Sunday, 30 November 2008

Jill on Facebook? Golly Gosh!

Pony books and the e-world...

You can't get two further extremes than the modern hi-tech phenomenons of Myspace, Facebook and Bebo and the old-fashioned golly-gosh world of the Jill pony books created by Ruby Ferguson. So it may seem rather anachronistic to find a facebook group devoted to our pig-tailed heroine.

I was a little surprised myself when I was contacted by it's creator.
But on second thoughts, why not? After all my website (and indeed this blog) is devoted to pony books. Although the internet may be criticised for its detrimental effect on social interection and more traditional past-times such as reading, in my experience it has actually had a benefical effect on the world of pony book sand their readers. Through ebay, many people have been able to find old childhood favourites which they had previously thought they'd never see again. The internet through websites and forums, such as
my own, has brought together like minded pony book loving people. How many times have I been told 'I thought I was the only adult mad enough to still be reading pony books?' I thought that way myself until I met lots of other grown up 'pony book nerds' through the power of the internet. And of course the net is unparalled in its ability to provide information. I (and hundreds of others) have learned so much more about the books and their authors since using the web to access this info and contact other interested people. In all ways the internet has improved the life (and in many cases the book collection!) of the average pony book reader.

So why shouldn't Jill have her own facebook group? And maybe even her own Myspace page and blog! After all when you think about it, the web really can be 'wizard!'

To visit or join the Jill/Ruby Ferguson facebook group click here

To visit the Ruby Ferguson page on my website click here

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The most expensive series?

I have been lucky enough to recently get hold of a few books in the hard to find 'Jim and Ann/Leysham Stud' series by Hazel M. Peel. Whilst reading them and wishing I had the others, it suddenly occured to me not only how hard it would be to find the entire series, but also how expensive! With the cheapest ones in the series, Pilot the Hunter and Easter the Showjumper going for between £10-£20 and around £40 respectively and the other harder to find ones anywhere from £50 to £200 you are looking at possibly over £500 for the full series! This surely must be the most expensive pony book series. In fact, possibly one of the most expensive series of any children's books. I always thought the Chalet School was the most costly set of books to buy - but considering there are far less titles in Ms. Peel's series, it certainly gives the old Chalet School a run for its money.

Thinking of other expensive series to buy, some others that spring to mind are:

Monica Edward's 'Punchbowl Farm' and 'Romney Marsh' series.....£300 ish each
Caroline Akrill's 'Caroline' series......£170 ish
Joesphine Pullein Thompson's 'Moors' series......£150 ish
Primrose Cumming's 'Silver Eagle' series......£100 ish
Jo Furminger's 'Blackbirds' series......£90 ish
Nancy Caffrey's 'Jay and Jan' series......£75 ish

Nudging the £2000 mark for that little lot!!! Who said reading was a cheap past-time...?

Monday, 9 June 2008

Sweet Rock: why is it so obscure?

I have recently finished reading a copy of Gillian Baxter's Sweet Rock. This is the least well-known of all Ms. Baxter's books and I myself did not even know it existed until someone told me about it not long ago. I suspect I am not the only one in a similar state of ignorance. The book is fairly rare and as far as I am aware was not reprinted at all. The question however is why? The usual reasons for lack of reprints are because the book was not very good or not popular. Perhaps it was not popular but as for not being very my opinion it is one of the author's better works.

The only reason I can give for its lack of popularity is that it does not fit neatly into the usual pony book mould, and contains elements which may be considered controversial, at least at the time of publishing.

The story begins in quite a traditional way with our heroine Sharon bemoaning the fact that she does not have her own pony. She then meets Chris who owns a pony called Sweet Rock. She falls in love with Rock and soon becomes friends with Chris. But Chris is not your typical character. On the whole he is a bit of a wastrel, he does not treat his pony well, in fact has deliberately trained her to bolt and rear, and is always causing trouble. But Sharon finds herself drawn to him, his charm, love of life and willingness to help seem to balance out his bad points. When Chris has to leave for a few months he asks Sharon to look after Rock for him. With the help of a local riding school instructor, she re-trains Rock and begins to win classes on her. But then Chris returns. Although she is happy to see him, she is upset when Chris reclaims Rock, seeing her as an easy way to make money by winning in local shows. But Chris does not have the patience to do well on Rock and things start going wrong between him and Rock and Sharon.

This is as much a story about a troubled boy as a pony book. Chris is a complex and compelling character and it is up to Sharon to redeem not only the troublesome Rock but her equally troublesome master. The book explores whether nature or nurture will win out. Will Chris follow in his shady father's footsteps or can the good influence of Sharon and her mother help to change him? In my opinion this parallel of the traditional 'girl makes unreliable pony good' plot with that of Sharon's similar influence over Chris gives the book a far deeper and more subtle feel than that of your average pony book, but I can't help wondering if it is this more complex element which caused the book to lose popularity. I am reading it from an adult perspective, but the story may possibly have been just too for the younger reader wanting their usual pony book fix.

