Tuesday, 30 September 2014

PBOTD 30th September: Monica Edwards - Strangers to the Marsh

Wildlife, and its preservation, was a central theme of many of Monica Edwards' titles. In Strangers to the Marsh (1957) the hoopoe gets its chance. The hoopoe is a bird that turns up rarely in the UK, when they migrate from Africa to Northern Europe and overshoot. Even less rarely do they breed, but here they are, breeding at Camber Castle, and prey to those who view any rare wildlife as a trophy.



I am struck, when looking at the two covers, by how very similar they are, even down to the clothes Meryon is wearing. Most of the Goodchild editions that appeared in the later years of the last century used completely different cover illustrations, but this one is remarkably similar.

~  0  ~

The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Monday, 29 September 2014

PBOTD 29th September: Monica Edwards - Operation Seabird

Seabirds caked in oil spilled from tankers, unable to fly, pathetic victims of the modern day need for oil, seemed to be a sadly frequent sight in the last century. The foursome in Operation Seabird (1957) form the Seabirds Rescue League, and start an operation to clean up the many birds they find on the shoreline.


Apologies for the remarkable shortness of this: time pressures obtruding again.

~ 0  ~

The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Sunday, 28 September 2014

PBOTD 28th September: Monica Edwards - The Nightbird

I am not a fan of boats: even though I apparently spent a lot of time on one  as a baby because my parents owned one. I remember absolutely none of this at all, and the boat went when my father died. My mother never felt the pull of the water strongly enough to get another boat, and we remained, as a family, firmly land based. I carried on this antipathy about boats through to my reading: although I could entirely see the point of ships like the Dawn Treader, anything smaller seemed threatening and alien. Arthur Ransome's boaty children left me absolutely cold.


I didn't mind Monica Edwards' boats as much. There is far more variety of adventure in Monica Edwards than Arthur Ransome (shoot me now, Ransome fans): if the boat element in the Romsey Marsh stories left you cold, there was always the farm-based adventures of the Thornton family.


The Nightbird (1955) is one of the most boat-filled of Monica Edwards' books. It's a sort of re-write of The White Riders, when the ponies were used as ghostly things to frighten away developers who threatened the marsh. Here, it's Jim Decks' old trawler that's used as a ghost ship to frighten away the French boats poaching the Westling fishing grounds. Even as a confirmed non-boater, I do rather like this story.

~  0  ~

The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Saturday, 27 September 2014

PBOTD 27th September: Monica Edwards - No Entry

No Entry (1954) is another Monica Edwards title that was based on real-life events. Foot and mouth disease, then as now, was a disaster when it occurred because of the effect it had on the animal as a producer. There was no treatment, and the only preventative measure was wholesale slaughter and isolation. When the Merrows' farm is threatened by a nearby outbreak, the Romney Marsh foursome take it on themselves to patrol the borders and keep out anyone who might bring the disease and threaten the Merrows' entire livelihood.


I can remember as a child being driven past farms with disinfectant at the gates, and during the 2001 outbreak, my most vivid memory is the stink of the pink powdery disinfectant I used to have to make up every day to wash boots and car wheels whenever we went out, because we had sheep grazing on our field. We weren't allowed to go riding at the local stables in case we brought the disease with us, and dog walks took place along the roads. Footpaths were forbidden.


Fortunately foot and mouth didn't reach the Merrows', and it didn't reach us either. But I don't think anyone who saw the television coverage of the smoking, stinking mounds of slaughtered carcasses will ever forget it.

~  0  ~

The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Friday, 26 September 2014

PBOTD 26th September: Monica Edwards - Storm Ahead

Storm Ahead (1953) was one of those frantically rare Monica Edwards titles. I paid far more than I care to admit for my Puffin edition, as it was the only chance I had of getting my hands on one, not being able to afford the handsome three figure sums that were being asked for the hardback edition, even without a dustjacket. Girls Gone By changed all this when they published their edition of Storm Ahead. I sold out of the copies I'd ordered (this was in my bookselling days) pretty quickly, and made the huge mistake of not hanging on to one. Now the GGB copies sell for £40 plus.


Storm Ahead is very well worth reading. It's one of my favourite Edwards titles, which has an immediacy and poignancy even beyond her usual standards. The story was based on Monica's own experiences of the Rye lifeboat disaster of 15th November 1929. Into the teeth of a gale blowing at 80 mph, the lifeboat the Mary Stanford was launched to rescue the crew of the Alice of Riga. The crew were picked up by another ship, but it was too late to recall the Mary Stanford. Nobody returned.


