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Archive for the ‘The Shining Company’ Category

Within our family I always knew my relative  and god-mother (and in later adult years close friend) Rosemary Sutcliff as ‘Romie’ and spelled it like that. But just today I realise she spelled it Romey (sic), as I used a brief note she wrote me and my family when she gave me a copy of The Shining Company. The letter itself reveals her preference for the American edition of the book.

Letter from Rosemary Sutcliff to relative Anthony Lawton and family

 

 

 

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Academic John Withrington wrote to The Independent (London) newspaper  (August 20, 1992), to comment on their obituary of Rosemary Sutcliff.

Last year I interviewed Rosemary Sutcliff on the Arthurian theme in her fiction. The published text arrived a matter of days before her death and on re-reading the transcript I was reminded of her vitality and enthusiasm, of an honest approach which combined scholarship with an unsentimental attitude to pain and suffering.

As Julia Eccleshare observed of her writing, allusions to historical sources are present but never signposted, the battle narrative magnificent yet never glorifying the strife it depicts. These traits were most apparent perhaps in her adult novel Sword at Sunset, the ‘autobiography’ of King Arthur, and the work of which she was most proud. But as Sutcliff herself acknowledged, she also had “a feeling for the mending side of life”; and whether writing of the physically and emotionally crippled, or, when following in the footsteps of her beloved Kipling, of the healing which happens when clashing cultures learn to live together, her prose was always characterised by compassion.

She felt that as the years progressed she had become a tougher writer, a belief reinforced by a reading of The Shining Company, itself based upon the poem Y Gododdin, which celebrates the annihilation of an army at Catterick in circa AD600 (sacrifice was always a theme which fascinated her). Yet for all her seriousness, she remained a cheerful and remarkably modest author, seemingly surprised by her success. “You’re always terrified that the books you write are going to go downhill,” she once said. It seems unlikely that those books which remain to be published will disappoint.

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Publishers Farrar, Straus and Giroux produced a teachers’ and readers’ guide about the books of Rosemary Sutcliff (that they pubished!). It is undated, covering ” the award-winning trilogy set in Roman Britain as well as Outcast, The Shining Company, Sword Song, Tristan and Iseult, and Warrior Scarlet”. The historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, it says: (more…)

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Rosemary Sutcliff, historical novelist

Rosemary Sutcliff was the subject of a fascinating, insightful article (‘Of  The Minstrel Kind’) in the children’s literature magazine Books for Keeps. First published only in print form, it has for some time been reproduced online.

Margaret Meak was paying tribute to a seventy-year-old Rosemary.

I met Rosemary Sutcliff for the first time thirty years ago in a London hospital where she was recovering from an operation. (more…)

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Raymond H. Thompson (Author)  interviewed Rosemary Sutcliff for the periodical Avalon to Camelot in 1986. In the introduction he wrote:

Though perhaps best known for historical novels set in Roman Britain, such as The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), Rosemary Sutcliff has written some of the finest contemporary recreations of the Arthurian story. She introduces us to Arthur in The Lantern Bearers (1959), a book for younger readers that won the Carnegie Medal, and in Sword at Sunset (1963) she continues his tale in his own words. She has also retold the Arthurian legend with clarity and elegance in Tristan and Iseult (1971), The Light Beyond the Forest (1979), The Sword and the Circle (1981), and The Road to Camlann (1981). Her later novels were set in the more recent past, but she returned to Dark Age Britain for her … novel The Shining Company (London: Bodley Head), which is based upon the Gododdin. This poem, composed about 600 A.D. in North Britain by the bard Aneirin to commemorate a band of British warriors who fell in battle against the Angles, is of special interest in that it provides us with the earliest mention of Arthur’s name and Sutcliff’s novel preserves the Arthurian echoes.

Source:  Interview with Rosemary Sutcliff | Robbins Library Digital Projects.

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Over at the Facebook page for Rosemary Sutcliff  readers have been robust about  the error of The Booktrust’s ways in excluding Rosemary Sutcliff from their attempt to list the 100 best children’s books of the last 100 years. I asked for help in compiling a broadside.

I’m not sure this will help, but the books I enjoyed when I was 11 still engage me at 63! I’ve never felt that Rosemary Sutcliff writes for children alone. There’s probably no more poignant tale than The Lantern Bearers. Also, she has a talent for dialogue in an historical context which is unsurpassed. Most children’s authors have nothing remotely like it. (Roy Marshall)

Rosemary Sutcliff’s books last in the mind and heart. I am 63 now and they stand out as Beacons from my childhood. I have reread many in mid and later life and they are even better. I am with Roy, The Lantern Bearers is my favourite – so evocative and of our own end times too. (Rob Patterson)

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman books, starting with the Eagle of the Ninth (but I read all the others – The Mark of the Horse Lord was probably the one that really inspired me), were one of the influences that led me to study archaeology.

