Monday, 08 August 2022

Diana Pullein-Thompson, October 1, 1925 - October 21, 2015

NOVELIST Diana Pullein-Thompson has died at the age of 90.

NOVELIST Diana Pullein-Thompson has died at the age of 90.

She was the last survivor of three sisters who wrote children’s pony books. They wrote more than 150 books between them which sold 10 million copies worldwide.

Part of their success was that their stories mirrored their lives growing up in Rotherfield Peppard. Diana, her twin sister Christine and older sister Josephine lived in a household short of money but full of books and animals. 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).

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, they began their first pony story, a joint effort, It Began with Picotee. Diana was nine when her story, The Life of a Carthorse, appeared in the family’s magazine and at 14 she began work on her first book, I Wanted a Pony, which was eventually published in 1946, the first of more than 30 books.

The sisters spent more than 12 years riding, breaking in ponies and teaching children to ride while also writing.

When the stables closed in 1952 Diana and Christine got jobs as professional riders in America. Diana was refused a visa when an X-ray revealed TB and for six months she and her mother, who had also been diagnosed with the disease, were bedbound at home. In 1952, Diana was sent to Switzerland under an NHS scheme and between long bouts of lying on a balcony of a Davos sanatorium, she wrote Horses at Home (1954). Her love of horses and adventurous spirit remained and in 1956 she rode from John o’ Groats to Land’s End on her grey mare Favorita in 42 days. To her regret, she did not get a book out of the experience but its influence could be seen in her last pony story, The Long Ride Home (1996).

In 1959 Diana married Dennis Farr, an art historian and assistant keeper at the Tate Gallery and later director of the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, who shared her passion for riding. They had two children, Benedict and Joanna.

Diana, whose husband predeceased her, lived in Haslemere, Surrey, for many years but later moved into a retirement home in Ditchling, East Sussex, with her dog, Bronnie. Christine died in 2005 and Josephine last year.

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