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Showing posts from 2007

Happy Christmas

I'm not going to be online much over the following days (at least that's the theory: as my sister is coming to stay and the office doubles as the spare room it can be tricky). The dog and I have started Christmas off with a bang when we both fell over in the mud; Mary Bantam has excelled herself by actually laying an egg (first since October); and I haven't yet wrapped a single Christmas present. When you spend every day of your life wrapping things, it's difficult (no, it's impossible) to round up any enthusiasm at all for more.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas, with every possible book that you want, wrapped or unwrapped!

Just when you think

it's all going to go quiet it is anything but. Normally orders slow right down the week before Christmas, so I'd made all sorts of mental lists about what I was going to do: finish the Gillian Baxter interview, finish the Josephine Pullein-Thompson interview, do some much-needed work on the website.... Oh, and disinter the presents I have bought from the Amazon boxes and sort out what I still need to get...

But no. It's been frantic, and all I seem to have been doing is pack - but it did fall to my lot to walk the dog this evening. Fortunately the dog has moved on a bit since we got her. When we first had her, she was so nervous that if she wanted to bark at something, she would have to go behind a tree and do it from there. She was scared of the dark, and would only go outside after dark if one of us came with her and held her quaking labrador paw.

Now on our evening walks, which always happen after dark, she takes off up the dark track like a rocket. I'm very…

The Pariah Dogs

I don't think JPT would have minded what I turned up in, but my OH has Standards (and as you probably all know by now, I don't). As he was taking the day off so I could go to London I did feel a bit of compromise was called for... and had forgotten how warm London is in comparison to the Midlands. So, I wore the one smart coat, with a few dog biscuits sneaked into it, none of which were needed as I saw no animals and the only birds were pigeons.

It was the first time I had been into the new, refurbished and clean St Pancras. For years now going into St Pancras has been a case of being shunted out to the furthest depths of the platforms, followed by a mammoth trek to the underground, and what I was hoping for most was being able to draw into St Pancras proper, and not be shunted off somewhere far distant to make room for international travellers. St Pancras has always been "my" station, and there were all those iconic things about the journey that meant you were ge…

Off to London

which is a fairly rare thing for me, now that rail fares are so vile , but today I am going to meet Josephine Pullein-Thompson, which as you can imagine, is a darn good reason for going anywhere.

The one thing that is causing a bit of dissent here is what coat do I wear. It is freezing. The hens were very reluctant to stir, and the dog was whizzing around trying to keep warm, rather than trying to nick the birds' fruit. To me, it's obvious. Lovely water-proof Barbour with wonderful fluffy liner; complete with pockets of dog biscuits. No, says OH. Your one smart coat - it is warm enough. I am a chilly mortal and nothing is ever warm enough. Besides, I say, the dog biscuits will come in useful when I am being chased through the streets of London by hordes of wild pariah dogs. I can buy myself useful time by hurling dog biscuits at them. You never know.

Judith M Berrisford

After a lot of huffing and puffing (including yet another load of corrupt links - why do these always surface when I am already frantic?) I have the Judith M Berrisford pages thereabouts done. For once, I have managed to find copies of nearly all her books (many, many thanks to Haffyfan, Dawn and SusanB who nobly filled gaps) - the one missing is Five Foals and Philippa, which I've just ordered. I'll be very interested to read it.

As regular readers will know, I am not JMB's biggest fan. I do think though, that she was very blessed with her cover artists. The Jackie series in particular, which was illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam, is a real charmer. I haven't seen all of the books, but I presume all the covers are by him.
Jackie and Babs, heroines of the Jackie series, I find are like puppies: incredibly enthusiastic, full of life, but prone to, every now and then, doing things you'd really rather they wouldn't. Ponymadbooklover, in this excellent post on h…

A week already?

It has been a frantic week - which is good from one point of view as at least I'm selling books, which all helps. Lovely though it is to have shelves of immaculate and expensive books, the Co-Op are strangely reluctant to take them, preferring good hard cash, so it's handy that the immaculate-but-expensive (as well as the used-and-cheaper) are being converted into cash. If this year's like any other, it will be frantic up until the middle of next week, when trade will suddenly die. Any orders there are will usually be by telephone, and the people who place them will start to have that stressed urgency in their voices which doesn't generally surface the rest of the year. Just before Christmas it is quiet, quiet, quiet, but the thing I have found over the last couple of years is that I get a lot of good orders over the Christmas period itself.
I have a few theories over why this is: people haven't got what they wanted or hinted for, so are making good now; they'v…

Bookfest

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Today I ventured out beyond Peterborough to the excellent Peakirk Books, run by the equally excellent Heather and Jeff Lawrence (and Debi, and their wonderful Gordon Setters. Golly and I are in love. There is a picture of Golly here.) If children's books are your thing, then Peakirk is heaven, as that's what they stock: bookcase after bookcase, and shelf after shelf.

I went there to photograph some of their stock for the website, as they have a section dedicated to pony books as well as plenty of pony titles spread about the stock. So, photograph I did, with the result that the soon-to-hit-the-site section for Judith Berrisford now looks halfway decent, and there was also the hardback of Spanish Adventure, Rachel of Romney with a dj, Patricia Leitch's Black Loch, some Silver Brumbies with dustjackets, some Chipperfields with dustjackets... and lots and lots of other stuff. There are pitifully few shops who specialise in children's books, let alone have an entire sectio…

A quick thought

This is following on from the previous post. Coping with a hardback whilst reading in bed some of us find tricky, but the problem I have is reading at the table. Hardbacks I can cope with by propping them up on other books to get the slant, and the book then generally stays open of its own accord.

