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Pony Book Advent Calendar: Christmas Day, 2013

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The Christmas Day pony book is Patricia Leitch'sHorse of Fire, which contains some of my favourite Christmas pieces. Patricia Leitch isn't a judgemental writer, and she's certainly not judgemental about spirituality. Mysticism, Celtic mythology and Christianity all get equal respect in her books. Horse of Fire is the eleventh book of the series, and in it Jinny and Shantih are roped in to the local nativity play. Jinny has fine and splendid dreams about how she and Shantih will appear as glorious king and even more glorious horse, but when the moment comes, it's not like that at all. Jinny is cast into utter misery, but then, as they're leaving, a little boy stops and stares up at Shantih.

"The little boy stared up at Shantih, his eyes wide with tiredness and excitement.'I saw them,' he stated stubbornly. 'It was the golden wings it had.''You're right,' said Ken, speaking directly to the little boy. 'I saw them too.''Fill…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 24th, 2013

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It's Christmas Eve. In Kate Seredy's The Good Master, which is set in pre First World War Hungary, Christmas Eve is special. It's celebrated with stories, one of which is the tale of idle Prince Matyas and his favourite servant Matyi. Together, they search on their horses for the land where everybody lives forever. Eventually, from the back of a flying horse, Prince Matyas he is shown his own country - the only place he can live forever. "Love your people and work for them as they work for you," he's told. "Then you will live in their memory... for ever and ever."


and here's the cover. 




You can read more about Kate Seredy here

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards.You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also available from the usual sources, or your local bookshop.

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 23rd, 2013

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If you were a pony obsessive in the UK, then you probably would have read Pony Magazine at some point. The early issues of the magazine rather went to town with their Christmas covers. Here's one from December 1950. I can't help but think that the horse on the right looks like a llama. 




You can read more about Pony Magazine, and the Pony Magazine Annual, here

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards.You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also available from the usual sources, or your local bookshop.

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 22nd, 2013

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Here is one for American readers. Photographer Jill Krementz did three books of photographs following gifted children: A Very Young Dancer, A Very Young Gymnast, and A Very Young Rider. This last is remembered with enormous fondness by many of my American friends. The subject of the book, Vivi Malloy, had a charmed and pony-filled childhood, and she was the ultimate in wish-fulfilment.

The book follows Vivi's progress round the American show circuit, and during the course of it, her pony Penny is sold because Vivi's outgrown her. However, Vivi does indeed get the Christmas present thousands upon thousands of horse mad children longed for: a pony.  Here she is unwrapping the first element of the present:



You can read more about Jill Krementz and A Very Young Rider here

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards. You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also availa…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 21st, 2013

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I had to get Jill in here somewhere, and here she is, at her first Christmas in Chatton. Earlier in Jill's Gymkhana, from which the illustration and extract come, Jill walks some children to school, for which she's paid. Mrs Crewe doesn't approve of Jill being paid for this at all - she's allowed to accept an apple or some sweets, but that's it. Jill's devastated, as she'd planned on using the money to feed Black Boy during the winter.

Now I'm older, I must admit I do wonder what those parents who paid Jill must have thought when their payments were returned. I like to think that they sympathised with her efforts to keep her pony, and I'm glad they gave Jill something splendid for Christmas which her mother couldn't reject.

"The magnificent thing was soon revealed, a lovely dark-blue pony rug bound round with scarlet. I was speechless. It was Mummy who picked up the card and read aloud, "To Jill Crewe, with many thanks, from the mothers …

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 20th, 2013

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Today it's the turn of one of the very earliest pony books. Joanna Cannan, mother of the Pullein-Thompsons, wrote A Pony for Jean in 1936. Jean and her family have to leave their expensive London life for a cottage in the country, after her father loses his money. As was to be the case for most pony book families, poverty was relative, and didn't mean scrapping along on the breadline. 

Jean finds she's living quite close to her cousins, for whom money is no problem at all. They have a pony they don't ride - Cavalier, and they give him to Jean. Cavalier, when she gets him, is underweight and rather neglected, but Jean manages to rehabilitate him, and teach herself to ride with remarkably little fanfare. Joanna Cannan, unlike her daughters, never went in for loving descriptions of schooling. Indeed, in one of her later books, Gaze at the Moon, the re-schooling of Air Frost is skipped over: "I will not describe how we schooled Air Frost because it is all set out in bo…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 19th, 2013

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Today's pony book choice is another of my favourites, Josephine Pullein-Thompson's All Change. This is the story of a family whose security is suddenly whisked away from them when the owner of the estate on which they live and work dies, and the estate is bought by a Financial Wizard. I like the way the clashes between different ways of doing things are handled, and the relationships of the children shift.