Monica's father, the vicar of Rye Harbour, conducted the funeral services. Storm Ahead was Monica's fictionalised account of the disaster, mixed in with additional drama like the rabid dog that bit Lindsay, and caused Tamzin to make an epic ride through the dark floods for the doctor. This ride is in itself petrifying, because although Tamzin knows where the road should be, in the floodwater and the dark it proves impossible to follow.

Storm Ahead remains one of Monica's most popular titles: deservedly so.

~  0  ~

The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Thursday, 25 September 2014

PBOTD 25th September: Monica Edwards - Hidden in a Dream

Hidden in a Dream (1952) is one of the Monica Edwards titles that eluded me the longest. I didn't read it until the Girls Gone By edition came out, which is odd when you look at the sheer number of editions that appeared. Not one of them swum my way.


Hidden in a Dream is centred on Meryon, who hits his head in an accident (dramatically portrayed on the first two editions, but lost to horse crashing through the waves in the last two editions. I wonder why). After the accident, Meryon can remember nothing about it, but this is significant.

Tamzin, Rissa, Roger and Meryon are all sleeping out in the Martello Tower that summer, but Meryon is having terrible dreams, and nobody sleeps. It eventually becomes apparent that locked in Meryon's memory is the solution to the mystery of the missing stranger. 




~  0  ~

The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

PBOTD 24th September: Monica Edwards - Cargo of Horses

Cargo of Horses (1951) is one of the few of Monica Edwards' books to have ponies at its centre. (The others, in case you're wondering, are Wish for a Pony, No Mistaking Corker, The Midnight Horse, The White Riders and Rennie Goes Riding). In Cargo of Horses Tamzin learns that horses are being shipped off the coast illicitly to be used in the French horsemeat trade. She decides to rescue them, and with the help of Jim Decks and other sailors, Tamzin and her friends transfer the horses to Jim’s trawler, transport them to land and find them new owners. 



One thing I like about Monica Edwards books is that the adults are not conveniently absent: they certainly don't hang over the children like modern day helicopter parents (can you imagine Mrs Grey refusing to allow Tamzin to go out in the summer holidays because she had to be tutored? And Tamzin having no opportunity to go out on the marsh because every conceivable second was already filled with parentally-organised activities?)  



Without adult help, many of the adventures would be much trickier: in The White Riders, there is Mrs Merrow providing camping space, and her son Mike being an enthusiastic White Rider himself. In Cargo of Horses, once Tamzin knows about the fate of the horses shipped to France, she immediately decides to do something about it; she and her friends will arrange for the horses’ keep on the Marsh: Jim Decks, the local ferryman, is deputed to organise the actual rescue.

“Jim made a sudden despairing appeal, his netting-needle poked at Tamzin’s face. “Summer grazing!” he said. “Winter hay! Horses will increase! That part’s easy! You say all that, do you?” He waved the needle at her. “You may well say it, but what I arsk you, gal, is how’re you going to get ‘em?”
Tamzin drew her face back from the needle like a pony arching to the curb. “Really Jim,” she said a little sadly, “you a smuggler and a son and grandson of smugglers, owlers and White Riders, and a Marshman too, and you ask me that!  I’m only thirteen and practically always at school, after all. I do think you might be more co-operative. I can think out the feeding and grazing part all right, but I should have thought you and the others could manage the rest.”





~  0  ~

The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

PBOTD 23rd December: Monica Edwards - The Wild One

Apologies for whizzing back to the Punchbowl series - I keep all the PBOTD titles on a spreadsheet so I can make sure I don't duplicate things. What I'd forgotten was that I'd already featured Helen Griffiths' The Wild One, which is of course a totally different book from Monica Edwards'. So, here's The Wild One, last of the Punchbowl series. For years it was a horribly difficult book to find, until GGB brought out a paperback edition. Copies sold for upwards of £300.


Super rare books are often rare for a perfectly good reason: they're not actually that good. So how does The Wild One measure up to the rest of the series? In it, Lindsay is desperate to protect a wild cat which has appeared in the Punchbowl. Of course, there is plenty of opposition to this view, and Lindsay is even more polarised than normal. Fortunately for her, Roger (of the Romney Marsh series) is staying, and we see the relationship between them deepen as Roger attempts to come to terms with what Lindsay's doing.