Paperbacks though are a totally different matter. You can't get the dratted things to stay open - or at least I can't, unless I deliberately break the spine, which I can't bear to do. Usually I resort to a peculiar arrangement of jam pots on their sides, propped over the bottom edge of the pages. This is fine until I want to turn the page (and I am a very fast reader) as then the whole thing has to be dismantled.

Does anyone have any better suggestions?

Will the hardback disappear forever?

This follows on from the post about Gillian Baxter's reappearance in hardback. I am a dedicated Radio 4 listener, and recently heard a piece about the publishers Picador, who are going to release paperback versions of their books simultaneously with the hardbacks. As, apparently, most buyers want paperbacks, this is cause enough. (I can't find the programme on the BBC site, but here's the general thing in The Guardian.) I suppose there's an argument for this: the content of the book won't presumably change and if you read an author's golden words in paperback they're no different to their golden words in hardback.

But it's the book as an object that means so much, I think (this apparently means I am a book fetishist). The best hardbacks are objects of beauty: decorated endpapers, beautiful dustjackets and clean crisp pages which stay clean and crisp. I've put two very different versions of Monica Edwards' Cobber's Dream here. I know which I&#…

Follyfoot

I don't know whether Follyfoot was ever repeated: for me it's a creature of the 1970s, which happened on weekend teatimes. I watched Follyfoot of course, because it had horses in it, but I never liked it, or the books, as much as Monica Dickens' World's End series.

It was the hopelessness of some of the story lines, I think, that got me. It depressed me, and I like a bit of fight with my stories. Dora in particular I found difficult, though I suppose the desperate fight the Farm had to stay afloat, and its awful cases were at least realistic.

When I was doing the Monica Dickens page for the website, I came across this site: whose owners obviously didn't suffer from my dislike! So, if you are at all interested in Follyfoot, this really is the site for you.

I always thought the World's End series would make a good television series. It was one of my absolute favourites as a child. I cherished my Piccolo paperbacks, and I still have them (have not yet managed to …

Gillian Baxter News

Evans, Gillian Baxter's publishers, have their fiftieth anniversary next year, and so are re-publishing some of their children's books. As far as I can tell from the very scanty information on their website (it's here in a PDF file, and you want page 12) the books are hardback versions of Ribbons and Rings and Tan and Tarmac. Evans are also doing some of Malcolm Saville's Buckinghams series, and Enid Blyton's Nature Lover's Book, which I absolutely adored as a child: it has the most enchanting pictures and I think I will be in the queue for one when they're published. The Savilles and Blyton are out in March 2008; the Gillian Baxters and a Worzel Gummidge in September 2008.

I'd be interested to know why they've decided to do this - does it have anything to do with the resurgence in re-publishing classics by companies like Fidra?

Still, it's been a very, very long time indeed since a hardback pony book with a dustjacket was published (except I s…

Hazel M Peel

Whilst not packing away far more sweet stuff than my dentist would like, I have been hard at work on the Hazel Peel interview, and it's finished! It's here. I don't think Hazel would have had any truck with Cadbury corporate speak at all: she'd have been in there in the factory, mixing the discontinued stuff up herself and organising distribution!

In case you're wondering what on earth I am blethering on about, see my post on Memories; which is basically me giving my sweet tooth (or teeth: I do have more than one left) a trip down Memory Lane.

Memories

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Earlier in the week my daughter bought me some Flying Saucers - which are sweets made of rice paper with sherbert in the middle. I hadn't had these for years and years; not since the days when my sister and I would trot off down the road and spend our sweet money at Tarry's. Tarry's was a tiny shop which sold absolutely everything, but the best thing as far as we were concerned was the wooden compartmentalized tray which held the penny sweets (and I'm talking 1d here, not 1p!) Mrs Tarry was the most remarkably patient woman, and would let you stand there for ages while you mulled over the delights of Fruit Salads, Black Jacks or milk bottles. We always hoped the shop would be empty when we went, as then we might be allowed into the kitchen behind to inspect the terrapins. Now you don't get that in Tesco.

A lot of the penny sweets seemed to feature liquorice, which I was never particularly keen on, apart from Sherbert Fountains, which can still be got today, and whi…

Oof

Thank you everyone who emailed me and left messages. I am very grateful. As you've probably worked out, I survived the experience, and so did White Star, though it was a close thing for us both. When I try and look at this scan thing rationally, I know perfectly well that the odd doughnut shaped thing that is the scanner is not going to hurt me; and that I was not actually trapped, because if I made enough fuss someone would have come and let me out.

But that is not how I feel, which is terrified: pure, blind panic. When the radiographer came back in she said "You didn't enjoy that much did you?" Oh how true. I was holding onto White Star for dear life, and my heart was pounding fit to bust. There was one particularly awful moment when I thought I really couldn't bear it anymore, but I remembered to pray and felt a jolt of surprise when my heart rate instantly slowed down. Make of that what you will!

I hope I managed to keep still enough during it, but shook like…

Urg. Arghhhh.

Tomorrow morning I have to have a CT scan, which I am not looking forward to even remotely as I am claustrophobic. My daughter has just come back from a week away with the school which included caving, including the notorious Letter Box - a narrow bit you have to wriggle through. Both my children flung (in as far as you can) themselves through this in their respective trips with joy; in fact I think they were both first in the queue. Now I also did this when I was at school, but it took them 45 minutes to get me through (and I still think very, very gratefully of my friends Anne and Deanne, one of whom coaxed at the head end while the other persuaded from the foot end.)

