Amongst other things, lockdown has encouraged us to spring clean, soul search, and re-order our lives – and for me this has included all things writing-related. Whilst I’ve been disappointingly unproductive in terms of new fiction, I have been looking through some of my old files, and am quite startled about how much I’ve written over the last 30 years. I think of myself as a fairly slow, sporadic writer. There are plenty of authors who can create a book a year, every six months, some even (gasp!) every month! Me, well, as you can see, in terms of actual quantifiable output, there’s a handful of published stories, some competition successes, three short story collections, and a how-to book. I’m not exactly taking the world by storm.
But there’s lots more tucked away in computer files, or on curly-edged A4 left over from the MA or various writing group projects over the years. And after much searching I found a fat, battered old envelope from over 20 years ago: my first attempt at a short story collection.
These are pony stories aimed at aimed at children aged around 9-12 (middlegrade in the US). They include a couple of stories published back in the day by PONY magazine, and six others which are longer and more developed. They’re pretty old-fashioned – no mobile phones or other modern tech obviously (and in some cases this would probably make the storyline incomprehensible or unbelievable to an average 10 year old in today’s world). A couple make me cringe a bit – some need a good edit, some need re-writing, some probably aren’t salvageable. But while I’m in lockdown, I figure I may as well have a look at them. In the 1980s, I was happily reading stories written in the 50s and 60s – times change, but horses and horse-mad kids remain fundamentally the same – so I’d like to see if there’s something worth saving.
Just for the record though, this does not mean I’ve given up on my current horse-stories-for-grown-ups project! That’s still in the pipeline: watch this space! 😉
Regular readers of this blog will know that, other than writing and books, my other great joy in life is horses, so it will come as no surprise that I was an avid collector of pony books as a child. I ended up with hundreds – which (being perpetually broke) I picked up mainly from our local second hand book shops. (There seemed to be several in our small town when I was a child – not charity shops, but genuine second hand book shops. Lovely places which had that glorious smell of old paper, and that dream-like, sepia quality you just can’t get anywhere else.) They were a joy for me as even my limited pocket money would stretch to pretty much as many books as I wanted. OK, I couldn’t have a pony, and though that gnawed away at me every day, but at least I could live vicariously through the pony ownership of other, imaginary kids.
And all that reading was eventually what got me into writing. So Ruby Ferguson, and Patricia Leitch, and Walter Farley, and the Pullein-Thompson sisters – I owe you guys.
A number of years ago, I decided I needed to simplify my life and slim down my stuff. The pony books I had carted from house to house had to go (well, other than a few special favourites). I got in touch with a lady called Jane Badger who had a website devoted to pony books and was building a database of info about them all. She also bought and sold books – and she bought an awful lot of mine.
I pop back to her site from time to time to look up various aspects of the pony book world, and on a recent visit, I discovered that Jane is re-publishing some of the old pony books, and she herself has penned an imagined sequel to the original Ruby Ferguson Jill books – you can download “Jill and the Lost Ponies” from her website. I have to say, she’s done a great job in keeping faithful to the tone and style of the original books. She’s now writing “Jill and the Pony Club”, so keep an eye on her Facebook page or website for more details.
She has also written a non-fiction book, “Heroines on Horseback: the Pony Book in Children’s Fiction” which I’ve bought ready to read while we’re on holiday – I’m very much looking forward to a trip down memory lane!
Kim Slater, fellow MA student, and now successful debut novelist has had an amazing bit of news this week. Her book, Smart, has been nominated for the Carnegie award – the medal presented for an outstanding book for children and young people. There are 91 titles on the long list (to view them all, visit: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/pressdesk/press.php?release=pres_2015_nom_announce_carnegie.html), each of which must have been nominated by a member of CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and judged against a specific list of criteria (given on the website).
Notwithstanding Smart is a cracking read (for adults too), there’s something rather special about seeing a story which you saw from the initial idea stage blossoming into a fully fledged novel. Those of us in David Belbin’s Children’s & Young Adult Fiction Class will remember Smart when it was originally a 3,000 word piece. It’s a tribute to Kim’s hard work that it’s grown into such a success.