I have to say I do find this a difficult book: Lindsay has some difficult decisions to make in her quest to feed the wild cat, and I find the inner arguings she goes through difficult to take. For me, they're uncomfortably close to the sort of obsession that excuses any act if it helps you do what you think is right. It's what decision the author wants us to come to that ultimately matters, and I'm not sure what moral point we're being pushed to here - can one justify any act if the end result is good? I don't think so.

It's not an easy read at all; though the presence of Roger does provide some leavening. It is implausibly neat that the Romney Marsh characters as yet unpaired should find their soul mates at Punchbowl Farm, but if you know your characters as well as Monica Edwards did by the end of the series, it does make sense.
~  0  ~

The Punchbowl Series
No Mistaking Corker
Black Hunting Whip
Punchbowl Midnight
Spirit of Punchbowl Farm
The Wanderer
Punchbowl Harvest
Frenchman's Secret
The Cownappers
The Outsider
Fire in the Punchbowl
The Wild One

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Monday, 22 September 2014

PBOTD 22nd September: Monica Edwards - The Midnight Horse

Having rounded up all the Punchbowl Farm books, I'm now turning my attentions to the Romney Marsh series books which I haven't yet featured. Today's book is The Midnight Horse (1949). This is one of the most pony-orientated of Monica Edwards' books. It was the fourth book she wrote, and was the last one of hers to be illustrated by Anne Bullen.


Rissa, Tamzin and Meryon become involved in the hunt for a stolen racehorse. This is a good and exciting plot, but for me the huge attraction of this book was Tamzin's ability to sculpt model horses out of plasticene. I was absolutely fascinated by this. I am not one who reads and who sees the scenes described in her mind's eye, but I did see these horses. I longed to have Tamzin's ability, and read and re-read the book, almost as if the more times I read it, the more likely it would be that her ability would magically transfer itself to me.


Sadly it didn't. Even more sadly, Tamzin's amazing ability disappears after this book, never to be seen again. I wonder if this reflected a passing interest on the part of Monica Edward's daughter, on whom elements of both Tamzin and Lindsay are drawn, or whether Monica Edwards became bored of the whole thing herself.


~  0  ~



The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing
More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Sunday, 21 September 2014

PBOTD 21st September: Monica Edwards - Fire in the Punchbowl

Fire in the Punchbowl (1965) is another book in which the Romney Marsh characters are present. In this one, Rissa and Roger are staying. Having firmly slapped Andrea away from Meryon, Monica Edwards allows the other Punchbowl characters a bit more leeway when it comes to romance, because Rissa and Roger are shown to have feelings for Dion and Lindsay.


It's all terribly neat, pairing them off with each other, but that shouldn't distract from the rattling good story that is Fire in the Punchbowl. It's a terrifying read - I actually found it more so reading it as an adult, when how very close they come to disaster was much clearer to me.



In many children's books, danger is actually a controllable force, or at least one that's never life-threatening. Monica Edwards didn't shy away from the difficult, and Fire in the Punchbowl, is, for me, nearly as nerve shredding a read as Arthur Ransome's We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea. Disaster is only just averted.

~  0  ~


The Punchbowl Series
No Mistaking Corker
Black Hunting Whip
Punchbowl Midnight
Spirit of Punchbowl Farm
The Wanderer
Punchbowl Harvest
Frenchman's Secret
The Cownappers
The Outsider
Fire in the Punchbowl
The Wild One

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Saturday, 20 September 2014

PBOTD 20th September: Monica Edwards - The Outsider

The Outsider sees the Romney Marsh people coming to visit Punchbowl Farm. The two sets of characters have crossed over before, most notably in Storm Ahead, when Lindsay, who is visiting Tamzin, is bitten by a rabid dog. Tamzin rides her pony, Cascade, through the flood waters to Rye to get the doctor.



The Thornton parents have gone to France for a holiday, leaving Andrea thereabouts in charge. Fortunately the Romney Marsh people prove adept at rope-throwing - at least, the multi-talented Meryon does. A deer has found its way into the Punchbowl herd of cows, and has to be captured.



This book always strikes me as a little odd: I think because the invasion of the Romney Marsh people is so total. I do wonder why it happened, and think that it's so the strength of the relationship between Tamzin and Meryon can be emphasised, because it becomes obvious that however hard Andrea tries, she's not going to come between them. This relationship was something Rissa had already found difficult and come to terms with in earlier books, and Roger had never had difficulties with it, so challenges had to come from somewhere, and the Punchbowl family were a known quantity.