So the idea of having my head encased in whatever it is is making me a tad edgy. I am taking with me a white Britains farm horse called White Star, whom I have had since I was too young to remember getting presents. She is alas a bit brittle now, and only has 3 legs since she fell off the sink. I am hoping that i…

Christine Pullein-Thompson

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At last, at last, the Christine Pullein-Thompson bibliography is on the website. It has been an epic task, as she wrote over 100 pony books - surely the most of any pony book author? Unless Bonnie Bryant of Saddle Club wrote more. And that would only be true if Bonnie Bryant is in fact one person rather than a load of different authors writing under that name. Huge thanks to Dawn of Pullein-Thompson archive who has been the most fantastic help. It really would have been very difficult to do it without her, as she has a much keener eye for detail than me, and also has an amazing collection which she is very happy to plunder for photos. Christine PT is though the Pullein-Thompson I am most ambivalent about. There are some titles of hers I absolutely love: The Horse Sale, Phantom Horse, I Rode a Winner, and now I am older and can cope with romance, The Impossible Horse, but there are some I find tricky. I think it's the way her characters' despair is so total. One min…

Displacement Activity

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Yesterday I was supposed to be painting another wall of my office, but it was so darn cold that even with three jersies on I couldn't face the thought of painting with the window wide open in a room that was already freezing. Plus, I had managed to lose my one and only radio and the thought of painting without the accompaniment of Radio 4 was just too much.

So, what shall I do, I thought? Orders were very sparse yesterday; I'd been cataloguing like mad and really didn't fancy doing yet more. I really needed to go through my old stock and reduce it before Christmas, but the book storage room has no heating. The woodpile outside badly needed some attention, which at least would have had the advantage of warming me up (wood warms you three times: once when you cut it down, once when you cut it up and then when you finally burn it), but I wimpishly couldn't face the thought of getting even colder before I got warmer.

So, I thought I'd look at all the things I'd been…

Morning walk

I am normally incredibly slow at seeing birds on my walks with the dog. Although I have a perfectly good pair of binoculars (in fact, I have two) I almost never remember to take them with me. Pooh bag, lead and keys, and indeed dog, I can remember, though I have on occasion got outside the gate to find I don't have the lead, or slammed the door and then realised the keys are still in my bag. And I have had to call in on long-suffering neighbours when I have forgotten pooh bags. The dog knows what I am like, and makes sure when it is near walk time that where I am, she is.

Still, on our walk today, I saw a flock of long tailed tits in an ash tree. They were completely enchanting and took no notice of me whatsoever as they flew from branch to branch, chattering to each other. The RSPB says they can be seen all year round; but I only see them rarely and it is magical when I do.

Another bird I saw recently was a grey wagtail, which I saw out with a friend. My friends are mostly used t…

Go Cat Go

Our cat (small, black, mostly Oriental) and dog (blonde labrador) exist in a sort of uneasy truce. They don't like each other, and the dog thinks cats are things to chase. Cat soon learned that she could stand her ground and the dog wouldn't come near, at which point dog, who is quite bright for a labrador, developed a new trick. She would walk up to the cat, all quiet, and then suddenly erupt in the cat's face with a fusillade of ferocious barks. Cat would of course flee, and dog would bound after her. (There is a very shame-making photo of her doing this, when she looks like a slavering hound of the Baskervilles, but I won't share it with you!)

Cat has at last learned that this too, means nothing, and now stands her ground. So, peace of a sort reigns indoors. However outside, it was different, until yesterday.

I took dog out into the yard as I was going to be picking apples and didn't want her particular brand of "help". Dog was very happy to …

November 11th

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The Pony Book does romance

I was reading Christine Pullein-Thompson's The Impossible Horse recently, which I hadn't read in quite a while: mainly because it wasn't a book I remembered with much affection. However, on re-reading it I enjoyed it much more, and wondered why this was.

When I started senior school at the age of 11, all my friends loved ponies and that was what we talked about. However, when we came back for the second year (what is now year 8), it was as though someone had waved a magic wand. Only a few of us still wanted to obsess about ponies: with all the others it was boys, boys, boys. I was completely horrified by this: there were a few (a very few) boys at the stables but they were generally very wet and tended to cry when they fell off, which I regarded with contempt. We were generally a very female family, and I didn't meet boys really much at all: school was all girls. So, I decided firmly that I was going to stick with ponies, and so I did, for years (you will b…

It was the horse whodunnit

At least, that's what my family always thinks. I had to go and see the ENT consultant today about the disaster area which is my nose. I'd always thought I had sinus problems, but apparently I have a septum which is bent, almost certainly caused by an old injury, and it's now disrupting my airflow, apparently.

I rang my OH to tell him what the diagnosis was, and his response was "Well, that was caused by that horse who catjumped and hit you in the face."

Then I rang my Mama, and she said: "It was that horse that reared and came over backwards with you."

No - no. The catjumper cracked my jaw, but got nowhere near my nose, and the rearer left me shocked but blessedly unhurt, unlike poor Soniain The Impossible Horse. It was Adeline Burnett, when we were at Junior School. We were playing house rounders, I was bowling; she was batting. She was a phenomenal hitter, and mis-hit the ball straight at my face. It was a complete accident - she was even more di…

Ta Da!

