Ruby Ferguson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Ruby Ferguson, 1899–1966, née Rubie Constance Ashby, was a British writer of popular fiction, including children's books, romances, and mysteries. She is best known today for her "Jill" books, a series of Pullein-Thompsonesque pony books for children and young adults.

Reeth, West Yorkshire, Ferguson's birthplace.

Life and career[edit]

Ferguson was born and raised in Reeth, North Yorkshire. Her father was a Wesleyan minister, and Ferguson herself later became a lay officer of the Methodist church. She received her education at Bradford Girls' Grammar School and then at St Hilda's College at the University of Oxford, where she read English from 1919 to 1922, gaining a normal BA and, a few years later, the Oxford MA. She then moved to Manchester and took a job as a secretary, supplementing her income by writing a regular column for the British Weekly, and by reading and reviewing books for a publisher. Her writing career began in earnest when she submitted some detective stories to a weekly competition in the Manchester Evening News. Her first full-length novel appeared in 1926, and she continued writing novels and stories under the name "R.C. Ashby" until the mid-1930s. In 1934 she married Samuel Ferguson, a widower with two sons. Three years later, she published Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary, a romantic novel which proved very popular. Between 1949 and 1962 she attained her greatest success when she wrote the "Jill" books for her step-grandchildren, Libs, Sallie, and Pip. Her last book, Children at the Shop, is a fictionalised memoir of her childhood.

The "Jill" books[edit]

The "Jill" books are a series of nine children's novels about young equestrienne Jill Crewe and her adventures with her two ponies, Black Boy and Rapide. The series was illustrated with line drawings by Caney, and have only recently gone out of print. Fidra Books intend to republish the series, and like their previous works, it will use the original text.[1] In recent editions, small changes were made to the background details to make the books more accessible to later generations; references to cigarette smoking were excised, for example, and "Black Boy" became the more politically correct "Danny Boy". The series takes the protagonist from the age of eleven to seventeen, from a pony novice to a prize-winning rider.


In the first book in the series, Jill's Gymkhana, Jill's father has recently died, and she moves with her mother to a small cottage near the fictional village of Chatton. Her mother hopes to support them both as a children's author (shades of E. Nesbit's classic The Railway Children). Jill is at first a social outcast in "horsy" Chatton because she doesn't own a pony and can't ride. When her mother's stories finally begin to sell, however, the first thing she buys is a pony for her daughter. With hard work and the expert assistance of Martin Lowe, a wheelchair-using former Royal Air Force pilot, Jill becomes a star of Chatton equitation.

Jill is grateful for her mother's success; however, as she says repeatedly throughout the series, she "can't get on" with her mother's books at all, finding them impossibly sweet and whimsical (possibly a veiled criticism of the works of Enid Blyton). In contrast, Ferguson's Jill is an active, independent and witty character who defies post-war expectations for English girls by scorning ladylike pursuits, treating boys her own age as equals, and working hard to achieve her goals. This makes Ferguson's writing outstanding not only in the pony stories genre, but in children's literature generally.[2]

Extracts[edit]

  • Jill has just discovered she must spend the summer holidays away from her pony while her mother does a book tour in the United States. Source: A Stable for Jill, Chapter 1.
  • Jill and her friends are having tea with Susan Pyke, a snooty, superior sort of girl with wealthy parents. Susan rides very well and is a perennial rival for Jill. Here, Susan's mother waxes nostalgic about her own horseriding past. Source: Jill's Gymkhana, Chapter 16.
  • Jill is finishing up a great day at Chatton Show, the equestrian event of the year in her part of the world. Her best friend, Ann Derry, has done quite well too. Source: Jill's Gymkhana, Chapter 18.

Mrs. Darcy, a local riding instructor, has had to go to London, and Jill along with some of her friends, is looking after the riding school in Mrs. Darcy's absence. These responsibilities extend to looking after Blue Smoke, Mrs. Darcy's own gorgeous hunter worth 500 guineas. However, Blue Smoke gets desperately ill in the middle of the night, and Jill is called up to the riding school to help get the vet, along with Wendy. Source: Jill Has Two Ponies, Chapter 11

Other works[edit]

Aside from the "Jill" series, most of Ferguson's books are long out of print and have become somewhat rare. The exception is Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, which was recently republished by Persephone Books. At its original publication, The Queen Mother is reported to have enjoyed the book so much that she invited Ruby Ferguson to dinner at Buckingham Palace. The new edition also received favourable notices; in fact, it was listed as one of the "Books of the Year" by The Spectator.

List of works[edit]

The Jill series[edit]

  • Jill's Gymkhana Sometimes sold with A stable for Jill. (1949)
  • A Stable for Jill (1951)
  • Jill has Two Ponies (1952)
  • Jill Enjoys her Ponies (1954) (later republished as Jill and the Runaway)
  • Jill's Riding Club (1956)
  • Rosettes for Jill (1957)
  • Jill and the Perfect Pony (1959)
  • Pony Jobs for Jill (1960) (later republished as Challenges for Jill)
  • Jill's Pony Trek (1962)

Other works as Ruby Ferguson[edit]

  • Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary (1937) (Republished in 2004 by Persephone Books)
  • The Moment of Truth (1944)
  • Our Dreaming Done (1946)
  • Winter's Grace (1948)
  • Turn Again Home (1951)
  • Apricot Sky (1952)
  • A Paintbox for Pauline (1953)
  • The Leopard's Coast (1954)
  • For Every Favour (1956)
  • Doves in My Fig-tree (1957)
  • The Cousins of Colonel Ivy (1959)
  • The Wakeful Guest (1962)
  • A Woman With a Secret (1965)
  • Children at the Shop: The Charming Autobiography of Childhood (1967)
  • The Queen's Book of the Red Cross. With a message from Her Majesty the Queen and contributions by fifty British authors and artists. In aid of the Lord Mayor of London's Fund for the Red Cross and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (1939) (contributor)

As R.C. Ashby[edit]

  • The Moorland Man (1926)
  • The Tale of Rowan Christie (1927)
  • Beauty Bewitched (1928)
  • Death at Tiptoe (1931)
  • Miss Graham's Guest ("The Methodist", No. 90, June 1932)
  • Plot Against a Widow (1932)
  • He Arrived at Dusk (1933)
  • One Way Traffic (1933)
  • Out Went the Taper (1934)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fidra's Forthcoming Titles page. The announcement was made in October 2007.
  2. ^ Thiel, Liz. "The Dark Horse: Ruby Ferguson and the Jill Pony Stories." The Lion and the Unicorn 26, 2002, pp. 112–122.Full Text accessible through libraries subscribing to Project Muse.

External links[edit]