~ 0 ~

The Punchbowl Series
No Mistaking Corker
Black Hunting Whip
Punchbowl Midnight
Spirit of Punchbowl Farm
The Wanderer
Punchbowl Harvest
Frenchman's Secret
The Cownappers
The Outsider
Fire in the Punchbowl
The Wild One

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

PBOTD 19th September: Monica Edwards - Frenchman's Secret

The first few books of the Punchbowl Farm are domestic in scale: much more so than the Romney Marsh series. Initially, we are interested in seeing the family struggle with the dilemmas of farming; breeding cows; coping with fences they can’t afford to mend and the resultant escaping animals; and harvest. As the series progresses, however, the plots become more dramatic. Frenchman's Secret (1956) is a particularly good example of this. A new family move into the nearby mill, and the Thorntons befriend them. 



Lindsay finds an old map which suggests there is treasure hidden in the old dam above the mill. Roy, one of the mill children, decides that blowing a small hole in the dam should help them find it. The resulting flood is both thrilling and terrifying as the family retreat further and further up the mill to escape the floodwaters.



As it stands, Frenchman's Secret is a good read. What is odd about it is how it relates to the books which followed it. After sharing such a dramatic near death experience, you'd think the two families would carry on their relationship, but no. The mill family disappear completely, and are never mentioned again in any subsequent books.

This isn't the first time that inconsistencies appear. Monica Edwards was ruthless in the pursuit of a good plot. The foal Lindsey that was supposed to be getting as a reward for saving the polo ponies in No Mistaking Corker is referred to in Black Hunting Whip (1950) and the next book Punchbowl Midnight (1951), but after that is never mentioned again. 

I did wonder as a child quite what had happened to the colt Lindsay was supposed to be getting. I suppose now that I read the books from the perspective of adulthood, the colt Chalice took his place, with his more immediate attraction of being Moonstone's son, and therefore being more tied in to events in previous books. 

I have to say that none of this ever discouraged me from enjoying the books. I mentally filed it away as odd, and then got right back on with the story.

~  0  ~


The Punchbowl Series
No Mistaking Corker
Black Hunting Whip
Punchbowl Midnight
Spirit of Punchbowl Farm
The Wanderer
Punchbowl Harvest
Frenchman's Secret
The Cownappers
The Outsider
Fire in the Punchbowl
The Wild One

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

PBOTD 18th September: Monica Edwards - Punchbowl Harvest

Today's PBOTD, Punchbowl Harvest (1954), was a Punchbowl Farm book I did manage to find. All mine were the paperback Armadas, illustrated by Mary Gernat. I do now have a very pretty first edition, which has a cover illustration by Joan Wanklyn, but I am still very fond of the Armada - in fact I think I prefer it.


Mary Gernat was one of Armada's house illustrators, and she, along with Peter Archer, provided the front cover illustrations for many Armada titles in the 1960s and 1970s. 


Mary Gernat is not to everyone's taste, but I think she captures the essential moments of a story wonderfully. Her style is spare and energetic (if not always anatomically accurate) and she is wonderful at catching moments in time. I particularly like her Punchbowl Harvest (the equally good Fire in the Punchbowl is appearing here soon).

Mary Gernat to me will always conjure up that childhood thrill of finding a new Monica Edwards - not a common experience, so I treasured it when it happened.


Monica Edwards' Armada editions with cover illustrations by Mary Gernat
The Outsider (1962)
Wish for a Pony (1963)
Summer of the Great Secret (1963)
The Spirit of Punchbowl Farm (1963)
No Mistaking Corker (1965)
Cargo of Horses (1965 - credited to Peter Archer but I think the style is much more Mary Gernat's)
Frenchman’s Secret (1965)
Punchbowl Harvest (1966)
Dolphin Summer (1966)
Fire in the Punchbowl (1967)
The Wanderer (1968)

~  0  ~

The Punchbowl Series
No Mistaking Corker
Black Hunting Whip
Punchbowl Midnight
Spirit of Punchbowl Farm
The Wanderer
Punchbowl Harvest
Frenchman's Secret
The Cownappers
The Outsider
Fire in the Punchbowl
The Wild One

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

PBOTD 17th September: Monica Edwards - Spirit of Punchbowl Farm

Spirit of Punchbowl Farm (1952) was one of the books that eluded during my childhood - I only managed to track it down about ten years ago. It carries on Monica Edwards' mixture of stern realism, and the clash between different approaches to the countryside as embodied by Dion and Lindsay, but it mixes fantasy with all this. When you farm land, it's difficult not to be aware of all the people who have looked after it before you, and this connection of the past is brought into the present through the Punchbowl characters experiencing time slips. It's as if the past is always there, but only very occasionally do events in the current world allow us to see it.



