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Nina Bawden

Nina Bawden was one of the most important and engaging contemporary writers of fiction for young people. No-one should miss out on such classics as Carrie's War and The Peppermint Pig. Throughout her writing career, Bawden was acclaimed for her ability to put herself in the place of a child.

Born: London, January 1925
Died: 22 August, 2012
Jobs: Writer
Lives: London & Greece
First Book for Young People: The Secret Passage, 1963

Nina Bawden was one of the few novelists who is equally successful in writing both for adults and for children. She remembered her own childhood very clearly and many of her children's books were inspired by the places she knew and the things that happened to her when she was young; her grandmother's house in Norfolk where she first heard the story of The Peppermint Pig and the mining valley in Wales where she lived during wartime evacuation from London, just like the heroine of Carrie's War.

From school, she went to Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics in the same year as Margaret Thatcher. She had always liked writing and finished her first novel (for adults) the year after gaining her degree. She wrote several more before her first children's book, The Secret Passage, which was written especially for her three children, after they had discovered a secret passage in the cellar of their house. Once her family was grown up, Nina Bawden lived for part of the year in Nauplion in Greece (the inspiration for The Real Plato Jones) and, for the rest, on the banks of the Regent Canal in London, in a tall terrace house (the setting for The Robbers).

Nina continued to write both for adults and children. Many of her children's books have been filmed, or adapted for television and all have been widely translated into many languages including Russian and Japanese.

"I like writing for children. It seems to me that most people underestimate their understanding and the strength of their feelings and in my books for them I try to put this right."

"In a sense I write the same sort of books for adults and children. I suppose what interests me most are characters', particularly children's, relationships with each other."

"I never decided to become a writer: I always thought I was one."

"I was a keyhole child - fearsomely curious. I always wanted to know what the grownups were up to."

"Horrible characters are lovely to write about because you can get your own back on all sorts of people you never liked when you were young."

"Bawden never wastes a dialogue, never admits a cliche, never skimps a character. This is how the job of writing for children should be done." The Times

"Nina Bawden is without question one of the very best writers for children." Daily Telegraph

"Faultless on the mysterious, transient vocabulary of the young." The Guardian

"No writer is better than Bawden at conveying the alienation of childhood." Times Literary Supplement

"Nina Bawden is a master at capturing the taste of growing up." New York Times

"To say that Nina Bawden writes both adult and juvenile books is true and yet misleading. I rather think of them as being 'scenes from adult life' and 'scenes from childhood'. She has that rare ability of moving from one to the other with perfect propriety and judgement." Leon Garfield

"One of the most subtly innovative of modern writers for children." TES

"The great thing about Miss Bawden's characters is that however large or small a part they have to play, they are properly rounded people with totally believable reactions." Evening Standard

"A typical Bawden novel has a vital secret rumbling away in the background which young characters must eventually understand for their peace of mind." Nicholas Tucker, The Independent

"An outstanding book, written with compassion and with insight and above all with honesty." New Statesman on Carrie's War

"No one could be too old for it... Carrie's War is as vivid and elusive as a good dream." TES

"She has a depth of perception, an almost supernatural understanding of a child's mind, which, with her gloriously understated sense of humour and a sound common sense, make every word ring not only memorable but true." Daily Telegraph on Carrie's War

"The best account I know of how children adapted to strange surroundings in wartime." The Times on Carrie's War

"Carrie's War takes young readers into an area too often side-stepped in books for them: the warring, irrational relationships adults are prone to fall into, and the shameful way children are used by them to fight their emotionally damaging battles." Aidan Chambers, The Horn Book Magazine

"Wry, witty, needle sharp and uncompromising as ever, Bawden works some intriguing and often uncomfortable threads into the plot of this complex, beautifully crafted novel." The Guardian on Granny the Pag

"So well written it practically reads itself." The Independent on Granny the Pag

"Granny 'the Pag'... is as vivid and enjoyable a fiction creation as you are likely to find, and the book is touching, true, funny and gripping. Bawden demonstrates to perfection how to write for children without having to sound like a child." Sunday Times

