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On November 4th, 1992, The Times newspaper recorded briefly the memorial service for “Miss Rosemary Sutcliff”.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage was represented by Mr Vaughan Rees at a memorial service for Miss Rosemary Sutcliff held yesterday (Nov 4th) at St James’s, Piccadilly.

The Rev Ulla Monberg officiated.

The Rev Peter Trafford and Mrs Sarah Palmer read the lessons, Ms Jill Black and Mr Anthony Lawton, godson and chairman, Sussex Dolphin, read from Miss Sutcliff’s works and Mr John Bell from the works of Kipling. Mr Murray Pollinger, principal, Murray Pollinger, and Mrs Penelope Lively gave addresses.

The Telegraph gave much more detail of who was there, and the readings.

A memorial service for Miss Rosemary Sutcliff was held yesterday at St James’s, Piccadilly. The Rev Ulla Monberg officiated, assisted by the Rev Peter Trafford.

Mrs Sarah Palmer read a lesson and Mrs Jill Black read from Miss Sutcliff’s “Sun Horse, Moon Horse”. Mr John Bell read from Rudyard Kipling’s “A Song to Mithras” and Mr Anthony Lawton (cousin and godson), Chairman of Sussex Dolphin, read from Miss Sutcliff’s autobiography “Blue Remembered Hills”, and from “Puffin Passport”. Addresses were given by Mr Murray Pollinger and Mrs Penelope Lively. “Blue Remembered Hills”, an Air for Rosemary Sutcliff, by Mr Steafan Hannigan, was played by him on the Irish Pipes.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage was represented by Mr Vaughan Rees. Among others present were:

Mrs Anthony Lawton, Rowan Lawton, Dominic Lawton, Miss Heather Lawton, Mr Michael Palmer, Mr John Sutcliff, Miss Rachel Sutcliff, Mr and Mrs Richard Wood, Mr Jonathan Wood, Mr James Wood, Mr Edward Sutcliff.

Viscountess Hanworth, Lady Reynolds, Mr Philip Attenborough, Hodder and Stoughton, Miss Margaret Clark, Bodley Head, Mrs Elizabeth Attenborough, Penguin Books, Mrs Jane Nissen, Hamish Hamilton, Mr Maurice Lyon, Puffin Books, Miss Julie Myerson and Miss Caroline Royds, Walker Books, Miss Catherine Toseland, Random House, Mrs Julia MacRae, Managing Director, Julia MacRae Books.

Miss Nina Bawden, representing the Royal Society of Literature, Mr Mark Le Fanu, General Secretary, Society of Authors, Mr John Paxton, representing the West Country Writers’ Association, Miss Paddy Moon, Association of Disabled Professionals, Mr J Eagle, the Ninth Legion.

Mrs Murray Pollinger, Mr Walter Hodges, Miss Shirley Felts, Miss Emma Chichester Clark, Mr Donald Fisher, Miss Gillian Avery, Mr David Davis, Miss Christine Long, Mr Christopher Fry, Mrs Robert Gittings, Mr and Mrs Brian Alderson, Miss Naomi Lewis, Mrs Anthony Burgess, Mrs Jill Paton Walsh, Mrs Elaine Moss, Miss Philippa Pearce, Miss Vivienne Menkes and Miss Frances Lincoln, together with other friends.

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Cover of Books for Keeps, March 2010

Brian Alderson founded the Children’s Books History Society; he was once Children’s Books Editor for The Times newspaper. Writing in Books for Keeps in 2010, he  recalled an anecdote once told to librarians by Rosemary Sutcliff in the 1950s: ‘That’s not a sand-castle,’ said the busy child on the beach, ‘I’m building a temple to Mithras.’

In all probability the temple-builder’s enthusiasm for the work came from hearing its famed serialisation on ‘Children’s Hour’ but (perhaps unlike television serials) the wireless version sent listeners straight back to the book to get the author’s full-dress narrative to go with the spoken one.

