Michael Hardcastle (born 1933) is a very prolific children’s author, mostly writing books on sporting subjects. He went to Almondbury Grammar School in Huddersfield, where he wasn’t allowed to play sport. The school considered him 'fragile' because of his record of ill health: he had had scarlet fever and rheumatic fever, so instead of being allowed on the sports field, was sent to the library and told to read what he liked. He wanted to read stories about sport as he was sitting in the library being deprived of it, but although there were plenty of comics which had sporting stories, there were no novels. He did however, devour the Biggles books of W E Johns, and later Dickens, neither of whom are noted for their sporting content, but who do both tell rattling good tales.
A good tale is what Michael Hardcastle set out to deliver: he wanted to write the kind of book he would have liked as a child, and was the first author to write books on more mainline sports (riding of course had them in plenty) with his Soccer is Also a Game, which came out in 1966. Since then he has written over 140 titles on sporting subjects, though he does think he has perhaps written too many football books ...
In his early career as a journalist for the Huddersfield Daily Examiner he learned the vital skill of being able to get his articles right first time, which is an approach he still uses with his books. He plots on the page, but there are three things he decides before he starts writing: a gripping beginning, three or four main characters and their likes and dislikes and how the book is going to end. He will generally have worked on each book for three or four months before he starts on it, jotting down ideas in a notebook he always carries with him.
His pony books are almost all about racing. Michael Hardcastle had a great enthusiasm for the sport, and when he reached the sixth form was able to do more than just follow the horses by running bets on races with a friend. In this they were aided and abetted by Tom Harper, the school caretaker, who would let them listen to races on the radio in the Book Store. I wonder if being able to watch races legitimately has meant they kept the same thrill.
In 1988, in recognition of his services to children’s literature, he was appointed MBE.
Ginny Luellen series:
The Saturday Horse
The Switch Horse
One Good Horse
Finding the books
Mine’s a Winner, a comic-type book, is still in print. The other titles are all easy and cheap to find as paperbacks. Those that were published in hardback are generally all reasonably easy to find in that format too.
Sources and links
The Old Almondburians’ Society: recorded reminiscences and photographs here. Very useful interview on his early life and influences
Faber biography, Kickback
He is currently published by Faber, and here is their page on him.
Many thanks to Hannah Fleetwood and Jane Pitman for their help with photos and blurbs.