I've wanted for a while to provide somewhere where people could contribute new pony stories. As we all know, most publishers aren't interested in the traditional pony story, so I thought it would be good to give people who write them (and I do know there are some of you out there!) a place where you can put your stories, and which will introduce them to a wider audience.

I have (looks bashful) put a short story of my own on to start things off.

There's also a section on the forum where you can start discussions on pony and other books. I've been quite aware while I've been blogging that it's very much what I want to talk about - here is the chance for you to start things off. In an unashamed attempt to get you to look at the Forum, I've put some information on about Patricia Leitch, with whom I've recently been in touch.

And where is this new marvel? It's here: Jane Badger Books Forum.

Do let me know what you think.

Best wishes

A cheery sort of post

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Well actually it isn't, not even remotely. I was reading Pullein-Thompson Archive's excellent blog, in which the question of ponies in pony books dying came up, and that set me thinking. I think it's in DPT's Pony to School in which Seaspray, Pier's and Tilly's grey pony, dies of tetanus. This made a terrific impression on me at the time, as I can't think, offhand, of any other pony book I read as a child in which a pony dies, and I think it was a particularly strong bit of writing on DPT's part.

People are killed off, though generally before the book starts (Jill's father, Carmen's parents in Sheila Chapman's books). Heartland is unusual I suppose in establishing the heroine's mother as a character before killing her off in the first book.

There is of course Ginger, in Black Beauty, which in some ways I think is the least miserable of the deaths: you feel relief that Ginger's awful sufferings are at last over, although there is al…

The blonde dog does it again

Yesterday morning dog and I went out for our early morning walk, accompanied by my friend and her three retrievers. Dawn and I were deep in conversation and realised too late that the two blondes had hurled themselves into what is a pond in summer, but is now just 6" or so of mud. Still, we got them all out of that and headed on. The next thing we heard was a thunder through the undergrowth and some ominous splashing. They'd found a pond they'd always ignored before (and which we'd forgotten about too) and they all emerged reeking of stagnant water; the two blondes an interesting shade of grey, tinged with black slime.
But we weren't too worried: there was a big pond further on which is usually clear and not stagnant and they did all clean off quite well in there (I did feel a bit for the wildlife they disturbed, but succeeded in shoving the guilt firmly down). So, by the end of the walk, I was feeling fairly smug, as I had a dog who was wet but not smelly or mudd…

More pondering

I am painting my office at the moment, having finally decided that the delicious Laura Ashley flowers which cover everything and have done for decades really have to go. All our ceilings are high, but the walls in this room measure 10' 6". Why is it that when I am at the top of the ladder, with a large paint pot only just balanced on the top step, and two paintbrushes clutched in my paw, that the phone rings? And why is it that, every time it rings, I answer it, when I have a perfectly good answering service?

Caroline Akrill - news

Fidra books will be re-publishing Caroline Akrill's excellent Eventing trilogy. Regular readers will know I am a big fan of this: the Fane sisters, for whom Elaine-the-would-be-eventer works are inspired creations and I think these books are some of the very few pony stories to be laugh out loud funny, as well as touching. The scene where the big grey (I am writing this at speed and I can't remember his name) is re-united with his former, now horribly arthritic owner, makes me cry.

A few months ago I interviewed Caroline, and the results are on my website here.

Mud

One thing I have noticed since we acquired a yellow dog is that she has a magical attraction to mud. We often walk with a friend and her retrievers: 2 flatcoats and a golden, and it is always the blondes who head straight for the muddy squalshy bits. I know that if you're a black or a brown dog of course the mud doesn't show as much, and I do wonder, why, when I filled in the forms for the rescue society from whom we got Holly, I wasn't a bit more specific when filling in the bit about what sort of dog we wanted: I bascially said anything as long as it wasn't about to die, when what I should have said, bearing in mind my aversion to cleaning, was any colour that doesn't show the dirt.

In my attempts to avoid a full wash-down situation with buckets and shampoo, I try rubbing the dog briskly with one of our vast collection of dog towels (our towels are all so ancient now virtually all of them are dog towels. She is much better off for them than we are) which does…

Photos in pony books

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Birte sent me this lovely photograph, which is from Golden Gorse's The Young Rider's Picture Book, published by Country Life in 1936. I love the group of Shetlands, with their solid little riders; presumably solid because they were wrapped in so many layers of woollen vests and tweeds. Is anyone else old enough to remember Chilprufe wool vests? These were thick, scratchy vests, made thicker and scratchier if washed at too high a temperature. A few years ago I found one my mother had saved: so I have proof her washing technique, at least when it came to woollen vests, ruthlessly suppressed comfort in the interests of thickness, and presumably warmth. These vests were a stalwart of my childhood, but by the time I started riding I had rebelled and no longer wore them.

Photographs, being of course of real events, transport you much more directly to the past than pictures, which, style of jodphur and total absence of the flash noseband apart, are reasonably timeless. Though thinking…

The Teenageer does Slum Survivor

and no, this is not a comment on the state of his room. This weekend the teenager and some of his friends are going to build themselves shelters and live outside to try and understand what life is like for people who have to live in real slums. They will only be allowed 2 meals a day, and cannot change their clothes. Frankly the last will be of no hardship whatsoever to my boy, but the 2 meals a day will hit him hard.

Besides making people understand how many people have to live their lives, the whole thing is being sponsored to raise money for Soul Action. This is the online giving page, and we'd all be very grateful if you could sponsor them.