Monica Edwards only uses this connection with the past twice, in Black Hunting Whip, and here in Spirit of Punchbowl Farm. Yew trees are famed for their age, but also for their highly toxic nature. The only part of them that isn't poisonous is the berries. Animals will eat the fallen leaves, and they're fatal. Sure enough, cows die in Spirit of the Punchbowl, and Dion, though with a heavy heart, wants the yew cut down.

Lindsay is desperate to save it. This infuriates Dion.

“Dion had said that she was crazy, and that there was beauty everywhere in well-farmed lands and new buildings, but that she was too blind to see it.” 



The yew tree acts as a connection between the present and all the different things that have affected the farm, and it's Lindsay, the sensitive, who sees this.

~  0  ~

Author Linda Newbery has written about her favourite pony book, Spirit of the Punchbowl, in my book Heroines on Horseback.

The Punchbowl Series
No Mistaking Corker
Black Hunting Whip
Punchbowl Midnight
Spirit of Punchbowl Farm
The Wanderer
Punchbowl Harvest
Frenchman's Secret
The Cownappers
The Outsider
Fire in the Punchbowl
The Wild One

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

PBOTD 16th September: Monica Edwards - Punchbowl Midnight

Today carries on the mopping up theme: in a bit of a panic lest I miss out some of the seminal works of equine fiction, I'm making sure I include them here. There will be a bit of a blip next month for the Horse of the Year Show, but for the next week it's Monica Edwards, Monica Edwards, all the way.



I'm going to cover her Punchbowl Farm series first of all, purely because I loved them most. My family, one generation back, were farmers, and when I was small the family farms were all there, and I knew them all. They were mostly arable, with the exception of the pig unit. I loved the pigs. Pigs are sadly rather thin on the ground in the Punchbowl series, but there are plenty of cows, and not the everyday black and white Friesians which were the only cows I knew, but the exotic Jerseys, with their vast dark eyes.

The Jersey seems to be a skittish breed: certainly the ones the Thornton family of Punchbowl farm have, at any rate. Oldest boy Dion is determined to be a farmer, and breeding a line of top Jersey cows is part of his plan. The whole series sees real conflict between Lindsay, Dion's younger sister, who loves the wildness surrounding the farm, and her brother Dion, for whom farming is a vocation, and who wants the land to be as productive as possible. Midnight, who gives her name to today's book, Punchbowl Midnight (1951), is one of the first calves Dion breeds, but she escapes, and runs with the deer.

Dion and Lindsay have radically different ideas on the deer. Though Dion sees their beauty, he is only too vividly aware of the damage they cause the farmer. Lindsay sees their beauty, and wants them simply to run free.
“Five Y-shaped heads jerked up from eager grazing. Large frightened eyes started at her for a second, no more, and in swift lissom bounds the deer were gone.
So they had found Dion’s corn. It had been expected, but he would be furious, of course. How could he be expected to see how beautiful they were when his corn was being trampled down and eaten?” Punchbowl Midnight (1951)


One of the things that makes this series succeed is the subtlety of the portrait of Lindsay: she can see her brother's point of view, and continues to do so as the farm lurches from disaster to an uneasy equilibrium.

~  0  ~

The Punchbowl Series
No Mistaking Corker
Black Hunting Whip
Punchbowl Midnight
Spirit of Punchbowl Farm
The Wanderer
Punchbowl Harvest
Frenchman's Secret
The Cownappers
The Outsider
Fire in the Punchbowl
The Wild One
More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Monday, 15 September 2014

PBOTD 15th September: Patricia Leitch - Running Wild

The astute will notice that I've skipped to number 12, Running Wild, the last in the series. This is because I'm saving number 11, Horse of Fire, for December, because it's a perfect book for the Christmas month.


Running Wild quite possibly wasn't intended to be the last in the Jinny series - when I interviewed Patricia Leitch, she said the series was only stopped because Collins (who published Armada books), were taken over, and after the takeover the series was dropped. Pat wasn't, though, unhappy with the way the series ended. The book does make a fitting end: you know Jinny will carry on through life, blazing through it in her own way, and you have no fear that she will stop learning, or being utterly passionate about everything that happens to her. Little danger for Jinny of turning into one of the plastic people.


