It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Sharon Booth to the blog this week. I ‘met’ Sharon many years ago on my old forum, and can vividly remember her worrying about wanting to write and about whether she’d be good enough. Over ten books later, I think we have the answer to that one! I can recommend her This Other Eden, which I read recently, and thoroughly enjoyed. Sharon writes the sort of books that take you out of yourself and into a world where you know you’re going to get a happy ending, though as she says, she does like to make her characters work for it. Eden does have to work for it: I did wonder if she’d have to shear a sheep, but no …
You can connect with Sharon via her website, or on Facebook or Twitter. Her latest book is Belle, Book and Christmas Candle – so there you go, a nice seasonal treat for you. Sharon, as you will probably have guessed, does have a fondness for pony books, so I’ll now shut up and let Sharon get on with telling us all about her favourite books.
I was delighted when Jane asked me to take part in the Desert Island Pony Books feature. So many to choose from! I couldn’t wait.
Then reality set in. How on earth would I choose just five from the hundreds of pony books that I’ve read and loved over the last *ahem* forty-something years?
It was far more difficult to choose than I expected but, after a great deal of angst and guilt and much hand-wringing, I have narrowed it down to these five. In no particular order then, here are my Desert Island Pony Books:
Fly-By-Night by KM Peyton
Honestly, I WAS Ruth Hollis! I could totally relate to this poor, pony-obsessed young girl who lived in a modern house and had parents with zero interest in anything pony-related. I was the girl who trudged in rain and wind for miles, on the off-chance of spending even ten minutes with a pony. I was the girl with posters of ponies on every wall of her bedroom. The girl who studied books on equitation and common equine medical ailments, even though I had no pony of my own and not a cat in hell’s chance of ever owning one. I wasn’t even able to have riding lessons, so I totally understood Ruth’s absolute desperation and her yearning.
Where Ruth differed from me was that she managed to persuade her parents that she could buy a pony and keep it in her garden and that, somehow, everything would be all right. I could never dupe my parents like that, which is probably a good thing.
The next best thing to my own pony was reading about Ruth, as she stubbornly bought her forty-pound Fly-By-Night and fought her way through a seemingly never-ending series of obstacles to keep him, and to become “accepted” in the pony world.
I loved so much about this story: I loved Fly with his obstinate nature and youthful exuberance; the blossoming, if tentative, friendship between Ruth and Peter McNair; the interesting subplot of Peter and his father; the terrible Pearl and her beautiful pony Milky Way; the lovely relationship between Ruth and her brother Ted; Ted’s fabulous pal, Ron. I loved Ruth’s determination to succeed, and I loved the fairy tale ending as Ruth and her family swapped their modern house for life in a ramshackle home with the all-important two acres of land, on the very day that she won her first rosette at the Brierly Hunter Trials. Ruth made me feel that anything was possible, even for pony-mad but pony-less girls like me. Later, I would follow her as she met Patrick Pennington and swapped ponies for a teenage tearaway. I related to that, too, but that’s another story!
Plenty of Ponies by Josephine Pullein-Thompson
If memory serves me correctly, this was the first of Josephine’s books that I ever read, and I really loved it. Why? I think it’s that gloriously chaotic large family thing. All those children and so many ponies! I liked the fact that the Esmonds weren’t angelic but were constantly squabbling, despite promising themselves and each other that they would try to improve their characters and get along. A change in the family fortunes had led to them suddenly becoming rich and having a pony each, and a large house with staff to take care of them.
Sadly, however, that had also changed them into spoilt obnoxious brats. At least, that’s the opinion of their despairing father. It’s the Christmas holidays and Mrs Esmond’s in hospital having a “minor operation”, while Mr Esmond is conveniently at work most of the time, which leaves the children to focus on restoring their tattered reputations – particularly after an excruciatingly embarrassing Boxing Day hunt. It also leaves them free to get into all sorts of scrapes – not least skating on thin ice. Literally. Poor Julian, the youngest child, falls through the ice and almost dies, and it’s a particularly harrowing scene that has stayed in my memory. I always like books that are set in winter, anyway, and when people are snowed in and there are ponies involved, I can’t resist. I think, of all the Pullein-Thompson books, Josephine’s were my favourites.
A Stable for Jill by Ruby Ferguson
No list of favourite pony books would be complete without a Jill book. I really, really struggled to choose my favourite of these books and, in the end, decided to go with the one that introduced me to the series. A Stable for Jill was a treasure discovered in the primary school library and I absolutely devoured it. I soon owned the entire collection and still have them. It’s a bit of a mix-and-match collection, granted, with a combination of Armada, Knight and Fidra editions, but I still treasure it.
A Stable for Jill introduced me to the comical, witty heroine that I grew to love. Jill is a real character. She’s sharp, hard-working, horse-mad, funny and caring. She’s also judgmental, stubborn, scathing and blinkered. In short, she’s not perfect, but that just makes her more interesting in my eyes. In this book, Jill goes to stay with her “blot” of a cousin, Cecelia, who spends an awful lot of time pressing flowers, reading about school and playing the piano, as well as writing letters to her form mistress, watching dancing displays and mocking Jill’s obsession with ponies. Aunt Primrose, Cecelia’s mother, is the absolute opposite of Jill’s mother; fussy, treating Jill like a small child, and overdoing the “protective guardian” bit, much to Jill’s annoyance.