Last weekend the teenager spent camping in the Peak District for the Duke of Edinburgh award, and it was cold, cold, cold. Even my tough boy, who usually strides off to school on the most vile day in just his shirt sleeves (WHY do teenage boys do this?) said he was frozen. I just hope the weather's not too bad this weekend, and w…

The Garden

This blog is supposed to be about my gardening attempts as well as books, but you would never know it at the moment. After a whirlwind of activity earlier this month in a desperate attempt to get the front garden ready for its stint as a location for stalls for the church's Scarecrow Festival, activity there has been none.

The back garden is a sad, and overgrown disaster. The terrace is looking particularly bad after I took up a couple of the vile concrete slabs to uproot a decent sized rosemary bush which was growing between them, and left the slabs where they lay. I plan to get rid of most of the slabs (they will have a second life either as things to be used by a magician friend, who will balance them on his stomach while someone clobbers the slab with a sledgehammer, or I'll freecycle them, which would certainly be a duller existence than journeying around the county and being smashed up.) Eventually, after meaning to for months, I will replace the evil slabs with grav…

Should ponies be pink?

Many thanks to Susanna for sending me the link to this article in The Guardian.

It's interesting. As the owner of a girl, I've looked at the sort of covers that are prevalent now on books aimed at girls, and thought "hmmmm" to myself. Aiming books at one sex or the other of course isn't new: in the 1920s to 1940s if you saw a book with girls thundering down a hockey field on the cover you'd be pretty sure boys weren't its target audience. And publishers after all do need to sell the books, and badging them means people who like that sort of book know in advance they're getting something they'll probably like. I do it myself when bookhunting - I can spot a 1970s and older Puffin paperback at 20 paces.

And covers do make a difference. My daughter still hasn't read Ballet Shoes, as despite my having several lovely early Puffins, she wants to read the one with the funky new cover. Never mind the fact what's inside is (probably) identi…

What do you think? Should Jill be updated?

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I posted news of Jill's republication on the Saddle-up boards, and some people there thought that the prices in the Jill books should be updated, so I wondered what readers of this blog thought. (At first I thought they meant the original cover prices should be kept too, which strikes me as an admirable idea: after all, the initial Armada paperbacks were 2/6 (12.5 p to those of you born post-decimal) and that seems a darn fine price to me, though I can see that Vanessa at Fidra might not think so....)

But anyway. From one point of view, I can see what they mean. When I read a book in which the pony is bought for £15, it obviously reads oddly, particularly if that's the only mention of price in the book. On the other hand, if the characters have been talking about buying sweets for 2d that puts it in context - the more the prices are put in, to me the more normal it seems.

And the major problem about updating prices is of course that they will very soon be out of date - whether…

Jill lives again

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Fidra Books, who as many of you will know have republished Six Ponies and Fly-by-Night, have acquired the rights to all of the Jill series, and will start to issue them next year. They will have the full original text, so Black Boy will be Black Boy, and not Danny Boy or any of the other things with which he might have been afflicted, Challenges for Jill and Jill and the Runaway will head for the hills, and all the Caney illustrations will be back in place. Hurrah! The Jill section is far and away the most popular section on my website, so hopefully these new additions will mean she can enchant today's pony-mad children. And their parents, of course.

Wireless - hah

We decided a couple of weeks ago to go wireless, as this would mean I could move the computer back down to the study, rather than upstairs where it has been since we got broadband. One penalty of living in a very old house is that it has had odd things happen to it over the years, which as they would cost a fortune to sort out and there are more important things needing attention, like buildings actually falling down, we have learned to make do with where we can. So, when, after 3 BT engineer visits and countless hours on the telephone, we were told there was only one place broadband would go unless we completely re-did our telephone wiring from scratch, we decided to live with it.

But wireless, we thought, would solve all our problems. Two weeks of mind bending frustration later, I am here to tell you it did not. Initially all was well, but then day by day the service got worse and worse, no matter what we did. Last week I ended up with no internet connection at all, which when …

A Jill Question

I've just been asked a question about the order of the Jill books. In the original order of publication, Pony Jobs for Jill is the eighth book, (and it says quite clearly on the spine of the first edition hardback: "This is the eighth Jill Book"), but when the paperbacks came out Pony Jobs (and Challenges, as it became) are book number 6.

Does anyone have any theories about why?

Alas, poor hen

Last week, Mother Hen, the oldest of our hens, vanished - not even a few pathetic feathers. That same evening, we found Matilda on the wrong side of the gate. We have no idea what happened. There has been a bird of prey hovering around, but it doesn't look big enough to have taken her, or dumped Matilda outside the gate. I am not good on raptors, but I think this is a sparrow hawk, which I would have thought was too small. Hen harriers are presumably called that for a reason, but I'm fairly sure we don't have them round here.

Sigh. Mother Hen was by far the nicest and most friendly of our hens, and an excellent layer too.

So, we are left with Matilda, whose tail, I am pleased to report, is coming on nicely and she's looking a lot better now she's nearly finished her moult. In mid moult she looks as if she is falling apart. Feathers trail from everywhere and I was very tempted to pick her up and give the feathers a helping hand, but she can be a bit pecky so …

The worst pony book ever?

I was inspired by reading this post on another blog, as I have a few candidates of my own for this. It's quite rare that I fail to finish a book, but I did with Joan Dicken's Jill and Prince the Pony, which is real grade A stinker. I doubt even as a pony-mad child if I could have struggled through the waves of boredom which the pedestrian plot and characterisation roused in me, but as an adult I just couldn't. I failed.

