One of the questions I get asked quite often as a publisher of classic pony books is, ‘Why aren’t the Jill books available?’
The last time the Jill books were in print was when Fidra managed to license the rights in the 2010s, and printed the first few of the series. And there it stopped, as they weren’t able to license the remaining titles.
Ruby Ferguson actually sold the rights of the whole series to her publishers, Hodder, in the 1960s. This is, and was, quite unusual, but I believe it was done for tax reasons as Ruby and her husband moved to Jersey.
I have been trying for years to find out if Hodder still owned the copyrights, and it has taken until now to do so. I had got absolutely nowhere until I’d started my own publishing business, and was in fairly regular contact with people in the industry to clear copyrights and license permissions. It occurred to me that one of them might well be worth asking about the Jill rights, as their company was part of the same group as Hodder.
I asked, expecting to get the usual neutral answer, but no, the request was passed on, and I had a response. It then took Hachette (who are the parent group) a lot of searching to check that they did indeed have the copyrights. All credit to them, because this was all going on during lockdown when many publishing people were working from home, but they did manage to track down the information.
So far, so good, and the request was then passed to the editing team.
They weren’t keen to license the books as they felt they wouldn’t sit well as part of what they were now responsible for.
That was a bit of a blow, but then I thought well, I have edited over 40 texts now, and I’m very used to doing the updating that is necessary to remove things you really can’t say now. In fact, authors’ estates often ask me specifically to do this. I am more than prepared to do any editing that is required for the Jill texts (and for those who are saying what? What could there possibly be? there are a couple of words which are really going to have to change). If Hachette don’t want them as part of their lists, then perhaps, I thought, they’d be prepared to sell them.
I really did think nothing ventured, nothing gained. They can only say ‘no’, I thought, and at least then we’ll have an answer.
But they said ‘yes’.
It’s taken a while to iron everything out, but the contracts have been signed, and I’ve now bought the copyrights and am the official owner of the Jill books.
The illustrations are proving rather more complicated, but I’m hoping to get there in the end.
And so the Jill books will start to be available again from 2022. They’ll all be available as eBooks, in the usual Jane Badger Books format. They’ll be available on Amazon and Kobo.
They will also be available as paperbacks, with illustrations in some form. Hardbacks are another thing we’re considering.
Huge thanks to Hachette UK for agreeing to sell the copyrights so they can live again. It was a massive amount of work for them to track down all the information they needed, and I am hugely grateful.
And I still can’t quite believe it. It really does feel like one of those golden dreams Jill had, imagining herself on some wonderful show jumper at the biggest and best shows. I first read these books when I was about eight or nine, and I’ve loved them ever since. They were part of my dreams. Jill was sparky, independent, and she competed with everyone else on her own terms – on equal terms. And she was funny. And imperfect. And human. To (thereabouts) quote Jill, in Jill’s Gymkhana:
… quite honestly if anyone had told me three years ago that anything so terrific as buying the Jill books would ever be associated with my name I should have thought them completely mad. Yet such was to be my destiny.