Wishful thinking: ‘Fly-By-Night’ by K M Peyton

In my recent post about my Top 5 Horses in the books I loved as a child I gave an honourable mention to K M Peyton’s Flambards series. I only read the first two books, and to be honest I can’t recall individual horses from them. K M Peyton is getting a gong in the New Year’s Honours List for services to children’s literature and was interviewed in the Guardian newspaper last weekend. She says that although Flambards and its sequels are the books best-loved and remembered by readers, and made her money, she doesn’t regard them as her best writing. Her favourites are the Pennington series, about a teenage boy pianist.

Flambards, with its burgeoning love interest and churning emotions, was slightly racy for its time. Peyton had not envisaged it as a book for young readers, but ‘made the mistake’ of featuring a 13-year-old heroine. It came out in 1967 when there was no such category as teen or YA fiction and I guess it was hoovered up by pony-mad girl readers, whether or not they were quite ready for it. Shocked mothers wrote her letters of complaint. I loved it!

Fly-By-Night by K M Peyton children's book

K M Peyton illustrated this book herself

She also mentioned Fly-By-Night, and suddenly a door in my memory passageways creaked open – a cobweb-encrusted door, but even so. And then I found a description of the plot of the website of Fidra, a small Edinburgh-based publisher dedicated to rescuing neglected but much-loved children’s books.

Fly-by-Night was not the best choice for an eleven-year-old girl who had never ridden before; but as soon as Ruth Hollis saw the sturdy, lively pony, she knew that he was the one she wanted. All her life Ruth had longed to own a pony and now that her family had moved from London to a new housing estate in East Anglia, she had persuaded her father to let her spend her savings on a pony. But having taken possession of Fly-by-Night, Ruth found that her troubles had only just begun.

I have, of course, read Fly-By-Night. I’d just forgotten. As a child of about the heroine’s age I remember writing – I think I actually finished this one – a book about a girl who moves to the country and finally gets her dream, a horse of her own! I must have shamelessly lifted the plot from K M Peyton’s story and then shucked that inconvenient detail from memory. I also wrote at least one lengthy hunting scene. I have never been hunting in my life, so I must have stolen all the salient information from Flambards. Like K M Peyton did for some of her books, I drew my own illustrations. I don’t suppose she used a biro, so there we do differ. Finally all my childish writing efforts were consigned to a big bonfire in the garden, probably just as well since I didn’t know the word ‘plagiarism’ at the time.

Ruth Hollis’s dream was my dream. It never came true for me, and I outgrew it. But the dream of becoming a writer did come true – persistence and hard work paid off. And sitting at a laptop making stuff up isn’t as cold and smelly and back-breaking as mucking out a horse in the soggy winter dawn.

You can read the full interview with K M Peyton here.

4 thoughts on “Wishful thinking: ‘Fly-By-Night’ by K M Peyton

  1. That door’s just creaked open for me too. I remember reading Fly-By -Night and thinking if she can have a pony on a housing estate, why the heck can’t I? My absolute favorite pony books though were the Jinny At Finmory series by Patricia Leitch. You’d never forget that horse’s name in a hurry…

  2. Speaking as a pianist that Pennington series appeals more than Flambards. Good post.

    I saw the Peyton article was in the Saturday paper and thought of you, but haven’t got round to reading it yet.

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