Others I struggle with are Judith M Berrisford's A Pony in the Family series. This is supposed to be an educational series, teaching children how to look after ponies and ride. The educational bits are triggered when the hapless younger sister gets something wrong, which is when her hideously sanctimonious elder sister sails in and patronises her until any realistically written character would have shoved the elder girl face first into the muck heap and made sure she stayed there for a while. But no, she takes it all. The whole think makes me gn…

The Teenager meets old technology head on

I don't normally blog about my husband and children as they never asked me to blog in the first place and I don't fancy evil stares at the dinner table when I have written about something they'd rather I didn't.

However, I have the teenager's full permission for this one. At the beginning of the week, before they'd gone back to school, I came back from a journey out with my daughter, and wandered upstairs to tell the son I was back. I could hear music coming from his room, but there always is. This piece did sound familiar, but in a very odd way. Once I'd got as far as The Room, I'd recognised the music: it was Simon and Garfunkel's Sound of Silence, but it didn't sound quite as I remembered it - I thought that it was one of those sort of combined efforts something like Simon and Garfunkel feat. Soggy Dogs. Sampling, that's the word.

Then I saw that son had fixed up my record player in his room - quite a feat in itself as it has a thousand w…

The Moon Stallion

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I said I would write more about this, so here goes. The book is a novelisation of a 1970s BBC serial (which completely passed me by). It's not really a classical pony book - more a story that happens to have a horse in it.

The Moon Stallion of the title is a white horse who is connected to the White Horse of Uffington. The story is set in either late Victorian or Edwardian times (it's not specific) and opens with an archaeologist, Professor Purwell, and his children, Diana and Paul going to Uffington. The Professor has been asked by Sir George Mortenhurze, a local squire, to seek out the true facts about the historical King Arthur.
It soon emerges that Mortenhurze, and Todman, his stablemaster, and it turns out, a horse warlock, have designs on the Moon Stallion - Mortenhurze because he wants revenge on it for having, he thinks, caused the death of his wife, and Todman because he wants the power the Moon Stallion has. The plot centres around Diana, who is blind, but who has a c…

Behind, behind, behind

I am. Having had a week off (spent in Scotland, and utterly wonderful, about which more later) I have now come back to earth with a big, fat bump. Just before we went away someone said to me, having just told me an alarming bit of news about one of the things with which I am involved: "I hope it won't spoil your holiday." "It won't," I said. I may be a bit short on time-management abilities, memory skills and a host of other things, but at putting things I don't want to think about firmly out of my mind for the week of my holiday I think I have few equals.

However, even I cannot fend off the thought of the Inland Revenue for ever (which wasn't by the way, the alarming thing: that turned out to be merely worrying), so I am now in the throes of finalising the business accounts. Every year I say firmly to myself that I will make sure every bit of paper is irretrievably filed, but every year something goes missing. Most years it has been a bank …

Horses on Children's TV

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A post on Mutterings and Meanderings' blog reminded me of the horsey programmes I used to watch.

My absolute favourite horsey programme was White Horses, which for those of you not lucky enough to be born when I was, was a German programme about a Lipizzaner stud, dubbed into English. I think there's a certain section of horsey society out there who can sing along with every single word of the theme song. And Boris, ah Boris.... there was a horse. Ferreting about on the internet when I should have been doing other things, I found this site, dedicated to the series, and which is going to re-issue it on DVD. Oooooooh.... oooooooooooh. When it's out, I shall buy one, and an extremely large box of chocolates and watch it all with my sister, my partner in our television crimes.

Fortunately White Horses was on BBC1 as for most of my childhood we had a tv that only received BBC1, and when we did get a telly that got more chanels, my mother issued an edict that ITV was bad and we …

A new pony books blog

There's a new blog on pony books: it's started off with Diana Pullein-Thompson's Donkey Race and is going to feature all of the Pullein-Thompsons' books. Donkey Race isn't one I've actually come across, but having read the review I'm going to try and find one!

What I've been reading: a mixed bag

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I've been keeping the office ticking over this month as the family are home, which does have the useful side effect of letting me catch up on my reading. I was asked last weeks to identify a book (it was Three Great Pony Stories) which includes Joanna Cannan's They Bought Her A Pony. This, I suppose, as it was printed in a couple of anthologies was the easiest Joanna Cannan to get hold of before Fidra started their reprints, but it's never been my favourite.
Once I had dug out the copy I have I decided to read it again: I wondered before I started it again whether distance would have leant any enchantment (it took me a few years to appreciate K.M. Peyton's Fly-by-Night). Alas, it still left me with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. They Bought Her a Pony is the only title of JC's (I don't count Hamish) not written in the third person, and I wonder if that is why the book doesn't quite work for me. JC is much better, I think, at revealing nuances of charact…

The Flat Pack Tractor

It's true. Here it is: the flatpack tractor. We spent the weekend at one of my sister-in-law's in Cornwall, and they take the Smallholder magazine. I always love reading about other peoples' chickens etc, so dived in, and found the Flatpack Tractor.

I just hope it has more comprehensible instructions than some flat packs I've dealt with in my life. Like most of the UK population, I've done my share of trawling round the hellhole that is Ikea (but gave up some years ago - I don't care how cheap it is. Being surrounded by other peoples' miserable, bawling kids who would rather be anywhere else other than there is vile, and I'm not going to do it anymore.)