I particularly love the Christmas scenes in this book.

"Mummy appeared from the sitting-room. "Bed,' she said. 'Go on, Rory, have a bath and mind you wash. Go on. Hurry up or Father Christmas won't come,' she threatened.
'Don't believe in him,' said Rory going upstairs backwards and as slowly as possible. 'I know it's only you and Dad.'
The rest of us were shooed to bed at ungodly hours with irritating threats about Father Christmas. And it was all nonsense because the parents always go to the Midnight Mass and do the stockings…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 18th, 2013

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Ah, Jackie and Babs. Whatever they touch, it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. They mean so well. Their intentions are the best. It's not always their fault that disaster strikes, but I do sometimes wonder how much the authors (for Judith M Berrisford was husband and wife team, Clifford and Mary Lewis) actually liked their creation. In today's Advent pony book, Ten Ponies for Jackie, Jackie and Babs are trying to help hapless teenager Terry run a riding school. 
As part of their campaign to raise money for starving moorland ponies, they go carol singing. One of the carol singers, Dennis, decides it's as good idea to ride his pony into someone's house, and disaster ensues. Worst of all, the main opponent of the riding school is there. "Despairingly I recognised that booming voice... She was Harriet Ridgeway very much in person!  She took off her mask as though to get a clearer view of the scene of disaster. Ponies were trampling over the hall while the Terry Lane…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 17th, 2013

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Today's choice is a sweet (and short) story for the younger reader, Helen Kay's A Pony for the Winter. 





You can read more about Helen Kay here

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards. You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also available from the usual sources, or your local bookshop.

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 16th, 2013

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Yesterday's choice, Elyne Mitchell's Silver Brumby's Daughter, is appropriately snowy for a European audience in the middle of winter, but not quite so good for an Australian one, for whom it's now summer. So, here's Anne Farrell's The Gift-Wrapped Pony - a pony present, not exactly for Christmas, but it's sort of within the theme.


The Guara books, of which The Gift-Wrapped Pony is the first, is the story of the Mitchell family. Mr Mitchell has had enough of his children's pony, Aurum, who is a dedicated escapologist, and the family dedicate themselves to saving her.

You can read more about Anne Farrell here

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards, though alas the Australian content is restricted to Elyne Mitchell, and there's not much on her. You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also available from the usual sources, or your l…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 15th, 2013

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Reading Elyne Mitchell's Silver Brumby series coloured my view of Australia as a child. My view's expanded a bit now to include some of the more minor geographical elements, like Sydney, and Melbourne, and Uluru, but if you'd asked me as child what was in Australia I'd have said mountains, and snowy ones at that. Not all the Silver Brumby stories take place in snow by any means, but those are the bits that I remember best: the Brumbies galloping lightly over the snow; ghost horses disappearing into the mist, and foolish Lightning getting himself and his mares trapped in the snow. I think my snow-bound view of the Brumbies was helped by the marvellous cover illustrations Peter Archer did for the later Dragon printing of Silver Brumby's Daughter, which is today's Advent calendar pony book.



You can read more about Elyne Mitchell here, and see some of the many Brumby printings.

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 14th , 2013

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Today's pony book is Alan Smith's Snowy. Snowy is one of those pony biographies that were so popular in the twenties and thirties. It's the story of a Welsh pony whose fortunes decline, until he is rescued. Alan Smith is better known as the former equestrian correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.



You can read more about Alan Smith here

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards. You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also available from the usual sources, or your local bookshop.

