Tag Archives: K M Peyton

Down #5 Memory Lane

Some of you may have been a little surprised that I’ve as yet not mentioned my fairy blog mother in my ‘memory’ pieces. The thing is that Meg Rosoff – for it is she – features in so many ways, from so many points in time.

I’ve recently been thinking of the holiday in Penzance in 2006, when Daughter and I got freezing cold on our way home via London to see Meg for the first time. The time when she talked about her new dogs, and then insisted on buying us something to eat and drink, first counting the money in her pocket. It was just over £6 and covered several items from the cafeteria. And then she drove us back to Euston, only partially engaging in some mild road rage in the middle of Euston Road.

And I remember the Aye Write in Glasgow in 2016, when she fed me again; some very nice Indian food, before limping back to her hotel, wearing new boots. That was just before we found out she was that year’s ALMA winner, which in turn meant that I stalked her round several parts of Sweden, meeting her US family who came over to the ceremony in Stockholm. (And I talked to Astrid’s daughter!) The Gothenburg book fair in September was particularly nice, with the two of us somehow bumping into each other over the couple of days I allowed myself there.

Or the book launch on the houseboat on the Thames, even before the Glasgow boot night. That’s not the sort of thing that happens all the time. Just the once, actually.

Two interviews in Meg’s house, one with decent photos and one not. A gathering in the same house for K M Peyton, one of Meg’s literary heroes.

A Puffin party at the Tate Modern, a fundraiser somewhere in Mayfair and the memorial service for Siobhan Dowd in Oxford. I’ve really got around, haven’t I? And so has Meg, obviously. Or the day when Daughter travelled to Oxford, and ran into Meg at the station, and enjoyed a little chat. This is an author who keeps track of people, and knows her ‘second favourite physicist’ in the wild. And will hug other people’s children, like when Son met her in Stockholm.

What else? Lots of Edinburgh bookfest appearances, where I particularly remember a lovely balmy evening with Elspeth Graham a few years ago. That was worth missing the good train home for.

I could go on. But you’ll be grateful that I won’t.

And we’ll say no more about the borrowed £1 twelve years ago.

The Key to Flambards

I have a confession to make; I have only read the first K M Peyton book about Flambards. And I only read it after meeting Kathy at Meg Rosoff’s house seven years ago. That’s when I learned that everyone adores her. This is understandable. And [female] people my age have read ‘all’ the books and adore them. Also understandable.

I got a bit confused by Christina, back then, and in the end I didn’t pursue the remaining three Flambards books. She was a heroine, albeit not your typical leading lady.

Linda Newbery, The Key to Flambards

Now we have The Key to Flambards, a new sequel by Linda Newbery, another big Peyton fan. She asked Kathy’s permission to use her house and her characters, and she has placed them in the here and now. So 14-year-old Grace [Russell] is Christina’s great great granddaughter, and she and her mother Polly come to Flambards for the summer, for the first time.

The two of them have had a hard time with Grace’s parents divorcing and Grace experiencing a life-changing accident. And here they are, at a Flambards where not much has changed, with relatives they didn’t know, all over the place.

Luckily Linda has provided a family tree, which helps, and as a less devoted Flambards reader, I am not entirely sure where Kathy’s characters end and where Linda’s begin. I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter and I was better off not worrying too much about it, apart from a little Wikipedia research…

The story is exactly as I’ve come to expect from Linda and I really enjoyed it. Grace has a lot in common with Christina, and there are modern versions of Mark and Will.

The future of Flambards is uncertain and the people who work and live there have to try and save the place. Grace and her mother come to love it, and make new friends. Grace learns to ride.

I saw a review that suggested the teenagers in this book are old-fashioned. Maybe they are, but we need them as well as the fashionably edgy ones. The old Flambards fans will expect something similar to before, and besides, Linda covers ‘everything’ in her book; disability, divorce, unemployment, the war in Afghanistan, the exploitation of the countryside, abuse and violence, same sex relationships. It’s just that it happens in a romantic, countryside setting.

Highly recommended, whether you know the old Flambards or not. If you don’t, you might want to have a look at it afterwards.


Flambards is the book people (=the obsessive fans of K M Peyton) most go on about when talking about their beloved author’s best books. The one every single one of them has told me I must read. The only reason I delayed was to save this special something for the right occasion.