Apparently there are 10 different construction tasks for the tractor, each of which should take an hour. I suppose this is the sort of thing you're not going to buy if you're the average hopeless goop who doesn't know how to use a screwdriver, but all the same, I'd love to know…

Go Fug Yourself

I do love Go Fug Yourself, oh I do. I'm not immune to the occasional (alright, frequent) fashion disaster myself. It took me years to finally admit to myself that I was never going to go back to my scrawny pre-pregnant self, and that it might be an idea to dress accordingly, but alarmingly I am not alone in being clueless.

I've just spent a morning sitting in one of Wellingborough's coffee bars - goodness, we now have a Costa Coffee - is this good or bad - but anyway; they have large plate glass windows, ideal for studying those walking by. All that fat wobbling away over low waistbands, and those wide, low slung belts worn at the widest part of one's wide, low slung self, the tight T-shirts clinging to every roll ...... and white boots.

The cheering thing about Go Fug Yourself is seeing people who frankly should know better (and have the dosh to employ a stylist) getting it gloriously, and spectacularly wrong. Which I suppose does not say good things about my char…

A Puzzling Unknown Book

Does anyone have any idea what this book is? My correspondent says it isn't a Jill book. This is what she can remember:

This book is written in the first person: and opens with the girl almost ready to give up riding after a bad lesson. She and her friend are riding along on their bikes discussing the lesson. Once she's home, she finds a letter from her aunt inviting her and her friend to come and look after the aunt's riding school. The two girls go and run a very successful camp for the riding school pupils. The book ends with the girls being invited to come and run the riding school in their school holidays.

The person who asked thought the book was the first in a series.

The Prodigal Hen

We thought on Saturday that the fox had finally succeeded in getting one of the hens. Only three were there at putting in time, and a search only turned up ginger feathers in the graveyard (appropriately). We searched; the dog searched - no hen. So, two nights went past, and we assumed Matilda was now fox food. Yesterday I went up at lunchtime to give them a handful of corn, and all four waddled towards me across the wreck that was once our sand school. Poor Matilda now has only one tail feather left and therefore a sadly naked bottom, but she seems fine otherwise.

We're really puzzled about where she has been. There is a very large bramble patch in the school, so we think she must have holed up under there until she felt better, at which point she emerged.

Foot and Mouth

A mammoth three posts from me today, but have just heard that Foot and Mouth has broken out again. My heart goes out to the poor farmers: it's been such a terrible year for them so far with the floods and awful weather, and if this is coped with like last time, it must be the final nail in the coffin for many.

It seems that Defra are reacting quickly this time. I hope they introduce vaccination and have learned from last time's debacle.

During the last outbreak we were grazing sheep on our land: we were lucky enough not to have any outbreaks nearby but even thinking of that time brings back the smell of the pink powdered disinfectant we went through by the bucketload. Hope and pray things get no worse.

A Recommendation

This is from one of my email correspondents - I haven't read it myself, but am going to order a copy asap.

" I've just read an astonishing book by Rosalind Belben called "Our Horses in Egypt" ( Chatto & Windus £16.99 2007)

It charts two journeys - that of Griselda Romney a war widow and her formidably reticent Nanny and precocious daughter Amabel and that of Philomena a rather "marish" mare. Philomena was Griselda's mare and she was requisitioned for the army at the beginning of the 1st WW. Philomena's story is of incomprehension, loss of companions, battles, betrayal (by the British government who abandoned 22,000 loyal warhorses in Egypt at the end of the war to an often painfully neglected existence). Griselda, on hearing that Philomena may be alive, embarks on a journey to discover her and bring her home.

Talk about pony books that make you weep - this is an adult novel you definitely can't read in public!

There is a lot about the way …

The Noel and Henry books

I'm doing a bit of a re-read myself, but I'd love to know why you like the Noel and Henry series, if indeed you do. And if you don't, what is it you don't like?

Ballet Girls

In one of the Jills, though I can't remember which one, she says that if she has any children, she's sure they'll like sordid things like Alsatians or ballet. Or at least I think she does. The moment I read that as a child, it was as if a bell pinged and I saw my future, and sure enough, my daughter is a ballet girl.

She's read the Sheltie books, but she's a grown up girl of 11 now, and has left Sheltie well behind. Alas she hasn't replaced them with any of my lovely pony books; not one. I've made subtle, and not so subtle, efforts to interest her in Jill but it hasn't worked.

Sigh.

Phew

Not really terribly pony related this post; though I am having a brief break from proof reading Six Ponies. I've had a few manic days recently as I've been organising a drama course, of which the first day has finally happened. So far it's going well, though I am absolutely shattered. Why though do I have such broken nights beforehand, suddenly waking up and adding something to my vast list of things to do? I wish there was a way of training my brain to think of these things at a sensible hour, but it seems to prefer to do it at unsocial hours when I'd really much rather be asleep.

The children are doing really well, and we've nearly got to the end: just frantic rehearsals tomorrow before the performance for parents. Hopefully by then I'll have recovered some voice - having been singing what seems like every part apart from the main one to teach them to children who aren't used to learning parts at speed my voice is in need of rest. As indeed is th…

Caroline Akrill

At last, after weeks of getting submerged by a myriad of other things, I have finished my Caroline Akrill article: it's here.

Which pony books make you cry?

