Going Home : KM Peyton

Going Home by K.M. Peyton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the things I love in my bookish world is when I discover a KM Peyton book I’ve not read. She’s my book Yoda and one of the writers that I utterly utterly adore.

Going Home almost escaped me. It’s a tiny book of just over 100 pages and was tucked right at the bottom of the shelves. I almost missed it but when I read the title, realised I hadn’t read it, I practically screamed with joy.

Originally published in 1982 (it’s as old as me!), Milly and Micky are sent away on holiday to France as their mother has to go to hospital. The holiday with their Aunt and Uncle on a cramped narrowboat in France proves less than enjoyable, and Milly and Micky come to the decision that they’re going home.

There’s not much here and it’s a sort of unusual read. It’s fragmentary, and reads rather like Peyton was trying something new and testing the water for something bigger. But it’s still brilliant because even in these short few pages, Peyton demonstrates her masterly insight of people. Milly is something very beautiful, understated (as ever in a Peyton book), but written with shadow and light and a genuine warmth.

It’s a brief read but hugely comforting. I always think with a KM Peyton book that we should be singing them from the skies and I await the day when her work is republished and mandatory for anyone who’s remotely interested in children’s literature and writing.

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Fantasy Film Casting : The Boys!

Following on from my lady-centric film casting post of yesterday, this time it’s the turn of male heroes from Girlsown fiction to be cast. I had a little bit of  a Damascene moment when considering Pennington. He needed to be represented by different actors for different periods of his life, so please forgive me for the slightly nerdy detail I go into regarding him 😉 Anyway, here they are in all their glory!

David Wenham as Jem Russell (Chalet School – Elinor M. Brent Dyer). Look at that picture. Now look at it some more. Now look at that as if you were a woman in a burning train carriage, needing to be rescued by a handy doctor type. That is all.

*collapses ever so slightly*

Tom Hiddleston as Sebastian Scott (Sadler’s Wells – Lorna Hill).  I almost went with Benedict Cumberbatch for this one, but decided that Tom just edged him out. Primarily because I like the longness of Tom, his ranginess, and yet his utter stillness when he needs to be still. Sebastian is a man of dark arrogance at times but also of utter brilliance. And I really rather love the thought of pairing him against Anne Hathaway who I cast as Veronica.

Arthur Darvill as Jack Maynard (Chalet School – Elinor M. Brent Dyer). Now, just to clarify, it’s not Arthur when he has his hair like this. I’d like him to sport the new Rory hair (can you tell what I watched last night?) and a lot of tweed. And um, I’m getting distracted again, so let’s move on!

 Sean Bean as adult Patrick Pennington (Pennington series – KM Peyton). This is Pennington in his later years (approximately around the time of Marion’s Angels if you want to be picky 😉  as opposed to the main books). That shy, bluff nature masking a man with great precise ability and genius. Sean’s an actor with that sort of silent power about him and a guy who acts very naturally. Perfect for the battle-worn brilliance of adult Pennington.

Jeremy Irvine as young Patrick Pennington (Pennington series – KM Peyton). Young Pennington plays piano, bewitches Ruth, beats people up and rails against the class system. He’s basically a proto-Byronic hero and is generally full of all-round epicness. Look at the photo. Yeah. Jeremy could do that *rather* nicely.

So there they are! Alternative casting lists very welcome becauseI’d love to hear your thoughts regarding those people I missed. I couldn’t quite think of somebody to play Reg Entwhistle primarily because of The Proposal…. (frankly I don’t think *any* actor could do that justice!).

Fantasy Film Casting : GirlsOwn Edition

I’m going through a bit of a film phase at the moment, and have got a bit obsessed with the idea of film / TV adaptations of some GirlsOwn titles. So, behold, a fantasy casting of some of my favourite literary heroines. Also, whilst reading this, you may get an idea of what my viewing habits tend to be 😉

Maisie Williams as Joey Bettany (Chalet School – Elinor M. Brent-Dyer). I could quite happily see a tv adaptation of the School at the Chalet though it might need to borrow liberally from Princess for dramatic purposes. I  think Maisie would be pretty brilliant as Jo. She’s got the look, and that sort of insouciant edge about her. Plus, according to IMDB, she can dance so she would have the folk-dance scenes down! PS – True story, I couldn’t remember her surname so googled Maisie Gomme initially …

Anne Hathaway as Veronica Weston (Sadlers Wells – Lorna Hill). Stick with me here. I know Anne has done the ballet bit before, and she’s also done the Northern accent bit before, but I think she could actually really do Veronica well.  This is primarily due to my love for the Princess Diaries films and the massive comedic value Anne can give a scene. Veronica is intensely graceful but she’s also very very funny and I think Anne could work the shift between the two really well. And also I have a major girl crush on her.

Miracle Laurie as Ruth Hollis (Ruth Hollis series –  KM Peyton).  So Ruth, she’s one of those quiet characters with a hidden heart of steel. She’s passionate, vital, and stubborn whilst being outwardly calm. Ruth loves, and when she loves, she loves very big. I reckon Miracle Laurie has that serenity (take my love, take my land) combined with the quiet potential for great things that I think Ruth would need to succeed on the big screen. Also, apparently, Miracle can play the ukele. This plays no relevance towards the role of Ruth Hollis but plays a vast part in the sheer awesome factor.

