‘The most wonderful life’: final farewell to much-loved children’s author

  • KM Peyton, the much-loved author of more than 70 novels and grande dame of the pony book genre has died aged 94.

    Best known for her Flambards trilogy with its background of the First World War, hunting and early flying machines, she had a lucid literary style that never pandered to the idea that children were less sophisticated readers than adults. She was awarded the Carnegie Medal for children’s writing in 1969, and  Flambards was later adapted as a 13-part TV drama, which brought a new generation of readers to her work. She continued writing about horses in Fly-by-Night, The Team, Blind Beauty and The Swallow series, representing horses and owners with elegance and a clear-eyed lack of sentimentality. In 2014 she was appointed MBE for services to children’s literature.

    Brought up in Surbiton, Kathleen spent a happy childhood cycling miles in the countryside and working on a farm in the holidays. On Derby Day she would skip school and pedal to Epsom. Her suburban upbringing gave her an unsatisfied longing to own, or even ride, horses. As compensation, she wrote her first pony book aged eight, filling notebooks with stories and descriptions of more than 2,000 imaginary horses. At 15, a teacher at Wimbledon High School spotted her talent and Sabre the Horse From the Sea was published that year.

    After school she won a place at Oxford, but chose to study fine art, at Manchester Art School where she met Michael Peyton, a recently demobbed miner’s son who had escaped from a prisoner of war camp. They eloped in 1950, despite family objections, and went hiking and guiding in the Alps, hitchhiking in France, and canoeing through the Canadian wilderness.

    KM Peyton last summer

    The birth of two daughters and purchase of a ramshackle house in Essex with a field led to ownership of the unbroken New Forest pony who inspired Fly-by-Night. Many years of involvement with the Pony Club followed – she received a Cubitt award – and she always claimed that many of her more extreme stories came from real-life observation. Kathleen learnt to ride quite late, joining the Essex Farmers Hunt on her beloved cob Essie. With her agent, Michael Motley, she shared racehorse Wise Words, who inspired books about the racing world

    A born storyteller, Kathleen considered writing and riding the two most necessary pursuits for a happy existence. “I’ve had the most wonderful life,” was her most frequent claim. It was entirely accurate.

    She is survived by her daughters, Hilary and Veronica.

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