When the BBC adapted and broadcast Rosemary Sutcliff‘s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth in 1977, the BBC Radio Times wrote about her approach to children, writing, the Romans and her hero Marcus—’part of me was in love with him’.
Her passion for the Romans stemmed from her childhood. Her mother read aloud to her from books like Rudyard Kipling‘s Puck Of Pook’s Hill. His three Roman tales entranced her.
I didn’t read myself till the last possible minute, about nine. I was brought up on Arthur Weigall’s Wanderings In Roman Britain and Wanderings In Anglo-Saxon Britain. He mentions this eagle dug up at Silchester and I’ve been fascinated by it since I was five.
The Radio Times journalist wrote of Rosemary: “She writes, superbly, of adventure, battle, young warriors. Rosemary Sutcliff‘s conversation is rapid and merry and very funny”.
In the BBC TV publicity material she claimed to be completely uneducated.
I left school at fourteen. I haven’t got a very literary or intelligent kind of life. I have very ordinary friends.
In fact, she completed art school and was a successful professional miniaturist in her late twenties when she turned to writing and secured the publication of her first book. It just “happened to be” for children; and most of her books kept on being, theoretically at least, “for children”. But she definitely did not believe in a rigid division between adults’ and children’s books. “When I was a child I was reading Dickens and Beatrix Potter at the same time”. As far as writing goes she did not find it restrictive.
Very occasionally a subject is verboten. And one may have to simplify—no, not that—uncomplicate a very complex emotion. But usually I just write as I want to write.
She said that she did not know all that many children and did not automatically like them .
I like a child or a dog or an adult according to their merits. I am prone to like more dogs on a percentage basis.
The Eagle Of The Ninth, published in 1954, was one of her favourite books.
I rather wish it weren’t, because it is quite early. I think and hope I have written better since. But it is my best beloved. Part of me was Marcus, and part was in love with him.
When aged only about three she had juvenile arthritis (Still’s Disease) which was another factor in her writing:
I think most children’s writers are writing a chunk of unlived childhood.
Source: Radio Times, September 3, 1977
6 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff to BBC Radio Times in 1977 on her historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth and hero Marcus”
Rosemary Sutcliff to BBC Radio Times in 1977 on her historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth and hero Marcus”. The Eagle of the Ninth is a story about courage and loyalty and friendship. Marcus, the hero, is a young Roman centurion who goes on a dangerous quest to discover what happened to the Ninth Legion, which disappeared in northern Britain. He faces tremendous challenges, both physical and mental, and his courage and loyalty never waver. He is also a man with a strong sense of justice and honor, and this is something that I wanted to bring out in the story.
Thank you so much for access to the diary entries here. I first read RS when I got ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’ as a school prize at the age of eight in 1960. I afterwards read all of her books and spent much of my childhood in a historical fantasy where I was Drem or one of her other characters. I grew up in Sussex and later worked for the National Trust in the area of Hadrian’s Wall so her worlds and mine have always been close. I have always felt that I owe my subsequent career in heritage and education to her early inspiration. I am not alone in this as other archaeologists and historians of my age or younger have assured me!
P.S. I do agree with her about children in the quotation above.
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Thank you so much for posting this: a delight of course to read. May I put a copy/version on a main post?
Funny – Had the same experience with Puck of Pook’s Hill too – then went onto RS – am currently reading Manda Scott’s latest book on the XII Legion – she shares this early connection to RS in her forward – the circle rolls onwards
Some very interesting insights into Rosemary Sutcliff’s background and inspirations.
Rosemary Sutcliff is one of the most distinguished children’s writers of our time with over forty historical novels to her name.
(and over 50 books overall. Ed.)