All Change at Blainstock Stables by Jemma Spark (Facebook group reading challenge)

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Oh dear.  Note to author – stop overthinking things so much, please.  Just write your story.  It’d be much better that way.  If you want to write a book about a girl who lives in a Scottish castle and rides ponies, just do so.  It’s fine.  There really is no law against either living in a castle or riding ponies.

I’m not sure quite what went on with this book, but it felt as if the author was stressing about being attacked by virtue signallers, for writing something as innocent as a children’s pony book.  So she’d shoved in some completely irrelevant conversations about, for example, the protests about Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War – which, given that the book was set two years before Australia really *got* involved in the Vietnam War, made even less sense than it would have done otherwise.  And claimed that the castle stables would be “a new social order”. ( The characters were opening a riding school/livery yard, not storming the Winter Palace).

Then she’d shown her main character writing books about her life and saying that it was very unfair of people to have a go at her just because she lived in a castle, thus proving the point that … , er there wasn’t a point to prove anyway, so maybe she’d have done better just to have stuck to the pony story.  And, to cap it all, shown the said main character of her book criticising the readers of *her* own book for over-analysing children’s books.  It all just seemed to get tied in knots.  Do we have to do this?   As I said, it really isn’t a crime to live in a castle or to ride a pony.

Now, despite never having ridden a pony in my life (unless donkeys on Blackpool beach count), I always rather liked pony books as a kid.  Newsflash – most kids do actually like books about people whose lifestyles are not identical to their own.  So I thought that this would be good fun.  We’ve got a girl who lives in a Scottish castle, where there is a cook (in the 1960s), the family have “a private income”, there are lots of ponies, and people go off to gymkhanas etc.  But, shock horror, a lot of the family’s money is stolen by an evil agent who runs off to South America.  So our girl Jill has to start running a riding school/stables business.  So far, so good – surprisingly traditional GO stuff for something published in 2021 and set in 1963/64.

Unfortunately, the author seems to have got a bit panicky that she was going to be accused of writing about “privileged, entitled people” living in their own little world, which is apparently now regarded as a heinous crime.  To be fair, even when I was a kid, teachers used to go mad about us reading “Girls’ Own” books.  One of my primary school teachers even complained to my mum and dad that I read too many Enid Blyton books.  I was known from a very early age as the class bookworm, but apparently that was no good unless I was reading the “right” sort of books.  I ignored her.  Incidentally, I also watched Grange Hill, but no-one ever complained that that didn’t include anyone who lived in a stately home.

So, at one, rather random point, the book completely diverges from the main plot, and wanders off down Virtue-Signalling Avenue.  We are informed that the stables are going to be a “new social order” in which servants are not treated as servants.  Were people still referring to “servants” in the 1960s, incidentally?   We also get the characters, out of nowhere, discussing veganism, animal welfare, Stalinism (in 1963/4?), the Bristol Bus Boycott, Aboriginal rights and demonstrating against Australian involvement in the Vietnam War.  Given that Australia didn’t really get involved with the Vietnam War until 1965, this was remarkably prescient of them: however, it’s rather odd that they didn’t appear to notice that President Kennedy had been assassinated.  Or did the author deliberately omit that because she thought she’d be “cancelled” for showing people expressing sadness over the death of a white male from a well-to-do family?  And we are informed that our castle-dwelling heroine Jill is a member of CND.

I’m not saying that any of this stuff is unimportant.  But it had absolutely nothing to do with the story.  Lorna Hill’s Annette Dancy trying to sabotage a fox hunt, when she lives in a community in which hunting is part of the way of life, or Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Verity-Anne Carey being reminded that not all Germans were Nazis, in a multinational school in 1947, works very well.  But, in this book, it all just seems to have been shoved in as some kind of virtue-signalling to placate people who think that living in a castle and owning ponies is some sort of sin.  It isn’t.

What’s even stranger is that the author obviously completely gets that.  Because (keep up, folks!) Jill is, in the middle of everything else, writing books about her own life, and is finding that people have turned nasty when they learn that she’s moved into a castle (which has only happened fairly recently, as it belongs to her new stepfather) and has joined the privileged classes.  She suspects that they will be actually be pleased to learn about the absconding agent.  We are reminded that there is nothing wrong with belonging to the privileged classes, and that all that matters is being a good person.  Yes.  We know that.  Why not just stick to the stables story?

And, just to confuse things even further, there are a few sarcastic comments about old and middle-aged ladies who over-analyse children’s pony books.  What, like me?!

Oh, and then, at the end, the author finally seemed to remember that it was supposed to be a pony story, and wrote a very long and detailed description of a children’s riding competition, involving a load of children whom we’d never met before.

Seriously, this would have been a lot better if the author had just stuck to writing the story about Jill and her friends/business partners setting up their business!  That was what I was expecting. The idea of this month’s Facebook group reading challenge was to read a book about someone going into business, and I got this one on a 99p Kindle download because I didn’t want to spend a lot.  It’s part of a series, and it would probably have been better if I’d read the other books in the series first, but I don’t think I’ll be bothering.

It’s a 120-page book, presumably aimed at kids, but the author just seems to have tied herself in knots over it all – which is a shame, because the characters were quite attractive, and the idea of setting up the riding business at the castle was a good one.  Next time, just ignore the virtue signallers and write your pony book, eh?!  If people don’t like it, they are quite at liberty to read something else.

 

4 thoughts on “All Change at Blainstock Stables by Jemma Spark (Facebook group reading challenge)

  1. mrsredboots

    “Servants” was still in use in the 1960s but was considered obsolescent – the judge in the Lady Chatterley trial infamously asked the jury whether they would like their “wife or servants” to read the book, which was greeted with great scorn! I am a little too young – I was a schoolgirl in the 1960s – to remember all the social causes that were going on, but there were a great many, mostly fuelled by university students!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The problem with this is that none of them were relevant to the storyline, which was a basic pony book story about someone setting up a riding school, but mentions of them were thrown in at random. It was a very silly book – good job it only cost 99p!

      Like

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