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.

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