Notts writers for younger readers: Ten of our favourites
To mark World Book Day, we thought we’d put together a list of some of the local writers who have inspired young readers to learn to love reading, and perhaps to pick up a pen themselves.
Kirkby in Ashfield born and bred, Cresswell was a colossus for generations of young readers. After taking up writing when just 12, while convalescing from a spinal injury, a brief career as a teacher was taken over by the success of her first book in 1960. Her success with children’s writing was almost accidental; she saw her initial stories for a younger audience as a dalliance from her usual poetry and adult fiction. Yet her unique, uncondescending voice – “I have never written for the Janet and John audience’ chimed with children; and her books were ripe for adaptation: the Lizzie Dripping series was hugely popular in the seventies when the BBC filmed them (in Cresswell’s adopted village of Eakring, near Southall). She herself was a dab-hand at adaptation, scriptwriting the terrifying Demon Headmaster series in the nineties. She died in 2005, leaving a legacy of 100+ children’s books, several TV series, and a love of reading instilled in generations of kids (this writer included!).
While Nottingham’s literary history is dominated by the unholy trinity of Byron, Lawrence, and Sillitoe; it is often noted that the lesser known Mary Howitt is a much widely read local writer. Her 1829 poem, The Spider and the Fly, has endured and been a cultural touchstone the best part of two centuries, informing everything from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland (The Lobster Quadrille is a parody) to a 2015 Bollywood film. Howitt was immensely famous in her day, counting Tennyson, Wordsworth, Dickens and Mrs Gaskell as friends, and was admired by Queen Victoria, who would give copies of Howitt’s books as gifts. She even spent time in Heidelberg, which would later join us in becoming a UNESCO City of Literature. She died in Rome, aged 89.
Her trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels, describing a raucous post-war childhood in Worksop, Knock and Wait / Private Keep Out/ One way Only were shortlisted for the Carnegie award; won numerous literary prizes; and inspired an ITV documentary. The Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan describes them as ‘The funniest children’s books ever written… (they) should rank alongside Just William as an indispensable part of the children's canon”. An advocate of getting everyone to write, she still visits schools to run workshops, as well as helping adult writers develop.
Starting out as an assignment for the Nottingham Trent University English Literature course, Smart, the gripping story of a mysterious death in the Trent and the boy who investigates it; went on to be one of best received debut novels for some time. Showered with nominations and awards, it’s been picked up by publishers around the world since it’s 2014 release; and has established Slater as one of the brightest writers in Young Adult fiction. Not bad for someone who once ‘never made it off agent’s slush piles’.
Originally from Liverpool, Rawsthrone has made Nottingham her home, and burst onto the writing scene when she won the 2004 BBC Get Writing Award, having her work read out on BBC Radio 4 by Bill Nighy. She followed this up with a cracking Young Adult debut novel, The Truth About Celia Frost, which won multiple awards. A passionate believer in the power words can have to change lives, she’s toured many schools and is currently the poet in residence at Farnborough Academy, and is due to release her next novel early next year.
A writer of Young Adult Fiction before Young Adult Fiction was a thing, Belbin has seen his work translated into 25 languages; and like most of our writers here easily switches between children’s, young adult, and adult fiction. He also headed up the bid for Nottingham to become a UNESCO City of Literature, so if it wasn’t for him you wouldn’t be reading this!
Another writer from elsewhere – in this case, Stockholm, via West Yorkshire – and another who found Nottingham a great place to put down roots and flourish. Pielichaty didn’t start writing until she was 32, but hit the ground running when her first book, Vicious Circle, was published by Oxford University Press to great acclaim. Nearly twenty years on, she’s best known for her immensely popular ‘Girls FC’ series, a fantastic run of books about an all-female football club.
A passionate advocate of reading for all, Emmett actually started out as an architect until a stint as a stay at home dad inspired him to try his hand at writing for children: 60+ books and several mantlepieces of awards later, we can confidently state that architecture’s loss is literature’s gain.
Despite getting her verse published in the local paper in 1886 when she was just 9, Nottingham born Fyeman didn’t become a name in literary circles until she was 40, and Punch magazine printed her submitted poems on fairies, which in turn led to a lavishly-illustrated book ‘There Are Fairies At The Bottom Of Our Garden’. She would go on to write dozens more books and plays for children, often returning to the theme of fairies, becoming one of the most internationally renowned children’s writers of her day. She is still in print; fittingly, with Nottingham publishers Five Leaves.
Hailing from Reford, Cookson’s immense CV includes being both the poet in residence for The National Football Museum AND Slade (yes, the glam-stomping Noddy Holder fronted Christmas anthem-mongers). His performance poetry, usually armed with a ukulele, has won him fans in schools, poetry events and on the radio, where he’s a frequent guest. His poem ‘Let No One Steal Your Dreams has been adopted as motto and a mission for many schools; and an inspiration for those heading off into the wider, post-school world.
Well, we can’t really claim this one: but as perhaps one of the most famous children’s writers of all time we can’t also ignore him. James Matthew Barrie only spent a year here as a journalist, but in that time was thought to have dreamt up the character and concept of Peter Pan: his daily walks through the Arboretum forming the inspiration for Neverland. We like to think Nottingham provided him with that little bit of magic that made his stories the successes they became.
This list is far from definitive: dozens of writers were suggested, so this is merely a sample. If you would like to see someone added, send us some details and we’ll add them. A huge thanks to Ross Bradshaw from Five Leaves for the invaluable help he provided for this article.