They were keen readers, those librarians – our first critics, long before the academic brigades were mustered – and for them, at that time, the landing of The Eagle of the Ninth had something of the force of a revelation. True, it did not come from an entirely unknown author. (more…)

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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.   (more…)

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Someone asks on Twitter:

“Suggestions please: great fiction for 10-year-old with very inquiring mind. She’s finished Potter, loves Morpurgo, didn’t like Hunger Games”.

Someone replies to suggest. Rosemary Sutcliff.
SO……Which in particular?

Historical novelist and children’s book writer Rosemary Sutcliff books and book covers

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In 2010 Joanna R. Smith blogged about reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s Dawn Wind—“gorgeous historical fiction” about Britain in the 6th Century AD. She loved (Rosemary Sutcliff’s): “storytelling and characters, and her talent of letting you hear and see and feel the things in her books. Her prose is quiet and lyrical and compelling, and this is “ Lovely, lovely stuff. The kind of writing I aspire to!”

The moon drifted clear of a long bank of cloud, and the cool slippery light hung for a moment on the crest of the high ground, and then spilled down the gentle bush-grown slope to the river. Between the darkness under the banks the water which had been leaden gray woke into moving ripple-patterns, and a crinkled skin of silver light marked where the paved ford carried across the road from Corinium to Aquae Sulis. Somewhere among the matted islands of rushes and water crowfoot, a moorhen cucked and was still. On the high ground in the loop of the river nothing moved at all, save the little wind that ran shivering through the hawthorn bushes.

Source: Just a Lyric in a Children’s Rhyme: A long bank of cloud

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Rosemary Sutcliff wrote in her postscript  to Henry Treece’s The Dream-time:

Different kinds of stories need to be told in different kinds of words strung together in different ways.

Henry Treece understood this better than almost any other writer I know. He had a very special gift for finding exactly the words and word-patterns that each of his books needed, so that instead of simply telling the story, they blend into it and become part of its texture and colour and shape and smell.

This is a kind of magic; but it is a magic that, if it is perfectly carried out, hardly shows; so that one might read The Dream-time from beginning to end, and never notice that it was there at all, which would be a great pity.

The Dream-time is a story of people in the very early morning of humanity, when they were not really used to being people at all, and so everything had a strangeness about it, and nothing was quite certain; not even that the spring would come again next year. They were so near the beginning that they can have had only the fewest and simplest of words with which to talk to each other and share their thoughts and feelings and ideas. And yet we know, from the things to do with their religion and way of life that they left behind them, and from Stone Age people who are alive today, such as the Bushmen of the Kalahari, that they had all kinds of complicated thoughts and fears and longings in their heads and hearts. So Henry Treece has told this story in very short and simple words, put together in such a way that they can express things which are not simple at all.

Before you have read very far into The Dream-time you will know what Henry Treece is saying. Indeed, he makes Crookleg, who became Twilight, think part of it for him: `He wished that all people, the men and women and horses and owls and dogs could agree to speak the same words. Then all things would be easy, to speak and to be understood. Perhaps no one would fight then.

It is a constantly shifting and changing story that holds one all the way, with its adventures and its strange peoples and places; but it is also a plea for people to get to know each other and care about each other more; for peace instead of war;  making instead of breaking.

I think that in this, the last book that Henry Treece wrote, he did not mean to make a historical novel, such as he had made before, but to do something quite different. It is more as though, in a way, he were writing down a dream; and just as, in a dream, times and places get jumbled together, he has deliberately put different periods and `pockets’ of very different Peoples nearer to each other than they really were. The story, of a boy who would rather make beautiful things than kill people, seems to belong to the late Stone Age, to the Little Dark People who possessed the secret of growing barley; but the Hunters, the makers of wonderful cave paintings, who were there long before the Barley People, come into it, too; and about the River Folk there is a suggestion of the Age of Bronze, which came after the Little Dark Ones had had their day. I think that in all this, he was trying to show that however much people change in the outward way that they behave and even think, certain things never change. Some of these things are good, and some of them bad and sad. In all ages, even today, there are people who want to make beautiful things more than anything else in the world; and people who are willing to die for a dream, even for the kind of dream that seems crazy to everyone else. And in all ages, even today when we have had four thousand years or so in which to learn more sense, people still fight because they do not understand each other.