Summer Glau as Maidlin di Ravarati (Abbey books – Elsie Oxenham). Though I find a lot of the Abbey books a bit too SUNSHINEGIRLSFLOWERS, I really like Maidlin. She’s one of the characters that has something rather special about her and tends to fly off the page whenever she’s on. That is, until her neutered adulthood but that’s a different blogpost. Anyway, we all know Summer can do fractured, fragile heroines, and imbue them with a grace and a musicality that’s intoxicating to watch. It’s because of that that  I’d really like to see what she does with Maidie.

Tune in next week for a casting session for some of my favourite male characters! WHO can we get to play Reg Entwhistle? WHO will take on the plum role of  sardonic God Sebastian? And WHO gets to be the tortured adonis Pennington?

Marion’s Angels : KM Peyton

Marion's AngelsMarion’s Angels by K.M. Peyton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marion’s Angels is the story of Marion; strange odd little Marion who is the caretaker of a Church. Her Church is a fragile, beautiful place with stunning carved angels in the roof. It’s beautiful – but it’s crumbling, suffering from time and no money and the ever-present threat of rain coming through the roof and naturally, awfully, inevitably, Marion’s Church is under threat of being demolished.

That is, until she meets Patrick and Ruth Pennington.

One day I fear that KM Peyton might not be good. I worry that I’ll come across a book of hers that doesn’t have life, love and everything in between caught in it like flowers pressed from summer. I wonder if that’s it, if I’ve read her last “good” book.

But it never is. Never.

KM Peyton is beyond perfect. There are moments in this book, elegant and elegiac in their grace where Marion (odd, crazy, perceptive Marion) is so beautiful I wept. Bloody KM Peyton. Bloody bloody KM Peyton, how are you so bloody good?

It’s also a finale, of sorts to the story of Ruth Hollis. We’ve witnessed her grow from gawky, stubborn, pony-obsessed teenager through to love, marriage and motherhood. When reviewing the Pennington books, I’ve said previously how KM Peyton gets the fragile, world-swallowing dichotomy of love. She writes it so precisely and almost understates it at times. The relationship between Ruth and Pat is real. There’s not much more to be said.

Marion’s Angels has dated, I think, looking at it as acutely as I can. There are a few moments which feel a little awkward in today’s read but these are far and few between. This is a story, as so many of KM Peyton’s are, about people.

People don’t date. Not in these books. They could be surrounded by war, or angels, or horses, or whatever, and KM Peyton would still write them with a gloriously perceptive jealousy-inducing clarity.

She would do all that because she’s KM bloody Peyton and she’s that bloody good.

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Everybody sometimes a Yoda needs


Everybody a little life in their Yoda needs hmmmmm? As part of the thought process began here, I wanted to briefly explain who my inspirations were in relation to my writing / blogging about children’s literature, language and literacy and hopefully (she says, sliding back into art-school vocabulary) contextualise my critical practice.

Maria Nikolajeva 

If you read one book about critical theory, make sure you read Nikolajeva’s “The Rhetoric of Character in Children’s Literature“. It is genuinely a game-changer. She discusses how everything from speech tags through to names combine to create character – and it’s all done in a madly readable and fascinating style.

Roland Barthes

I first came across Barthes at university and I’ve remained in love with him ever since and it’s all primarily because of one quote: “Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” (A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1979)) Oh. My. God. He gets it. He gets the raw physicality of language and the blunt, near-primal sexuality of discourse. He gets it so right.

KM Peyton

Because, I think, nobody quite writes love like KM Peyton does.

“’What will the Prof say?’ [Pennington] whispered, smiling, moving his face against hers.
‘He’ll say I’m bad for you.’ [said Ruth]
‘Good for me. I need you.’
‘I love you’
‘Yes.’ Pennington’s Heir (1973:12) 

Barbara Kruger

Everybody needs a piece of art that they can just – just breathe. This is mine. Always.

So who’s your Yoda? I’d love to hear them! 🙂

Ruth Hollis

I have a lot of love for KM Peyton. And I’ve spoken before about how she just gets love. She gets it, warts and all.

But I’ve never specifically focused on Ruth before which is a disservice to a shaded, finely drawn character that does something very unusual in a series. She grows. I’m reminded of some of the other series I love when I think of Ruth and I’m forced to concede that nowhere else does a character grow up, and become an adult with such finesse as her.

Ruth debuts in the book Fly-By-Night. Fly-By-Night is overtly a fairly simple horse tale. Girl gets horse, gets good, and Achieves Stuff. Or well, it would be so, if it weren’t for the skill of KM Peyton. She draws Ruth so finely that it’s impossible not to root for this stubborn, brilliant, puking when things get tense, individual. Fidra Books have a sample of the first chapter of Fly-by-night available here and it’s worth reading if not just to marvel at the subtle shading and weight of Peyton’s prose.

