Monthly Archives: August 2020

My Instagram Adventure

Published by:

I mentioned in my previous post that I’ve started a little Instagram project that allows me to play with my old books. This post essentially is an introduction to the content I’m putting into the Instagram series. Technically, these are supposed to help with promotion of my own book, but if I’m to work on a new platform several times a week, there has to be something in it for me–and renewing old acquaintances is as good a motivation as any.

Since this is my first try at an Instagram project, naturally, I’ve let myself start on a softer topic: ponies! yay, ponies! Below are my first two posts in that series:

Joanna’s Special Pony, by Hilda Boden, 1964 paperback edition

A friend put up a challenge on FB for us to tell about the first book we read on our own. I was stuck; I couldn’t remember. My mother used to say I learned to read “too early”, so that memory is, I suppose, lost to the fuzziness of preschool memory neurons.  But . . . I do vividly recall the first book I bought by myself, for myself, and read until it was so ragged with overreading. It was about this girl, Joanna, who was just awesome–she could tame a wild horse, she could take care of herself on a deserted island, she could stand up to bad guys. I wanted to BE that girl so very much–so much so that when I had to choose a saint’s name for my Catholic confirmation (and, yes, we did that at age 10 in those ancient times), I insisted on Joanna. My mother was dismayed–she had already picked out a name I was supposed to use–Ann. It wasn’t too far off, though, so maybe Mom just had slightly-off foresight.

Anyhow, while trying to explain the book to my friends, I found a copy for sale on ABE Books UK. It was the exact paperback edition I’d owned back then–so . . . now it’s mine. Again.  Joanna’s Special Pony is a classic “pony book”, with clever, courageous young teens up against adult malfeasance and bonded together by their love of horses and nature in general.  The characters are distinct, not cookie-cutter–even the villains of the piece have second thoughts about what they’re up to.  (Spoiler alert . . . When they connive to strand our heroine, one packs her a nice big picnic and the other insists she bring along a warm coat.) It’s set in Scotland, too, which for me is a nice bonus. (There are these little asides about “the English” that still ring true.)

I wish my mom had saved my pony books–but, then, they’re still out there to find.  You can explore this wonderful “lost” genre at https://janebadgerbooks.co.uk/ or snag the Kindle edition of Jane Badger’s comprehensive book on the topic, Heroines on Horseback at https://www.amazon.com/Heroines-Horseback-Pony-Childrens-Literature-ebook/dp/B07S2ZSKNN/.  

#formativebooks #whatimreading #mybookshelf #ponybooks #outofprintbooks #ilovebooks

Joanna Rides the Hills, by Hilda Boden, first edition, 1960

Once I found my first favorite book, it dawned on me there could be more out there. For one, my favorite book had a sequel . . . I actually found Book 2 while searching for Book 1. In the sequel, Joanna and her friends grow closer and become better friends. And they do a bunch of riding around on ponies.

It’s difficult to explain why finding the sequel to a kids’ book that I liked when I was 8, 9, and 10 got me so excited. Back when I was collecting pony books (in between the boarding-school books, the mystery books, and the cowboy books–no, cowboy books are not the same as pony books), I never managed to get my hands on the continuation of my absolute favorite book, to spend just a few more hours with the girl who was my childhood idol. Someday, I was sure, I’d find and rescue a wild pony and it would be my best friend and we would have people friends too, and we’d ride the wild hills all the time. Or at least until time for supper.

According to Jane Badger Books (The Source for all things pony-book, e.g., https://janebadgerbooks.co.uk/product/joanna-rides-the-hills/), this particular book is actually kind of rare. Some crazy has a “new” copy up on Amazon for nearly $1,000. Yeah, right, it’s “new”.  I hesitated only long enough to be sure my copy of Joanna’s Special Pony was paid for on ABE Books UK, before clicking back to the Other Bookseller for a properly-priced, accurately described copy of sequel. Other Bookseller actually happened to be on this side of the pond, so I received the two books in reverse order–but both of them in time for my birthday!  So, Quarantine Birthday came with lovely memories of wishing so very hard for my very own pony, while looking out the back door at . . . our family’s current pony-pet, Echo, as he whinnied for an extra round of supper.

Though I’ll try to keep the blog and the Instagram distinct, please don’t imagine it’s only pony books. The theme is “formative books,” which offers a broad landscape to roam. I’ve just done a post on a recent fantasy landmark work by Leslie Ann Moore, Griffin’s Daughter, which does have horses in it, but they are by no means the focus of the story. And I’m currently re-reading Leonard Wibberly’s The Road From Toomi, which, though two characters do make a long trek on horseback, primarily offers insights on racism and colonialism that survive the over fifty years since its publication. The next one on my list, Missing Man, by Katherine MacLean, has no horses whatsoever, so the streak will break there.

Rediscovering Old Books

Published by:

I spent my elementary-school years soaking up the very best in English literature.

For a preteen horse-mad bookworm that meant: Enid Blyton, Hilda Boden, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, her sister Christine Pullein-Thompson, and Many More. I didn’t notice at the time, but now it’s obvious:  all my early writing models were women. My very first book purchase was a pony book by Hilda Boden, who took up writing stories to help support her family. I kept that book–Joanna’s Special Pony–for years, and reread it many times, imagining the windswept Scottish coast populated with wild (but tameable) ponies and admiring the resourceful, determined heroine of the tale.

