The various remembrances for Nina Bawden, who died at the end of last month, make fine and instructive reading both for those who have loved her writing and those yet to make the discovery, who will be very much edified, I expect, to learn what a splendid woman she was. The Independent’s Boyd Tonkin praises Bawden’s ‘unfussy excellence’ on the page and also makes special note of her strong campaigning voice in the wake of the Potter’s Bar train derailment, an avoidable disaster in which Bawden lost her husband.
Bawden was at Somerville College, Oxford, during WWII, and the Telegraph has some great stuff about her taking tea with the 17-year-old Richard Burton, then an RAF cadet, and spending nights on air-raid firewatch with fellow student Margaret Thatcher (then Margaret Roberts), another lower middle-class young woman with a strong drive to express herself. The Telegraph also offers a sharp quote from Bawden as to why, after 1963, she resolved to write a children’s book one year and an adult novel the next. ‘It was, she said, “a useful and satisfyingly real way of working, making use of all my life, all memory, wasting nothing”.’
Bawden’s novels for adults were widely acclaimed, laurelled, adapted for television and so forth. How should we measure her accomplishment as a writer for children, the side of her oeuvre represented in Faber Finds? Well, the author and illustrator Shirley Hughes (whose own children’s books such as Dogger and Annie Rose are adored by my kids) drew covers and inner art for several of Bawden’s books; and I was especially struck by these remarks of Hughes’ offered to a Guardian profile of Bawden back in 2003:
‘There were some good writers around in the 1950s but it was a bit of a time-warp… Children’s fiction hadn’t really progressed beyond the war – the characters were mostly middle-class, and there were the standard clichés: the lovable tomboy and the dreamer. Nina’s characters were real, highly developed, drawn from the inside out, and she described some really tough situations. In The Runaway Summer , she wrote about a child behaving badly because her parents were getting divorced, and about an illegal immigrant, and when she wrote about rural life it was not in the beautiful, home-counties sense…’
If you or any youngsters of your acquaintance haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Nina Bawden, or if you would just like to have the fond experience of revisiting some of the work, Finds will be pleased to oblige. Here’s a chance for you to win a complimentary copy of one of these Bawden titles:
The Witch’s Daughter (1966)
A Handful of Thieves (1967)
The Runaway Summer (1969)
To enter this prize draw, first take a look at the following question:
What is the title of Nina Bawden’s prize-wining novel about a brother and sister evacuated to Wales during World War II?
Update: this competition closed at 5pm Friday September 28 2012.