|Acorn, USA, 1963|
K M Peyton was a horse obsessive from an early age. She finished her first book was at the age of nine, though it was never published. Neither were its seven successors. Her first published book, Sabre, the Horse from the Sea, came out in 1948, when she was nineteen. It appeared under her maiden name, Kathleen Herald, as did her next two books, The Mandrake (1949) and Crab the Roan (1953).
K M Peyton’s actual riding experience as a child was small. She says:
“I devoured technical horse books from the senior library -- Henry Wynmalen, Sam Marsh, Geoffrey Brooks, Faudel-Philips, R.S. Summerhays, etc, so I knew a lot of theory but not much else, never laying a hand on a real horse, apart from three riding lessons a year on Wimbledon Common, saved up for from my pocket money, all I could afford―five shillings an hour.” (interview with K M Peyton)
She had an extensive stable of imaginary horses, each with its own page in her notebook: “I just thought up a new horse or pony every day, imagined how it looked, how it behaved, and wrote it down in my book until I had over 2000. My friend did it too and we discussed our new ones at school every day.” She had no horse of her own until she was an adult, and because she could not have the real thing, made her fantasies live through her books. In her first book, Sabre, the Horse from the Sea, the writing has the hypnotic, erotic pulse of fantasy. Set in the Second World War, it is the story of Liza, living with rich and unsympathetic relatives while evacuated, who one day comes across a horse emerging from the sea.
“She stood with bare feet in a pool of water left by the receding tide, and looked at the grey. It did not seem strange to her to find a horse standing half in and half out of the sea, no stranger than it felt to be standing there herself. She only thought that she had never seen anything so beautiful as this animal, with the sea-water running down his legs, and with a piece of seaweed caught up in his tail.
She stretched out her fingers to him. His ears came up and forward, and one hoof took a step towards her. She murmured:
‘Come on you beautiful fellow,’ and he walked straight up to her and rubbed his nose on her dress. Liza took off her belt and buckled it round his neck, standing on tip-toe, and holding her breath. But the grey horse only knuckered deep in his throat, and pushed his muzzle against her hips, searching for her pockets.” Sabre, the Horse from the Sea
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