"Superb characterization and human understanding (give) this book its richness. The portrayal of Granny is particularly wonderful but there are also some marvellous cameos of more minor characters." Junior Education on Granny the Pag

"The first page of A Handful of Thieves is as compelling an opening as one could hope for." Times Literary Supplement

"Entirely convincing... the plot and the dialogue keep up a cracking pace." Financial Times on A Handful of Thieves

"One of the rare books that can sustain whole class readings, and will itself teach many things about what books can do." Books For Keeps on Keeping Henry

"A subtle and multi-layered story, one of Nina Bawden's best." The Observer on Keeping Henry

"Such finely worked writing is just right for the age group that has to make do, too often, with the simplistic rather than the powerfully simple." School Librarian on Keeping Henry

"Nina Bawden skilfully explores relationships between generations." TES on Off The Road

"Bawden at her best... touching and convincing." TES on The Outside Child

"Nina Bawden has a remarkable gift for combining subtlety and clarity in her writing for children; superb characterizations, the interplay of human relationships, and powerful emotions that lie beneath the surface of everyday life are presented wholly from the girl's ingenuous perspective." The Horn Book Magazine on The Outside Child

"The most brilliant example I know of a perfect ending." John Rowe Townsend on The Peppermint Pig

"Here is an outstandingly fine writer at the height of her powers." Junior Bookshelf on The Real Plato Jones

"Highly readable and thought-provoking." Junior Education on The Real Plato Jones

"The much-admired... author has done it again, written so adroitly that one feels like a participant in the lives of her characters... Brava, Bawden." Publishers Weekly on The Robbers

"A fine example of the subtlety with which she combines psychological insight with social comment." Books and Bookmen on The Robbers

"This is how children really talk and think." Sunday Telegraph on The Runaway Summer

"Unputdownable." TES on The Runaway Summer

The Guardian Fiction Award 1976 for The Peppermint Pig Shortlisted for the W H Smith Mind Boggling Books Award 1995 for The Real Plato Jones Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal 1996 for Granny the Pag The Phoenix Award for Carrie’s War

London; January 1925

(when young) The Jungle Book

A ring that I have just lost!

'When I was one and twenty, I heard a wise man say...'

Bringing Up Baby

When did you start writing?
When I was about eight-years-old. I wrote a novel about an eight-year-old girl who ran away to sea. (My father was a marine engineer.) Then a play that was performed at my primary school. It was about two elephant hunters in Africa, a good hunter and a bad hunter. (This was my African period.) Neither novel nor play were much good. To my credit, I realized this at the time.

Where do you get your ideas?
Anywhere and everywhere. I got the idea for The Real Plato Jones in Greece. We had just been to the Pelyon to see some friends. There had been a terrible fire round their village olive trees exploding, burning. Then we came home to Nafplio (which is where we live when we are not in London) and I 'saw' Plato, whom I had written about in The Outside Child, riding his bike along the harbour wall.

Can you give your top three tips to becoming a successful author?
1. Read as many books as you can. Get the feel of the language. Hear it in your head as you are reading, or writing.
2. Write whenever you can, about anything you like. Your family is a good place to start!
3. Look around you. Listen. Not just to what people say, but to what they don't say.

Favourite memory?
Playing with our tame red squirrel in Shropshire during the war. His name was Henry and I wrote about him, and my two brothers, Peter and Robin, in a book called Keeping Henry.

Favourite place in the world and why?
The small town of Nafplio, in Greece. We live on the top floor of an old merchant house. From the balconies I can see a huge and wonderful castle tumbling down a great mountain, and the harbour, with ships coming in.

What are your hobbies?
Reading. Swimming. Parties. Friends. Travelling. And listening to people, and watching them.

If you hadn't been a writer, what do you think you would have been?
An actress? Prime Minister? A famous explorer? A rubbish collector? (That would be the most useful.) But how can I know?

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