Academic Bill Barnett, from Stanford University Business School, has posted about his view that most successsful business strategies emerge, they are not carefully planned in advance—”Discovery trumps planning”. This accords with the views I have peddled for many years, first at Leicester Management Centre and then Warwick Business School, and latterly as a CEO in the not-for-financial-profit sector in the UK.

But it also made me think of parallels with something Rosemary Sutcliff said once to an interviewer about how she went about writing her novels:

I start with an idea; never a plot. I’m not very strong on plots, but I start from a theme, which grows from the idea. I do have a certain amount of framework: I’ve got to know how I’m going to get from the beginning to the end, and a few ports of call on the way.

I do not write to a standard length. I do not know how long a book’s going to be. I find that a book takes its own time and gets to its own proper ending place.

Dog in Rosemary Sutcliff book illustration by Charles Keeping

Puffin books have redesigned 20 classic books, covering 80 years of children’s fiction — bringing together fairy tales and fantasies, historical adventures and comic mis-adventures, in A Puffin Book list 20 classics.

The Sword and the Circle new 2015 Puffin Edition

Guardian text on Rosemary Sutcliff The Sword and the Circle

All covers here

Rosemary Sutcliff on writing - plot and length

More of Rosemary Sutcliff’s own words here, on this web-site.

The poet and playwright Lemn Sissay has been elected Chancellor of The University of Manchester (UK). An article about his election, in the Guardian newspaper (here), quoted him speaking about wanting to inspire people. He cited a motto of his: I was moved to post a comment. (The obituary I refer to is here)

Comment on RS motto

In 1965 Tony Bradman was 11 and in his last year at Junior school. He was living with his “mum and older sister in a rented flat in south London”. His parents had separated when he was five and got divorced a couple of years later, “which was unusual at the time”.

My dad was working abroad and I hadn’t seen him for several years. He had become a mythical figure, someone I longed for and resented because of his absence.

Then he came back, and soon Saturday mornings were taken up by Dad’s weekly “access visits|”. By then I was obsessed with history. At school we’d studied the Romans and the Saxons, and I was fascinated by it all. So I made my dad take me to the British Museum as often as possible….

Then one Saturday, probably on the way home from the British Museum, dad and I stopped at a WH Smith’s so I could spend my pocket money. I bought a Puffin book, attracted by the cover picture of Roman soldiers and the title: The Eagle of the Ninth. I remember being gripped by the story of a young Roman called Marcus, and his quest to find the Eagle standard of a legion that marched north of Hadrian’s wall and never returned. From then on I was a fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books.

I can give you lots of reasons why I think she’s a great writer. She’s a terrific storyteller, and could certainly teach Hollywood a thing or two about pace, suspense and cliffhangers. Her central characters are usually underdogs, children or young people with colossal problems to overcome – she herself suffered in childhood from Stills disease, a form of arthritis that left her permanently disabled. And then of course she writes so well, bringing her characters and the past brilliantly to life.

But it was only a few years ago that I realised why I’d been so drawn to The Eagle of the Ninth – the story is really about Marcus looking for his father, a centurion in the lost legion. Marcus wants to know what happened to his dad, and in some way to reclaim him. The shadow of not knowing hangs over Marcus, and I see now that I must have identified with another boy who missed his dad and resented his absence.

It was also then that I realised I had always wanted to write historical fiction. I’d written lots of other stuff, of course – poetry and picture books and Dilly the Dinosaur stories – but then I wrote a short novel about Spartacus, and loved the whole process. I haven’t looked back since – I even wrote a novel called Viking Boy, in which a boy goes looking for his missing father. …

So thanks, Rosemary – you really were an inspiration to that 11-year-old boy.

Radio Times entry for interview Rosemary Sutcliff with penelope Lively

The BBC Genome project is a fascinating source of informatyion that is new to me about Rosemary Sutcliff’s contributions to BBC Radio and Television, and about versions of her books created for radio in particular.

Rosemary Sutcliff, historical novelist

In 1984 she was interviewed, for example, about “the lure of Roman and Celtic Britain for her and her readers”. Echoing points she recorded elsewhere on this site, of her youth she said: ‘I was brought up like a Spartan Youth; to take problems, troubles, pain lightly.’

Copy of entry in Radio Times about 1984 appearance on radio


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