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 13th

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Here's another of my favourites. I love the vertiginous hill in Mary Gernat's cover illustration, which as far as I can remember from that part of Surrey, isn't exactly typical, but I love it nevertheless. Monica Edwards' Black Hunting Whip sees the Thornton family moving into Punchbowl Farm, and is one of the books that sees her getting into her stride as a writer. It's a ghost story which doesn't feel like a ghost story; at least not one of the ones that leaves you too terrified to move from your chair (I am not a big reader of spooky stuff, as you can probably tell). The ghost here is almost courtly. 
Black Hunting Whip is a book which has lovely Christmas scenes in it, particularly the bit where Lindsey, who's condemned to bed over Christmas after giving herself concussion, has Christmas brought to her.
"Lindey's mother brought holly and ivy and a bowl of snowdrops from the downstairs rooms to make her bedroom festive, and Peter brought one of …

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 12th

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Wendy Douthwaite wrote most of her pony books in the 1990s, a period when I was taking a break from my longstanding relationship with the genre. Douthwaite's probably best known for her Polly series, about a grey Arab mare, but she also wrote a few standalone pony books. Christmas Pony is a gentle story about a bereaved girl who saves up enough to buy a foal. 



You can read more about Wendy Douthwaite here. 

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards. You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also available from the usual sources, or your local bookshop.

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 11th 2013

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Here's another favourite pony book of mine. Author Diana Pullein-Thompson regards this book as one of her worst; derivative and predictable, but I loved it, as I suspect many other pony loving children did precisely because it was unrealistic. When I called the fire brigade to a fire on a farm, no one gave me a reward, and if I ever had bought a pony, I don't imagine it would have been a swan in disguise. I'd more likely have ended up with something Thelwell would have featured with glee: a pony red in tooth and claw; a pony who did not have my best interests at heart.

But I loved this book. I loved Augusta's relationship with her sniffy, snobbish cousins. I loved the way she bests them, but always remains true to herself, and in particular, I loved the way she sells pretty well everything she has so she can buy Daybreak, and how she perseveres until he comes right.

The copy pictured below is the version I read.


You can read more about Diana Pullein-Thompson here, and see…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 10th

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Today's pony book is Monica Dickens' Word's End in Winter, part of her four book World's End series. The series was one of my favourites as a child. I loved the World's End children, their animals, and their parentless existence. I knew these books just about off by heart. Here's the version I had, and in fact still have, though I will admit to having acquired a hardback version as well. 

The World's End series wasn't received well at the hand of critics: Nicholas Tucker said that the books appealed to "a host of pre-adolescent fantasies and prejudices," which of course it did, but as one of those it appealed to, I didn't care. It was a spiky, difficult, but magical world. 




You can read more about Monica Dickens here, and wallow in the rest of her pony books, which include the immensely popular Follyfoot series. If you're a fan of the TV version, you can't do better than look at the Follyfoot Tribute Site

Read more about the pony bo…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 9th

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Today's pony book is Pamela Cockerill's Winter Ponies, a rarity from the 1980s. The story was based on Pamela's own experiences riding beach ponies she borrowed.






You can read more about Pamela Cockerill here

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards. You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also available from the usual sources, or your local bookshop.

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 8th 2013

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Today's pony book is an iconic European pony book, one of the few which was translated into English. German author Ursula Bruns was just one of a whole mass of German pony book authors, who sadly remain mostly untranslated into English. 

Snow Ponies, originally published as Dick und Dally und der Ponys, is a charming read of feisty children and Icelandic ponies. Author Ursula Bruns is widely credited with saving the Icelandic pony from extinction, after she imported a herd to Germany. 



You can read more about Ursula Bruns here, as well as see pictures of her pony books. 

Read more about the pony book in Heroines on Horsebackmy survey of the world of the pony book from the 1930s onwards. You can buy a signed copy from me (I'll post them worldwide). The book's also available from the usual sources, or your local bookshop.

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 7th 2013

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Today's pony book is Judith M Berrisford's Jackie and the Missing Showjumper. The Jackie series was written over a 25 year period, and although the girls (scarcely) age, life in the 1980s was very different from 1958 when the first book of the series, Jackie Wins a Pony appeared.  This book is shows Jackie and Babs lurching into the 1980s and its world of pop stars. Being utterly pony-mad, the best pop star to Jackie and Babs is one who owns a horse. This pop star owns a show jumper, and Jackie and Babs are going to be spending their Christmas holidays looking after it. 





Judith M Berrisford is an interesting author. Judith M Berrisford was a pseudonym used by a husband and wife couple, Clifford and Mary Lewis, Berrisford being Mary's maiden name. Berrisford produced one of the longest pony series with the Jackie books, clocking in at sixteen titles, as well as over fifteen other pony stories.

