Pony books are often dismissed as genre fiction, but K M Peyton is proof that writing within a genre doesn’t stop you from being good. When I re-read her Fly-by-Night and The Team, I constantly have those magical moments when you read something and think “Yes - that is exactly how that is.” K M Peyton knew Antonia Forest, and their brilliance with characterisation is in some ways similar. Her books are consistently good. When I first read Blind Beauty, the dog went unwalked, and children had to forage for themselves.
She has been writing since she was 9, with her first book, Sabre, the Horse from the Sea, being published when she was 15 under her maiden name, Kathleen Herald. Kathleen Peyton rode occasionally as a child, and had no pony of her own. What she did have was a vast stable of imaginary horses, carefully listed in notebooks and a capacity to absorb the technical horse books she read and turn them into completely believable literature. Her training though was in painting, at Kingston School of Art and then Manchester Art School, where she met her husband, Mike, an ex prisoner-of-war. They married when she was 21, and as they both loved sailing, that is what her first books as K M Peyton were about. (I, who am anti-boat and dreadfully sea-sick, find them absolutely enthralling.)
She moved from writing about boats to horses, and the resulting Flambards series, set around the First World War, brought her a Carnegie Medal for the second book, The Edge of the Cloud. Flambards became a television series starring Christine McKenna, and is probably
K M Peyton’s best known series.
When the Peytons acquired their first pony, Cracker, for their daughter Hilary, he was unbroken. The traumas of breaking Cracker in and being a Pony Club parent found their way into Fly-by-Night and many of her subsequent books. The Maybridge series, of which Fly-by-Night is the first, is her longest series, and sees its characters into adulthood. Not all of the titles are pony books (Ruth, by the time she meets Patrick Pennington, the pianist hero of Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer, has put ponies firmly behind her) but Peter and Jonathan continue their equine careers, more or less willingly.
After the success of Flambards, Kathleen acquired an agent, Michael Motley. “... I didn’t need an agent, but he... asked me out to lunch, not to talk about writing, but about racing. Of course I fell for this, which resulted in my acquiring both an agent and a race-horse.” Wise Words, the race-horse, never won, but from her involvement with racing sprang some of her best books.
She is still writing, and has published a book a year for the last sixty years.
Finding the books
Most of K M Peyton’s books are easy to find, though her books written under her maiden name, Kathleen Herald, are harder, Crab the Roan being very difficult indeed, possibly the hardest. First editions of the Flambards series tend to be pricey (though they have come down in recent years). The Last Ditch (Free Rein) and Marion’s Angels can be tricky, but are not impossible.
Thank you to Dawn Harrison, Sue Howes, Susan Bourgeau, Jacquie Aucott, Catherine Lloydall, Julie Main, Jane and Kate for all their help with photos and bibliographical information. There are no photographs of covers by Lionel Edwards or Victor Ambrusfor copyright reasons.