Katharine Hull, born London, 18 July 1921, died November 1977
Pamela Whitlock, born Penang, Malaysia, 21 Mar 1920, died 3 June 1982
Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock went to St Mary’s Convent in Ascot, where they wrote their first book, at the ages of 14 and 15. Although at the same school, they were in different boarding houses, and did not meet properly until they were caught out in a rainstorm. Their first book – The Far-Distant Oxus – was written in a strange turn and turn about fashion. Each wrote a chapter in turn until they finished, when they revised each other’s chapters. Despite this unusual genesis, the book does not read at all as if it was cobbled together: Arthur Ransome, to whom the girls sent the book when they had finished it, took it to his own publishers, Jonathan Cape, saying: 'I’ve got this year’s best children’s book under my arm.' The Far-Distant Oxus is a holiday story with ponies, camping and adventure, set on Exmoor, and is full of adventure, but also realistic. The books have generally met with critical acclaim, with their 'almost paradisical impression of deeply shared pleasure' despite their overcoming of difficulties owing more to wish fulfilment than to realism. Valerie Brinkley-Willsher said: ' ... [It has] a direct clear style but ... The characterisation is less detailed and deep than it might be, and the children have a tendency to make speeches rather than to talk.'
The books are not classic pony books – indeed the ponies are vehicles in all senses of the word. This is not true of the short stories Pamela Whitlock wrote, which are very well worth seeking out. They are fine, subtle pieces of work.
Finding the books
No edition is now in print. None of the books are easy or cheap to find in hardback: the Armada paperback can be picked up reasonably cheaply. The short stories can be tricky to find. Prices vary wildly for Pony Club Annuals.
20th Century Children’s Writers, ed Tracy Chevalier,1989, 3rd edn.
Where Texts and Children Meet, Bearne & Watson
Thanks to David Addis for all his help.