I’d nearly forgotten Lilian Buchanan’s illustrations–until I saw them again, and recognized them.

From that day onward, every smidge of my allowance (well, sparing a few pennies for sweets) went for the next installment of the Famous Five or Malory Towers or any number of pony books.

All of those books stayed behind in Yorkshire when my mother had to pack us all up for the move to the States. My British childhood was over, and military moving allowances are based on weight, so . . . my pony books, boarding-school novels, and mysteries went to the thrift store for some other child to collect.

“I thought you were done with baby dolls, you still have the Barbies,” my mother argued.

“Not all of them,” I countered. “I promised that one, the littlest one, that I wouldn’t ever ever give her away.”

But it was too late. 

I think maybe I broke my mom’s heart a little bit. Well, a little bit more. Motherhood involves a lot of heartache. Well, Baby Doll may have been lost to me forever, but I’m sure she had at least one more little girl make her similar promises.

The only good thing about the move was that all my friends had to study up for the Eleven-Plus, which would determine whether they’d go to a nice boarding/academic secondary school (like Malory Towers), get stuck in a dead-end “modern school” with no college track, or take up a trade and actually be able to earn a living. Me, I got to spend a couple of weeks coasting through the end of what Americans called “fifth grade” sitting in a classroom with children who–it seemed to me–hardly read at all, before being unleashed to a long, long American summer vacation. Luckily, my grandparents’ house was packed with books–mostly Reader’s Digest collections, but also a classic edition of One Thousand and One Nights and my dad’s stash of science fiction magazines.

Over the years, those old-style children’s books have been supplanted in the market by more literary-style books for children, others with science-fiction or fantasy roots, and thankfully many with more diverse casts of characters. A few have received a dusting-off over the years . . . there’s even a 2020 BBC-TV adaptation of Malory Towers that puts the storyline in a historical-fiction context while also envisioning a more diverse enrollment and faculty at the school.

Now, it’s my turn to have a house packed with books, and it’s an eclectic collection–not even taking into account all the books that aren’t technically mine, but my husband’s.  No matter–I put them on the shelf and dust them (occasionally), so they’re mine in that sense. I’ve launched a little Instagram project to share a few of those books, on a regular basis–mostly the out-of-print ones, the ones I inherited from my Dad (a fellow SF fan), and ones that may be old but that still speak to current issues.  The hard part is figuring out how to photograph them–top bookish instagrammers have such lovely still-life setups for their book posts. I’ll do my best to at least not to give people eyestrain.

None of that means I’ve stopped gathering-in books. Just in time for my birthday, my very first Quarantine Birthday, I retrieved a book long-lost in the move from England, my first book purchase, my favorite book from that day until the day it vanished to the thrift store with my dolls. 

The dolls are gone, my mother long forgiven, but the books never have left my mind. Just this month, I made a birthday present for myself of a copy of Joanna’s Special Pony, dusted off from some other collector’s shelf–one in better condition than the one I left behind, PLUS a copy of the sequel. That was a book I never got my hands on, because it was only in hardcover and my allowance was two shillings sixpence, exactly the price of a paperback (my, what a coincidence–almost as if my parents wanted me to buy books).

If you like Instagram, the series is here. I’ll try to remember to link to those postings from the Facebook page as well.

Listening to Books

Published by:

It’s the new old thing, isn’t it?

Listening to stories.

We played books on tape (remember tapes?) for our children during long car rides. Our oldest taught himself to read at preschool by playing tapes and reading through the accompanying books.

And now it’s become of the main ways people get their stories–in audio books, so they can listen in the car, while exercising, or while ignoring the rest of the people trapped in their house during a pandemic.

I’ve now had the experience of helping to create a new audiobook–the audio edition of All That Was Asked has just come out on Audible (accessible via Amazon, too, of course). If you’re not already on Audible, there’s a free trial offer running that you can take advantage of (and keep the books to collect during your trial, even if you cancel).

We should have the iTunes version out Any Day Now.

I suppose this is a tiny bit like being a playwright and seeing your script being acted out on stage for the first time. First, you squeal, “eeeeeeeee, someone is reading my words!” and then you whine, “heyyyy, that’s not how you say ‘Ansegwe’!”

We have a wonderful reader, Trevor Wilson, who was amazingly patient with all my OCD-level requests for adjustments…especially with all those alien names to learn in this book. I know–they’re made-up names, right, so should it matter? Well, yes, since they all go together to help create a sound-image of an alien culture. I’m so happy Trevor made time to put his mark on this book. He had some really fun, creative takes on ways to make individual characters jump out of the text.

Trevor isn’t just a narrator, he’s a voice actor. That makes a world of difference. To create, in sound, the character of Ansegwe, he came up with three distinct voices–Ansegwe the memoirist, looking back on his youthful escapades, the younger Ansegwe, in dialogue, and the thoughts in young Ansegwe’s head. Each character, major and minor, has their own distinctive voice. He even gave two brothers–who only drop by in a few scenes–a unique, shared accent that still cracks me up, after, what? fifteen listens?

So if you like your books in sound format, mine is there for you, now. Enjoy!

© 2012-2020 Vanessa MacLaren-Wray All Rights Reserved