Eva Rice has written four novels and one work of non-fiction, an A - Z of Enid Blyton characters. Her third novel, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, was picked for the Richard and Judy book club, and her fourth novel, The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp, was published at the end of last year. She tells Novelicious why a much-loved children's book, Jill's Gymkhana, had such a huge effect on her.
My Mum read the Jill pony books when she was a girl, and it was with some excitement that she took me – clutching a book token in my sweaty little eight year old mit – to buy the first in the series that was to change my life. I say this with absolute awareness of the hyperbole; Ruby Ferguson’s writing completely blew my tiny mind. I loved everything about Jill’s Gymkhana – the plot of poor girl gets enough money together to buy a pony (the instantly loveable Black Boy), finds an old man confined to a wheelchair to teach her to ride, gets a cool best friend (the dry, pithy Ann Derry) and conquers the rich bitch (Susan Pyke) by beating her at her own game in the end of summer gymkhana.
The cottage where Jill and her mother live (no Dad, no brothers and sisters) is the most vivid image I have of any fictional house (barring Penscombe in Riders, naturellement). The orchard where Jill keeps her pony (and later ponies, when she buys Rapide) is somewhere so real to me, I can almost smell the apples. But what was best of all about Ruby Ferguson’s writing was the wit, the humour, the dialogue, the withering remarks Jill throws at her cousin Cecilia, the sheer fun of it all.
I even nicked Ruby Ferguson’s first sentence of Jill’s Gymkhana for the opening lines of The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, but no one seemed to notice at the time.
Any one who spots it now will win a prize: A red rosette and a can of hoof oil.