Pullein-Thompson, Christine (writer)

Reference: MS 5078Date: c.1950-2008

Between them, the Pullein-Thompson sisters wrote more than 150 books, selling some 10 million copies worldwide. Unlike many other writers’ of children’s pony books, their lively stories, full of pony-mad children, memorable equine characters and sound equestrian advice, bore the stamp of reality because they mirrored the girls’ own lives.

Christine was born in Wimbledon on 1 October 1925, 20 minutes after her twin, Diana. However, the twins and their older sister Josephine grew up in the Oxfordshire village of Peppard. Their mother, Joanna Cannan, was a prolific novelist who was also credited with inventing pony stories for children, beginning with A Pony for Jean (1936). Their father, Captain Harold “Cappy” Pullein-Thompson, who had been a schoolteacher, was seriously wounded in the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross. A frustrated writer, he took on various jobs including selling refrigerators and board games, and later ran the Public Schools Employment Bureau. The Pullein-Thompsons also had a son, Denis, who became a successful dramatist and playwright who went on to collaborate with Christopher Fry.

Christine began riding aged seven and by 11, she and her sisters were looking after horses and breeding poultry. A few days after war broke out, the girls, then aged 15 and 14, were allowed to abandon their sketchy formal education and start their own riding stables at their home, The Grove. At the same time the sisters, who had been writing since they were six, began their first pony story, a joint effort, It Began with Picotee, written in 1941 which delivered a narrative from the rider’s perspective rather than horse’s (as had been the Victorian tradition with equestrian fiction). It was published in 1946. In 1948, Christine published her first solo venture, We Rode to the Sea.

For more than a dozen years, the three sisters lived the life described in their stories, riding and breaking in ponies, teaching children how to ride, at The Grove and at a second riding school in Wolvercote, and pouring out a stream of popular books.

When the Oxfordshire stables closed in 1952, the girls’ mother refused to let them continue to pay for their upkeep. Christine and Diana decided to ease the financial burden on their father and obtained jobs as professional riders in America. Christine moved to Virginia but Diana, was prevented from doing so by a bout of TB. When Christine returned to join her, she met and married Julian Popescu, an author and BBC monitor who had attended her riding school, in 1954. Back in Oxfordshire, she helped to launch two branches of Riding for the Disabled, and settled into a routine of producing a book a year, adapting her stories for the vagaries in the children’s market.

Christine Pullein-Thompson’s fiction was not restricted to the world of gymkhanas: a ghostly element entered with the Phantom Horse series for Armada, and the series about Jessie the dog proved equally popular. In all, she wrote some 40 children’s books not directly connected with horses.

Christine moved to Suffolk in the 1970s, where she continued to work with horses until a bad back compelled her to give up riding. She set up a bridleways group and was chairman of the parish council at Mellis. She collaborated with her sisters on the Black Beauty Trilogy (1975-79) and on an evocative memoir, Fair Girls and Grey Horses (1996) in which they recalled their eccentric upbringing.

Christine, the quietest of the three, was the most productive; she wrote more than 100 books, translated into 12 languages. Christine wrote sometimes under the name of Christine Keir.

Christine Pullein-Thompson died on 2 December 2005.

The papers in the Christine Pullein-Thompson Collection include draft manuscripts for published and unpublished works; diaries; scrapbooks; correspondence; photographs and financial records.

The Special Collections Library holds around 200 copies of works published by the Pullein-Thompson sisters. The collection is not catalogued but a handlist is available at Special Collections. Please contact us for more information.

Source of biographical information: The Telegraph. (2005). Christine Pullein-Thompson. [online].

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