Herself the youngest daughter of Charles Cannan, secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press, and Mary Wedderburn, also a cousin of Gilbert Cannan, it is perhaps for her children that Joanna Cannan is best known. She was to Josephine, Diana, and Christine Pullein-Thompson and Denis Cannan. She was one of three daughters. One sister was the poet May Cannan. She was also grandmother to Charlotte Popescu.
Joanna Cannan was born and brought up in Oxford, but had a fondness for Scotland, which was the destination for many family holidays and part of her maternal heritage. Her ancestors participated in some of the seminal events in Scottish history, such as the Jacobite rising and Battle of Culloden. It is no surprise, then, that many of her books are set there. The wilds of Roshven in the West Highlands must have seen a dramatic and romantic location in comparison to sedate Oxford, especially as the Cannan children were apparently "provided with an unrelenting diet of boys' adventure stories."
During World War I she became a VAD nurse, as did her Oxford friend Carola Oman, who was to become a children's author and biographer. Georgette Heyer was another friend there. It was during Cannan's nursing duties in Oxford that she met her future husband, Captain Harold J "Cappy" Pullein-Thompson, whom she married in 1918.
On her marriage she became Joanna Cannan Pullein-Thompson, but she continued to publish as Joanna Cannan. Her husband had been badly injured during the war and she was the main earner in the family, producing a book every year until she died. After their marriage, the couple moved to Wimbledon. Disapproving of traditional education, she encouraged her daughters to write and to be self-reliant. However she did impose a variety of strict house rules including, "Don't talk horses at meals," a rule it was hard for her daughters to keep.
Most of Cannan's pony books were published before or during World War II. After the war she began to experiment with detective novels, because she felt that the world she used to write about was beginning to disappear. In the early 1950s her health began to decline: she was eventually diagnosed with tuberculosis. She died in 1961, four years after her husband.
A painting of Joanna Cannan hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
As well as the books listed, she also contributed to several magazines during her lifetime.
- A Pony for Jean (1936)
- We Met Our Cousins (1937)
- Another Pony for Jean (1938)
- London Pride (1939)
- More Ponies for Jean (1943)
- They Bought Her A Pony (1944)
- Hamish: The Story of a Shetland Pony (1944)
- I Wrote A Pony Book (1950)
- Gaze at the Moon (1957)
- The Vanguard Book of Ponies and Riding (co-writer)
- We Met Our Cousins. This was republished by Fidra Books in 2006 with a twenty-page biography of the author by her daughter Josephine Pullein-Thompson. London Pride, the sequel to We Met Our Cousins, is now available again from the same publisher.
- The Tripled Crown. (A book of English, Scotch and Irish verse for the age of six to sixteen) (co-author) (1908)
- The Misty Valley (1922)
- Wild Berry Wine (1925)
- The Lady Of the Heights (1926)
- Sheila Both Ways (1928)
- The Simple Pass On (1929)
- No walls of Jasper (1930)
- Orphan of Mars (1930)
- The Hour of the Angel: Ithuriel's Hour (1931)
- High Table (1931)
- Snow in Harvest (1932)
- North Wall (1933)
- Under Proof (1934)
- The Hills Sleep On (1935)
- A Hand to Burn (1936)
- Frightened Angels (1936)
- Princes in the Land (1936) (republished by Persephone Books, 2006)
- Pray Do Not Venture (1937)
- They Rang Up the Police (1939)
- Idle Apprentice (1940)
- Death at The Dog (1940)
- Blind Messenger (1941)
- Little I Understood (1948)
- Murder Included (republished as A Taste of Murder and in the USA as Poisonous Relations) (1950)
- And All I learned (1951)
- Body in the Beck (1952)
- Long Shadows (1955)
- People to be Found (1956)
- And Be a Villain (1958)
- All is Discovered (1962)
- The Lady Of The Valley
- Oxfordshire (non-fiction)
- London Pride, Introduction by Josephine Pullein-Thompson, Edinburgh: Fidra Books, 2007
- British Library
- Rue Morgue Press
- Carola Oman: An Oxford Childhood (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1976), p. 93. ISBN 0340212659
- Pullein-Thompson, i
- Pullein-Thompson, vii
- Carola Oman's ODNB entry: Retrieved 15 July 2012. Pay-walled.
- Byatt, A. S.: "The Ferocious Reticence of Georgette Heyer". In: Fahnestock-Thomas, Mary, Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective, Saraland, AL: Prinnyworld Press, 2001, p. 289–303, ISBN 978-0-9668005-3-1
- Pullein-Thompson, x
- Pullein-Thompson, xviii
- Pullein-Thompson, xix
- Like her daughters, she wrote her first book in collaboration with her sisters.
- Ruemorgue Press' page on Joanna Cannan
- All early copies held by the British Library are undated, but it is thought to date from the mid-1940s
- A useful article about collecting old pony books, featuring her works and those of her daughters
- Fidra Books page about Joanna Cannan
- An article devoted to the author, including book scans
- Author's page at Persephone Books
- Persphone's page about her book Princes In The Land; also contains more information about the author
- Jenny Kendrick: Riders, Readers, Romance: A Short History of the Pony Story