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Showing posts from September, 2014

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

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



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

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

More on Monica Edwards
E…

PBOTD 29th September: Monica Edwards - Operation Seabird

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


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

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

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

PBOTD 28th September: Monica Edwards - The Nightbird

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

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


The Nightbird (1955) is one of the most boat-filled of Monica Edwards' books. It's a sort of re-write of The White Riders, when t…

PBOTD 27th September: Monica Edwards - No Entry

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


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

PBOTD 26th September: Monica Edwards - Storm Ahead

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

Storm Ahead is very well worth reading. It's one of my favourite Edwards titles, which has an immediacy and poignancy even beyond her usual standards. The story was based on Monica's own experiences of the Rye lifeboat disaster of 15th November 1929. Into the teeth of a gale blowing at 80 mph, the lifeboat the Mary Stanford was launched to rescue the crew of the Alice of Riga. The crew were picked up…

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

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


Hidden in a Dream is centred on Meryon, who hits his head in an accident (dramatically portrayed on the first two editions, but lost to horse crashing through the waves in the last two editions. I wonder why). After the accident, Meryon can remember nothing about it, but this is significant.
Tamzin, Rissa, Roger and Meryon are all sleeping out in the Martello Tower that summer, but Meryon is having terrible dreams, and nobody sleeps. It eventually becomes apparent that locked in Meryon's memory is the solution to the mystery of the missing stranger. 



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The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Ope…

PBOTD 24th September: Monica Edwards - Cargo of Horses

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



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

PBOTD 23rd December: Monica Edwards - The Wild One

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


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

PBOTD 22nd September: Monica Edwards - The Midnight Horse

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


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

Sadly it didn't. Even more sadly, Tamzin's amazing ability disappear…

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

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


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


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

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PBOTD 20th September: Monica Edwards - The Outsider

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


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


This book always strikes me as a little odd: I think because the invasion of the Romney Marsh people is so total. I do wonder why it happened, and think that it's so the strength of the relationship between Tamzin and Meryon can be emphasised, because it becomes obvious that however hard Andrea tries, she's not going to come between them. This relationship was something Rissa had already found diffic…

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

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


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



As it stands, Frenchman's Secret is a good read. What is odd about it is how it relates to the books which followed it. After sharing such a dram…

PBOTD 18th September: Monica Edwards - Punchbowl Harvest

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

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

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

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


Mo…

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

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


Monica Edwards only uses this connection with the past twice, in Black Hunting Whip, and here in Spirit of Punchbowl Farm. Yew trees are famed for their age, but also for their highly toxic nature. The only part of them that isn't poisonous is the berries. Animals will eat the fallen leaves, and they're fatal. S…

PBOTD 16th September: Monica Edwards - Punchbowl Midnight

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



I'm going to cover her Punchbowl Farm series first of all, purely because I loved them most. My family, one generation back, were farmers, and when I was small the family farms were all there, and I knew them all. They were mostly arable, with the exception of the pig unit. I loved the pigs. Pigs are sadly rather thin on the ground in the Punchbowl series, but there are plenty of cows, and not the everyday black and white Friesians which were the only cows I knew, but the exotic Jerseys, with their vast dark eyes.
The Jersey seems to be a skittish breed: certainly the ones the Thornton family of Punchbowl farm have, at any rate. Oldest boy Dion is determined to be a farmer, an…

PBOTD 15th September: Patricia Leitch - Running Wild

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


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


In Running Wild, something Jinny created, the mural of the golden horses in the Wilton Collection, will be destroyed when a new motorway is carved t…

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

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Warning - contains spoilers

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


Patricia Leitch often introduces other characters whose lives act as a contrast with Jinny's. In Chestnut Gold, Jinny is given the task of looking after a new gi…

PBOTD 13th September: Patricia Leitch - Chestnut Gold

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

It's standard for us now to think that sharing these things with the everyday world, with everyone is good, but that's not Patricia Leitch's view, at least not as far as the cave goes. The film maker's motives for wanting to reveal it to the world are entirely selfish, and will ruin its solitary beauty. Once it becomes a tourist attraction, and is no longer only seen by those who recognise and salute its power, it will be diminished.
In the end, the Walker destroys the cave, but Jinny is the conduit through which the golden horses live. She recreates the mural at the Wilton Collection, where it can be shared with the world.
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The Jinny Seri…

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

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



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

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

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

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Horse in a Million moves away from the mystical themes of Night of the Red Horse, and concentrates on a theme Patricia Leitch was particularly keen on - not judging people. The book opens with Miss Tuke enlisting Jinny and her friend Sue to bring the Highlands in off the mountain and close to her stables, because the tinkers have arrived and Miss Tuke is convinced they'll steal the horses. 
What I like about Patricia Leitch is that she doesn't write in black and white. The tinkers are not all black, but they're not all white either. They are just as suspicious of people who live a normal lifestyle as they are of them. We mostly see Tam, who is obviously terrified of his father Jake. Jake rules Tam and their two lurchers with vicious determination. As if often the way with Patricia Leitch, it's the animals, in this case one of the lurchers, who provide a means of people building bridges between themselves. One of the lurchers is hit by a truck, and Jinny and Sue help Ta…

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

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



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






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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summe…