Penelope Farmer

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Penelope Jane Farmer (born 1939) is an English writer of books for children and adults.


She was born as a fraternal twin in Westerham, Kent, on 14 June 1939. She was the third child of Hugh Robert MacDonald (died May 26, 2004) and Penelope Boothby Farmer.[1] Her parents and the medical staff at the hospital were not aware of her presence until some 25 minutes after the birth of her older twin sister, Judith.[2] Throughout Farmer's life, being a twin has been a defining element of her understanding of her identity. The twins have an older brother, Tim, and a younger sister, Sally.[3]

After attending a boarding school, she read history at St Anne's College, Oxford and did postgraduate work at Bedford College, University of London.[4]

Penelope Farmer was known in 2012 to be living on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. She there described herself as "a writer – published for many years, now struggling," and listed "her grandchildren" among those she loved and missed. Other relations were mentioned: the departure of her daughter and a granddaughter (23 April 2004), and on the following day, she commented, "Look at the past war-filled century. Even you young are children of the twentieth century to some extent, could, may have had lost grandparents at least. My ninety-odd year old father, child of almost all of it, weeps still for brothers killed in the first war, friends in the second, tears rolling down his cheeks. Weeps too, as I do, for women lost to our family lurgy – breast cancer – my mother aged fifty three when I was twenty three, my twin sister aged fifty one when I was.. oh work it out." The 22 April 2010 entry states that her son was among those staying with her, with his daughters aged eight and twelve.[5]

Writing career[edit]

Farmer's first publication was The China People, a collection of literary fairy tales for young people, in 1960.[6] One story written for this collection was judged too long to include. This was re-written as the first chapter of her first novel for children, The Summer Birds. In 1963, this received a Carnegie Medal commendation and was cited as an American Library Association Notable Book.[7] The Summer Birds was soon followed by its sequels, Emma in Winter (1966) and Charlotte Sometimes (1969), and by A Castle of Bone (1972), Year King (1977), Thicker than Water (1989), Penelope: A Novel (1993), and Granny and Me (1998).

Farmer stated that she, while writing Emma in Winter, did not realize that identity was such a predominant theme in the novel until she encountered Margery Fisher's comments on the book. She had a similar realization, this time on her own, while writing Charlotte Sometimes.[8]

List of works[edit]

  • The China People (1960)
  • The Summer Birds (1962)
  • Magic Stone (1964)
  • Emma in Winter (1966)
  • Sea Gull (1966)
  • Charlotte Sometimes (1969)
  • Serpent's Teeth: The Story of Cadmus (1971)
  • Daedalus and Icarus (1971)
  • Story of Persephone (1972)
  • A Castle of Bone (1972)
  • William and Mary (1974)
  • August the Fourth (1975)
  • Heracles (1975)
  • Year King (1977)
  • Beginnings: Creation Myths of the World (1978)
  • Standing in the Shadow (1984)
  • Away from Home (1987)
  • Eve: Her Story (1988)
  • Glasshouses (1989)
  • Snakes and Ladders (1993)
  • Thicker Than Water (1993)
  • Two, or: The Book of Twins and Doubles (1996)
  • Penelope: A Novel (1996)
  • Sisters: An Anthology (1999)
  • Virago Book of Grandmothers (2000)


  1. ^ Penelope (Jane) Farmer Biography | Dictionary of Literary Biography
  2. ^ Farmer, Penelope. Two, or The Book of Twins & Doubles. London: Virago Press, 1996, p. 11.
  3. ^ Alan Hedblad (1998). "Farmer, Penelope (Jane) 1939-". Something About the Author 105: p. 64. ISSN 0885-6842.
  4. ^ Anita Silvey, ed: Children's books and their creators (New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1995), p. 238.
  5. ^ Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  6. ^ Penelope (Jane) Farmer Biography | Dictionary of Literary Biography
  7. ^ Alan Hedblad (1998). "Farmer, Penelope (Jane) 1939-". Something About the Author 105: p. 64. ISSN 0885-6842.
  8. ^ Penelope, Fisher; in Geoff Fox, Graham Hammond, Terry Jones, Frederic Smith, Kenneth Sterck (eds.) (1976). Writers, Critics, and Children. New York: Agathon Press. p. 60. ISBN 0-87586-054-0. 

External links[edit]