Friday, 24 January 2014

PBOTD: 24th January, K M Peyton - Fly-by-Night

K M Peyton's Fly-by-Night is a book I loved because I saw so much of myself in its heroine, Ruth. Ruth does not have a pony, but she longs for one. Her family struggle to make ends meet, and the only way Ruth will have a pony is if she does it herself. For the moment, the nearest she can get to ponies is skulking at the edge of the field where the local Pony Club are having a rally. I too have stood there, longing beyond all things to be part of that world, but knowing I wasn't. I knew that, save for a miracle, I never would be, but Ruth made it happen. She uses her savings, and buys the sort of pony a girl who doesn't actually know anything would buy: an unbroken New Forest pony called Fly-by-Night.

OUP first edition, 1968
Scholastic pb, date uncertain
Fly was based on a real pony: Cracker, the pony K M Peyton bought for her daughter, Hilary. Cracker gave K M Peyton a great deal of material for the book. Although he later became a model pony, with a waiting list of keen Pony Club mothers eager to acquire him for their offspring, Cracker nearly broke the Peytons. 

Not only does Ruth not know how to start riding Fly, she has only the sketchiest idea of how to look after him. Initially he's kept in the family's back garden (something I did many times in my dreams: I had the garden neatly converted to a very small paddock, and had converted my father's garage to a stable. It had been a pig sty in an earlier incarnation, so seemed fair game to me.)

Sparrow, paperback, 1981
Fortunately for Ruth, her cash-strapped family take in foster children, and their next foster child is Peter, son of the local horse dealer. Peter's father is interested only in selling horses: an occupational hazard for Peter is to have the ponies he loves sold from under him. At last he rebels, and ends up at Ruth's. He helps Ruth to get to the bottom of Fly, but even though Ruth starts to achieve the pony book dream, she still clatters through the Hunter Trials, barely in control, her face covered in blood. 

Ponies for K M Peyton were not a matter of doing a bit of schooling until you get plastered with red rosettes. She saw the danger, the thrill and the obsessive love that surround the pony, and made it real.

Fidra, paperback, 2007
Fly-by-Night was first published by the Oxford University Press in 1968, with illustrations by the author, which perfectly suit the book. A Scholastic paperback version appeared, but I think this was an exclusively American publication. The next paperback version was definitely a UK production: published by Sparrow, with a photographic cover, it appeared in 1981. That was it until Edinburgh publishers Fidra produced a new version in 2007, complete with an introduction by the author. 

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For much more on K M Peyton, try her own website. For a full, illustrated list of her horse and pony stories, she has a page on my website.






3 comments:

Meg Rosoff said...

I think it was The Team in which a team-chase competitor falls off at a jump, ends up in hospital paralysed from the waist down, and her mother leaves the child in hospital and returns to the event to finish off her stint as a jump judge. When I asked Kathy Peyton about it, she said, "Oh yes, all the worst details in my books are true. And there were hundreds of stories so terrible I wouldn't have dared put them in a book. No one would have believed them."

Jane Badger said...

Someone ought to write all those stories down! I'm sure that has life as a look at the seamy underbelly of the equine world.

Victoria Eveleigh said...

I read and re-read all this series, and fell head over heels in love with Patrick Pennington when Ruth met him in book 3 (Pennington's Seventeenth Summer). KM Peyton is my all-time favourite author (although you're very close to the top, Meg!) Her characters and situations are so true to life e.g. in book 2, The Team, when Ruth has a period pain on the morning of a vital competition. Not many authors would dare to put that sort of detail in a pony book, but it made the story so much more authentic. I am incredibly jealous that you know KM Peyton, Meg. Jane's right: you're the perfect person to write her biography!