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Joyce Stranger, who died in 2007, wrote over 70 books. She was brought up in an area she described as on the 'borderline between town and country', rich in wildlife, and with 'so many birds it was impossible to sleep through the dawn chorus.' Holidays were spent in the British countryside, where she watched wildlife. Besides being fascinated by the natural world, she also wanted to write, and eventually succeeded in publishing an article (on animals) in 1949. Spending all her spare time with farmers and horse and dog breeders, she continued to learn about animal behaviour, and soon realised that many books on animals were simply wrong, being written by authors who did not know enough. She said: 'Often dogs and ponies in children’s books are given the oddest motivations, the reasons for their actions being nothing like those quoted.'
Her first book, The Running Foxes, was a great success, and was followed by her first horse title, Breed of Giants. This was based on Jim Gould’s Lymm Shires, in Cheshire. He 'gave me his cuttings book to examine, and everything that happened in that book happened over the years to his horses. I met them; wonderful black animals, that had triumphed over and over again in the shows.'
Out of the many animal books that followed, eight were horse stories aimed at the adult market, plus a pair of books about a vet in which horses figure. She also wrote two children’s pony books, and Stranger than Fiction, a fictionalised account of the life of Elspeth Bryce Smith, a Welsh girl paralysed by polio, who eventually recovered enough to ride (disguised as a man) as a jockey. Many of Stranger’s stories feature heroes and heroines like Bryce Smith, who triumph over disaster, and this she thought was after her own childhood experience in World War II, when the family home was destroyed by a landmine in 1942. 'The theme of them all has probably come from my father ... So what, we’re alive. It’s the future that counts. We can’t change the past.'
In her later years, Joyce worked as a dog behaviourist, after she worked with her own dog, Chita. 'She completely changed my direction, as she was so wild ... A headache on four legs. I had to learn to change her, and in doing so changed myself.' Her training was successful. Chita became the hundredth Pets as Therapy dog.
Stranger knew her books were portraying a vanishing way of life, and hoped they would be 'a small history of the men and women who worked so hard with so little financial reward.'
Finding the books
Joyce Stranger’s books were (and are) very popular, and so most titles were reprinted many times. This means the majority of the horse books are easy to find as hardbacks, and very easy to find as paperbacks. The exceptions are the children’s book The Wild Ponies, which is very hard to find indeed, and The Stallion, which can be expensive.
PADS obit on Joyce Stranger
Joyce Stranger’s website: now only available via cache
Many thanks to Konstanze Allsopp, Susan Bourgeau, Dawn Harrison, Sue Howes, Fiona Williiams, Maggie Galbraith and Debbie Patrick for the pictures, and to Debbie for the summaries.