Also, the character of Chris may have been just too controversial for the time. Were there perhaps complaints from readers about his behaviour? Normally such bad behaviour would be consigned to one of the 'baddies' in a book but in Sweet Rock Chris is ostensibly on the side of the 'goodies.' The blurring of boundaries between the black and white of good and bad is in my opinion what makes the book such an excellent read, but perhaps this was just too subtle for a childish reader (or perhaps censorious parent) to fully grasp.

Whatever the reason it is a shame that this book wasn't more widely published or better known, for it is an excellent pony book which also has a bit of 'bite.' This makes it particularly suitable for the adult pony book reader. If you liked 'Bargain Horses' another quirky read which looks at life from a slightly off-beat angle, I am sure you will also enjoy this book. So please try and find a copy, read it, and spread the word!

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Website is back online!!!

Well, it took a lot longer than I expected, but is back! Once again apologies to all who have emailed to ask what the problem was. Hopefully everything is back to normal now...or as normal as it can be!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Ponymadbooklovers website problems

Apologies to all who have been trying to access the website in the past few days. I am having a few issues with the hosting and domain name provider. I am working hard to resolve these and get the website back on-line as soon as poss. Watch this space....

Friday, 25 April 2008

Adult horse and pony books

A while back I started to wonder if there were many horse and pony books specifically written for adults. I knew of those by Joyce Stranger and K. M. Peyton and a couple by Dorian Williams and of course the racing crime thrillers by Dick Francis and company...but were there more? Well, a few months later, after both discussing this on the ponymadbooklovers forum and doing a bit of research, I have found that, although the publishing world is not bursting at the seams with adult horse novels, there are a fair amount of books out there.

What is surprising is that a) They are mostly written by American writers and b) a large proportion of them are romance.

Why should that be? Well, with the American angle, I think it has always been true that the American horse book scene is more wide-ranging than that of the UK, not really concentrating on the young girl/pony club element around which the British pony book centres. It has always had a wider frame, with more male central characters, more older characters and is more eclectic in theme. It also seems to concentrate a lot more on racing than the UK books and it is probably this disclipline which attracts a more adult theme (in fact a large proportion of the UK adult horse books are set in the world of racing too). It is not surprisingly therefore that the horse book in America should spill over into the adult market.

As for romance, I'm not sure as to that at all? Anybody who has a theory let me know!

But apart from the crime thrillers, romances and racing stories there is a lot more on offer, from fantasy by the likes of Judith Tarr (she even wrote a book where a sorcerer transforms a man into an Arabian wouldn't you like to be able to do that yourself!), historical works, mysteries and much more.

If you would like to see my list of adult horse related fiction please visit the new page on my website here I have also included a number of books which were originally aimed at older children but are particularly suitable for the more mature reader. I hope it will give you some new ideas for reading certainly has done so for me. And if you know of any other adult horse fiction you think should be added to the list please let me know or visit the adult pony book thread on the forum.

Just got a few more titles (thanks to all who provided them) which I haven't had time to add to the website yet:
Ride a Proud Horse by Barbara Morgenroth
Bold Venture (UK title Bluebird) by Dorothy V.S. Jackson
Ins and Outs by Barbara Moss
Ride a Dark Horse by Lynn Hall (older teenager)

To search for the any of the books on Amazon you can use this link:

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Florence Hightower....a dark horse

In a discussion of American pony books recently I was recommended to read the book Dark Horse of Woodfield by Florence Hightower. Not a book I had heard of before ( I hadn't even heard of the author) but as it was likened to a Noel Streatfield book (an author I love) I thought I would give it a go. Apart from a few exceptions I prefer English pony books to American ones, but I was very pleasantly surprised by this one. Yes, it definitely had some of the quirky family characters often seen in Noel Streatfield novels. But perhaps even more the family reminded me of the rather eccentric family in Enid Bagnold's National Velvet.
On the whole though, the eccentric family is more of a British institution, which is possibly why I so liked the book, which despite being set in the USA, somehow feels more British than American to me!

The story is set in the 1930s, in the midst of the Depression. The once prominent and wealthy Armistead family have now fallen on hard times and young Maggie is determined to win the top prize in the Junior Hunter Stake on her pony Star, so she can use the prize money to help buy her Aunt's horse back (sold because they needed the money).

