K.M. Peyton was one of my favourite authors as a teenager. This year she was made MBE in the New Year’s honours list for services to children’s literature and went up to Buckingham Palace on 4th March with her family to receive the honour.
K.M. Peyton’s most famous books are the Flambards series. She claimed recently that she’d written the books as adult romances, but since the first book started with the heroine aged thirteen, her publishers wanted them to go out as a children’s imprint. (Books weren’t marketed as YA or Teenage back in the day.)
Flambards is a series of historical novels set just before the first world war. In the first book (also called Flambards), the heroine Christina is sent to live with her uncle and her two cousins on the Flambards estate, after the death of her parents. It’s a crumbling, rundown place, where only the stables are kept spick and span. Christina has entered a high testosterone environment in which her uncle Russell and her cousin Mark despise people who don’t hold their values of hunting and bravery and being a man. Luckily Christina loves horses, and learns to ride, taught by the sensible stable boy Dick (who I absolutely fell in love with). Christina also finds a friend in her other cousin, Will, who can’t stand hunting, or his father and brother. Will is a bit of a geek, and all he cares about is flying machines.
What’s not to love in a book where the teenage heroine gets to ride horses every day with three handsome young men? Although it sounds (and is) a highly romantic read, it’s also witty and unsentimental, painting an accurate picture of the old English feudal country life that was swept away with the war. The next books in the series are The Edge of the Cloud, Flambards in Summer and Flambards Divided.
I mentioned that the Flambards series of books is Peyton’s most famous. I was interested to read in this recent article that K.M. Peyton didn’t think they were her best books, and she preferred the Pennington series, about a young man called Patrick Pennington. I absolutely loved Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer (sometimes called Pennington’s Last Term). Patrick Pennington is an unusual hero – sullen, inarticulate, angry, intensely loyal to his friends and a bad boy babe magnet. He’s also a gifted pianist. The book has a great scene where Pennington is locked at the top of a crumbling tower by Smeeton, the school baddie, and can’t get to his piano exam. He makes a dangerous and magnificent last minute escape. The scenes where Pennington is sailing his boat are also gripping and wonderfully written (K.M. Peyton was herself a keen sailor). The book may seem dated now to modern readers, but I urge you to try it. It’s a great read.
Pennington later goes on to meet and fall in love with Ruth Hollis, the heroine of the excellent Fly-by-Night.
K.M. Peyton’s MBE is a thoroughly deserved honour for a great writer. She wrote over fifty novels and won the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children’s literature for The Edge of the Clouds. If you’d like to find out more about her, there’s an excellent article and a list of all her books with their blurbs here on Jane Badger Books.
K.M. Peyton also has her own website.
Have you read any K.M. Peyton? If so, which were your favourites? If you enjoyed reading pony books as a child, or have any favourite memories of books as a teenager, please let me know – I’d love to hear your recommendations!