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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 the author 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 nine, 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 probablyK 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.
Links and sources
K M Peyton has her own website.
Fidra Books: Fly-by-Night and The Team have an introduction by K M Peyton
Dictionary of Literary Biography
Linda Newbery interviews K M Peyton
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 Ambrus for copyright reasons.
Bibliography: pony books only
Sabre, the Horse from the Sea, (as Kathleen Herald)
Adam & Charles Black, 1948, 145pp, illus Lionel Edwards
USA edition: paperback printing
Acorn books (a division of Macmillan), 1963, cover art by Russell Hoban
The Mandrake, A Pony, (as Kathleen Herald)
Adam & Charles Black, 1949, 120pp, illus Lionel Edwards
Crab the Roan, (as Kathleen Herald)
Adam & Charles Black, 1953, 158pp, illus Peter Biegel
Flambards, Oxford University Press, 1967, 193pp, illus Victor Ambrus
Puffin pb, 1976, 1978, 1995
Oxford University Press, 1981, 1987, 2004, 2007
US printing, Philomel, 1982, cover Derek James
Fly-by-Night, Oxford University Press, 1968, 151 pp, illus by the author
OUP, pb, 1979
Sparrow, pb, 1981
In Three in one Pony stories, 1999, Red Fox
Fidra Books, pb, 2007
USA: World Publishing 1969
The Edge of the Cloud, Oxford University Press, 1969, 165 pp, illus Victor Ambrus
Puffin pb, 1977, 1978
OUP, 1987, 1998
Flambards in Summer, Oxford University Press, 1969, 188pp, illus Victor Ambrus
Puffin pb, 1977, 1978
Heinemann, New Windmill,1982
OUP 1985, 1999
Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer, Oxford University Press, 1970, 188 pp, illus by the author (US: Pennington’s Last Term)
OUP 1973, New Oxford Library, 1979
Magnet, pb, 1982
Scholastic, pb, 1994
The Beethoven Medal, Oxford University Press, 1971, 152pp, illus the author (US: If Ever I Marry)
OUP, 1974, 1979
Magnet pb, 1982
A Pattern of Roses, Oxford University Press, 1972, 123pp
Sparrow pb, 1982
Oxford, 1984, OUP, 2000
Pb Scholastic USA: as So Once Was I
Translated into Welsh: Patrwm Rhosod
Pennington’s Heir, Oxford University Press, 1973, 185 pp, illus the author
OUP, 1975, pb
The Team, Oxford University Press, 1975, 177pp, illus the author
Sparrow pb, 1982
Red Fox, pb, 1990
Fidra Books, pb, 2008
US: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976
The Right-Hand Man, Oxford University Press, 1977, illus Victor Ambrus
Magnet pb, 1983
Prove Yourself a Hero, Oxford University Press, 1977, illus the author
Penguin, pb, 1979, 1982
A Midsummer Night’s Death, Oxford University Press, 1978, 120 pp.
Puffin pb, 1981
OUP, 1983, 1999
Marion’s Angels, Oxford University Press, 1979, illus Robert Mickelwright
Methuen as Falling Angels, 1983
Flambards Divided, Oxford University Press, 1981
Puffin pb, 1982
OUP pb, 1999
Dear Fred, Bodley Head, 1981
Who, Sir? Me, Sir ? , Oxford University Press, 1983
Puffin pb, 1985
OUP, 1985, 2000 (retold by Diane Mowat)
The Last Ditch, Oxford University Press, 1984, 170 pp.
Published in the USA as Free Rein
The Sound of Distant Cheering, Bodley Head, London, 1986
Chivers Large Print, 1987
Plain Jack, Hamilton, London, 1988, 29pp.
Scholastic, pb, 1997
Darkling, Doubleday, London, 1989, 224 pp.
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, New York, 1990
Corgi, London, pb, 1991
Random House, London, pb, 2013 (identical to Corgi)
No Roses Round The Door , Methuen, London,1990, 208 pp.
Ulverscroft Large Print, 2004
Poor Badger, Doubleday, London, 1990, 80pp
Corgi Yearling, London, 1991, pb
Late to Smile, Methuen, London, 1992, 232pp
Ulverscroft Large Print, 1994
Apple Won’t Jump, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1992, 32 pp, illus the author?
The Wild Boy and Queen Moon, Doubleday, London, 1993, 222pp
Corgi, pb, 1995
The Swallow Tale, Doubleday, London, 1995, 189 pp, jacket illustration Margaret Barrett.
Corgi, pb, 1996
Swallow Summer , Doubleday, London, 1996, 191pp
Corgi, 1997, pb
Windy Webley, Corgi Children’s Books, 1997, illus Nick Price
The Pony That Went to Sea, Heinemann, 1997, 40pp, illus Anna C Leplar
Swallow the Star, Corgi, pb, 1998, 221pp
The Paradise Pony, Young Corgi, 1999, 93 pp, illus Robin Lawrie
The Scruffy Pony, Young Corgi, 1999, 95pp
Blind Beauty, Scholastic, 1999, 360pp, Cover illustration the author
Scholastic, pb 1999
US: Dutton Children’s Books 1999, photo Pete Kelley
Scholastic, pb, 2008
Pony In The Dark, Young Corgi, 2001, 107 pp
Stealaway, Macmillan Children’s Books, London, 85 pp, 2001
Macmillan Children’s Books, London, pb, 2002
Small Gains, David Fickling Books, Oxford, 2003
Definitions, 2004, pb
Greater Gains, David Fickling Books, Oxford, 2005, 325 pp.
Definitions, 2006, pb.
Minna’s Quest, Usborne, London, 2007, 185 pp.
No Turning Back, Usborne, London, 2008, 197pp
Far From HomeUsborne, London, 2009, 183pp.
Paradise House, Scholastic, London, 2011, 200 pp.
All That Glitters, Forelock Books, Sussex, 2014, 168 pp, ilus Maggie Raynor
As Kathleen Herald
Pony Magazine, October 1953, illus Harold Beards
When the Sirens Sounded
Facts, Figures and Fun, 2012, 128 pp.
Pennington, a Trilogy
(Pennington's Seventeenth Summer, The Beethoven Medal, Pennington's Heir)
Oxford University Press, 1985, cover illustration by Andrew Aloof
photo cover art from the mini series
The Puffin Book of Horse & Pony Stories
Puffin, 1993, 186 pp.
Horses, Oxford University Press, 2000, illus Michael Langham Rowe