About the author
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.
The Oxus Series
The Far Distant Oxus
Escape to Persia
Oxus in Summer
The Far Distant Oxus
Jonathan Cape, London, 1937, illus Pamela Whitlock
Macmillan, New York, 1938, illus Charles E. Pont
Collins 1978, unabridged
Collins 1960, slightly abridged
Armada Lions pb, 1971
Three children are staying at a farmhouse on Exmoor; the meet others of their own kind and are presently having all sorts of adventures, mostly on horseback, but also on a raft. They build a house, win a black pig by knocking down skittles at a fair, explore by day and by night, csatch wild ponies, float down a river (the Oxus) to the sea, get homein a borrowed pony card, light beacon fires on the hilltops and generally have the sort of holiday thateveryone would like to have if they could.
Escape to Persia
Jonathan Cape, London, 1938, illus Pamela WhitlockUSA: Macmillan, 1939, illus Charles E. Pont
About the same six children as Oxus, this one sees them “at first in London with a well-meaning aunt. The Hunterly children persuade her into a rash wager that the three of them cannot get down to Exmoor by themselves. The feat is accomplished and then their adventures really begin. This time it is spring, but the Oxus still splashes down the falls below their hut in the wood, and though Persia exists only for a fortnight, every day brings excitement.
Peran-Wisa is repaired; a canal is dug; a strange tribe of pygmies found spying and routed; and the identity of the mysterious Maurice is almost revealed. The holiday ends with a grand ceremonial banquet and the children who have made the lands of the Far Distant Oxus their special playground, pledge themselves with a blood-rite in their river.”
Oxus in Summer
Jonathan Cape, London, 1939, illus Pamela Whitlock
USA: Macmillan, New York, 1940, illus Charles E Pont
New Adventure Library, 1963
Children’s Book Club
Another summer holiday on Exmoor: “The camp at Peran-Wisa burns and has to be rebuilt. The children enter into the summer
activities at Cloud Farm. They help with hay-making and a rat hunt. They watch sheep dog trials. They join a scavenger hunt in the village, make new friends and win prizes. When Maurice manages to buy, at a local auction, a Persian dagger that they all want, and dashes off with it, there follow days of wild pursuit with much baffling scheming
on both sides. The adventure story ends with the Clevertons arriving and Maurice disappearing.”
Jonathan Cape, London, 1947
illustrated by Pamela Whitlock
“This is about four ordinary, quite nice, quite nasty children. They are cousins and know each other well, though two live in London and two in the country. They don’t catch spies, or find treasure, or camp alone, or do anything at all extraordinary. They do go to school during the term and come home in the holidays, and go to bed at night and get up in the morning.
Like everyone else they talk a lot, and often imagine impossible things when they are in the midst of possible ones….. The four cousins meet on Boxing Day when their Grandmother gives a party. In this world of crackers and balloons and Christmas trees they have to behave in the normal way with everyone else, but when they are alone they can take each other into the world which is in their minds and become there crowned kings and queens and do exactly as they like.”
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau for the picture.
Pamela Whitlock: Catsmeat Pony, illus Joan Wanklyn
Pony Club Annual, 1950
Ron and Marty have come from a town and now live on Dartmoor. Marty befriends a Dartmoor pony, whom she calls Boney, because she is, and she is always on the outside of the herd. Marty finds out the ponies are going to be rounded up and sold, and she is convinced Boney will be sold for catsmeat unless she and Ron can catch her first.
Pamela Whitlock: Phantom and Patch, illus Anne Grahame Johnstone
Collins Magazine Annual Volume 5 1952
‘a story of the golden world of the imagination’
Pamela Whitlock: The Great Desire
Pony Club Annual no. 5, 1954
Elizabeth wants a pony of her own: a foal, and she intends to try and buy one at the farm sale.
Pamela Whitlock: Rare Bridget, illus Margery Gill
Pony Club Annual 12, 1961
Jane’s ambition is to race, so she is seriously miffed to be given slow Biddy to ride.