In Running Wild, something Jinny created, the mural of the golden horses in the Wilton Collection, will be destroyed when a new motorway is carved through the area. In typical Jinny fashion, she has completely failed to take on board what everyone else has known for months, and only learns about the destruction when it's within days of happening. As ever with Jinny, she combines her passionate desire to do something with fear: in this case, again, it's fear of the Watcher, the interface between Jinny and the Red Horse. She runs from the Watcher again, but in the end, accepts what he has to tell her, and she is able to let go of her creation, and enable it to be part of another dimension; no longer the conventional human one of the museum.

We see the people who were affected by the golden horses, and at the end of the book, when Jinny is given the statues of Epona, it seems entirely fitting that she will be the one who keeps them as she grows up.

~  0  ~

The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Sunday, 14 September 2014

PBOTD 14th September: Patricia Leitch - Jump for the Moon

Warning - contains spoilers

Throughout the Jinny series, we've seen Jinny wrestle with the nature of possession. Her deepest, darkest fear is that Shantih will be taken away from her. She's never felt secure in her possession of her horse. At the opening of Jump for the Moon, Jinny has learned that the circus from where Shantih came is due back. Worse, the ring master was interviewed on the radio, and has said he wants Shantih. Desperate to avoid coming across the circus wagons returning to Inverburgh, Jinny rides Shantih back to Finmory along the main road. In a dreadful irony, it's through this decision that she exposes herself to the very real possibility of Shantih going, because she's seen from a bus by a man who recognises her as Wildfire, stolen from her breeder years ago. And they track Jinny down.


Patricia Leitch often introduces other characters whose lives act as a contrast with Jinny's. In Chestnut Gold, Jinny is given the task of looking after a new girl at school, simply because they both have horses. Except Nicola Webster is further along the route of losing her horse than Jinny. Her parents have split up. She and her mother no longer have a comfortable, monied lifestyle. The only asset remaining to them after her father's business folded, and he left them, is her horse, brilliant showjumper Brandon. He has to be sold: at the moment he's still living with  Nicola's aunt, while he's advertised for sale.

Nick's approach is radically different to Jinny's. At first, she bombards Jinny with a welter of lies about her and Brandon, and how they're simply waiting for her father to find a new house before they all move back in together. But Nick doesn't keep this up, and she faces the sale of Brandon with stern practicality. It has to happen, and so she gets on with it. Nick's one dream in life is to ride professionally - and it's obvious she could do it - but she has to say farewell to this as well as to Brandon.




Jinny's wild fears about the circus are soon revealed to be exactly that, but Shantih is Wildfire. She is that stolen mare, and she still belongs to her breeder, Mrs Raynor. When the worst happens, Jinny doesn't resort to wild flight over the moors, taking Shantih with her. Mrs Raynor agrees to come and see Shantih for herself at the Ardair Show. Jinny will finally achieve her pony book dream of glory: the Ardair Show is far bigger than anything she's attempted before, and she wants to go out in a blaze of glory; to have one last, golden memory of Shantih blazing triumphantly round the course before Jinny hands her back. When she achieves the pony book dream, at the same time Jinny will be denying it: because after then she will no longer have her horse. They won't ride into that golden, gymkhana-filled sunlight together.

We see Jinny growing up more in this book: she recognises the differences between her and Nick, and realises that Nick's way has something to recommend it; that the face you present to the world doesn't have to reflect exactly what's going on underneath. Sometimes you need that mask. And Jinny finally reconciles herself to school: a condition her father imposes before he pays for Jinny to be a Junior member of the BSJA is that she'll be in the top ten in the class exams. Jinny decides that she'll do this, but Jinny being Jinny says "I've got to improve, so I may as well be top." And she is. And finds that, when she pays attention, the work is actually interesting.

The end of the book reduces me to tears: Jinny hands Shantih over to Mrs Raynor. She simply does it, with no fanfare, able at last to let Shantih go, but Mrs Raynor, breeder of Arabs, who lives for their fire and beauty, gives Shantih back. If you're a child of the eighties, do you remember those inspirational posters that were the thing in the early years of the decade? There was one that said "If you love something, let it go. If it's really yours, it'll come back to you." I thought then, and think now, that there is a good deal of tosh in that statement because the thing that you love is presumably a sentient being with its own thoughts and opinions, and therefore when you let it go, it might well stay let, but I do think the first bit's right. It's right not to hold on to things with tooth and claw, and I love the way Jinny does this. 

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Saturday, 13 September 2014

PBOTD 13th September: Patricia Leitch - Chestnut Gold

Chestnut Gold reintroduces the clash between modern technology and selfishness, and the mystical. Jinny and Shantih are involved with the making of a film, but while she's there, the Walker appears again and shows Jinny a cave sacred to the Red Horse, with a frieze of golden horses, who, when the sunlight hits them, dance. 