I have to admit it wasn’t at all what I’d imagined. I really liked it, but found myself in disagreement with the heroine Christina on more than one occasion. The book is nearly fifty years old, and if you take away the horses you would have the traditional ‘governess/young girl in a grand mansion’ story, except not very much of it, as the horses fill most of the book.

The romance is there, but not in a straightforward way at all. I went through all three possible young men, and left feeling none the wiser at the end. I know. There are more books for me to read. I’ll find out. Or I could Wikipedia the whole thing. WWI is on the horizon, and will no doubt deal with the male characters.

K M Peyton, Flambards

At first I cheered the 12-year-old Christina as she arrived at Flambards, feeling confused and hurt by her uncle’s behaviour, and scared of her cousin Mark and his riding madness. But her cousin Will plays too small a part (to fit with the blurb on the back of the book) and stable boy Dick has the problem of being the hired help.

As Will and Dick both find, Christina soon becomes more like Mark and uncle Russell than you would expect. This is confusing, and not at all helpful, but quite realistic. We are all mixed-up, and Christina has the right to be too.

Not being the slightest bit horsey, I found it hard to understand. But fascinating. The Russells might be poor, but that’s nothing compared to how poor the poor are. Or powerless. Very interesting portrait of the countryside in pre-war England.

Now all that remains is for the rest of you not to blabber before I’ve found out for myself what happens to Christina and her three men. (I reckon one has to die. One injured in the war? And horses are on the way out. Cars and planes are the new horses. Christina will see sense, and possibly learn the facts of life.)


It’s like being young again. Despite me never having been a real horsey girl (only dreaming quietly), K M Peyton’s horse books are just the thing. I have no idea what half the stuff she writes about means, but that doesn’t matter. For a little while I’m out there riding and having a good time.

K M Peyton, The Swallow Tales

Now her Swallow tales have been reissued – possibly due to the influence of fan number one, Meg Rosoff – and I have been gorging myself on all three Swallow stories, published in one volume.

What’s so nice, apart from the books being just the way you want children’s books to be like, is that Kathleen doesn’t waste her, or my, time on what doesn’t belong. Plenty of horsey detail, but none of this boring going to school stuff or doing homework or anything else. If the next important development in the book is what happens on Saturday, then we don’t have to suffer through the mid-week happenings, but can go straight to the Saturday business.

Originally published in the mid 1990s, to my mind the books feel as though they were written longer ago, during the avocado bathroom suite era. Even 15 years ago I doubt children would have had as much freedom as these ones do, at such an early age.

The books are about 11-year-old Rowan, who has moved to the countryside and who falls in love with a wild pony that she names Swallow, and also a little in love with older teenager Charlie, who is a wizard with horses.

But wild ponies are no use when you can’t even ride, so Rowan gets to know a number of other, calmer horses, that help her to learn. It’s the stuff dreams are made of!

Rowan makes friends of the best sort, she rides, and she has just the kind of life so many of us once imagined we might have. Along the way, Rowan learns you can love many different horses, and no love affair is totally straightforward. If something seems difficult, or impossible, you have to think and work hard to change fate.

Blue Skies & Gunfire

I’m with Mrs Fickling on this one. It is a good book. Blue Skies & Gunfire is also a surprisingly recent novel by K M Peyton, on an old topic, WWII. Primarily a romance, it is just the way I like a book to be.

You can tell that Kathleen lived through the period she writes about. The description of London and the Southeast is so much more vivid for all the everyday details, both about the war, but also about people ignoring the war.

K M Peyton, Blue Skies & Gunfire

I never used to understand how you could come almost eye-to-eye with German pilots, nor how easy it must have been to allow romance to go at full speed, since you couldn’t expect someone to be alive the next day, let alone after the war.

16-year-old Josie is evacuated to her aunt’s in Essex, where she meets and falls in love with the lovely Jumbo, in the Big House. He is hoping to become a pilot. Then Josie meets Jumbo’s brother Chris and falls in love with him. He already is a pilot.

You can tell this is not going to end well. The main question is which kind of not well and for whom. Both brothers are lovely boys. You just know someone will have to die, and someone will be devastated. But who and in what way, and how will it be resolved?

I had several options in my head, and I suppose the end was close-ish to one version. I just wish the last chapter hadn’t been there. I sort of want some things to be unsaid. Now that they are not, I am slowly coming round to it being the best way after all. Maybe.


Going back to my horsey past now. Not that I was ever horsey, except in my mind, but that’s as good a place for a horse as any. At least as long as they are imaginary. The real kind would be really mind-stretching.

