7 October 1929
North Shields, North Tyneside, England
|Died||15 April 1993
Warrington, Cheshire, England, UK
|Alma mater||Durham University
Slade School of Art
|Genres||Children's literature, war, horror, drama|
|Subjects||World War II, adolescence|
|Notable award(s)||Carnegie Medal
|Spouse(s)||Jean Underhill (m. 1958)|
Robert Atkinson Westall (7 October 1929 – 15 April 1993) was a British author, teacher and journalist best known for his children's fiction, although he also wrote non-fiction and wrote specifically for adults. Many of his novels aimed at a teenage audience deal with complex, dark and adult themes. He has been described as "the dean of British war novelists".
His first book, The Machine Gunners won the 1975 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's outstanding children's book by a British subject. It was named one of the top ten Medal-winning works for the 70th anniversary celebration in 2007, selected by a panel to compose the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite. Westall also won a second Carnegie (no one has won three), a Smarties Prize, and the once-in-a-lifetime Guardian Prize.
Early life and career
Robert Westall was born 7 October 1929 in North Shields, Tyne and Wear (then in Northumberland). He grew up there on Tyneside during the Second World War. Wartime Tyneside is the setting for many of his novels, for which his own life was a great source and inspiration. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art at Durham University and a post-graduate degree studying Sculpture at the Slade School of Art in London in 1957. From 1953 until 1955, Westall served in the British Army as a Lance Corporal in the Royal Corps of Signals. He subsequently became a teacher, including holding the positions of Head of Art and Head of Careers at Sir John Deane's Grammar School (now Sir John Deane's College) in Northwich, Cheshire. Westall served as a branch director of Samaritans between 1966 and 1975 and also contributed as a journalist to publications such as Cheshire Life and The Cheshire Chronicle and to The Guardian as an art critic.
Westall was inspired to become a writer by telling his son Christopher stories about his experiences during World War II. His first book, The Machine Gunners, published by Macmillan in 1975, told a WWII story about English children who find "a crashed German bomber in the woods complete with machine gun". It was adapted as a BBC television serial in 1983.
Christopher Westall was killed in a motorbike accident at the age of 18 in 1978 and became the inspiration for The Devil on the Road (1978), commended for the Carnegie Medal, and for a short story in The Haunting of Chas McGill (1983).[clarification needed]
Westall won a second Carnegie Medal for The Scarecrows (Chatto & Windus, 1981). No one has won three, yet he was not a full-time writer. He retired from teaching only in 1985, and tried dealing antiques before focusing exclusively on his writing. For Blitzcat (Bodley Head, 1989) he won the annual Smarties Prize in category 9–11 years. In 1994 the American Library Association named it one of the hundred Best Books for Young Adults of the Last 25 years. He finally won the once-in-a-lifetime Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for The Kingdom by the Sea (Methuen, 1990). Both that work and Gulf (1992) were highly commended runners-up for the Carnegie Medal.[a] The latter is a story about the home front during the Persian Gulf War.
From 1988 until his death Westall attended a writers circle in Lymm where he enjoyed assisting and mentoring new writers. One of the writing titles that was set by one of the students, Jonathan Welford, this was 'Nightmare', this was to be his last book titled The Night Mare, published after his death.[clarification needed]
Westall died on 15 April 1993 in Warrington Hospital of respiratory failure as a result of pneumonia. At the time of his death, he lived in lodgings with his landlady Lindy McKinnel at 1 Woodland Avenue in the village of Lymm and had his own cottage a few paces away where each day he left his home to write, Robert liked the feeling of going to work of a morning. Previously he had lived at 20 Winnington Lane, Northwich, and had run Magpie Antiques, Church Street, Davenham. As a journalist he wrote for Cheshire Life, the Northwich Chronicle and the Warrington Guardian. A memorial service was held on 29 September 1993, at nearby All Saints' Church, Thelwall, Warrington. Tributes were paid by former teaching colleagues and Miriam Hodgson, editorial director (fiction) Reed Children's Books.
