Her first novel about the glamorous (and amorous) horsey Rutshire set, Riders, was published in 1985 and was instant hit. More than 30 years and several Rutshire novels later, she’s still hitting the number one spot with every novel she pens. So, what is it about Jilly’s sex ‘n’ horses formula that makes it so successful? Let’s take a look…
1. The nookie
Unlike 50 Shades Of Grey, which somehow managed to turn S&M into a terminally boring multiple-page contract between two insipid dullards, sex in Jilly’s novels is always a glorious romp. From bonks in barns to fumbles in Ferraris, the books are full of lusty suitors and amorous strumpets hopping in and out of bed with each other with gay abandon.
It’s no wonder the fictional country where all this is set is called Rutshire! You may experience a jealous pang or two as your read your way through all the rumpy, and wonder why you’ve never bumped into anyone remotely resembling the devastating Rupert Campbell-Black at your local Young Farmers’ ball. But console yourself with the thought that if there were that many gorgeous, hedonistic, champagne-swigging Lotharios in real life, nobody would ever get any work done!
2. The horses
It’s really hard to find good fiction where horses actually feature as more than a device for the heroine to pose on, or an excuse for her to look sexy in white jods. While the horses in Jilly’s books do that too, they’re also characters in their own right.
There’s Rupert Campbell-Black’s prize-winning stallion Penscombe Pride, who roams his garden and sticks his head in through the window; the shy, grey polo pony Tero who tries her heart out for her owner, Perdita McCleod; and Mrs Wilkinson, the abused filly who’s left for dead and goes on to become a top racehorse, to name but a few! Jilly might not be a rider herself, but she certainly ‘gets’ horses, and the affectionate and entertaining way she describes them will chime a chord with equestrians everywhere. Jilly’s characters share her passion — most of them are way nicer to their horses than they are to the unfortunates who fall in love with them…
3. The characters
They may nearly all be rich, incredibly beautiful and ridiculously talented, but Jilly’s characters are always flawed, likeable and very human. From Perdita, the spoilt schoolgirl in Polo who’s trying to hide her hurt at her stepdad’s lack of interest in her by being a bitch to her mum, to Etta, the sweet widow in Jump! who’s being exploited as a free babysitter by her own grown-up children — we can relate to their problems.
4. The wit
The novels sparkle with humour and Jilly can rarely resist a pun. Many of the best lines go to the arch-seducer himself, Rupert Campbell Black. “Hunting’s like adultery,” he purrs to one conquest. “Endless hanging about, interspersed with frenzied moments of excitement, very expensive and morally indefensible.”
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5. Rupert Campbell-Black
Ahhh, Rupert, the stuff of school girls’ dreams. Allegedly a composite of Camilla Parker Bowles’ ex-husband Andrew Parker Bowles, the Earl of Suffolk, ’60s fashion designer Rupert Lycett Green, and the Duke of Beaufort, Jilly’s charismatic anti-hero is the unofficial king of the Rutshire set. An aristocratic Olympic showjumper with “a Greek nose, high cheekbones and long, denim-blue eyes,” nobody can rock a pair of tight breeches like Rupert — and he knows it, rutting his way through the first couple of books like one of his own prize stallions. He starts off as a complete cad, casually breaking hearts and tossing them aside like used tissues, but as Jilly’s books go along, he falls in love and mellows a bit — without losing his sharp wit and love of a pithy one-liner.