‘All my books were about ponies or horses, as that’s all I thought about when I was a child. I couldn’t have a pony of my own as we lived in a town and my parents couldn’t afford it. So I wrote down all my wishes and invented ponies whose life stories I followed: good owners and bad owners, like Black Beauty.’
That’s K M Peyton, author of the wonderful Flambards books, writing earlier this month in the Guardian newspaper.
Her words exactly describe me as a child. I started writing aged 5 and my stories were always wish-fulfilment dreams about ponies and living in the countryside. My favourite toy was my farm, with its painted pond and wooden buildings, and loads of plastic animals, especially horses. All my information about riding and horse-care came from other books and from the pony magazine I bought with my pocket money. I once even wrote about going hunting! All from a council house on a London estate.
Unlike KM Peyton, I didn’t end up spending my grown-up earnings on horses. I don’t live on a farm now, or keep lots of animals. Probably just as well, as I’m not good at getting up early, or going out in all weathers. The odd wild walk is fine, but not every day, come what may. I have a cat. That’s it.
But there are always animals in my books. Dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, hens, mice, canaries, magpies. I don’t write books about animals – it’s strictly a human landscape – but they always creep in. And once they’ve crept in, as in real life, they make themselves at home.
Which makes the research fun. I’ve searched the internet for pictures of Pekinese dogs that matched the one in my head to help with a book cover. I’ve been through loads of pics of vintage horse carriages – there seems to be great enthusiasm for these in the USA – to find just the right 19th century high-wheeled trap for a nervous horse to pull, and hunted for examples of child-sized pony carts. Recently I’ve trawled for dachshunds (a key character in Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection) and got an illustrator to make one even more droopy-eyed and sad-looking.
Now I’m on the look-out for dachshund-related stuff just for fun. These two – Bernard and Sausage (I’ll let you guess which is which) – are from my new book and are keeping me company at my desk. And this little doggy brooch just came with me on a school visit. A big plus: they don’t make me get up early to take them for walks in miserable winter weather!