One of the sad things of life, for every writer, is the knowing that one day he will write his last book. And all too often, when it comes, it is just a book like others that he has written before; maybe not even as good as some of those others were. But Henry Treece was lucky; he has written a very special book indeed for his last novel of all.

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Rosemary Sutcliff died at the end of July 22 years ago. The Guardian obituary by Elaine Moss was entitled ‘Chronicler of Occupied Brittania’:

Let us not be solemn about the death of Rosemary Sutcliff CBE, who has died suddenly, aged 72, despite the progressively wasting Still’s disease that had been with her since the age of two. She was impish, almost irreverent sometimes, in her approach to life. Her favourite author was Kipling and she once told me she had a great affection for The Elephant’s Child – because his first action with his newly acquired trunk was to spank his insufferably interfering relations.

But it was Kipling’s deep communion with the Sussex countryside and its history that was her true inspiration. Settled as an adult in Arundel, Rosemary shared with him his love for his county as well as his vision of successive generations living in and leaving their mark upon the landscape.

Rosemary Sutcliff, at the peak of her form in her “Roman” novels, was without doubt an historical writer of genius, and recognised internationally as such. Though most of her books were published for children, many—particularly The Mark Of The Horse Lord (1965)—have about them the full stature and uncompromising treatment that make them valued additions to the bookshelves of historians.

Though she wrote more than 50 novels, set in times as far apart as the Bronze Age and the 18th century, her favoured period was the Roman occupation of Britain and the survival through it (survival is her theme song) of the native tribes. She writes hauntingly of the life of the Legions, the collapse of the Roman Empire and the carrying of the lantern of civilisation by the descendants of the early legionnaries into the Dark Ages. And it was in the Dark Ages that the Arthurian legends, her second love (surely not unrelated to the first?), were born. To the Arthurian legends which she retells in The Sword And The Circle (among other titles) for children and The Sword At Sunset (1963), an adult novel, she brings her own extraordinary narrative gifts and a touch of personal magic.

To the best-loved Roman stories—The Eagle Of The NinthThe Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers (winner of the Carnegie Medal)—she brings life, glowing and immediate, the result of painstaking research that fired an imagination of extraordinary richness. Song For A Dark Queen (1978) celebrated one of her rare heroines —Boudicca—and she was at once pleased and amused by its outcome, ‘The Other Award’, which is normally conferred upon more self-consciously anti-sexist authors.

Many of Sutcliff’s admirers are struck by the luminous details in her work that conjure up a palpable vision of a Northumbrian wood, a sleeping wolfhound, a young Roman soldier in the noise and mud and confusion of battle. They may not know that at the age of 14 Rosemary Sutcliff left school (“I was hopeless at everything—English, History, Nature Study, Latin —all the things that interest me now”) to study art. But few of those admirers will be surprised to discover that afterwards she became a miniaturist of distinction.

In Blue Remembered Hills (1982), a painful and moving account of her early life, she describes her six-year-old self sitting with her legs stuck straight out in front of her, investigating and experiencing “to my heart’s content the foot or two of world going on around me … The turf was not just grass, but a densely interwoven forest of thyme and scarlet pimpernel, creamy honey-scented clover and cinquefoil and the infinitely small and perfect eyebright with the spot of celestial yellow at its heart.” Here is the eye of the young artist feeding the pen of the future writer.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s own pen had to be “fattened” and cushioned so that her arthritic hand could guide it—yet in her heyday she wrote 1,800 words a day in her elfin script on a single folio sheet and she made no fewer than three hand-written drafts of every novel before she was satisfied. She had just finished the second one in the evening before she died and there are two novels awaiting publication.

She was a professional and a perfectionist in her every endeavour and like so many of her heroes, she rose above apparently insuperable drawbacks.

  • SourceThe Guardian (London) July 27, 1992, p. 39—Obituary ‘Chronicler of Occupied Brittania’ by Elaine Moss

 

 

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