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Posts Tagged ‘young adult fiction’

There is a detailed entry on “children’s literature” in the Brittanica Library (Ex Encyclopedia Brittanica?). Of UK children’s literature it claims:

The English have often confessed a certain reluctance to say good-bye to childhood. This curious national trait, baffling to their continental neighbours, may lie at the root of their supremacy in children’s literature. Yet it remains a mystery. But, if it cannot be accounted for, it can be summed up.

It also argues that:

In two fields … English post-war children’s literature set new records. These were the historical novel and that cloudy area comprising fantasy, freshly wrought myth, and indeed any fiction not rooted in the here and now.

Of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction:

There was fair reason to consider Rosemary Sutcliff not only the finest writer of historical fiction for children but quite unconditionally among the best historical novelists using English. A sound scholar and beautiful stylist, she made few concessions to the presumably simple child’s mind and enlarged junior historical fiction with a long series of powerful novels about England’s remote past, especially that dim period stretching from pre-Roman times to the coming of Christianity. Among her best works are The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), The Shield Ring (1956), The Silver Branch (1957), The Lantern Bearers (1959), and especially Warrior Scarlet (1958).

 

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Joe Abercrombie is a writer of fantasy novels for adults, including the First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of King). He has now turned his attention to ‘young adults’, with his first YA fantasy book Half a King.

On bookseller Waterstones blog he comments that after writing several fantasy novels for adults he “felt the need to try my hand at something at least slightly different”. He turned to a novel for young adults. He was influenced by Rosemary Sutcliff  whose  books were “full of authenticity, honesty, moral ambiguity, shocks and tough choices. These were not books that ever preached, or talked down to their audience”.

I was at a ‘zany zone’ with my children one day…soft play, ball bath, slides, you know the type of thing. There happened to be a boy with a malformed hand there, who was having some trouble joining in fully with the rest. I was thinking how tough that must be.  Then I started thinking how much tougher it would be in the medieval sort of world I tend to work in. Especially in a Viking or a Saxon inspired world, where fighting in the shield wall was at the heart of their culture.  Where standing strong with your brothers, and holding a shield for the man at your shoulder, was the mark of being a man. And that was the seed for Half a King.

Rosemary Sutcliff historical and children’s book and novel Blood Feud cover… My main touchstones in the young adult arena were things I read and loved when I was younger – notably Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical books (Blood Feud especially) and John Christopher’s post-apocalyptic The Sword of the Spirits. These were books full of authenticity, honesty, moral ambiguity, shocks and tough choices. These were not books that ever preached, or talked down to their audience. I started from the standpoint that young adults are, above all, adults. Just young ones. What they want to read isn’t radically different from what old adults (like me) want to read. People in that 12-18 age range are dealing with serious issues of sex, money, identity, responsibility. The last thing they want to be is talked down to. What adult does?

So my aim was not to pull the teeth of my existing style, but to modify it for a new audience, a younger adult audience, but also a wider adult audience who might have found themselves turned off by the big size of some of the fantasy out there. To write something shorter, tighter, more focused, perhaps a smidge less cynical and pessimistic. A slap in the face on every page. No wasted space. Simpler in its narrative, perhaps, but certainly not simpler in the way it was written or in the themes that it tackles. Something a little less explicit in the sex, violence and swearing but absolutely with the edges left on, with the same shades of grey, moral complexity, shocks and challenges, visceral action, and rich vein of dark humour that I fondly imagine my other books have offered. Whatever I came up with, I wanted it to retain the strength of my other work, to bring new readers to that work, and absolutely to appeal to the readers I already had.

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Veronica Horwell wrote about the life and writing of historical novelist and writer for children and young adults Rosemary Sutcliff with affectionate insight in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles—“Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?”—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth—that nothing iswholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life.So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present. When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

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Julia Eccleshare, expert on children’s and young adult’s fiction and literature (and Book Doctor at The Guardian), recently wrote a piece for theguardian.com with recommendations for historical fiction for children and teenagers which is not about the world wars. Of Rosemary Sutcliff she said:

In her many novels, Rosemary Sutcliff charted the making of Britain from the simple living of the upland shepherds of the Bronze Age in Warrior Scarlet to Elizabethan England in The Queen Elizabeth Story. She concentrated particularly on Roman Britain reflecting the many attitudes and experiences around the coming together of different cultures as the Romans and the indigenous population learned to live together and to blend their two very different ways of life.

In a loose series of titles which includes The Eagle of the Ninth and Dawn Wind Rosemary Sutcliff writes of Romano-British occupation and skirmish but she also details the home life of both sides describing the cooking, weaving and celebrations of the British tribes and the more advanced home comforts of the Roman invaders such as the installation of central heating in their villas.

Other authors she recommended were: Geoffrey TreaseLeon Garfield, Jill Paton Walsh, Berlie Doherty, Sally Nicholls, Adele Geras, John Rowe Townsend, and Melvin Burgess .

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Rosemary Sutcliff  was reviewed with affectionate insight by Veronica Horwell in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles —’Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?’—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth – that nothing is wholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life. So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present.

When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

Source: The Guardian, 3 August 1992. Used with the author’s permission

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John Rowe Townsend, author, who has died aged 91

Sad today to learn of the death of John Rowe Townsend, albeit aged 91, who The Guardian describe in their obituary as “not only a dominant figure in the academic study of children’s literature, but … a seminal influence on the entire development of modern children’s books.

Rosemary Sutcliff—as historical novelist and children’s book writer—was the subject an essay by him in his 1971 book  A Sense of Story. He observed  that Rosemary Sutcliff’s books amount to  ”a body of work rather than a shelf of novels”.

Day to day, minute to minute, second to second the surface of our lives is in a perpetual ripple of change. Below the immediate surface are slower, deeper currents, and below these again are profound mysterious movements beyond the scale of the individual life-span. And far down on the sea-bed are the oldest, most lasting things, whose changes our imagination can hardly grasp at all. The strength of Rosemary Sutcliff’s main work—and it is a body of work rather than a shelf of novels—is its sense of movement on all these scales. Bright the surface may be, and vigorous the action of the moment, but it is never detached from the forces underneath that give it meaning. She puts more into the reader’s consciousness than he is immediately aware of.

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That Rosemary Sutcliff followed in the footsteps of children’s writer Geoffrey Trease was the accurate claim of an intriguing article a couple of years ago in The Morning Star (the link I had does not now work, but I have found the article— below —on Wayback Machine). I was moved to write to the editor:

Although you carry a fascinating article yesterday (February 25, 2010) by Farah Mendlesohn about Geoffrey Trease, may I correct a couple of errors of fact? If Rosemary Sutcliff (sic) did indeed “follow” in “Trease’s footsteps”, she started following in the 1950s not the 1960s as stated, with her award-winning Lantern Bearers and The Eagle of the Ninth which were both published in that earlier decade.

Furthermore, in all decades her name was spelled without the ‘E’ … As to the detail about Trease, whilst not a matter of fact, I think it interesting that in one respect Rosemary Sutcliff certainly did not follow in his footsteps. I grew up listening to her, as a close relative. I heard how much she treasured Trease’s work, but I do not think that she shared the political leanings that the article explores.

The man who told the people’s stories

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