I’ve been on a horse a few times, but it’s not something I care to repeat. Whereas reading about girls – and even boys – and horses is fine. Lovely, in fact.

K M Peyton, Fly-by-Night

This has been a K M Peyton sort of week, hasn’t it? Known to me as a horse book author it was wrong to start off with a whodunnit, apart from the handy fact that it was one I had already. Suspecting it wouldn’t be enough for a face to face meeting with Kathleen herself, I hurriedly asked Fidra books in Edinburgh if they could send me Fly-by-Night to read before the big day. They could. They re-publish old favourites, and K M Peyton books fall into that category. This one even has illustrations by the author, which feels just right. Also quite 1960s.

I am so glad I didn’t read this book as a child. It would have made me want to come to England a lot more than I already did. And it’s funny, because coming from where I am now, I see this book in two lights. One is the romanticised view of everything English from back then, and the other is simply an older version of what the country is like today, if that makes sense?

Ruth Hollis badly wants a pony, and now that her family have moved to the country, she goes out to buy one. Only, they cost more than she had expected. So does the saddle and all the bits and pieces, not to mention the food. But determination is a wonderful thing. After which ‘all’ Ruth needs to do is learn to ride…

This is a horse book. Naturally she gets there in the end, but before that she has to be one plucky girl.

There are more books about Ruth, so maybe I don’t need to say this, but one character I would have liked to see more of is Ron, friend of her brother’s. And I gather there will be a connection to Jonathan from my book last week, so that’s nice. I like it when things tie up.

Here’s to more horse books!

Travel broadens the behind

That’s what I thought it said, on a large sign near the station as my train pulled out. As you know, I feel I’ve been on slightly too many trains pulling out of too many stations. And something has very definitely broadened. One can always hope it’s the mind.

Earlier this week I watched in admiration as the four large birds flew in perfect formation over St Andrews. The sky was blue and the birds… were not birds. Considering my proximity to Leuchars, I imagine it was the RAF showing off. But it was sort of impressive, especially since it wasn’t a show or anything, and it was free.

I apologise for bringing this to your attention, but while in St Andrews (not that it matters where I was) I used the Ladies in the Students Union, where I found a new meaning to ‘spending a penny.’ There was a penny down in the, you know…

It reminded me of when I first worked out why you spend pennies, and I don’t mean because you’ve had a few cups of tea. I’d heard the term for long enough, and I knew what it meant, but not why. And then, on a walking holiday somewhere, stopping at the village facilities where I put a 2p coin in the door, the penny suddenly dropped. Well, it was the 2p that dropped, but you know what I mean. Maybe it had something to do with paying to enter?

Please tell me it does!

Stopped off in Edinburgh, and I had miraculously finished reading K M Peyton’s A Midsummer Night’s Death when Son became available to take me to Starbucks. Where there were Swedes. I don’t know why there are so many of them, everywhere. (I had two more sitting behind me on yesterday’s train.) But there was a nice view of Fleshmarket Close from our table, and that made me think of Nicola Morgan and her book that can cause people to faint.

I mentioned tea earlier. Bought some on the train. It made me think of cows, sitting there squeezing milk out of udder-like tubes.

No, it was definitely not the mind that broadened, was it? I’m so sorry.

My hero’s hero

Meg Rosoff and K M Peyton

There was no way I couldn’t go. It’s the most fascinating thing to find that your favourite author has a favourite author. Well, no. What I mean is finding that they behave just as giddily as the rest of us when they finally make contact with the person they admire.

When I first heard Meg Rosoff wax very lyrically about K M Peyton, my reaction was ‘who?’, but I seem to be alone in that. As I said the other day, when you’re my age you simply know everything there is to know about Kathleen Peyton and her horse books and her books on many other topics. They are your childhood. And now that I’ve read two of them (only another 70 or something to go!) I know that they would have been.

K M Peyton

So, when Meg not only met Kathleen, but rashly decided to invite her to her house, and then to ask many of her own admirers to witness this; how could I not want to go? Hence my trip south yesterday, for a day of many literary encounters, starting with Sally Gardner (who only refrained from meeting her friend Meg’s hero because she and I seem to be the only two people in the world not to have grown up with Flambards and the rest).

