About the author
Veronica Westlake is the author of one of my favourite pony books: The Ten-Pound Pony. I spent years trying to find this book: fruitlessly, as I couldn’t remember the title, and had also managed to get some of the details mixed up with J M Berrisford’s The Ponies Next Door. At last a friend and collector from America pointed me in the right direction, and I managed to find a copy. It was very well worth it. Some of the books I adored as a child I don’t find as thrilling now, but this one is every bit as good. It is the story of a family who move out of London, and manage to buy and keep a pony through their own very strenuous efforts. To me, it still, rings true. The character’s squabbles are wince-makingly realistic, and the sheer slog they have to go through to get their pony much more likely than the girl-gets-pony wish fulfillment of other stories. There is a fairytale ending, I will admit, but I love it. Every time I read it, it makes me cry. Every time.
Her The Mug’s Game is also excellent: it is the story of a miserable London girl farmed out to a bohemian family in the country. The pony element is not all-encompassing by any means, but it is a lovely family story. Veronica Westlake was keen on observing family relationships; the Stacey family in The Mug’s Game gave her plenty to go on, as do the Stricklands in The Unwilling Adventurers. All her books have flashes of humour, which coupled with their wry observation of family relationships, makes them all well worth reading. If you can find them.
Finding the books
The Ten Pound Pony has become more expensive, but is reasonably easy to find, particularly in the reprint edition. The Unwilling Adventurers is expensive; The Intruders very expensive, and The Mug’s Game seems very difficult to find at the moment (though this may be a temporary blip!)
Sources and links
Dustjacket of The Mug’s Game
The British Library
The Ten Pound Pony
Blackie, 1953, illus Peter Biegel
Blackie, London, 1967, cover Harry Green, 208 pp.
Jessica, Ann, Martin and their mother move out of London into the New Forest. They are determined to have a pony of their own, and in the end, through an enormous amount of hard work, they manage to save up the ten pounds to buy Gipsy. They teach themselves to ride her, but then involve themselves in a death-or-glory effort to save a nearby Colonel’s house from burglary; thereby revealing some very old family secrets.
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954, illus Sheila Rose
SchoolboyJohn Spencer inherits a house. His solicitor is hideously disparaging about the house. It is in a parlous state, there is no money to maintain it, and it just happens that he knows someone prepared to take on such a white elephant. John, however, decides he’s going to live there himself, and off he sets. He decides to take some friends down there with him. One of them is extremely keen on hunting, and brings his horses down with him. Once they’re at the house odd things start to happen. Is the house haunted, as the solicitor warned them? John and Tod are determined souls, and not easily spooked, fortunately.
The Unwilling Adventurers
Blackie & Son, London, 1955, illus Robert Hodgson. 205 pp.
Not really a pony story: it’s a holiday adventure (involving ponies at one point) in which Mr Strickland decides to teach his horrible children several much needed lessons about Life. The children’s mother has died, and Mr Strickland, by his own admission, has not done the best job of bringing them up. When he inherits a large sum of money, the children are all determined in their various ways to achieve their selfish dreams. In a last ditch effort to improve their characters, Mr Strickland makes the whole lot of them go on a (quite literal) journey and make their own way.
The Mug’s Game
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956, illus Sheila Rose
Margaret Huggins hates her life in London, with her Aunt Norma. Margaret lives in a terrible state of worry-induced awkwardness, which Aunt Norma, although she means well, only encourages. When she is sent to stay as a paying guest with a large bohemian family who live on a chicken farm on the Downs, Margaret has a lot to learn. Her immersal into chaotic family life, and in particular the society of the twins Jo and Louisa, teaches her a lot; not least about ponies.