Novelist Tony Bradman writes about being inspired by internationally-acclaimed historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff

Portrait of historical novelist and children’s author Rosemary Sutcliff by Mark Gerson

Author Tony Bradman has today written a lovely piece at The Guardian Books pages about being inspired by Rosemary Sutcliff: “… thanks, Rosemary – you really were an inspiration to that 11-year-old boy”.

I remember being gripped by the story of a young Roman called Marcus and his quest to find the Eagle standard of a legion that marched north and disappeared in The Eagle of the Ninth. From then on I was a fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books.

 

In 1965 I was 11 and in my last year at Junior school. I was living with my mum and older sister in a rented flat in south London – my parents had separated when I was five and got divorced a couple of years later, which was unusual at the time. My dad was working abroad and I hadn’t seen him for several years. He had become a mythical figure, someone I longed for and resented because of his absence.

Then he came back, and soon Saturday mornings were taken up by dad’s weekly “access visits”. By then I was obsessed with history. At school we’d studied the Romans and the Saxons, and I was fascinated by it all. So I made my dad take me to the British Museum as often as possible. My parents were of the world war two generation – dad had been a sailor on HMS Belfast – so he took me to the Imperial War Museum too. Mum told me stories about her time in the Women’s Royal Navy, and about her dad, who had died before I was born – he’d been sent to Australia as a child, then joined the Australian Army in the first world war and fought at Gallipoli.

Then one Saturday, probably on the way home from the British Museum, dad and I stopped at a WH Smith’s so I could spend my pocket money. I bought a Puffin book, attracted by the cover picture of Roman soldiers and the title: The Eagle of the Ninth. I remember being gripped by the story of a young Roman called Marcus, and his quest to find the Eagle standard of a legion that marched north of Hadrian’s wall and never returned. From then on I was a fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books.

I can give you lots of reasons why I think she’s a great writer. She’s a terrific storyteller, and could certainly teach Hollywood a thing or two about pace, suspense and cliffhangers. Her central characters are usually underdogs, children or young people with colossal problems to overcome – she herself suffered in childhood from Stills disease, a form of arthritis that left her permanently disabled. And then of course she writes so well, bringing her characters and the past brilliantly to life.

But it was only a few years ago that I realised why I’d been so drawn to The Eagle of the Ninth – the story is really about Marcus looking for his father, a centurion in the lost legion. Marcus wants to know what happened to his dad, and in some way to reclaim him. The shadow of not knowing hangs over Marcus, and I see now that I must have identified with another boy who missed his dad and resented his absence.

It was also then that I realised I had always wanted to write historical fiction. I’d written lots of other stuff, of course – poetry and picture books and Dilly the Dinosaur stories – but then I wrote a short novel about Spartacus, and loved the whole process. I haven’t looked back since – I even wrote a novel called Viking Boy, in which a boy goes looking for his missing father. Now I’ve written Anzac Boys, a story based on what my mum told me about her dad and his experiences at Gallipoli.

So thanks, Rosemary – you really were an inspiration to that 11-year-old boy.

One thought on “Novelist Tony Bradman writes about being inspired by internationally-acclaimed historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff

  1. […] One lovely thing about writers is that we teach each other, share with each other, and inspire each other. Margi Preus shares 9 things we can learn from other writers, Jeff Norton writes about the magic of middle grade and how he found his love for books, and Tony Bradman was inspired by historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff. […]

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