Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of Millions

Like Rosemary Sutcliff, Frank Cottrell Boyce was awarded the Carnegie medal—for his children’s book, Millions. Like Rosemary, he believes passionately in reading for the sake of reading. I suspect also that, like Rosemary, he is passionate about being read to.

An article in the Guardian newspaper on Friday last quotes him from a lecture in which he argues that children are too often asked to analyse the text of a book or respond to a story with their own story, thus “polluting the whole reading experience”.

I visit many schools. I see amazing, creative work being done – especially in primary schools. But I have a nagging fear that in encouraging literacy we are killing the pleasure of reading…

There’s a humbling, Homeric magic in the sight of a crowd of children sitting down waiting to listen to your story…

Time and time again I come across teachers reading a story and then asking immediately for some kind of feedback. A piece of ‘creative writing’ ‘inspired by’ the story. Some opinions about character and wow words. Something to show the parents or the school inspectors. It pollutes the reading experience by bringing something transactional in to play. It destroys pleasure.

Pleasure in reading is deeply important. Pleasure is a profound and potent form of attention, a kind of slow thinking.When I offer you a story I don’t want you to come back to me with a description of how I did it. I don’t think of my reader as a trainee writer. I’m hoping that it stays in your mind and comes out in different ways I could never have predicted – as an engineering idea, as a cake, as a hug that you give your dad.

We think of reading as a solitary activity but some of my most important reading experiences were very much shared.

Picture of Rudyard Kipling writer of children's and adults fiction, and a favourite of Rosemary SucliffRosemary Sutcliff always acknowledged her love of Rudyard Kipling. She wrote a small monograph about him, and  in 1965 in The Kipling Journal wrote:

… other people write about things from the outside in, but Kipling writes about them from the inside out … I was something under six when my mother first read The Jungle Books to me. They were my first introduction to Kipling, and perhaps for that reason, they have an especial potency for me. From the first, I had an extraordinary sense of familiarity in the jungle; I was not discovering a new world but returning to a world I knew; and the closest contact I ever made with a ‘Story book Character’, I made with Bagheera, the black panther with the voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree and the little bald spot that told of a collar, under his chin.   Continue Reading »

Mabel George was central to the children’s books division at Oxford University Press when Rosemary Sutcliff was published by OUP.

A printer’s daughter, she joined OUP in 1946 as a production assistant. From 1948-56 she was was production manager. She took over the whole department in 1956.

From then to her retirement in 1974 she developed an astonishing array of artists and writers.She discovered a cockney gasman, Charles Keeping; a Hungarian refugee, Victor Ambrus; Bridget Riley’s ex-assistant, Fiona French – and Brian Wildsmith. Mabel saw his potential when he first arrived with some abstract paintings. She set him to work on black and white illustrations first and then turned him loose in full colour on the Arabian Nights. To this day he remembers the review in the TLS (Times Literary Supplement): ‘We now descend to the lowest depths with Brian Wildsmith’s…pointless scribbles which do duty for drawings wander aimlessly about the page.’

‘Take no notice, Brian,’ said Mabel. ‘We make up our own minds here. We’re now going to do an ABC.’ This he did, won the Kate Greenaway Medal, and changed the face of picture books.

Someone who was once briefly Rosemary Sutcliff’s editor (I do not know where or when) used to post as Antonius Pectinarius at www.ancientworlds.net . He believed her best work was in the 1950s and 1960s, beginning with The Eagle of the Ninth and ending with The Mark of the Horse Lord which was his own favourite. Writing in 2003, he said:

She had, as did Henry Treece, a mystical communion with the past, which enabled her both to recreate tiny details, and to confound military historians with her understanding of the art of battle in any situation she cared to devise. Her sense of place was uncanny, in that she could get no nearer to a site than the seat of a car on an adjacent road. Friends often served as her eyes, and also as her researchers, but it was the conclusions she drew from the evidence, and her re-creations of them, that made her contribution to the literature about the ancient world so distinctive.

Where she was simply embellishing recorded history, she was no better than anyone else.

She also had one of the rudest senses of humour in anyone I have met.

Source: Rosemary Sutcliff—more appreciation.

Yesterday I read about both the Man-Booker Prize for Fiction, and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize (for children’s and young adult literature). It put me in mind of some of the awards Rosemary Sutcliff won or was commended for (nearly won!).


Rosemary Sutcliff, historical novelist

Rosemary Sutcliff , internationally-acclaimed writer of historical fiction, children’s literature and books for children, wrote for an exhibition for The International Year of Disabled People in 1981 (at  The Roundhouse, London, UK) about being disabled, and living with physical disabilities.

Career-wise, I’m one of the lucky ones. My job, as a writer of books, is one of the few in which physical disability presents hardly any problems. I would claim that it presents no problems at all but my kind of book needs research, and research is more difficult for a disabled person. Continue Reading »

Rosemary Sutcliff tells her own story, about her life until her first books were published, and she started writing a diary, in Blue Remembered Hills—A Recollection. It has been most recently republished by Slightly Foxed. It was first published in 1983 by The Bodley Head.

Rosemary Sutcliff talks about herself and her writing—the only recorded interview with her that I have heard— in an interview on BBC Radio with Roy Plomley for an edition of the long-running, classic radio programme Desert Island Discs, also in 1983. Roy Plomley had presumably read her memoir. 

When anybody asks me where I was born, or when I am called on to provide that information in filling out a form, I admit with a distinct sense of apology that I was born in Surrey.
(Blue Remembered Hills, opening sentence)

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