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 this year 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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