It's standard for us now to think that sharing these things with the everyday world, with everyone is good, but that's not Patricia Leitch's view, at least not as far as the cave goes. The film maker's motives for wanting to reveal it to the world are entirely selfish, and will ruin its solitary beauty. Once it becomes a tourist attraction, and is no longer only seen by those who recognise and salute its power, it will be diminished.

In the end, the Walker destroys the cave, but Jinny is the conduit through which the golden horses live. She recreates the mural at the Wilton Collection, where it can be shared with the world.

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Friday, 12 September 2014

PBOTD 12th September: Patricia Leitch - Ride Like the Wind

Ride Like the Wind is about courage: the courage to go on doing what terrifies you; the courage to break away and try and make your way of life work instead of going down the route of convention. It's also about bullying, and what it does to you.



We meet a new character in this book: Kat Dalton. She and her family have come to stay for the summer near Finmory, and Kat has brought her beautiful black mare Lightning with her. Kat wants to event, and so she arranges to have lessons with Miss Tuke, lessons which Jinny will attend too.

Kat is one of the most tragic figures in the Jinny series. When she meets Jinny, we think, as Jinny does, that we've met another spoiled rich girl, who gets her kicks from taunting those who don't have as much as she does. She's certainly deeply unpleasant to Jinny when she invites her to lunch. Jinny's initial reaction is to want nothing to do with Kat, but she can't resist the joy of doing cross country on Shantih, and so she persists with Kat.



And very soon she realises that Kat is utterly, and completely, petrified of cross country, despite her boasts that she will win Badminton on her push button horse. It takes a while before Jinny learns why Kat persists in doing what terrifies her: her step father despises what he sees as her cowardice, and he taunts her with it, humiliating her, and yet she keeps going back for more, trying ever more desperately to impress someone we know cannot be impressed, because he does not want to be impressed by Kat. He wants to torment her. And he does.

Kat says, at the end of the book, that it's for his money that she stays around her stepfather (poor Kat: first her mother deserted her, and then her father, leaving her with Helen, who then remarried Paul Dalton). I wonder if she does, or if this is just bravado, because there's something so peculiarly desperate about Kat's pursuit to be thought brave. Paul Dalton's approval is the nearest thing she's going to get to love: and the tragedy is that she'll never get it. Kat is one of the characters I wonder about most in the Jinny series: what did she go on to do? Did she manage to throw off the shackles, or did she limp through adult life, cannoning from relationship to relationship, condemned to seek approval from those who would never give it?

And the dreadful irony of course is that Kat is brave: because true bravery lies in facing your fears, and that's what Kat does, over and over again.

Jinny does not have Kat's horrors over cross country, so sails around in complete contrast to her, but she does have her own fears, which she has to face at the end of the book when she and Shantih almost drown saving Kat, who has tried, through one last terrible act, to impress Mr Dalton. Jinny also has to face up to the fear of losing Finmory when her father's latest book is rejected, and Nell, his main buyer for his pots, sells up. Mr Manders, does, in the end, face the fear of the unknown, and the unconventional path.



One thing that  dates this book is that when Mr Dalton taunts Kat with her so-called cowardice with appalling viciousness, he does it in full sight and hearing of the other competitors, but no one does a thing. Jinny is horrified, and it's clear the other spectators are too, but that's as far as it goes. Kat is left alone to fact what we know will be a torment which will continue until she leaves home; if she ever does.  This is something which also crops up in Horse in a Million: the tinker Jake arrives back while Jinny and Sue are talking to the rest of the tinkers about the disappearance of Shantih and the Highlands. He fells one of the women with a blow. Jinny is horrified by the blow, and shuts her eyes to avoid seeing what she knows is coming, but that's all that happens. It's not commented on. Jake obviously rules by violence, but nothing is done to make him stop.

If people wonder how the horrors of the seventies so much in the news happened, this I think gives you your answer. Abuse went on, but it wasn't checked. It simply wasn't the way of the world. Thank goodness it is now.

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Thursday, 11 September 2014

PBOTD 11th September: Patricia Leitch - Horse in a Million

Horse in a Million moves away from the mystical themes of Night of the Red Horse, and concentrates on a theme Patricia Leitch was particularly keen on - not judging people. The book opens with Miss Tuke enlisting Jinny and her friend Sue to bring the Highlands in off the mountain and close to her stables, because the tinkers have arrived and Miss Tuke is convinced they'll steal the horses. 