The family are on the whole horse mad, with generations of superb riders, of which Maggie is the youngest. Most of the characters are brilliantly and humourously portrayed, with my favourites being the imperious old horse obsessed Grandmother who once made conversation with a horse at a tea party and Maggie's younger brother Bugsy who is a business man in the making, and is hoping to make money by breeding butterflies in his dead grandfather's study. But even minor characters, such as Maggie's teacher 'Fried Egg' and the unscrupulous car dealer George, are superbly drawn and made real.

It is probably not an out and out pony book as the main plot is not the schooling of Star, but the struggle to make money for the entry fee for the show. There is also a mystery to solve....that of deceased Uncle Wally, black sheep of the family (who loved poetry rather than horses) who, by writing a poem which the family took offence too, caused a family rift and then inadvertantly tragedy. His poems are now famous and good money would be paid for various letters he left behind. But they have mysteriously disappeared. The strands of these subplots all come together, as Maggie learns to appreciate Uncle Wally's poems in order to enter a prize winning essay contest, the secret of the offending poem is revealed, and the children's money making endeavours are the inadvertant key to solving the mystery.

The author manages to create an atmospheric family history. She mentions just a few lines of Uncle Wally's poems, but you start to imagine there really is a book with those poems in, and you yearn to read in its entirety the controversial poem which caused a rift between Wally and the other family members. But the author tantalisingly never reveals it!

As well as superb writing, the book is very funny. There are some great horsy anecdotes, a pony follows is master to school and gets stuck in the door, a sociable horse joins in with a ladies tea party, and the family's horses break free of their field to turn up at the horseshow to give their support! Yes, even the equine characters are eccentric in this book!
So, although not along the lines of the classic pony story and by a little known author who really is a 'dark horse' in the pony book world, if you enjoy quirky novels with interesting characters you will love this book, and I would highly recommend it. I don't think the author wrote any other pony stories but if you know differently please let me know so I can seek them out!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Dartmoor via the USA

Vian Smith is a rather over-looked author. Despite the fact he wrote a number of excellent pony and horse novels, many people have never heard of him, and those who have may think he only wrote two pony stories - Come Down the Mountain and Martin Rides the Moor. Why? Well, despite being an author whose books are deeply rooted in the English countryside, especially Dartmoor where most of the books are set, many of Smith's books were published in America. Consequently, although fairly easy to find in the states most of the titles are rare in the UK.

One of these such books which I had to purchase from America, is Green Heart. This is a horse story for the older child or adult and focuses on Sarah, a young girl who when her mother dies, must take on the responsibility of looking after her two younger brothers. She takes a job looking after a racehorse but when the horse breaks down at a local racetrack and the owner wants to destroy the mare, Sarah declares that she will nurse the horse back to health. Many of the local busybodies are scandalised when Sarah appears to neglect her brothers for the sake of the horse, and even try to have the children put into care. But as in Come Down the Mountain, the presence of the horse starts to unite the community, slowly changing people's attitudes, as they begin to share Sarah's determinatin to restore the horse back to her former glory and see her race again.

As well as being an excellent story, the book also explores the life of a small country community, the relationship the people have with the land and their surroundings, and the power of the moors, which are intimately bound up with the villager's lives. In some ways this is similar to the horse stories of Joyce Stranger which also focus on their countryside setting, especially the farming community. In this both the works of Smith and Stranger are far more than just run of the mill pony stories.

Other hard to find titles by Vian Smith more commonly seen in the USA include King Sam (published as Tall and Proud in the USA), Question Mark (published as Pride of the Moor in the USA), The Horses of Petrock, The Lord Mayor's Show.

Most of these books, like Green Heart, have a similar deep grounding in their moorland backdrops and it does seem a shame that to read stories which are so essentially English, the reader must buy them from the USA. It almost seems as if the Americans have taken the author to their hearts and appreciated his love of the English countryside far more than their British counterparts.

To read more about Vian Smith please click here

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Pony Mad & Precocious

We have been talking about the ages of pony book authors in a couple of threads on the ponymadbooklovers forum and what really struck me is that there seems to be a trend amongst the writers of these books to start very young. Some of the authors who wrote their first pony book when only teenagers include:

K. M .Peyton - 15 when she wrote Sabre The Horse From the Sea (under the name of Kathleen Herald) and still a teenager when she penned her second novel The Mandrake.

Moyra Charlton - amazingly only around 11 or 12 when she wrote her first book Tally Ho.

Primrose Cumming - a teenager when she wrote Doney

Sheila Chapman - wrote all of her four books when very young.