You can read more about Judith M Berrisford here, as well as see pictures of her po…

Pony Book Advent Calendar: December 6th 2013

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Today's book is Eleanor Helme's White Winter, which alas I can't show pictures of because of copyright issues. It's set in the long, hard winter of 1947, when it snowed, and snowed and snowed. It was only two years after the war ended, and Britain's coal stocks were much depleted, to add to the misery.  No one in White Winter feels sorry for themselves, though, and the book's a wonderful evocation of a time when mustn't grumble was a national mantra.

Here's some film of what it was like in 1947. It doesn't get as far as Exmoor, though my part of the world, Northamptonshire, gets a look in.
BRITAIN - SNOW

Author Eleanor Helme started her writing career as a golf correspondent. She always had a fondness for Exmoor, and moved there with her sister. Eleanor continued to write children's books, bible stories and nature books, many inspired by Exmoor. White Winter is the last of her Adam series, about a family and their Exmoor pony, Adam.

You can lear…

Pony Book Advent Calendar 2013

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It'll be a post a day after today, but if you'd like to follow my pony book advent calendar, with a bit more information on the authors and the books, you can do it here. The calendar also pops up on my forum and Facebook page.
December 1st Ursula Moray-William's Golden Horse with a Silver Tail  - suitably decorative for this time of year.

December 2nd How many of us did this every single Christmas? Here's Monica Edwards' Wish for a Pony, and for Tamzin, of course, that dream came true. 


December 3rd
A classic read by an American author, Jean Slaughter Doty's Winter Pony is beautifully illustrated by Ted Lewin. If you want to read the original text, be aware that the version currently in print is intended for those who find it difficult to read. The original book is available reasonably cheaply in paperback, published by Scholastic.


December 4th I love the cover of this. It's one of those lovely wraparound ones Puffin produced in the 1950s. The book is Snow Cl…

Review: Kate Lattey - Dare to Dream

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Beg, borrow or steal an Ereader if you don't have one. This book is so far only available in electronic format, and you absolutely have to read it. This is a book that grabs you and doesn't let go.

It's the story of three sisters, Kris, Van and Marley, and their horse operation in New Zealand. The girl's mother died when Marley was born, and their father was killed in an accident three years ago, leaving them to struggle on in an attempt to keep their farm going, and their family together.



Easy is the absolute last thing it is. Kris broke her spine falling from her horse; she and middle sister Van both left school without any qualifications, and life is a constant, hard struggle. The sisters just about keep the wolf from the door by buying problem horses, schooling them, and selling them on. Just when it looks as if their ship might come in, with a pony who might win Pony of the Year, ridden by talented youngest sister, Marley, Nimble has a serious accident.

They find…

Review: Maggie Dana - Taking Chances

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If you've rather lost faith with the Timber Ridge Riders series, take heart. Maggie Dana has excelled herself with the latest episode. 

Taking Chances in the Timber Ridge Riders series is set just before Christmas, so is a good seasonal read. Heroine Kate still needs to ride in one more competition to have any chance of qualifying for the Festival of Horses competition. Unfortunately, an accident means she’s really up against it. As it’s a horse story, it does follow the convention of overcoming physical adversity successfully, but the rest of the plot is readable, funny and perceptive. Best of all, the author has moved away from the model she’s followed in all the previous books, and although arch villain Angela Dean is still present, she doesn’t sabotage Kate, or do her down. Instead, we get to see rather more of Angela’s life, after her mother sells her horse from under her and presents her with another as a fait accompli.

Besides Kate, best friend Holly is present, fizzing with…

A quick report on fly grazing and welfare

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Even if you live in the inner City, you've probably seen fly grazing, where herds of horses suddenly appear on land that they don't have permission to be on. Near where I used to live, on the Wellingborough embankment, the local council spent thousands some years ago on putting up smart post and rail fencing around its land. Little of it now survives, because it has been removed by people breaking down the fences to graze their ponies. These ponies are regularly, repetitively, complained about on welfare grounds to the local authority, and to World Horse Welfare, the RSPCA... you name it. I've complained myself. My son and I corralled a skewbald who'd got loose one evening until the police turned up to deal with it.