What I like about Patricia Leitch is that she doesn't write in black and white. The tinkers are not all black, but they're not all white either. They are just as suspicious of people who live a normal lifestyle as they are of them. We mostly see Tam, who is obviously terrified of his father Jake. Jake rules Tam and their two lurchers with vicious determination. As if often the way with Patricia Leitch, it's the animals, in this case one of the lurchers, who provide a means of people building bridges between themselves. One of the lurchers is hit by a truck, and Jinny and Sue help Tam take him to the vet. Although Jinny may have judged the tinkers, she doesn't judge their animals, and it's this which helps her later on.


The other main plot line of the book involves the gymkhana Jinny and Sue are organising at Finmory. It's a very small affair, involving just them and the trekkers at Miss Tuke's stables, and Jinny is hopeful that for once, she and Shantih will win something: that they'll be like other families and actually win a cup, because Sue's father has donated one for the horse and rider who accrue most points over the gymkhana. Clare Burnley, the wealthy girl with beautiful horses and the holiday home in Scotland, makes the journey  north just to take part in the gymkhana. And with her beautiful horses, accustomed to winning at the largest shows, she sweeps the board. We feel, with Jinny, the appalling unfairness of this. It is utterly unnecessary for Clare to take part: she has nothing to prove; and a thousand other chances to win, unlike the trekkers, who only ride occasionally. 

Again, this is nuanced, because it's easy to condemn Clare as nothing but a pot hunter, but at the Inverburgh Show, we see what winning means to her. She is utterly devastated to lost the jumping, and we see something of how she sees herself: she exists only when she wins. She cannot shrug off losing, and she's contrasted with Jinny, who loses spectacularly at the Finmory gymkhana, but manages to get over it. 

I love too the little bits of self knowledge we see Jinny acquiring in this book: of how she tells herself not to sulk when she can't go with her father to fetch Sue. It takes a lot to recognise your faults, and to do something about them.


Of course the main thrust of the book is that ponies are stolen, as Miss Tuke predicts. Two of hers go, and, worse for Jinny, Shantih and Bramble vanish. They can be found nowhere, but it's through Jinny's earlier acts of kindness: because she defends Tam when he wants to watch the gymkhana, and because she helped the dog, that he tells them where they can look for the ponies. At the end of the book, we see that's what connects them: I feel about Shantih, says Jinny to Tam, the same way you love your dog. It is in that instant that Tam looks straight at Jinny for the first time, and they connect.

Through Tam's hints, they find out where the horses and have gone, and eventually, find the Highlands at a sale. Shantih is not there, but she's found, in the end, through a series of coincidences. Ken has the last word on this, when he says:

"Coincidence!" said Ken scornfully. "There's no such thing. It's a cover-up word for a chain reaction, a linking of incidents which we hardly understand. We're only beginning to be aware of them."
"What links brought Shantih to the car park?"
"Your love for her," said Ken slowly. "The tinker boy's courage. Me coming to the sale instead of chickening out? The calves? The men in the horsebox? Who knows? These and a billion more subtleties create what we call coincidence." He laughed, hard and sudden. "We know nothing," he said, and running his hand over Shantih's neck, he went on down to the sea.
Which is as dramatic a rebuttal as I've found from an author on the use of coincidence.



Horse in a Million is a very liberating book to read; a hopeful one. You never know, says Patricia Leitch, what might be working away in the background to influence your life: do not box yourself in.



Horse in a Million has been republished by Catnip, and is still in print.

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

PBOTD 10th September: Patricia Leitch - Gallop to the Hills

Gallop to the Hills (1979) is a story in which we see the power money has, and its power to corrupt. Jinny's dog is accused of sheep worrying, and if your dog's caught worrying sheep, it can be shot. This worry is nagging at Jinny as she fulfils a commision to paint the horses belonging to a nearby aristocrat, Lady Gilbert. Jinny is sure she has seen wolves nearby, but nobody believes her.



It turns out that Jinny is right. Lady Gilbert's son keeps them. Lady Gilbert wants to protect her son, and so lies about the wolves. The Gilberts are a chilling portrayal: used to command, used to getting their own way and of having enough money to buy themselves out of trouble, they do not care who gets hurt as long as they can pursue their own desires. Jinny, with all her desire to hang on to Shantih and possess her, knows something of pursuing your own desires regardless, but Jinny still retains the power to learn.






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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch