Rosemary Sutcliff researched her books of historical fiction and children’s literature with “exquisite care” | Oxford Encyclopaedia of Children’s Literature


“Critics of Rosemary Sutcliff’s work sometimes comment on its difficulty both in terms of the language she employs and in terms of the historical depth her novels embrace.” But Romey (as I knew her, a close family member) welcomed as compliments these sorts of evaluations of her writing.

“She prided herself on never writing down to her readers, expecting them instead to be enticed into enjoying a compelling and demanding tale by the pageantry of history and the warm humanity of people in every era.”

“She carefully creates dialogue in her novels that recollects the speech of a bygone era without falling into what she termed ‘gadzookery.’ Sutcliff also researched her novels with exquisite care, and they reflect her vast knowledge of military tactics, religious practices, landscapes, and the material conditions and artifacts of everyday life whether in a Bronze Age village or in a Roman legion on the move.”

“Other commentators have noted the limited role that female characters play in her novels. Except for a few volumes that focus on a young woman, like Song for a Dark Queen (1978), which tells the tale of Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni who led a revolt against the Romans in a.d. 60, this is certainly true. Sutcliff often includes energetic and courageous women among her secondary characters, but providing insights into women’s roles in history is not among her greatest strengths.”

Extracts from Oxford Encyclopaedia of Children’s Literature on Rosemary Sutcliff.

On Rosemary Sutcliff’s Life — The Independent’s Obituary

ROSEMARY SUTCLIFF’s historical novels opened the eyes of a generation of children to the past. They also set a new standard for children’s historical fiction because of their insight, passion and commitment.

Sutcliff was a demanding writer who expected a lot from her readers which is why her books are also wholly satisfying for adults. She evokes time and place with an incredibly sure touch and – once she had found her true voice with The Eagle of the Ninth in 1954 – a sharp ear for the dialogue of the past, For child readers, the fact that Sutcliff wrote about ordinary people and not the rich and famous had a particular appeal. She also wrote largely about children, mostly boys, and often about children alone or outcast.

Perhaps because at the age of two she contracted Still’s disease, a form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which left her paralysed and wheelchair-bound, she had a natural empathy with those with handicap or disability. Drem, the boy with the withered arm in Warrior Scarlet (1958), is one of the most sympathetic and most powerful of her heroes, while the unthinking prejudice that surrounds the cripple in The Witches’ Brat (1970) reflects a heartfelt understanding of the isolation experienced by those who are ‘different’.

In addition, Sutcliff had an integrity verging on ruthlessness, which meant that her stories rarely fell in to sentimentality. She pulled no punches, as in Warrior Scarlet when Drem fails the intitiation test of killing his wolf and thus must become a shepherd instead of a warrior as his forebears have been. As a reader one longs for him to succeed but Sutcliff’s own solution, that he kills a wolf in his job as a shepherd, is ultimately far more satisfying.

In Frontier Wolf (1980) the young centurion Alexios Aquila makes the wrong choice in battle. Faced with the same decision later on he must choose again. He makes the same choice but this time it is right. It is this commitment to reality rather than fictionalised optimism that gives Sutcliff’s stories their subtlety and plausibility.

Her vision of the past was similarly well-balanced and unsentimental. Her attention to the details of life built up pictures which were accurate, capturing discomfort and narrow- mindedness as well as the simplicity and clarity of life. Sutcliff combined a clear and profound historicism with a curiosity about the past. In none of her books is there a trace of the card index, so fatal for a reader. She used a variety of periods and places for her books but was always most absorbed by how the people of any period lived, worked and interacted with each other.

She knew and loved the Sussex Downs and had an astonishing feel for their past. She was fascinated by the continuity of history and how a place like the South Downs had been lived in since the Dark Ages.

In many of her books she touched on how tribes with old and new beliefs exist side by side until gradually one becomes dominant. The Little Dark People in Warrior Scarlet contrast with the Golden People who use copper goods and wear coloured cloth; the Britons invaded by the Romans and gradually learning their new-fangled ways provide the background to titles ranging from The Eagle of the Ninth to The Silver Branch (1957), The Lantern Bearers (1959) and, most recently, Frontier Wolf; the Saxons adapt the advanced ways of the Normans in Knight’s Fee (1960) and – slightly later, as the two sides move more closely together – in Dawn Wind (1961). But it is not only her domestic details that convince and absorb.

Sutcliff had an exceptional ability to describe the complexity of army strategies and the details of combat as well as to capture the emotions of fighting on any scale. Her war scenes are intense, convincing and apparently unrestrained, walking a delicate tightrope which prevents them from lapsing into the bloodthirsty. Sutcliff was never sadistic or cruel. She did not whitewash war or violence, but she did not relish it either. She recognised it as part and parcel of our past.

Sutcliff was born in 1920, the daughter of a naval officer, and much of her childhood was spent moving from one port to another. Because of her parents’ movements and her illness, she did not attend school on a regular basis, and was educated largely at home. At the age of 14 she was sent to Bideford School of Art where she proved herself a talented artist. She set out on a career as a miniature painter, and was a member of the Royal Society of Minature Painters.

From her training as a miniaturist came a detailed and fine way of looking which she used to set and define her writing. Her prose is always lucid and always vivid. The accuracy of her detail enabled her to create an enormously rich canvas with absolute conviction. She never wrote down to her child readers but had an instinctive way of speaking directly to them. She was one of a generation of children’s writers who understood the importance of writing for children as intelligent readers. She gave them a way of stepping into the past by offering characters with whom they could immediately identify. She loved the past and made it available and fresh without ever corrupting it with contemporary overtones.

Sutcliff was widely acknowledged as a writer of imagination and perception whose body of work – over 50 works spanning more than 40 years from 1950 – made an enormous impact on the way history was presented in fiction for children. She was awarded the Library Association Carnegie Medal in 1960 and the Children’s Rights Workshop Other Award in 1978: the first an establishment award which gave her the recognition she deserved for the majority of her books and the second, an equally well- deserved award, for her sympathetic – and decidedly ‘feminist’ – account of the life of Boudicca.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s works were translated into 15 languages. Although she had limited use of her hands, she wrote all her books in longhand, often in three complete drafts. She kept writing to the morning of the day she died and there are completed books in manuscript which have yet to be published

The Books of Rosemary Sutcliff

Her Titles

A Rosemary Sutcliff  Bibliography

The widely read and acclaimed The Eagle of the Ninth, published in 1954still in print, is just one of some sixty books by Rosemary Sutcliff. This post lists every book by Rosemary Sutcliff—author, historical novelist and children’s writer. For a short biography of Rosemary Sutcliff see Life tab.

Eagle of the Ninth and similar

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) illustrated by C. Walter Hodges
The Silver Branch (1957) illustrated by Charles Keeping
The Lantern Bearers (1959) illustrated by Charles Keeping
The Capricorn Bracelet  (1973) illustrated by Charles Keeping
Three Legions (1980) is an omnibus edition containing the first three books
The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles (2010) is an omnibus edition containing the first three books
The Eagle of the Ninth Collection Boxed Set (2012) is an omnibus edition containing the first three books

Camelot or King Arthur novels

Sword at Sunset (1963)
The Sword and the Circle (1979)
The Light Beyond the Forest (1979)
The Road to Camlann (1981)
The King Arthur Trilogy (1999), omnibus of The Sword and the Circle, The Light Beyond the Forest, The Road to Camlann

Other children’s and young adult novels

Chronicles of Robin Hood (1950)
The Queen Elizabeth Story (1950) illustrated by C. Walter Hodges
The Armourer’s House (1951)
Brother Dustyfeet (1952)
Simon (1953) illustrated by C. Walter Hodges
Outcast (1955) illustrated by Richard Kennedy
The Shield Ring (1956)
Warrior Scarlet (1957) illustrated by Charles Keeping
Lady in Waiting (1957)
Knight’s Fee (1960) illustrated by Charles Keeping
The Bridge Builders (1959)
Dawn Wind (1961) illustrated by Charles Keeping
Beowulf (1961) illustrated by Charles Keeping (also published as Dragon Slayer)
The Hound of Ulster (1963) illustrated by Victor Ambrus
The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) illustrated by Charles Keeping
The Flowers of Adonis (1965)
A Saxon Settler (1965)
The Chief’s Daughter (1967)
The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool (1967)
A Circlet of Oak Leaves (1968)
The Witch’s Brat (1970)
Tristan and Iseult (1971)
The Truce of the Games (1971)
Heather, Oak, and Olive  (1972), omnibus with three titles The Chief”s DaughterA Circlet of Oak Leaves, and A Crown of Wild Olive (originally published as The Truce of the Games)
The Capricorn Bracelet (1973)
The Changeling (1974) illustrated by Victor Ambrus
We Lived in Drumfyvie (1975) with Margaret Lyford-Pike
Blood Feud (1976) illustrated by Charles Keeping
Sun Horse, Moon Horse (1977)
Shifting Sands (1977)
Song for a Dark Queen (1978)
Frontier Wolf (1980)
Eagle’s Egg (1981)
Bonnie Dundee (1983)
Flame-Coloured Taffeta (1986) illustrated by Rachel Birkett
The Roundabout Horse (1986)
A Little Dog Like You (1987) illustrated by Jane Johnson
The Best of Rosemary Sutcliff (1987) omnibus edition contains Warrior Scarlet, The Mark of the Horse Lord and Knight”s Fee
Little Hound Found (1989)
The Shining Company (1990)
The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup (1993) illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. 
Black Ships Before Troy (1993) illustrated by Alan Lee 
Chess-dream in the Garden (1993) illustrated by Ralph Thompson
The Wanderings of Odysseus (1995) illustrated by Alan Lee 
Sword Song (1997)

Novels for adults

Lady in Waiting (1957)
The Rider of the White Horse (1959)
Sword at Sunset (1963)
The Flowers of Adonis (1969)
Blood and Sand (1987)

Non-fiction

Rudyard Kipling—A Monograph (1960)
Houses and History (1960)
Heroes and History (1965), illustrated by Charles Keeping
Arthur Ransome, Rudyard Kipling and Walter De La Mare (1968) (with Leonard Clark and Hugh Shelley) [reproduces the Rudyard Kipling mongraph—above]
Is Anyone There? (1978) (with Monica Dickens)
Blue Remembered Hills (1983) (Her autobiography, or ‘memoir’ as she called it)

Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Tips for Writing Short Stories

Photo of author Kurt Vonnegut
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Source: Medium