Monday, 6 January 2014

PBOTD: January 6th, Pat Smythe - Jacqueline Rides for a Fall

Today's pony book, Jacqueline Rides for a Fall is the start of another series: Pat Smythe's Three Jays. Published in 1957, it's where we first meet Jackie (or Jaqueline Field) when she comes to stay at Miserden with Pat and her second cousins, Jimmy and Jane. Jackie had a lot of money, and a very high opinion of herself. This she eventually loses, as she's humanised by contact with the down to earth inhabitants of Miserden.

First edition, 1957

Pat Smythe obeyed the dictum to write what you know by setting her Three Jays series at her own house, with herself and her staff Paddy and Birgitte, and of course her horses as attendant characters. It was a clever idea, and I'd love to know who thought of it. What fans got, as well as a story, was the feeling that they too were sharing in Pat's life, peering over the door at Tosca, or watching Pat exercise her young horses.

Pat was already a published writer by the time the series appeared, with two well received volumes of autobiography, Jump for Joy (1954) and One Jump Ahead (1956), as well as her Book of Horses (1955). It's difficult to think of any equivalent equine celebrities now, but Pat, with her glamorous appearance, her lovely horses, obvious riding ability and sheer rarity value, was always in the news. Publishers Cassell managed to combine her celebrity with the immense popularity of the pony book, which in the 1950s was a genre so successful Faber suggested it to their author Antonia Forest, author of the subtle and brilliant school story Autumn Term as somewhere to go for her second book.

Armada paperback, 1962, cover ? Peter Archer

The Three Jays series was a tremendous success, with the first book going into four editions by the end of its year of publication. Cassell ran a Three Jays Club to boost the series, with a young Lynn Redgrave winning one of the prizes on offer, a visit to a training demonstration at Miserden.

Armada paperback, 1968, cover Mary Gernat
The Three Jays series was republished by Armada, and didn't make it into the 1970s. Pat had retired by that point, and the charm of her books, which depended so much on the reader wanting to enter her world, waned for those who no longer had much idea of who she was.

Her books were the series I found hardest to sell in my book dealing career. Although the hardbacks were attractive books in themselves, and undoubtedly did have some keen fans, Pat was best at writing non fiction, where she could relate her own thoughts and feelings directly.

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If you'd like to read more about Pat Smythe:

Full bibliography and more biographical information on my website

An extract from Susanna Forrest's If Wishes Were Horses on Pat Smythe

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