Rosemary Sutcliff in List of Top Twenty Living British Authors | The Times newspaper November 12th 1981


Forty-one years ago the Book Marketing Council published a list of who they judged to be the 20 greatest living British authors. None is still alive. The Times – then (and now?) a paper of record – covered the group, but sadly mis-spelled Rosemary Sutcliff as Sutcliffe (sic) with an E.

The full list was Beryl Bainbridge (21 Nov 1932 – 2 July 2010), John Betjeman (28 Aug 1906 – 19 May 1984), Malcolm Bradbury (7 Sept 1932 – 27 Nov 2000), Anthony Burgess (25 Feb 1917 – 22 Nov 1993), Margaret Drabble, Lawrence Durrell (27 Feb 1912 – 7 Nov 1990), John Fowles, Leon Garfield (14 Jul 1921 – 2 Jun 1996), William Golding (19 Sept 1911 – 19 Jun 1993), Graham Greene (2 Oct 1904 – 3 Apr 1991), Ted Hughes (17 Aug 1930 – 28 Oct 1998), John Le Carre, Laurie Lee, Rosamund Lehmann (3 Feb 1901 – 12 March 1990), Iris Murdoch (15 Jul 1919 – 8 Feb 1999) , V.S. Naipaul (17 Aug 1932 – 11 Aug 2018 ), V.S Pritchett (16 Dec 1900 – 20 Mar 1997. Rosemary Sutcliffe (sic), Laurens Van de Post (13 Dec 1906 – 16 Dec 1996), Rebecca West (21 Dec 1892 – 15 Mar 1983).

Article from The Times newspaper on top 20 20th century living authors at circa 1980

Treasure trove of Rosemary Sutcliff, British writer of historical fiction and children’s literature correspondence in decades long friendship with Canadian Christina Duff Stewart discovered at Toronto Public Library

Rather unsystematically gathering information about my relative, British writer of historical fiction and children’s literature, Rosemary Sutcliff, I have come across online mention of a carefully archived and indexed collection of 33 years correspondence with Rosemary Sutcliff donated to Toronto Public Library by her Canadian friend Christina Duff Stewart. There are 83 letters, 14 Christmas cards, and 7 ‘Round Robins’ of correspondence and also various books given to ‘Chris’ and ‘Christina’ by Rosemary. It’s a veritable treasure trove!

The contents are listed in a document which itself is intriguing. I was moved to learn, for example, that ‘Letter 82’ (of November 16th 1981) has a particular connection to my immediate family.

2-page letter with news of a minor car accident, work on the Bonnie Dundee book, and the birth of Rowan Rosemary Lawton, her godson Anthony’s (me) daughter.

Perhaps influenced by Sutcliff-Lawton genes (Rosemary Sutcliff was my first cousin-once-removed, my great aunt Nessie’s daughter) my daughter who is referred to now a literary agent!

The introduction to the detailed list of contents gives an idea of what is there. Unfortunately in my case to consult the collection in person,, and maybe to obtain copies or at least transcripts, Toronto is about 3,500 miles away from Leicestershire in England where I am writing this

Writer of historical fiction and children’s literature Rosemary Sutcliff’s major theme was ‘reconciliation’ according to Oxford Companion to English Literature 7th ed.

This is the entry on Rosemary Sutcliff in the Oxford Companion to English Literature (7th ed.)

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Rosemary Sutcliff to BBC Radio Times in 1977 on her historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth and hero Marcus

Early picture of author Rosemary Sutcliff

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

Midsummer’s Eve | Rosemary Sutcliff’s Official Birthday | Obscured 2016 by EU Referendum!

Rosemary Sutcliff's mother Nessie Lawton

Rosemary Sutcliff always remarked on Midsummer’s Eve (June 23rd) in her diary. She called it her official birthday; so she had two birthdays a year, like Paddington Bear and the Queen. It was also the birth day of her mother. Here in the UK we largely missed Midsummer’s Eve this year, with the EU Referendum looming, and the turmoil in the wake of the resul

1988 June 23rd Thursday … There’s another blackbird’s nest in the front garden, in place of the one the ginger cat took.

1989 June 23rd Friday … Started to watch last day of Ascot, but of course it disappeared – industrial action …

1991 June 23rd Sunday. Midsummer’s Eve—Cold as winter, and pouring with rain all day.

1992 June 23rd Tuesday. Midsummer’s Eve. My Official Birthday. Mummy’s birthday … Went and stood out in the garden for a few minutes before bed. Was lovely, smelling of grass & night scented flowers.

June 23rd 1992 Diary entry Rosemary Sutcliff