Patricia Leitch: an interview

At last, here is some very long overdue information on Patricia Leitch: the only excuse I have for sitting on it for so long is my occasional tendency to let life descend into a muddle: I thought I’d muddled the letter Pat wrote me right out of existence, but a search for something else turned it up (as is so often the way, though not, of course, the other thing I was looking for. Still not the faintest idea where that is.) The other information came courtesy of Lorraine, who visits Pat in the Care Home where she now lives, and who kindly asked the questions on my behalf.

But before I get going on that, here is an excerpt from a letter Pat wrote to me in 2008, which I think beautifully sums up her writing:
It seems long and long ago since the Jinny books were part of me ... I have been reading them again, mostly with a grin on my face. Dear Jinny! And Shantih! She was all dream. In fact, I used to dream about the chestnut Arab mare long before I wrote about her. Perhaps this letter will bring her back, and Bramble who was real flesh and blood, my own Kirsty. I still feel, if I could walk out onto the moor and call her she would hear and come galloping over the skyline to me. But then what is imagination for if not to call up the past?

Pat and her writing

Pat was a keen childhood reader, and read everything she could get her hands on. The books which made the most impact on her, or at least the ones she remembers reading most, were Peter Pan and Black Beauty. She wanted to write from childhood, and started writing while she was working as a librarian. Her first book was To Save a Pony, published in 1960. It didn’t take long until Pat’s interest in Celtic mythology surfaced in her writing: The Black Loch, (1963) an atmospheric tale of a mysterious black horse guarded over for generations by a Scottish family was one of her more popular books, and was reprinted several times, changing its title slightly in the process. Like writing, Celtic mythology was something that had interested Pat for many years, and this book was a way for her to combine the two.

Although the mythological element didn’t surface until some books in, the fantastic was a major part of the Jinny series. Collins initially asked Pat to write three books about a girl and her horse, and so Jinny, her Arabian mare Shantih (meaning Peace) and their adventures galloping about in wild Scotland were born. Up until these books appeared, Pat’s books were popular, but it was the creation of Jinny which put Pat firmly in the forefront of pony literature. Jinny was an altogether different thing to previous pony book heroines: Ruby Ferguson’s Jill was at heart, sensible (though also opinionated) and Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Noel was diffident and not at all the sort of person you could imagine careering off across the moors. Jinny and her wild background are very well suited: the books just wouldn’t have been the same if they’d been set in suburban Chatton.

Comparing the books to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is a little fatuous, but the books share the same sense of Nature as a wild thing, with a life all its own, which reflects the inner workings of their heroes.

The Jinny books may have started off as a suggestion from Collins, but Jinny herself very soon took hold of the series. Pat speaks of her as if she is alive, and perhaps that’s why Jinny has had such a marked effect on her readers: like her or loathe her (and there are passionate followers of both camps) you absolutely cannot ignore her She is headstrong, stubborn, brave, and at times unbelievably irritating, but as a character she obviously lived to Pat, and whatever you might think about Jinny, as you read the books, you can’t help but believe in her.

The series is so convincing it’s difficult to believe that neither Jinny nor Shantih had any existence other than in Pat’s imagination. There never was a Shantih. Pat hadn’t even met an Arabian when Shantih careered into existence. Love Highlands and Fells though you might do, you couldn’t generally call them romantic, fiery creatures, elegantly stalking across the landscape, but some of Shantih was born out of Pat’s experiences with her own pony, Kirsty.

Kirsty was a 14 hh Fell x Highland cross (probably!) who ran on the moor until she was around five, and was sent to a farm in West Kilbride as part of a debt. The farmer wanted Kirsty to pull a float, and to be a riding pony for his son, but the boy outgrew her. Poor Kirsty was kept in a stable day and night and nothing was ever done with her. The effect of this imprisonment was so traumatic she never got over it, and had to live out permanently as a result. Eventually the farmer decided to sell Kirsty, and Pat bought her unbroken. Kirsty was a pretty major challenge to break, and nearly broke Pat, but they settled down together, and spent hours riding the moors above Kilmalcolm. Kirsty much more recognisably inspired Bramble, the Highland who acts as such a contrast to Shantih in the books.

Kilmalcom is part of the setting for the Jinny books, but only part. If you want to go looking for the locations you’ll have to be prepared to travel, as the setting is actually a combination of two different places. Finmory House, the house to which Jinny and her family move, is on the Isle of Skye, and is the house at which Pat worked as a housemaid for several summers. The moors around Finmory are in Renfrewshire, around the village of Kilmalcolm. This was where Pat kept Kirsty and rode herself. Kirsty was kept at Margaret’s Mill, a little riding school run by Willie Ross, and where Pat worked for a while as a riding instructor.

Jinny is passionate about many things, and I’d often wondered when reading the books why she didn’t become a passionate vegan like Ken. The reason is quite prosaic: there really was a Ken, and he already was a vegan (and a bit of a hippy) and having two vegans probably wouldn’t have worked! Ken was not the only real person in the books: Miss Tuke, the sometimes stern owner of the trekking stables, was based on Miss Jean Spence, who had her own training yard in Kilmalcolm. Unlike Miss Tuke, Miss Spence had some very good dressage horses.

It’s a tantalising fact, but there could have been more Jinny books. The series was only stopped because Collins (who published Armada books), were taken over, and after they became Harper Collins the series was dropped. As Pat didn’t know any other writers, or have anyone to advise her, she didn’t take the series to another publisher. She wasn’t too unhappy with the way the series ended, and although she briefly considered a book about Jinny going to art school, or Shantih having a foal, she didn’t feel that it would work as a story, or be in the spirit of the books, and so the series ended, with Jinny as the perpetual teenager, untamed by life.