(more…)

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The Carnegie Medal for 2013  is awarded today. The Medal is awarded every year in the UK to the writer of an outstanding book for children. (2013 shortlist here).

The eminent Rosemary Sutcliff  (1920-92) won the (former) Library Association Carnegie Medal in 1959 for her historical novel for children The Lantern Bearers (she wrote for children”aged 8 to 88″, she said).  She was runner-up with Tristan and Iseult in 1972.  (more…)

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One of the pleasures of curating this blog about Rosemary Sutcliff, the eminent historical novelist and children’s writer (who regular readers will know was a close, much-loved relative of mine) is the contributions you readers make by way of ‘comments’ on particular posts, and also the ‘You Write!’ tab. A recent 1988 diary entry mentioned  Catraeth. Jane mused about Catterick camp and Jane picked up the baton:

The Catterick Garrison is still in operation – it’s the largest BritIsh Army garrison in the world.

The old Roman fort of Cataractonium will be familiar to those who’ve read The Shining Company – it’s the setting for the last desperate stand of the Company against the Saxon forces of Aethelfrith, Lord of Bernicia and Deira.“Catreath, Cataractonium as the Romans had called it, was a double cohort fort, and so there was room enough for all of us within the crumbling defences.”

Cataractonium’s marching camp also makes an appearance: “And so, with the forest reaching up towards us, we came to the remains of yet one more fort in that land of lost forts, and made our last night’s camp. It was not much of a fort, maybe only a permanent marching camp in its time, and being on the edge of the forest country the wild had taken it back more completely than those of the high moors…. little remained of the buildings but turf hummocks and bramble domes”.

Although it isn’t one of the Aquila family sequence, there’s one of those “aha” moments in Shining Company which readers of Sutcliff work enjoy – a connection made with Frontier Wolf (set a couple of centuries earlier) when young Prosper and a couple of companions out on a training exercise camp at the (now ruined) Cramond fort where the action in Frontier Wolf takes place. Sutcliff uses the linking device very effectively as a way of emphasizing continuity.

And ,of course, as well as making me wiser about Catterick and Catraeth, and reminding me of Frontier Wolf , this prompts me to  ask all you readers and contributors – regular and occasional – please do tell us some more “Aha” moments …

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In the light of today’s (29th June) entry in Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1988 diary, I went back to her novel The Shining Company. Rosemary, my godmother and cousin, kindly gave me and my family  a copy  when the US edition was published. She reveals her preference for it in the letter she enclosed (which I had forgotten!)

Letter from Rosemary Sutcliff to Anthony Lawton about The Shining Company

The US edition of Rosemary Sutcliff novel The Shining Company

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June 29th Wednesday. Very hot and sultry after the chilly past few days. Geraldine for tea. Long phone call from Dai Evans with the information I asked him to get me about Catreath, the photostats to be posted off to me tomorrow. “The Men went to Catraeth” becomes more and more complex by the day now.

‘Catraeth’ has featured several times in diary entries. “The Men went to Catraeth” is perhaps the provisional title for the chapter Rosemary Sutcliff was writing at this point. In the final version of her award-winning historical novel The Shining Company,which was published in 1990, there is a chapter – this chapter? – called “The Road to Catraeth”.  Set in A.D. 600, the novel was based on Y Gododdin, one of the earliest surviving examples of Welsh poetry. It was transcribed in the twelfth century but commemorated an event in the sixth: “an elegy for slain heroes and a eulogy of their excellence and bravery as fighting men” (in the words of one commentator, here). The poem begins with a fragment of poetry which speaks of Catraeth as the site of a great battle.

Gwyr a aeth Gatraeth gan wawr …
Men went to Catraeth with the dawn,

Their fears disturbed their peace,
A hundred thousand fought three hundred
Bloodily they stained spears,
His was the bravest station in battle,
Before the retinue of Mynyddog Mzvynfawr.

The story Rosemary Sutcliff tells in The Shining Company is this.

In northern Britain, Prosper becomes a shield bearer with the Companions, an army made up of three hundred younger sons of minor kings and trained to act as one fighting brotherhood against the invading Saxons. Life is secure until Prince Gorthyn arrives with his hunting party to kill the white hart. Prosper tries to save the unusual beast and, when found out, is surprised to learn that Prince Gorthyn admires his daring. Prosper asks to serve the prince, but it is not until two years later that he receives a summons: King Mynyddog is raising a war host of three hundred younger sons to fight the invading Saxons, and Gorthyn needs a second shieldbearer. Answering the call, Prosper sets out immediately to meet the prince and travel to King Mynyddog’s fortress at Dyn Eidin. For a year the three hundred men – the Companions – and their shieldbearers train until they can think and act as one fighting brotherhood. And when word reaches them that the Saxon leader has taken yet another kingdom, they set out to attack the Saxon stronghold at Catraeth. It is here that Prosper must face his greatest challenge, as treachery strikes the Companions from an unexpected source.

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