Jill’s mother, on the other hand, is quite sensible and has faith in her daughter, even entrusting her with the princely sum of forty pounds to buy herself a second pony, a companion for Black Boy. Jill uses the money for a different purpose – she buys the beautiful Begorra and an ill-treated pony, Pedro, and puts them to work in the riding stable that she has set up with the Walters children. They live near Cecelia and need to raise money fast to ensure their father doesn’t sell their beloved pony, Ballerina.
Jill spends a lot of time thinking about things “in the silent watches of the night” and seems, in general, to have an answer for every problem that is thrown at her. It’s a fun story that demonstrates Jill’s determination when it comes to ponies, her lack of patience with those who are not pony-mad, and her good and close relationship with her mother. It also teaches Jill that she doesn’t want to run a stable when she leaves school, after all. Sadly, for the devoted readers of the series, she stuck to that promise, but we won’t go into that now…
Black Hunting Whip by Monica Edwards
Oh, it was so hard to choose my favourite Monica Edwards book! I absolutely knew that one of them must be included, but which one? I narrowed it down to two: Black Hunting Whip and Storm Ahead. In the end, I chose the first on the basis that I ever-so-slightly prefer the Punchbowl series to the Romney Marsh series – but it was a close-run thing.
Black Hunting Whip is the one where the Thornton family move to the farm, and we get to see it in its desolate state. I came to this series via Punchbowl Midnight, so it was interesting to discover how it began at the farm and to find out what had happened to the beautiful Moonstone.
There are several things that really appeal to me about this book. Firstly, obviously, there are a lot of ponies in it: Sula, Moonstone, Tarquin, Arthur, and Red Clover. Secondly, the idea of a run-down farm that gradually comes to life under the loving care of its new occupants intrigues me. Thirdly, it’s got such a lovely, cosy feel. There’s something comforting about the fire crackling away in the inglenook fireplace, and the new range cooker warming the kitchen while, outside, the roads remain blocked due to heavy snow and the children can’t even get to school. Then there’s Christmas, which is always a pleasure to read about (especially in pony books where the children get the most interesting presents, and no one seems to watch television at all).
Finally, there’s the exciting storyline of the mysterious diary and the hidden black hunting whip. Most of the book is taken up with the discovery of the cellar and the challenge of finding the whip that a young boy had hidden away decades ago. I won’t give anything else away in case anyone hasn’t read it, but let’s just say that last chapter made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and I actually got goosepimples reading it!
They Bought Her a Pony by Joanna Cannan
I came across this story when I borrowed Three Great Pony Stories from our local library. I honestly can’t remember whether I read it before or after A Pony for Jean, but it certainly made a big impression on me.
I loved the witty writing which was reminiscent of Ruby Ferguson’s Jill stories (although, a few years later I discovered Joanna Cannan came first which really shocked me!) and, again, the large chaotic family appealed to me. Like the Thorntons, the Cochranes were close, horsy children, who didn’t quite have enough ponies to go around but generally made the best of things. (Poverty in pony books is very subjective, I have found!)
They reluctantly befriend Angela Peabody, a newcomer to the area who has a father who’s a financier, lives in a huge house with lots of parkland, and owns a pony called Flash. Angela (and her parents) believe that Flash is the perfect pony, because he cost a lot of money. The Cochranes soon realise that Flash is far from perfect, and that Angela cannot ride very well.
Angela is a bit like Susan Pyke/Cousin Cecelia from the Jill books. She thinks she knows best and rather looks down on the “poor” Cochrane children with their cheap ponies. Of course, Angela has to learn the hard way that having money doesn’t make you a better rider, nor a better person, come to that. Her scorn for the Cochranes eventually develops into a grudging respect and pony book justice is served.
Now for the pony book I’d leave behind. There were several contenders for this, but I’ve chosen For Want of a Saddle by Christine Pullein-Thompson. Perhaps it’s an unfair choice because it’s weighted by what was going on in my life at the time. I was eleven and we were about to move house. I really didn’t want to leave our old home. As moving date drew nearer, I spent hours staring out of my bedroom window at the garden and praying for a miracle to stop us from going. Those last few days, I tried to lose myself in a pony book and selected For Want of a Saddle. Unfortunately, I found Mick and Janice Smallbone to be the most irritating of children and their constant whining and angst did nothing to cheer me up. They certainly seemed to look on the gloomy side and nothing ever went right for them. I didn’t much like the pony either. Maybe if I’d read it another time it wouldn’t have left me with such bad memories, but I’ve never looked at it since and it’s stuck in my mind as one I wouldn’t want to revisit.
Many thanks Sharon! For Want of a Saddle is also one I find hard to revisit, precisely because it seems to be shrouded in gloom. If reading it chimed with such a difficult time in your own life, I’m not surprised you didn’t want to read it again.
I’ll just put Sharon’s details down here again so you can seek her out:
Latest Book: Belle, Book and Christmas Candle: smarturl.it/christmascandle