More on Patricia Leitch

I wrote this piece in 2009. Patricia Leitch died in 2015, loving horses and dogs till the last. You can read a tribute to her here.

If you're interested in the other books Patricia wrote, I have compiled an illustrated bibliography. With summaries. And publishing info. There is no end to my generosity.

Only interested in Jinny? Here's a list of as many different editions as I've been able to find.

Susanna Forrest, author of The World of the Horse, has a whole chapter on Patricia in her book If Wishes were Horses. She's also written about the real-life Finmory.

A short piece here on the Jinny books, with some amazing views of Talisker.


Juxtabook said…
Oo- thanks for this. Lovely quote from her letter. I only had/read one Jinny book as a child (Ride Like the Wind in the white horseshoe format) and I still have it on top of my wardrobe. I must dig it out and have a re-read. I had a lovely Jill-fest over CHristmas and really enjoyed myself. I am so looking forward to my daughter getting into pony books. She is dangerously obsessed with ballet books (flippin' Angelina) and I hope that doesn't put her off mud for life.
Anonymous said…
I have scoured the internet for information on Patricia Leitch for years!! THANK YOU I started reading Jinny when I was a teenager and they are still without doubt, my favourite books. If you ever get the chance, please pass on to her that there is someone who was saved by having those stories to read. . i am sure she will understand.
PS the name of the trekking school owner is "Miss Tuke". Thank you for sharing this. x x
Jane Badger said…
Thank you both - I'd watch the Angelina if I were you. I'm sure that's what turned my daughter away from the straight path of ponydom. Thanks Anonymous - names are not my strong point, so I've edited the post! I will be writing to Patricia soon so will pass on what you said.
Anonymous said…
Oh thank you Jane, I lost my mum when I was a teenager and for some reason I got alot of comfort from reading these stories. I am really trully grateful for them!!
Once again thanks for sharing your letter.
best regards . .sally x
(I hope you don't mind me pointing out the typo)
jeanniebean said…
Hi, Thanks so much for the information. I still have the whole series safe from my childhood. They are still my favourite books ever.

I wondered whether you have contact details you could supply for Patricia as I would love to write and thank her personally for the pleasure her work has given me.
yours, hopefully,. Jeannie
Jane Badger said…
Hello Jenniebean - I'd happily forward a letter for you if you send it to me. My address is at the website here
Malachi Lily said…
Hi Jane, thanks so much for posting the interview with Patricia, I've always wanted to know more about her, being a Celtic pagan vegetarian horse lover haha!!! You mentioned that Finmory House was based on a house in the Isle of Skye...I've always wanted to know what it looked like!!!! Do you know which house it was? I'd love to take the camper van there and "put a face" so to speak, to my childhood dreams :)
With thanks, Lily x
Jane Badger said…
Hi Lily - I'm sorry, I don't know which house it was. I will ask for you.
Nina said…
Thank you so much for this article! My sisters and I love these books and I must have read them hundreds of times. I love every part of Wild moors and Jinny's rebellious attitude, and of course Shantih. All the characters are still real to me after all this time, even more so in a world of 'reality' tv and 'celebrity' everything!I still refer to fake people as 'plastic people'! I love to think that I have a large amount if Jinny's character in me, but probably mixed with a little bit of Sue, Ken, and Jinny's mum! Please pass my thanks and regards onto Patricia if possible. I am still a huge fan at 30yrs old! Nina
Anonymous said…
I'm getting married on Sat 10th July (next weekend!!). Thanks to the huge influence that the Jinny books had on my life, I'm arriving sidesaddle on a grey arab horse and there will be a reading from one of the books during the ceremony.

I'd really love to give the owner of the horse (who has never heard of the Jinny books) a signed copy of the first book as a thank you, and also so she can read the series too.

Is it possible you could forward on to me contact details of someone who could pass on a book for Patricia to sign? My temporary email address for the wedding is (since this is a public post!).

Many thanks in advance!

Natalie x
Jane Badger said…
Thanks Nina - I'll pass that on. Nina, I have emailed you. Have a lovely wedding!
I am so delighted to find this post! I love these books. Are you still able to pass letters on to Patricia by any chance??
Jane Badger said…
Yes, I am - you can find my address on my website janebadgerbooks dot co dot uk, and I will happily forward stuff on.
Nikie said…
Hi, I am Nikie from Belgium. Thank you for this wonderful information! If I only had it when I was 12 years old... I got my first Jinny-book from an aunt. The summer riders was not my favourite at first but later on I read it so often, I knew it by heart. I wanted to be like Jinny! I already loved all horses and I couldn't stop drawing, but from that moment on, I became obsessed with arabian horses and I changed my drawing-style drastically. Only the first 3 books were translated in Dutch so I was so surprised when I found out there are 12 books!! Now I am 30 years old, I own my own little arabian, I have a website with my arabian-horse-drawings and as soon as I can, I want to visit Scotland...
Jemma Hague said…
When I was 13 I was very lucky enough to be invited to Patricia Leithch's house, after I had been in contact by post, so my family and I went to Scotland for a holiday....I was so nervous and so elated at meeting the woman who had created so many wonderful books, who kept me alive and dreaming when I was having such a horrid time psychologically with bullies...the Jinny series are what captivated me to be the person that I wanted to be and to this day i get goosebumps thinking over how wonderful and atmospheric it was to read them! It is a memory that 13 years later, I still treasure dear and thank my lucky stars that this woman showed me the kindness that she did and welcomed me into her heart. I am in need of writing to her again so I am able to tell her why my communications fell off not long afterwards and will do so in the next monthy no0w that my mum has found her address. Love to Pat if you read this...Jemma xxx
jemma hague said…
Sorry, keyboard funny...Leitch's!!
Jane Badger said…
Lucky you to have met her Jemma - that must have been amazing.

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