The legendary publisher Liz Calder, founder of Bloomsbury and the literary festivals FLIP in Brazil and Flipside in Suffolk, as well as the boutique publishing house Full Circle Editions, credits A PONY FOR JEAN as being the book that first ignited her passion for reading. It was hearing Liz talk about JEAN in Saxmundham’s Library earlier this year that made me want to find out what made this book so special to someone who has worked with some of the world’s finest writers – from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood, Will Self to Michael Ondaatje. It is indeed an utterly charming book, and it exhibits such a delightful energy and enthusiasm in the character of Jean. Here are Liz’s thoughts on it:
I had begun that afternoon to love horses, and once you have started, you can’t stop, and you would sooner look at the ugliest horse than at the loveliest pantomime, and you would sooner hear the sound of hoofs than the most beautiful music, and you would sooner smell the smell of stables than the scent your mother used when she was rich, and that came from Paris and was called Enchanted Evening and cost a guinea for quite a tiny bottle.
Jean, with her fierce determination and her often foolhardy bravery, was a fine role model, and A PONY FOR JEAN seemed to have been written just for me, as thousands of other young girls must have felt as they read the book.
It is an enchanting story full of excitement and laughter, fear, fun and adventure. Jean is a glorious hero, and although the world she lives in has pretty much vanished, her acute and funny responses to everything going on around her ring as true today as they did seventy years ago. For example: ‘One of the most sickening things in life is that summer passes so quickly,’ she observes. ‘There are just as many days in June as there are in November, but you would never think so.’ Well, you can’t argue with that!
Not only do we meet the beloved Cavalier, a half-starving pony originally known as The Toastrack, whom Jean rescues from the dreaded cousins’ clutches, but we also meet the family of animals she befriends, dogs Shadow and Sally and their four puppies, Rough and Tumble and Spick and Span, Harold and Edith the geese, Charles Edward the Bantam cock, and hens Flora Macdonald and Henrietta Maria. And don’t dare to call them ‘pets’ as Aunt Daphne does. These are proper farm animals.
Jean wanted more than anything for someone to say of her as they said of one of the cousins, ‘Oh Jean’s all right. She can ride anything.’
I leave you to guess whether that wish comes true.”
A PONY FOR JEAN by Joanna Cannan will be out in November.