Squib, Katy, Deb and a parade of ponies. AJ finally gets a pony of her own (the talented Squib) but life with ponies isn't quite the dream she thinks it will be. AJ makes friends with Katy, who seems to have everything made, with ponies and a knowledgeable mother on tap. First Fence looks at what happens when you have a major falling out between friends when even horses aren't enough to weld them together. It's the usual excellent read we’ve come to expect from Kate Lattey. Her skill with dialogue and the nuances of family life is really outstanding. I particularly loved the scene between AJ and her older brother Anders, in which they can only answer each other in one word. It’s so much the sort of thing that families do, but which lesser writers will miss out in the searing search for plot.

The book is followed by Double Clear. Double Clear switches focus to Katy. Katy looks to have everything set up for another successful season, but as is often the way with horses, it all goes wrong. Her family life is complicated, and made more so by the reappearance of the father she's learned to despise. There were a few loose ends in this book: I wondered why Katy didn't take up with her mother the discrepancies she found in her parents' account of why they split up. Nevertheless, Double Clear is a a really good read, and I did enjoy the way in which the author presents alternative views of the ways characters behave are presented.

Triple Bar features Susannah, a character I loved from her previous appearance in Dream On. She was such a fascinating character, who behaved so badly, but who still stuck to doing what she loved. Triple Bar takes a longer and thoroughly worthwhile look at Susannah, and what drives her. Susannah has been ostracised by the other riders. Whenever she appears, skirts are twitched, bosoms of disapproval hoiked, and no one speaks to her, unless it's passive aggressive whispers they hope she'll hear. I was intrigued by a character who's brave enough to keep up with what she loves despite all this. Triple Bar delves into what makes Susannah and her family tick. 

The whole series is worth it for Triple Bar alone, but I recommend First Fence and Double Clear too. 

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Kate Lattey, 2015. Kindle: £2.00

Kate Lattey, 2015. Kindle: £1.99

Kate Lattey, 2015. Kindle: £1.99

Age of main characters: teenage
Themes: family relationships, divorce, bullying
Equine themes: show jumping

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Patricia Leitch, 1933-2015

Patricia Leitch, author, died on 28th July 2015. She wrote over 30 pony books, but she was anything but a genre writer. With A Dream of Fair Horses, and her Jinny series, she wrote books that transcended the usual girl plus pony story. Pat's heroine Jinny and her wild Arab mare Shantih were not the wish fulfilment that many pony book heroines are to their readers - the people who have what you most want in the world. Jinny was far more than that. To many of her readers, Jinny spoke directly to their hearts and souls. Her struggles to understand her world were theirs.

Many people have written about their feelings since Patricia died, but the one that went straight to my heart was written by Sian-Valerie Shipley:
"Patricia Leitch, there aren't words for the things you taught me... Courage, stubbornness, tenacity, a willingness to accept my own fallibility, and most of all, the deep and abiding love of a horse. I cherish every letter we exchanged. Wherever you are, know that every time I ride, every time my horse flies beneath me, I will think of you, you and Shantih will be with me, closer than breath."
Pat's funeral was held yesterday, 4th August, and Pat's relation, Maureen Russell, gave the following tribute, which I reproduce below, together with pictures of Pat Maureen has very kindly sent.

Pat was a supporter of the Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Centre, and it was the charity her friends chose for donations in her memory. You can reach the charity here.

Pat’s Tribute

Pat was born in the Brabloch Nursing Home in Paisley, which later became a hotel, and the family lived in Hagg Crescent, Johnstone. Her sister Anne came along nearly three years later. The family moved to Cheshire and then Anglesey. Pat had a grammar school education and not surprisingly shone at many subjects especially English and Art. Pat and Anne grew up and led independent lives. Pat was devastated when Anne died of cancer when she was 40. Losing her only sister was a terrible blow to Pat and she carried the heartache for many years. 

Pat and Kirsty, her Highland cross mare
Pat’s character [was like] Jinny; strong willed, adventurous and brave - and perhaps she really was the Arab mare Shantith – never truly tamed, spirited and free. In the last decade when her health began to fail Pat struggled to come to terms with the loss of mobility and her independence. There was no compromise to be made with the frailties of the body – but Pat’s spirit could not be quenched – she always remained essentially the same Pat. 

Pat and Kirsty
Going to church was important to Pat. For many years she was a member of the Old Kirk and switched to St Fillan’s – I guess for more practical reasons than religious –I was giving her lifts! Pat made many friends in both churches. She had a deep faith; she questioned and probed Christian teaching, not taking it for granted – she would catch the minister at the church door and probe them on one or two points – keeping them on their toes! 

Pat and her bearded collies, Meg and Misty
Pat kept in touch with friends. Those further away she phoned regularly. Pat was prolific in her correspondence – she liked pen and paper and disdained emails and text messages! Pat received letters from fans of her books from all over the country and abroad. She had a particular friendship with Heather, a prisoner in England. Pat loved children – she had the gift of communicating with them, delighting in them and they responded to her. Pat knew our grandson Kyle, now nearly 7, from an infant and delighted in hearing the stories he made up. Not having family members herself, Pat’s close friends were her family. She cared deeply about her friends as they did for her. During the last seven months Pat was wonderfully looked after in Woodside Care Home at Quarriers. She came around to seeing she needed their round the clock care and found peace and won the hearts of the staff there. 

Pat, Maureen, and Pat's last dog, Lhaso Apso Meggie
Pat's last outing in June

Kathleen Pennington [a longstanding friend of Pat’s], says she came across a quotation the other day from a book Pat gave her many years ago, which is so much Pat: 

Speak to us of Friendship
"And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter,
and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of the little things the heart finds its morning
and is refreshed".

Pat touched the lives of all kinds of different people. Her work will live on in many, many people’s lives. She has left the world her wonderful books, her generous spirit will be remembered, and we are all the better for knowing her and loving her: I am glad she came into my life and it was a privilege to know her - God bless and thank you. Maureen

You might also like to read Pat's obituary in the Herald, Scotland, written by Maureen Russell.

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All photographs copyright Maureen Russell.