A blue plaque was placed on Westall's birthplace, 7 Vicarage Street, North Shields, on Tyneside, the following year. There is also a Westall Walk, which takes fans around locations used by the world famous children's writer in his stories.
Westall's work has caught the imagination of the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. In October 2006 A Trip to Tynemouth by Miyazaki was published in Japan. It is based on "Blackham's Wimpy", a story first published in Westall's collection Break of Dark. The rival RAF crews in the story fly Vickers Wellington bombers. The nickname comes from J. Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons.
According to WorldCat, participating libraries hold editions of Westall's books in 17 foreign languages.
- Antique Dust (1989)
- Spinetinglers (1988)
- Ghost Stories (1993)
- Cat's Whispers and Tales (1996)
- The Best of Robert Westall Volume One: Demons and Shadows (1998)
- The Best of Robert Westall Volume Two: Shades of Darkness (1998)
- Children of the Blitz (1985)
- The Making of Me (2006)
- The Machine Gunners, BBC Radio 4 (2002)
- The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral, BBC Radio 4
- The Wheatstone Pond, BBC Radio 4 (2002)
- Yaxley's Cat, BBC Radio 4
Awards and honours
American Library Association 100 Best Books for Young Adults of the Last 25 years
American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Adults
Boston Globe–Horn Book Award runners-up
- 1975: The Machine Gunners
- 1981: The Scarecrows
- 1990 highly commended runner-up: The Kingdom by the Sea[a]
- 1992 highly commended runner-up: Gulf[a]
- 1978 commended runner-up: Devil on the Road[a]
Dracula Society Children of the Night Award
- 1991: The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral
Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, ages category 9–11 years
- 1989: Blitzcat
Sheffield Children's Book Award
- 1991: The Promise 
- Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. According to CCSU some runners-up through 2002 were Commended (from 1954) or Highly Commended (from 1966). The latter distinction became approximately annual in 1979; there were 29 highly commended books in 24 years including two in 1990 and one in 1992.
• No one has won three Carnegies. Among the seven authors with two Medals, six were active during 1966–2002 and all wrote at least one Highly Commended runner-up, led by Anne Fine with three and Westall with two. (Westall was also one of three "Commended" runners-up for Devil on the Road (1978), a distinction used about 135 times from 1954 to 2002.)
- Agnew, Kate; Fox, Geoff (2004). Children at war from the First World War to the Gulf. New York: Continuum. pp. 105–106. ISBN 0-8264-7759-3.
- Grimes, William (20 April 1993). "Robert Westall, 63, Art Teacher And Author of Children's Books". New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
- Myers, Mitzi (2008). Elizabeth Goodenough & Andrea Immel, ed. Under fire : Childhood in the Shadow of War. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-8143-3404-0.
- (Carnegie Winner 1975). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- "70 Years Celebration: Anniversary Top Tens". The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards. CILIP. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- "Robert Westall". Authors and Illustrators Archive. The Wee Web. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
- Holtze, Sally Holmes (1995). Anita Silvey, ed. Children's Books and Their Creators. New York: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 675–676. ISBN 0-395-65380-0.
- "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- (Carnegie Winner 1981). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Carter, Betty (Fall 1994). "Best of the Best: Twenty-Five Years of Best Books for Young Adults". The ALAN Review (The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) 22 (1): 67. ISSN 1547-741X. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". guardian.co.uk 12 March 2001. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
- Smart, James (23 January 2009). "War & travel (part three)". 1000 novels everyone must read. The Guardian. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- "The Watch House". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- "Best Fiction for Young Adults". American Library Association. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- "Winners and Honor Books 1967 to present". Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards. The Horn Book, Inc. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- "The Children of the Night Award". Dracula Society. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- "The Kingdom by the Sea". Culture: Books. The Guardian. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- "Previous Winners". Sheffield City Council. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- "Seven Stories: Robert Westall archive". Seven Stories Collections Department. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
- Official website
- Robert Westall Collection – archive at Seven Stories, the Centre for Children's Books