I was fifteen when Riders, the first of the ‘Rutshire Chronicles’ – so-called because that’s where the main characters hail from – came out. Set in an idyllic world of show-jumping, huge country houses, and a variety of animals and posh people behaving very badly, Riders was wildly glamorous and published in a golden age of romance blockbusters.
One of the reasons I’ve loved Jilly Cooper for so long is that even though a lot of it is very glitzy, her books are also populated by girls like me; girls and women who were self-deprecating and weren’t sure if they’d ever be attractive, or if the chap they fancied would ever ask them out, never mind fall in love with them. Jilly not only promised that ugly ducklings often turn into swans, but that anyone’s life might eventually turn out to be fabulous.
I re-read the books continually as a teenager. Emotional, dramatic, passionate, romantic and drowning in a tsunami of puns, Cooper’s books are escapism at its finest, and that’s still true today. If you’ve never read her, you’re missing out on what fabulous fun being very naughty can be.
I’ll begin with an amuse-bouche – Bella, one of Jilly’s earlier novels from the 1970s. Then I’ll introduce you to two of my favourite Rutshire books, both starring Jilly’s most famous and enduring hero, Rupert Campbell-Black. I’ll finish up with a couple of Jilly’s non-fiction titles, but don’t worry, they’re still full of animals, Jilly’s great love, though with a more serious side.