Last year, the Embankment horses were finally removed because of welfare concerns. I don't know what happened to those horses, and I've since moved from the area, but when I drove back that way a couple of months ago, guess what? There are horses ba…

Children and Ponies in World War II

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I've been doing a lot of research recently into the lot of the domestic rider in World War II. There is a long term point to this, as I'm writing a story about it, but all that lovely research gives me an almost endless parade of excuses for not writing the story (16k so far, in case you're wondering) because I really need to know facts for this. And there are endless things I can find out to add local colour.

I have a virtually complete run of Riding Magazine from its start in 1936 up until the early 1960s, and it is fascinating to read them from the point of view of someone who was born well after the events they describe. I have the benefit of knowing that, despite the editor's fervent hopes, war would not come to an end early in 1940, or the next year, or for some years after. I knew rationing was on the way; that finding horses fodder would be increasingly difficult; that petrol rationing would give the driving pony a boost.

What is really interesting is seeing ho…

Review: Jane Smiley - Champion Horse

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Champion Horse is the fourth in the Abby Lovitt series, set in 1960s America. Abby’s father buys horses, and sells them after Abby’s schooled them. Abby herself has changed her view of this over the series. It’s been difficult for her, falling for horses who are then sold, but she does now have her own horse.



I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series; mainly for their unhurried pace and their careful portraits of the horses Abby rides. This book I found much more of a slow burn. Abby is a remote character, an observer rather than one who instigates anything, and for the first half of this book she’s observing to such an extent she rather lost me. I longed for the book to if not catch fire, at least to do something that would encourage me to enter Abby’s world because I cared about her and what she was doing. Fortunately, half way through, things pick up.

The book opens with Abby riding her horse, Blue, in shows, and it is not going well at all. Abby takes Blue to a clinic run by an e…

Review: Sheena Wilkinson - Too Many Ponies

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Sheena Wilkinson's novels Taking Flight and Grounded are both aimed at the Young Adult market, so don't pick Too Many Ponies up thinking it's the same. Although the book features characters from the previous books, Declan and Seaneen are now grown up, married, and have two children, Aidan and Kitty. The family have a farm (Rosevale) for abused and rescued horses, which is run on a financial shoestring. Aidan's just starting secondary school, and the book's aimed at children of around that age.



Aidan's not the only one starting secondary school: his good friend Lucy, who keeps her pony at Rosevale, is starting too. The author has a canny eye for what life as an eleven year old is like: an age when the comfortable life of primary school vanishes, and you're thrust into the maelstrom of senior school and fight to stay afloat, or not. Lucy floats; Aidan doesn't. Lucy unwittingly thrusts Aidan into the path of the class bullies, who view ponies as something …

Review: Jill Hucklesby – Samphire Song

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Jill Hucklesby’s Samphire Song deals with grief and illness, and combines them with the conventional girl gets horse only she can ride plot. Heroine Jodie’s father, a pilot, died in a flying accident, leaving her, her mother, and her ten year old brother, Ed. The grief and gap left by Jodie’s father’s death is not the only thing they have to contend with: Ed has kidney disease, and has to have dialysis several times a week. Life is too much for Jodie, but she’s helped by looking after a horse called Rambo, who provides an escape for her as she tries to get through her days. Jodie’s dreams of horse owning come true when her writer mother gets a regular post on a gardening magazine, meaning Jodie will be able to have her first horse.


The fact this book is called Samphire Song does rather ruin the plot of the getting-the-horse section, as from the moment Samphire appears, you know that’s who Jodie’s going to end up with, not any other horse described in this section. Samphire of course …

Amazon, the OFT, and Price Parity

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Until very recently, sellers on Amazon weren’t allowed to sell any item they had listed on Amazon for less elsewhere.  Many booksellers have their own sites. It costs much less to sell a book from your own site as you aren’t paying Amazon either their monthly fee, or the 17.25% they take from every sale, and the cut they take of the postage. It makes good economic sense for you as a small business to encourage people to your site with costs that undercut Amazon’s, but under Amazon’s price parity policy, you couldn’t do this.
There was an outcry about this back in 2010, and a complaint was made to the OFT. One of the booksellers who complained was contacted by the OFT on 4th June 2010 via email (which I’ve seen, as I have the rest of the emails mentioned in this piece). The bookseller was asked if they’d be available to answer some questions, as the OFT gathered information on Amazon.
The interview happened. Not a lot else did, so the bookseller wrote to the OFT on 10th August 2010, …