Gillian Baxter - a teenager when she penned what is probably still her best-loved book Jump For the Stars

Avrill Knott - wrote Pony of Gold when she was 15

The Pullein-Thompson sisters - teenagers when they collaborated on their first book Picotee

Granted, some of these early efforts did not scale the heights of timeless prose, however one or two were amazingly mature works. In particular, I would highlight K. M. Peyton's second novel The Mandrake: it is hard to reconcile the maturity and skill of this book with the actual age of its author.

It is difficult to come up with a reason for this precocity. One suggestion is that children matured more quickly then. But if we examine the ages of some of the non-pony female authors of the same period, such as Enid Blyton, E. M. Brent-Dyer, Noel Streatfield, Richmal Crompton and Lorna Hill, we find that all of these authors were in their 20s to 40s when they began writing novels. It does in fact seem a trend amongst horsy rather than general authors.

Does the responsibility of looking after a pony and the discipline of learning to ride make a child grow up more quickly? This however would not account for the early talents of K. M. Peyton who did not actually have a horse before she wrote her first books.

Did the horsy set move in more upper class circles in which some sort of 'old boy's network' would enable the young author to take a fast track into publishing. This could of course account for the P-T sisters who came from an extremely literary circle and whose acquaintances would of course have included publishers, but once again it would not account for others such as K. M. Peyton who came from ordinary working class backgrounds.

Perhaps there is some mysterious link between loving ponies and wanting to write about them. Do horses inspire a lyricism, a desire to share one's love of them with others via the written word? I'm sure I am not the only one who, as a teenager, wrote pony stories or even a book. (My own effort has (perhaps mercifully) been lost somewhere in the seemingly endless clutter of childhood detritus. But was I feeling the same urge to write as my authoress heroines?

It would be nice to come up with a theory to neatly explain the precocity (and if anyone has any suggestions please let me know!) However, whatever the reason, let us be grateful that our favourite authors did not consign their early works to a dusty attic along with their old dolls and teddies, but allowed the rest of us to share their youthful writings.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Books versus Hunks!

Due to internet and other technical problems taking up most of my time over the past few days, this weeks blog is very short (and not very serious). For a bit of a laugh we at the ponymadbooklovers forum decided to start a "hot men" thread. A few days later and the flipping thing is now the longest and most visited thread on the forum! I don't know if its true that, as someone on the forum said, horsy gals are all man-mad, but whatever it is poor old Jill, Jackie and the like have now been abandoned and replaced by a succession of male pin-ups. My computer hard-drive, once the province only of pics of cute kittens, horses and various dustjackets, has now been invaded by a bevy of half-dressed hunks!

And there seems to be no stopping us. I think the only way we will get a more popular thread is if someone discovers a sequel to Silver Snaffles hidden away in their loft or finds out they are the long-lost love-child of Ruby Ferguson...

Which one would you like to take to bed with you on a cold night?

Answers on a postcard please!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Bargain of her best!

Apart from the Bobby and Shelta series, I have never been a huge fan of Gillian Baxter's stories for older children. Although her books are pleasant enough reads, for me they lack a certain something. (And I am ashamed to say, despite two or three attempts, I have never managed to get to the end of Tan and Tarmac!) However I had heard good things about Bargain Horses and the sound of the plot was intriguing so I thought I would give it a go.

I'm really glad I did. IMHO Bargain Horses is one of the author's best, perhaps the best since the Bobby and Shelta books. The plot centres around Gemma, a sixteen-ish girl whose mother has a strange habit of buying cheap horses, hoping that she can miraculously transform one of them into the next top eventing star. Her obsession has driven away her husband, used up all their money until they have to live in a caravan, and is now taking over Gemma's life.
What I love most about this book is the way it turns the usual pony book scenario on its head. Whereas we usually have a horse-mad heroine whose parents are constantly trying to get them to do more school work and have a life outside horses, this book is the complete opposite. Gemma is the one who wants to do well at school and is prevented by her mother who feels that school gets in the way of their training schedule! Gemma thinks that she may possibly like to have a career away from horses, it is her mother who wants her to become a top eventer. Unlike most pony book heroines, Gemma feels that horses are getting in the way of other things she would like to do: such as go to parties and have a boyfriend.

The book has a plot that keeps you reading (although I did guess the end!) and the characters of Gemma and her mother Mary are brilliantly drawn. Mary must be one of the most three-dimensional adult characters in any pony book. Sadly in this genre, the adults are often very sketchily drawn or simply caricatures, but not so in this novel. Gemma, too, is a multi-faceted character who is torn between her love of horses and her yearning to have a life of her own.

Bargain Horses is part of the series of pony books published by J.A.Allen in the 1990s, most of which are aimed at older teenagers and adults (as is this one). I have read most of the books in this series and they have all been excellent. They are particularly suitable for adult horse and pony enthusiasts, especially this book.

I have now completed a more detailed review of the book. To read it click here