Flowers for K M Peyton

The 'staff'

Kate Agnew, David Fickling and Annie Eaton


Kathleen is so refreshingly different that she doesn’t even know what a blogger is, and why should she? She’s very brave, because she must have known she was in for lots of people flinging themselves at her, prostrating themselves at her feet and generally doing the ‘Beatles scream.’

The kitchen where Bookwitch was conceived is no more, and much as I mourn its passing, I have to say that the replacement facilitated Meg’s inviting quite so many KMP fans, and we were only in danger of expiring from the heat (London was wet, but very warm) as we munched our way through some of the best canapés I’ve come across in a long time, served by some unusually pleasant helpers. Meg had sensibly got the help of super efficient Corinne Gotch and it all worked like clockwork. (Except possibly for their debate as to who was going to open the door for me when I arrived… I heard that!)

I knew the guest list was full of lovely people, authors, publishers, agents, publicists, bookshop people and writers-about-children’s-books. And then there was me.

Meg climbed up on a chair and did her fan speech, starting with saying how surprised she’d been when she found Kathleen was still alive. And without climbing onto anything, Kathleen countered with thanks for her ‘sending off’, which she much preferred to a launch. At least this recognised things achieved, rather than making hopeful demands for things to come. She has written her last book, for which Meg was grateful, but only because there are so many still to read (and I think she mentioned the time she herself takes over writing her own books, which are slightly fewer than 70). Kathleen was very amusing in her thank you speech, remembering a young Terry Pratchett, who she had suspected might do well…

Listening to K M Peyton

David Fickling, Geraldine Brennan, Ian Beck and Lucy Coats

'Mr Rosoff'


Catherine Clarke and Graham Marks

Among the fans were Tabitha Suzuma (who used to write long letters to her favourite author, receiving long replies back), Keren David and Lucy Coats. Ian Beck was there, seemingly taking photographs with his chequebook, and I recognised Graham Marks, as I do every time, before I have to work out who he is, and that David Fickling was there. I queried why – being a boy – he had turned up and was informed he edits Kathleen’s books. Of course he does. Silly me. And Mrs F recommended her favourite K M Peyton book.

Speaking of books, there were some on display and we were allowed to take one home with us! So, now I have my own – signed – copy of Flambards (seeing as how I’ve been told I must read it.)

Blue, Meg’s lurcher, kept us company all evening. I’m surprised any dog would stay sane and quiet in such a human din. And the Eck made an appearance. He was slightly bigger than I had visualised, but otherwise just as I thought he’d be.

And as the party was at its best, the bookwitch slunk out the door to catch that famous 21.40 back home. The walk to the station was never six minutes (who dreamt that up??), but the 15 minutes there took me 20 on the return. And it was downhill.

Cow-hood, here I come!

(Apologies for any untruths told. I have discovered – via Wikipedia – that there were actually three K M Peyton books in translation before I was past the horse book stage. The next thing I know will be finding that I actually read them.)

Tabitha Suzuma


Thanking K M Peyton

A Midsummer Night’s Death

At my age I’m expected to know and be a fan of K M Peyton. I didn’t and therefore I wasn’t, but I think I can safely say that it’s looking likely that I will be. If you’re with me this far?

The serendipitous thing about wanting to read something by K M Peyton was finding I had one of her books already. How it ended up on my shelf, I don’t know. It’s not ex-school library. I must have once bought it in a charity shop and forgotten all about it.

K M Peyton, A Midsummer Night's Death

I felt totally at home from the first page of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (is it representative of K M’s writing?), in that way when you arrive somewhere and find it’s where you always wanted to be. In this case a boys’ boarding school in the 1970s where a murder has just been committed…

It could almost be a traditional whodunnit, what with the by now old-fashioned setting of the privileged, where a corpse turns up one morning. But the story of the dead teacher is more than that. It’s also about teenage angst and hero worship, and very much about the gorgeous setting of this green and leafy school.

Jonathan Meredith is in the lower sixth, and an unwilling prefect, and he happens to have knowledge that the teacher might not have committed suicide as was first thought. But if it was murder, then the murderer has to be the person he least of all wants to be guilty.

And what if this knowledge might put him in danger?

I had two solutions in mind, and one of them turned out to be right. Satisfying, except you don’t want it to be like that.

There is also a bit of teen romance, as the school has a dozen token girls in the sixth form. It’s a real period piece, and I loved it and I want to read more. ‘Everyone’ else has already read everything by K M Peyton, or so it seems. I clearly grew up in the wrong country, but oh how I would have adored these at the right age!