A while back I interviewed Caroline Akrill about her books: acute observers will have spotted that there was a great gaping hole where the Silver Bridle series wasn’t. This was nothing to do with Caroline: it was all to do with the fact that I hadn’t read the books when I was thinking of what to ask, and so hoped to draw a veil over my ignorance by asking nothing. Anyway, I do still have a few bones of academic respectability about me, about which I hope my tutors would be proud, though I think they would perhaps goggle a bit to find out their former student now applied that rigour to the pony book. But I digress.
The Silver Bridle series was Caroline’s last published fiction. The story of struggling actress Grace Darling and her journey towards success, via learning to ride, was written after Flying Changes, which is the dark tale of the obsessive and manipulative, and ultimately destructive Oliver. ‘When I wrote Flying Changes.’ Caroline said, ‘Arlington had sent me off to “write what you like" for my next book. So I wrote Flying Changes, not really intending it to be a teen read pony novel. When they read it they were horrified (believe me, it was much, much darker than the version that finally appeared) and so were Granada who had bought the paperback rights after the success of the Eventing Trilogy. So, much against my better judgment, I had to take out the darkest bits and tone the rest down! I do like the darker side and started to write a vampyric novel once—I may finish it one day!’ This got me thinking, and I told Caroline about my daugher’s addiction to the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Maybe, I said, you could have a vampyric horse, and thinking about it I do rather fancy the Fanes as vampires. They’d do it with style. Caroline agreed: ‘The Fanes would make rather good vampires!’ So there’s a thought.
After this, the Silver Bridle trilogy of novels was a complete change of direction. Collins, the publishers of Armada paperbacks, commissioned Caroline to write a trilogy on horses and acting, accompanied by Peter Aykroyd’s Gymnast Gilly trilogy, and a ballet trilogy. Although Caroline didn’t have any stage experience herself: ‘I don’t think I have an inner actress, but my daughter went to stage school so it must be in the genes somewhere!’ she was able to draw on a lot of expertise. K M Peyton’s Flambards stories had been made into a television series, and she and Christine McKenna, who played the lead, Christina in the Flambards series, gave her a lot of technical background. ‘Chrissie helped with some of the technical acting bits and location work, as did Kathleen. Howard King is a lighting engineer and he took me on a tour of “television city" and gave lots of advice on filming and lighting. John Cotton, my cousin, introduced me to Howard. Anthony Stafford, another cousin (an actor) read bits for authenticity, and Sylvia Stanier, a dear friend, trained horses for film and circus work and advised on that.’ Caroline’s equine career has been very varied: she’s run a riding stable and worked with show ponies, so I wondered if she’d ever been tempted to train horses for film work. ‘I never wanted to train horses for film work—they tend to be regarded by some directors as expendable!’
Like Caroline’s other stories, the Silver Bridle stories have a classic romantic hero in Anthony, owner of the Moat Farm Stables where Grace is sent to learn to ride. These days, romance is something that it is very difficult to publish a pony book for teenagers without. How times have changed. When Josephine Pullein-Thompson wrote Pony Club Camp, in 1957, in which Noel and Henry probably—it isn’t actually definite—kiss, very chastely, right at the end of the book, her publishers, Collins, were horrified, and told Josephine to write no more of the series. ‘This liking for a series about Peter Pan characters was common in publishing at that time,’ said Josephine, ‘whereas I saw them as real children and took pleasure in knowing them as they grew up.’ It was all very different by the 1980s. Was there any difficulty with having romance in the series, I asked? ‘I was actively encouraged to get into the romance in the novels,’ Caroline said. ‘I think things have moved on since the Pullein-Thompsons, and look how Harry Potter has grown up!’
The Silver Bridle books were Caroline’s last published children’s fiction. The books were re-issued, in one volume called The Silver Bridle, by J A Allen. Caroline became their chief executive, and started a project to produce pony fiction. ‘Allen had always been about quality and we wanted to elevate the status of the pony novel, engaging the top writers, the best illustrators and with our usual high production standards,’ she said. I wondered why Caroline had picked the Silver Bridle trilogy as her contribution, rather than her other books. ‘All of my other books were still in print so The Silver Bridle was the only option for the equestrian series and I did so want to be represented! I didn’t have the time to write anything new.’
And so Grace finishes the story with what looks like a hit TV series, and her man. To me, the series doesn’t have the same feel as the Eventer’s series: it seems more finite. With the Eventer’s series, I felt that there were still plenty of places for the characters to go, and that there was lots of room for a sequel. The Silver Bridle trilogy seems complete: although I guess Grace and Anthony could maybe go on and work together, the ending as it is seems enough. Did you feel differently about the characters, I asked? Was that it for Grace, but did you feel you could go on with Elaine?
‘You are right, there is still potential with the Fanes and Elaine, so they could go on if there was a demand, I suppose. The characters are easy to write about and they developed rather easily, I’m not sure why. They seem to remind everyone of someone, and they have a sort of raffish glamour in their own inimitable way. They are incredibly self-centered and exasperating but one does become fond of them—I think of them with affection—and gratitude!’
So, despite this being an article on Grace Darling and her story, the Fanes have elbowed their way in again. And in 2017, Caroline announced that she was writing another novel. About the Fanes.
And a postscript: that novel will appear in 2022.