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
This 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
Although the mythological element didn’t surface until some books in, the fantastic
was part of the Jinny series as well. 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 I 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 though 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
PATRICIA LEITCHANDTHE JINNY BOOKS
SOME MORE PAT FACTS
• Pat’s favourite bookof those she’s written is Dream of Fair Horses, the story
of Gill, her family and the beautiful grey show pony Perdita. Pat had written an
earlier pony book (Riding Course Summer) which defied the girl-gets-pony convention,
and this is another. It was never planned to end happily ever after: it is, she
thinks, the best written of her books.
• Besides writing under her own name, Pat also wrote four short books under the
name Jane Eliot, which were published in Collins’Spitfire series in the 1960s. These
really are pocket sized books, being only 5 ½ x 3 ½ inches.
• Pat is a qualified primary school teacher, and also worked as a librarian, a riding
instructor at Margaret’s Mill and a dog trainer and handler.