I can cry at pretty much anything (I was never good, but became far, far worse once I had the children.) My family are now very used to my welling up at emotional moments in films, and they all turn round expectantly at particularly mushy moments, whilst I gulp and try (and usually fail) to give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry. Again. When I read Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, I so sympathised with Linda, who is endlessly made to cry by being taunted about the match by her tougher siblings: - 'A little, houseless match, it has no roof, no thatch, It lies alone, it makes no moan, that little, houseless match.' My absolute prime weepy moment isn't actually a pony book at all: it's E Nesbitt's The Railway Children. Even typing it is enough. It's the "Daddy, my Daddy," bit at the end.
But pony books do their bit too to add to the dampness. I have great difficulty reading Black Beauty when he meets Ginger again, and then the cart with Ginge…

Wealth in pony books - again

I've had a very interesting email on pony books, heroines and wealth, and I'm going to quote from it directly - it was in response to my earlier post about a poor but nasty pony book heroine:
... an impoverished pony-owner being resentful and bitter and never reforming is the obnoxious Charlie Dewhurst in Three Ponies and Shannan. This seems to me to be the exact opposite of the classic pony book. Charlie Dewhurst should be the heroine; she has a lot in common with other pony book heroines. Like Misty in Jackie won a Pony, Jingle used to pull a cart before taking up a career as a riding pony. Charlie is the daughter of a country parson, and they are always poor, although the families are generally happy (as in A Stable for Jill and any number of Lorna Hill novels). In a traditional pony book, the fifteen pound Jingle would triumph over the three hundred pound Serenade. Although Christina does not win the jumping she does prove herself to be as good as any poor groomless child a…

The Garden Visit

I was let out from my office yesterday and went on a garden visit to Docwras Manor: a lovely garden: not immaculate enough to be depressing, but with enough interesting plants to make it a garden where you didn't quite know where to look first. I went with a local flower arranging club - I cannot arrange flowers to save my life, bunging a few things in a vase and hoping being more my style, but I have friends who are brilliant at this arcane art, and they invited me along.

So, the Flower Club outing, you would have thought, would have been a staid thing, filled with the middle aged. Filled with the middle aged it was. We went in a coach (having always been sniffy about coaches, I have now come to love them - so lovely not being the parental taxi service and able to see what passes) and were told firmly by our leader to be back at 9.15. Well, 9.15 came and went, and several of our number were not there. They carried on not being there.

They must be still in the garden, we th…

More pony book thoughts

I do agree with the comments on my last post: if the characters, dialogue and plot are good enough, then period trappings shouldn't matter.

I wonder if the problem is rather more one of perception: Susanna Forrest says "If publishers are prepared to take a gamble and let pony books escape from the "posh gel" stereotype...", and I wonder if this is it. Ponies are seen as something beyond the reach of most people and if you stock a pony book you are in some way promoting that difference. That might be why it's the Heartland and the baby pony fantasies which are the ones stocked. Heartland is set in the USA, and therefore has the exoticism of abroad (albeit an abroad we're very familiar with) and you can excuse a lot of PC sins by combining them with fantasy - like Harry Potter and the boarding school.

Maybe that's why the Jordan books are so pink and sparkly - it's the publishers' way of saying "This isn't real life: it's j…

The Daily Telegraph Does Ponies

Susanna Forrest has written an article for today's Daily Telegraph on pony books: it's here. Aside from the fact I am quoted (along with Caroline Akrill and Vanessa from Fidra), it's a good article, with whose conclusions I do of course agree! As I am a complete anorak, I was particularly interested to read about the 18th century book by Arabella Argus: Memoirs of Dick, the little poney. Of course, had I only given it a second's thought, it was highly likely that there would have been horsey stories pre-Black Beauty. I'm now all excited by the thought of a whole set of early books I knew nothing about, but will have to try very hard not to do anything about it until I have got a bit further down the to-do pile - including the Caroline Akrill article, which I have very nearly finished, I promise.

Illustration

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Here is the illustration. In some ways I quite like it - it's lively and has rather more character to it than the books, but the ponies look rather more like elks (and if I'm right, the one standing at the open door is supposed to be an Arabian), and it's the inaccuracy of it that gets me.

I'm not usually a stickler for health and safety - my daughter often rode bareback, and you don't find that happening in riding schools these days - but in a situation like this where you have a lot of children, and loose ponies, and buckets and brooms..... I can see it being published in the Pony Club Annual entitled "What is wrong with this picture?" And if I was Vicki, owner of the riding school where this is set, I'd be scared witless of being sued when the inevitable happened.

There are whole reams I could write, but I can feel myself coming over all moralistic, so I think I'll go on a nice harmless visit to the Bank to pay in the week's takings!

The latest thing in Pony Books

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I've just been sent a set of Katie Price's (aka Jordan) journey into children's books: they're called Katie Price's Perfect Ponies, and well, they're pink. They are aimed completely shamelessly at girls: the covers are bright Barbie pink with silvery trimmings and a sub-Bratz character on the front.

Katie Price I know does have horses of her own, and she knows her stuff. Random House, the publishers, have a Perfect Ponies website, and the pony care tips are accurate and sensible. The stories themselves are written competently enough (as always with these celebrity books, I do wonder who did the actual writing) but without any sort of heart - nothing to really engage the emotions, or attract you to the characters. Interestingly, the most popular character at the moment on the website is Cara - who is a nervy biscuit who doesn't like going fast or jumping, and the only one who is memorable for anything other than the way she looks. Even so, Cara's big blue…