No Books Please, We’re British…

Last week I clicked on one of those Yahoo news headlines, usually I ignore them but this one caught my eye. 10 things you need never buy again it trumpeted; well, with the economy the way it is I figured it might be good to see what I could trim from my shopping list. Imagine my consternation when top of the things no longer needed were…books. Admittedly the young lady who wrote the piece was being contentious, she said as much; after all no reaction to a piece is worse than negative reaction but it was still a worrying sign of the times to see that someone who makes their living from writing was calling for an end to printed books. I won’t go into the excellent responses she received roundly condemning her opinion and pointing out the inevitable pitfalls of kindles etc. I think there is room for both but I also think it would be a very sad day if we were foolish enough to entrust all future literature and knowledge to an all too fallible technology.

And so back to the books: I’ve been reliving some of my teenage years by looking at the Monica Dickens books based around Follyfoot. Like many girls I adored horses and back in those dark days there were many ‘horsey’ books available, mostly written by well brought up upper middle class young ladies such as the Pullien-Thompson sisters and Ruby Ferguson who wrote the Jill books. The latter did at least contain some humour but they were still frightfully proper and always centred on girls whose Daddy either went to war and never came home or was something in the foreign office. Mummy, needless to say, did not work and generally opposed horses because of their dreadful smell and the hoydenish ‘gels’ associated with them. Because they were about horses I read them anyway but when I found Monica Dickens and K M Peyton I found an immediate rapport with two writers who had actually experienced or at least seen the darker side of life. Cobbler’s Dream, the first of the ‘Follyfoot’ books introduced young people who had been abandoned and neglected, in some cases abused; it also tackled the issues of animal cruelty and made poignant insights to the reasons why people inflict such suffering on other creatures. Sometimes the stories had happy endings but, more importantly, sometimes they did not. The characters did not always have a magical connection with the animals they encountered; in fact sometimes their actions were downright stupid. But they were human and very, very real.

K M Peyton’s Fly-By-Night is also a stunning example of the reality of a young girl desperately wanting her own pony yet discovering that the dream is very different to the reality. There are no rainbows and lollipops in these books but there are gripping thoughtful storylines. Yes, they are dated by today’s standard but one could say that of any book. Flambards still remains a dear favourite and oddly the television adaptations of it and the Follyfoot books are still fondly remembered and even watched by me. Even the changes of character were willingly accepted; was this because there were no alternatives and kids of my generation were simply grateful to be able to see these wonderful stories on television? Or was it that writers and screenplays were more sympathetic to the source material back then because the writer’s work was considered valuable? Films and television adaptations which discard all resemblance to the original books are a pet loathing strong enough to send me scurrying for my soapbox, but I’ll save that for another blog.

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