Diana Pullein-Thompson (1925–2015) was one of the Pullein-Thompson sisters, twin to Christine, and younger sister to Josephine. Like her sisters, she was best known for her pony books.
Her first solo pony book was I Wanted a Pony (1946). This story about an awkward but independent girl, Augusta, her dreadful cousins, and her struggle to buy a pony, is a fine depiction of a girl succeeding despite the odds. Although this is a book often mentioned when people talk about their favourite DPT story, it was not one of Diana’s favourites; she regarded it as derivative. Her own favourites were Cassidy in Danger and The Hermit’s Horse (1974). Both these are the stories of outsiders; The Hermit’s Horse, in particular, is not the easiest of reads. It was not one of her more popular books, dealing as it did with mental breakdown, but it is, I think, one of her best.
I Wanted a Pony is certainly one of my favourites. I love the horrible cousins, and the way Augusta stands up to their bullying ways. I like her feistiness and independence, and the way she solves the problems which beset her. I do find her vagueness irritating, but this is a tad unfair bearing in mind I often irritate my nearest and dearest by being away with the fairies.
Diana tended not to follow the pony book stereotype (which is perhaps another reason why she disliked I Wanted a Pony so much: it is the classic girl-gets-pony and then succeeds-at-gymkhana format). In many pony books, to have money is to mark yourself out as someone who will probably be selfish at best, and at worst cruel and uncaring. In Three Ponies and Shannan (1947), it is the wealthy Christina who is the heroine: she realises what advantages she has, and it is Charlie Dewhurst, the poor daughter of the vicar, who is the villain of the piece. She is nasty, spiteful and small minded; torments Christina and does her best to make her life unpleasant. Christina never does overcome Charlie’s dislike of her, but she reaches an understanding with the other members of the Pony Club, and becomes great friends with Augusta of I Wanted a Pony. The series, initially three books, was followed by a fourth, Only a Pony. It reads rather awkwardly with the others, as it was written in 1980, and is drastically different in linguistic style, as well as in background details to the other three.
Like her twin, Christine, Diana changed the backgrounds of her characters to reflect changing social times. Her last heroine in The Long Ride Home (1996) comes from a difficult background, and the heroine of Cassidy in Danger (1979) comes from a single parent family, and cannot read. Humans are not the only ones to suffer: the grey pony Seaspray dies of tetanus in A Pony to School, and Annette’s pony in Riding with the Lyntons (1956) is killed by a car. Diana’s attitude was that these things happened, and books should reflect real life. This has not always gone down well with her fans. One who read The Hermit’s Horse wrote to her wondering why she had written a book which had upset the reader so much. There are enough pony books which skim the surface of life and provide comforting puddings of reads: better to have something like Diana’s, I think, with which to leaven what can be a genre which avoids the nastier side of life.
Augusta and Christina
I Wanted a Pony
A Pony to School
Three Ponies and Shannan
Only a Pony
The Pony Seekers
A Foal for Candy
A Pony Found
Sandy & Fergus
Ponies in Peril
Ponies in the Valley
Ponies on the Trail
Finding the books
The early books as firsts with dustjackets are difficult to find, and are now becoming expensive. The paperback reprints are generally very easy to find.
Sources and links
Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 22 October 2015, retrieved 27 October 2015
Personal correspondence and interview with Diana Pullein-Thompson
Josephine, Christine and Diana Pullein-Thompson: Fair Girls and Grey Horses, Allison & Busby
Liz Jones, Daily Mail columnist, meets the Pullein-Thompsons
The Pullein-Thompson Archive – a blog which reviews the sisters’ stories