“What it has felt like to be writing for the young during the last thirty years. . . . can all be summarised in one word—Lucky. I feel extraordinarily fortunate in a whole number of ways.”—Peter Dickinson
Peter Dickinson, two-time winner both of England’s prestigious Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children’s Award, is one of Britain’s greatest storytellers, and the author of many novels for young readers and adults. His books include the Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Novel, Eva, as well as the Printz Honor Book The Ropemaker and many other award-winning titles.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Dickinson is a tall, elderly, bony, beaky, wrinkled sort of fellow, with a lot of untidy grey hair and a weird hooting voice—in fact he looks and sounds a bit like Gandalf’s crazy twin, but he’s only rather absent-minded, probably because he’s thinking about something else. Day-dreaming, mostly.
He was born in the middle of Africa, within earshot of the Victoria Falls. Baboons sometimes came into the school playground. When people went swimming in the Zambezi they did it in a big wooden cage let down into the water, so that the crocs couldn’t get at them. For the hot weather the family went south to his grandfather’s ostrich farm in South Africa.
Then the family came back to England so that he and his brothers could go to English schools, where they taught him mostly Latin and Greek. He didn’t have an English lesson after he was twelve, and nobody ever told him to write a story. He was fairly good at games.
He’s led an ordinary kind of life—not much by way of adventures, but some silly things. Such as? Well, when he had to join the army, just after World War II, they managed to turn him into two people; so he was bashing away at infantry training at a camp in Northern Ireland when two sea-sick military policemen showed up and arrested him for being a deserter from a different camp in the south of England, where his other self was supposed to be bashing away.
He was tutoring a boy in a huge old castle in Scotland when the butler (it was that sort of household) said to him at dinner one day “Ah, sir, it’s a long time since we heard screams coming from the West Wing!” (Peter’s screams, not the boy’s.)
And he was knocked down by a tram on his way to the interview for his first job and arrived all covered with blood and dirt, but they gave him the job because he was the only candidate. He stayed there seventeen years.
He and his first wife had two daughters and two sons, and he now has six grandchildren. He lives in a ramshackle old house in a green valley in the south of England, with his second wife, the American writer Robin McKinley, and three whippets. Now, they really are crazy.
Peter says he didn’t become a writer. He just is one, and always has been, ever since he can remember, the way a goldfish is a goldfish and can’t be anything else. Go to a zoo and look at one of the big birds, a condor, say, a creature made to soar above the Andes. They’ve probably clipped one of its wings so that it can’t hurt itself trying to fly around its cage, but it’s still a creature made to soar above the Andes. If you somehow stopped Peter writing, he’d still be a writer.
But he was a poet and a journalist before he started on books. He tried a murder story first, but got stuck half way through. Then he had a science-fictiony kind of nightmare, and decided to turn it into a children’s story, mainly to see if writing it would unstick the other book. (It did. That book won a prize for the best murder story of the year, and the children’s book is now being made into a TV film, though it was written over thirty years ago.)
Since then he’s written getting on fifty books, almost all of them on a little old portable typewriter—one draft, to see what he’s got, and what else he needs to know and so on; then a bit of research; then a complete rewrite, beginning to end; and then, if all’s well, only a bit more tinkering. Sometimes it takes a few month, sometimes a year or more. He’s just moved over to a PC. He’s still getting used it. It makes writing seem a very different kind of process—easier in some ways, harder in others.
The ideas come from all over the place—day-dreams, sometimes, or a kid on a long car-trip saying “Tell us a new story, dad.” Or something he’s heard or read—a voice on the radio saying “Even a hardened government soldier may hesitate a fatal half-second before he guns down a child.” (That was AK, about a boy guerrilla in Africa.) For the best of them it feels as if the book had knocked on the door of his mind and said “Write me.” Then he’ll spend half a year or more letting the stranger in and finding who or what it is.
He writes all sorts of books. His last book was a long exotic fantasy—magicians and unicorns and so on—called The Ropemaker, and in May there’s going to be his first collaboration with his wife, Robin McKinley, called Water; Tales of the Elemental Spirits, in which each of them has written three stories about some of the magical creatures that inhabit our rivers and seas. (They hope to do the other three elements over the next few years.) A story Peter was working on for the Fire volume insisted on expanding to book length (working title The Tears of the Salamander) which will be his next book out. And he’s now working on a short book called Inside Grandad, about a modern boy who . . . but no, he’d better find out who the stranger is before he starts talking about him.
“Peter Dickinson is one of the real masters of children’s literature.”—Philip Pullman
“A challenging magical adventure for the thinking reader.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly
“While on one level this tale is a fantasy, it is also a wonderful coming-of-age story.”—Starred, School Library Journal
“Dickinson works his own magic in a thoroughly compelling tale that delves into the nature of both magic and time.”—Starred, Booklist