13 Answers from the great Rosemary Sutcliff, author of 60 books of historical fiction and children’s literature

Rosemary Sutcliff was an internationally acclaimed British writer for children, one of the best of the 20th century. Romey (as I knew her) is not around to answer those sets of questions sent by magazines for brief celebrity profiles; she dies in 1992. Some answers to imagined questions can be deduced from Rosemary Sutcliff’s own words in her 1983 session on BBC Radio’s ‘Desert Island Discs‘. Where were you born?

To my shame I have to admit that I was born in Surrey, but  I count myself as a West Country woman, as a Devonshire woman.

You were very ill as a child; what happened?

I contracted juvenile arthritis. A spinal carriage was rather like a coffin; it was very uncomfortable, and you lay flat out in this thing, and of course all you could see were the branches of the trees or the roofs of the houses going by overhead. And it was extremely boring. With any luck you were perhaps allowed to sit up on the way home from a walk.

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US Newbery Honor Book Children’s author Megan Whalen Turner, writer of Queen’s Thief series, is a Rosemary Sutcliff fan

Covers of Books by Megan Wheeler Turner

Responding to the recently posted new ‘interview with Rosemary Sutcliff’, Helen writes:

1997 Newbery Honor Book children’s author Megan Whalen Turner (author of the historical fantasy series The Queen’s Thief) was a Rosemary Sutcliff fan.  She writes about this in the afterword of her first novel, The Thief:

“…writes historical fiction the way Rosemary Sutcliff used to.  If Sutcliff‘s name keeps appearing, it is because she [is] one of the authors who have influenced me the most.”

“If a writer has inspired me, I like to make a reference to their work inside my story …The Thief has an indirect quote from The Eagle of the Ninth.  If you read it you will find an object there whose description I have copied as closely as I can for The Thief.”

This item—the Aquila family Dolphin Ring—features in many of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s Roman Britain books. Turner goes on to list The Eagle of the Ninth, Warrior Scarlet, The Shield Ring and Knight’s Fee on her list of favourite ‘old ‘books.

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The Newbery Medal, named after the eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery, is awarded annually by the US Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. At the same time some runner-up books are called Newbery Honor Books.

This is the full list of ‘old’ children’s books that Megan Whalen Turner recommends—”This is just a quick list of some of my favourite old books”.

  • Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne
  • Puck of Pook’s Hill, Rudyard Kipling
  • The Enchanted Castle, E, Nesbit
  • The Treasure Seekers, E. Nesbit
  • Half Magic, Edward Eager
  • The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff
  • Warrior Scarlett, Rosemary Sutcliff
  • The Shield Ring, Rosemary Sutcliff
  • Knight’s Fee, Rosemary Sutcliff
  • The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken
  • Midnight is a Place, Joan Aiken
  • Go Saddle the Sea, Joan Aiken
  • Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
  • Charmed Life, Diana Wynne Jones
  • Drowned Ammet, Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Children of Green Knowe, L. M. Boston
  • The Secret of the Twelves, Pauline Clark
  • The Crime of Martin Coverly, Leonard Wibberly
  • Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Time, Jane Louise Curry
  • The Perilous Gard, Elizabeth Marie Pope
  • The Sherwood Ring, Elizabeth Marie Pope
  • The Dancing Bear, Peter Dickinson
  • The Weathermonger, Peter Dickinson
  • Heartsease, Peter Dickinson
  • Playing Beatie Bow, Ruth Park
  • The Princess and Curdie, MacDonald
  • The Princess and the Goblins, MacDonald
  • Mocassin Trail, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
  • Little Britches, Ralph Moody
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden, Phillipa Pearce
  • Minnow on the Say, Phillipa Pearce

Opening and closing words of writer Rosemary Sutcliff’s autobiography | Blue Remembered Hills — A Recollection

I have been doing some experiments for pictures of Rosemary Sutcliff  and her work and words, to use on Twitter, @rsutcliff. Favourite quotes very welcome in comments below … First words of Rosemary Sutcliff autobiography Closing words of Rosemary Sutcliff’s autobiography

In Praise of Rosemary Sutcliff, historical novelist and writer for children| An editorial in The Guardian newspaper

From the cover of Rosemary Sutcliff's autobiography The Blue Remembered Hills

Rosemary Sutcliff‘s 1954 children’s classic The Eagle of the Ninth (still in print more than 50 years on) is the first of a series of novels in which Sutcliff, who died in 1992, explored the cultural borderlands between the Roman and the British worlds – “a place where two worlds met without mingling” as she describes the British town to which Marcus, the novel’s central character, is posted.

Marcus is a typical Sutcliff hero, a dutiful Roman who is increasingly drawn to the British world of “other scents and sights and sounds; pale and changeful northern skies and the green plover calling”. This existential cultural conflict gets even stronger in later books like The Lantern Bearers and Dawn Wind, set after the fall of Rome, and has modern resonance. But Sutcliff was not just a one-trick writer.

The range of her novels spans from the Bronze Age and Norman England to the Napoleonic wars. Two of her best, The Rider of the White Horse and Simon, are set in the 17th century and are marked by Sutcliff’s unusually sympathetic (for English historical novelists of her era) treatment of Cromwell and the parliamentary cause. Sutcliff’s finest books find liberal-minded members of elites wrestling with uncomfortable epochal changes. From Marcus Aquila to Simon Carey, one senses, they might even have been Guardian readers.

Michael Rosen commented on this editorial:

Interesting that she was writing about the end of an empire at the end of…er…an empire. And does the search for the lost legion echo/refract Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?

Some of us drank in The Eagle of the Ninth two ways: once as a BBC Children’s Hour serial and second time as the book. I can remember hurrying to get home to hear it – moody, dangerous, mysterious – a quest for something real but long gone, a possible solution to an unsolved story…and somehow it had something to do with events that happened a long time ago just where you walked when we were on holiday: on moors, or on wet fields where we were camping. The book made a connection for me between a past and that particular present.

Recollections and reflections on reading Rosemary Sutcliff | Inspired by a Guardian editorial

A Guardian editorial in March 2011 “In praise of … Rosemary Sutcliff” prompted various people to comment fondly and intriguingly upon their reading of her books, often in a childhood some years past.

liberalcynic said

I have to say I loved Rosemary Sutcliff‘s books when I was a kid. They opened undiscovered worlds and – perhaps more importantly – they didn’t talk down to my eleven year old self

thegirlfrommarz also “loved Rosemary Sutcliff’s books as a child” and “still loves them as an adult”. Like liberalcynic she thought that ” … they never talked down to you”. The Eagle of the Ninth was one of her favourites, althoughRead More »