Interview by Liz Dexter, 14 November 2019
Jane Badger started off as a dealer in horse and pony books, becoming known for her extremely extensive website on the subject: https://janebadgerbooks.co.uk/ . She’s even written a history of the pony book, Heroines on Horseback. So it seemed like the natural thing to do when she decided to start to republish classic pony stories under her own imprint. As a big fan of the pony book myself, and owning a fair few originals and newer publications, I’ve watched these developments with great interest, and was thrilled to receive a couple of review copies. Beautifully produced, with the original illustrations included, these are a delight in the hand and on the shelf and it’s lovely to see old favourites being given a new lease of life. Here, I interview Jane to find out more about her love of pony books and her new venture.
Hello, Jane! So, why pony books in the beginning? When and why did you start reading them?
I read everything I could get my hands on as a child – I was a completely obsessive reader. I read the ancient Dimsies belonging to friends’ parents, my grandmother’s childhood books, Enid Blyton’s entire oeuvre, and everything I was allowed to read in our local library. Pony books came along when I’d started having riding lessons, and came across an Armada paperback in a local toyshop. It was Diana Pullein-Thompson’s Riding with the Lyntons. I found a world where people actually achieved the thing I couldn’t: having a real life pony of your own, and I was hooked. It was, for me, the ultimate fantasy, and one I lived out through those books.
What’s changed between the classic books many of us will remember (Jill, the Pullein-Thompson sisters, etc.) and the ones that are still coming out today?
There’s much more of a focus on romance, for a start, which Jill never even considers. Christine Pullein-Thompson had to write under another name (Christine Keir – The Impossible Horse) to get away with tackling it. There’s also a much stronger emphasis on producing series fiction rather than standalones. But I think that the central issue, of the relationship between human and horse is still one that is central to every horse story published.
What led you to consider republishing some of the old classics?
I was asked by an author’s estate to help them get the books back into print: when there wasn’t any interest, I decided I’d do it myself. For a bit of background for anyone who’s wondering why authors would get in touch with me, I wrote Heroines on Horseback, an analysis of the pony story from the 1930s, and also developed the pony books website, janebadgerbooks.co.uk, so I did have a name in the field.
Once I’d got over the very lengthy setup period, because I wanted to make sure from the off that my author contracts were fair, and this meant a lot of work with the Society of Authors, I started approaching other authors’ estates. I was very fortunate in that when people knew I’d started the venture they did approach me to publish.
Was your choice of what to publish governed by your own likes and dislikes or what was available?
What I like. I do need to be able to sell it with conviction. And there are some really obscure books I am very fond of that I hope other people will like as much as me: Patience McElwee’s books, for example, which are really best read by an adult audience who are going to appreciate their sometimes biting humour. The reaction to them has been very positive, so that’s been great.
How do you go about choosing which edition of a book to base your republished version on?
It’s always the first edition. There’s no point choosing an edition which might miss out chunks of the text. With Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Six Ponies, for example, the first edition weighs in at a bit more than 80,000 words. The standard Armada length is something over half that, so you can see just how much was lost from the original. What I want to do is give people the chance to read the original texts.
How do you choose the cover art?
With difficulty! It’s not always straightforward to get permission to use the original covers, and there is an argument for using photograph covers so that readers coming across the books for the first time are more likely to choose them. First of all I have to make sure that I know exactly what the horse or pony is supposed to look like, and then I spend a lot of time going through the image libraries and trying to find the right image. I then mock up a selection of covers and get people to tell me what they like. If I get it wrong, people will absolutely let me know. Dream of Fair Horses has been through a couple of iterations!
Sometimes, like with The Horse from Black Loch, you find an image that is just immediately right and sums up the spirit of the book. I am particularly fond of that cover.
I do have collections of images I really like that I’d like to find the right book for, some day.
Is there ever a choice involved with the illustrations inside the book, or was there only ever one set of those for each book?
With everything I’ve done so far, there has just been the original illustrations for the first edition, which subsequent editions either cut down in number or removed altogether. If I was ever to consider American authors, that might be more of an issue.
Why do you think people now (grown-ups and children) should read pony books / should read the original and re-issued ones?
I don’t think people should read anything – I really dislike the view that says there are books you ought to read and others that you shouldn’t. There are fine books in every genre, as well as a lot that is very far from fine. People should read what they want to read. If that’s pony books, I’m there for them.
As for why they might want to read reissued ones, it’s always interesting to see how much things have changed. But people don’t change, and the best books have characters who reach out across the decades, and it’s clear from the Amazon reviews that that is what’s happening.
Who is top of your wish-list to republish and why?
All Change by Josephine Pullein-Thompson is one of my absolute favourites, and I do have permission for that, thankfully, and it’ll appear next year. Of ones I don’t have, I’d love to do Primrose Cumming’s Silver Snaffles. It’s one that fulfils more than just the dream of getting a pony (which is actually only a tiny bit of the book) – it addresses that desire that many people have to really know what their animal is thinking, as in this book, the ponies talk.
What is your ambition or your dream for your new publishing venture?
I’d like to make the best of classic pony fiction available to everyone who wants to read it.
I found it fascinating to hear about the nuts and bolts of how these books make it through from idea to production, and hope you have enjoyed this interview, too. You can buy Jane’s books via the link on her website at https://janebadgerbooks.co.uk/ebooks-from-jane-badger-books/ More are being published all the time, so do consider signing up for her newsletter or just pop back to her website every now and again so see what’s new. Thank you to Jane for the two review copies in return for an honest review (I bought my own copy of Heroines on Horseback).
Liz Dexter enjoyed riding as a child but really preferred grooming and mucking-out to the terrifying world of jumping over very small jumps. She reviewed the first edition of Heroines on Horseback on her blog back in 2013 and continues to blog about reading and running at https://www.librofulltime.com.