Ruth then appears in the  sequel to Fly-By-Night called The Team. It’s easy to view this again as a standard equestrienne novel but I’d argue it’s more of a bildungsroman. This, as awful and painful as it is to read, is the end of the beginning. It is a novel full of maturity, of letting things go, of saying goodbye, and of falling in love. It’s nominally about horses but, at heart, it’s about life.

I read these two books and I devoured them. And then, for a long time, I didn’t know how Ruth’s story ended. This all changed once I came across the Pennington trilogy. The Pennington books are a trilogy which focus on the tempestuous Patrick Pennington, gifted with preternatural musical ability.

And Ruth falls in love with him. Not any of the other boys she’s seemingly destined to be with, she falls in love with this anti-establishment near Byronic hero. Whilst Ruth is certainly taken with his (and I’m sorry but I can’t think of any other way to phrase this) “bad boy attitude”, I think their relationship thrives on a curious mixture of naivety and adulthood. Pennington completes Ruth. He manifests a part of her nature – the nature which went out and did the exact opposite of what everyone told her to do – and their relationship is a fragile, awkward and yet intensely passionate affair. And it’s real. It’s bitterly, bluntly, beautifully real.

Ruth roots Pennington. She defines him and he, her. They become almost symbiotic in nature, the two of them against the world. Ruth understands Pennington and she does it so very beautifully.

“Ruth … thought of the long afternoon in Kensington on the velvet sofa, listening to Pat playing the piano. The contrast    was so sharp it was hard to believe. Pentonville [the prison] to the sea-wall, the Professor’s town house to this. No wonder Pat was mixed-up. It was all a part of him, what had made him.” Pennington’s Heir (1973:19)

I had a lot of difficulty, at first, accepting this grown up, perceptive, Ruth as opposed to the horse mad creation I initially met. I wept for the girl I had lost, and I felt sad for the ponies. But then, I spent a lot of time with the Pennington books for my research and I realised something.

Ruth is perhaps one of the ‘realest’ female character I’ve ever come across. She could define literary verisimilitude. She’s stubborn, she’s flawed, and she makes mistakes. She was horse obsessed – but she grew, and she changed. It never defined who she was and I find it genuinely masterful of Peyton to allow Ruth to map her own way through life rather than force her down a more stereotypically Pullein-Thompson future. Ruth grows. She grows, and she changes, and she lives her life how she wants to live it.

Ruth Hollis is amazing.

More information on the work of KM Peyton is available on her official website.

Rereading Flambards

Flambards. A trilogy plus one that I first read for the horses, and a series that I cannot let go. KM Peyton’s saga is (excuse the near-tautology) epic; she swathes a group of people in layers of love, loss and life and it is so very near to perfection.

Christina, the central character arrives at Flambards as a child. She is an orphan, rich, and sent to her Uncle in order to ultimately marry his firstborn son. Her life, however, swiftly changes and she’s all too soon wrapped up in a vortex of horses, hunting and tempestuous spirits.  Her world now begins and ends with Flambards.

Peyton is superbly skilled at writing emotion and books which require a repeat reading. There are levels upon levels upon levels in her books. I particularly adore her women, and was overjoyed to rediscover my love for  Christina upon this reading. As Christina grows up, experiencing good (and heartbreakingly awful moments), she remains resolutely real. She is a contradictory soul –  obnoxious, headstrong, confused, lovely, daring – but never dull. Never run of the mill. Never ‘stock’. Never boring.

Peyton also, as I’ve noted before, writes love superbly. A concept that still remains rare in children’s literature today is that of love being as much as a hindrance as it is a wonder.  The duality of love. You love and you hate. Often at the same time. Love in children’s literature often acknowledges the all-consuming passion(viz. Bella and Edward) but rarely acknowledges any alternative to this model of relationships.Peyton does. She does it with Pennington and Ruth so brilliantly, and she does it here as well. The circle (square?) of relationships between the younger generation in Flambards is both dazzling and breath-taking. You know those years when you’re first discovering love? That you can do this – that you want to do this – that you need to do this? That longing for somebody to just – just hold you? Those moments when you look at somebody you’ve known forever and you think you maybe kind of sort of love them in a way you never thought you did? And then – then you think – what was I thinking? It’s X I want, and it was X all along!  That’s what Peyton gets and she gets it wholeheartedly. The bitter reality, the total whole of love. It’s thrilling writing, the way she presents this dichotomy to the reader with such a matter-of-fact air that it can, quite easily, slip you by. You can, as I did when I was young, sit there and go “HORSIE”. It’s only on rereading, on slow and leisurely and damn-indulgent rereading, that you can start to pull these strands out from your former reading experience.

I’ve known these books for over half of my life. And they’ve served their purpose for each and every stage. Whenever I’ve reread this series, I’ve taken different things from them and they’ve moved me in different ways. It’s almost as if Peyton wrote a bildungsroman when she wrote Flambards. But it wasn’t the story of Christina. It was the story of every confused, hormonal, growing up in the countryside, horse-loving, relationship-forging girl who read it. It was, is and seems forever destined to be, in a way, mine.