Jill Paton Walsh

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The Lady Hemingford

Jill Paton Walsh at the Oxford literary festival, 2011.jpg
Jill Paton Walsh at the Oxford literary festival, 2011
Gillian Honorine Mary Bliss

(1937-04-29)29 April 1937
Died18 October 2020(2020-10-18) (aged 83)
Known forKnowledge of Angels
Antony Paton Walsh
(m. 1961; div. 1986)
(m. 2004; died 2014)
Nicholas Herbert, 3rd Baron Hemingford
(m. 2020)

Gillian Honorine Mary Herbert, Baroness Hemingford, CBE, FRSL (née Bliss; 29 April 1937 – 18 October 2020), known professionally as Jill Paton Walsh, was an English novelist and children's writer. She may be known best for her Booker prize-nominated novel Knowledge of Angels and the Peter WimseyHarriet Vane mysteries that have completed and continued the work of Dorothy L. Sayers.

Personal life[edit]

Gillian Honorine Mary Bliss was born on 29 April 1937 to John Bliss, an engineer for the BBC who at his death had 363 patents to his name, and Patricia Paula DuBern, a homemaker.[1] She went with her mother and siblings to live with grandparents in St. Ives, Cornwall, when she was three years old because of the World War II bombings. In 1944, after the grandmother had died, Bliss returned to London to live with her mother and her younger siblings, who had returned to London earlier.[2] Bliss was educated at St. Michael's Convent, North Finchley, London.[3] She attended St. Anne's College, Oxford, graduating in 1959, and lived in Cambridge.

After graduating, Bliss taught English at Enfield County Grammar School for Girls, but left her position in 1962, as she was expecting her first child.[2] The year before, in 1961, she had married Antony Edmund Paton Walsh; they settled in Richmond, south-west London, and had one son and two daughters. In the early 1970s, Jill met John Rowe Townsend and they began an affair. She left her first husband only in 1986, when their youngest daughter turned 18. Antony did not want a divorce because of his Roman Catholic faith. Jill and Townsend were married only in 2004, after Antony's death on December 30, 2003.[2] Townsend died in 2014.[4] In February 2020, she met Nicholas Herbert, 3rd Baron Hemingford, and they married in September of that year.[5] She died a month later, in October, of kidney and heart failure in the hospital of Huntingdon, Cambridge.[6][5][7][8] She is survived by her third husband, as well as her brother Christopher Bliss, her children Edmund Paton Walsh, Margaret Paton Walsh, and Clare Murphy, and her three grandchildren.


In 1996, Paton Walsh received the CBE for services to literature and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 1998, she won the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association, recognising A Chance Child as the best children's book published twenty years earlier that did not win a major award.[9]

On writing for children[edit]

In an essay on realism in children's literature, Paton Walsh stated that realism (like fantasy) is also metaphorical, and that she would like the relationship between the reader and her characters Bill and Julie to be as metaphorical as that between "dragons and the reader's greed or courage".[10]


Knowledge of Angels (1993), a medieval philosophical novel, shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize.[11] Other adult novels include:

  • Farewell, Great King (1972)
  • Lapsing (1986), about Catholic university students
  • A School for Lovers (1989), reworking of the plot of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte
  • The Serpentine Cave (1997), based on a lifeboat disaster in St Ives
  • A Desert in Bohemia (2000), which follows a group of characters in England and in an imaginary Eastern European country through the years between World War II and 1989

Imogen Quy[edit]

Paton Walsh wrote four detective stories that featured part-time college nurse Imogen Quy, and were set in the fictional St. Agatha's College, University of Cambridge:

  • The Wyndham Case (1993)
  • A Piece of Justice (1995)
  • Debts of Dishonour (2006)
  • The Bad Quarto (2007)

Lord Peter Wimsey[edit]

In 1998, she completed Dorothy L. Sayers's unfinished Lord Peter WimseyHarriet Vane novel, Thrones, Dominations. In 2002, she followed this up with another Lord Peter novel, A Presumption of Death. In 2010, she published a third, The Attenbury Emeralds.[12] Her latest addition to the series, The Late Scholar, was published 5 December 2013 in the UK, and 14 January 2014 in North America.[13] A final, still untitled, novel featuring the Wimseys is scheduled to be released in February 2022.

Children's books[edit]

  • Hengest's Tale (St Martin's Press, 1966), fiction, illustrated by Janet Margrie[14]
  • The Dolphin Crossing (1967), adapted for the stage by Ed Viney (2012)
  • Word Hoard: Anglo-Saxon stories (1969?), by Paton Walsh and Kevin Crossley-Holland
  • Fireweed (1969)
  • Goldengrove (1972)
  • The Dawnstone (1973) Published by Hamish Hamilton
  • Toolmaker (1973), picture book illus. Jeroo Roy
  • The Emperor's Winding SheetWhitbread Prize for children's books, 1974
  • The Butty Boy (1975), illus. Juliette Palmer
  • The Huffler (1975), illus. Palmer
  • The Island Sunrise: prehistoric Britain (1975); US subtitle, —nonfiction
  • Unleaving (1976), sequel to GoldengroveBoston Globe–Horn Book Award for fiction, 1976
  • Crossing to Salamis (1977), picture book illus. David Smee
  • The Walls of Athens (1977), picture book illus. Smee
  • A Chance Child (1978)
  • Children of the Fox (1978), illus. Robin Eaton
  • The Green Book (1981), illus. Lloyd Bloom
  • Babylon (1982)
  • A Parcel of Patterns (1983)
  • Gaffer Samson's Luck (1984) —Smarties Prize, 1985
  • Birdy and the Ghosties (1989)
  • Grace (1991)
  • When Grandma Came (1992), picture book illus. by Sophy Williams
  • Thomas and the Tinners (1995)


  • Garrett, Martin (2004). Cambridge: A Cultural and Literary History. Oxford: Signal Books. Archived from the original on 7 April 2011. With foreword by Jill Paton Walsh.


  1. ^ "Jill Paton Walsh". Green Bay. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Maughan, Shannon. "Obituary: Jill Paton Walsh". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 20 October 2020.
  3. ^ "The Fitzwilliam Museum - Home - Online Resources - Online Exhibitions - A Source of Inspiration - Contributors - Jill Paton Walsh". 4 February 2010.
  4. ^ Nettell, Stephanie (2 April 2014). "John Rowe Townsend obituary" – via The Guardian.
  5. ^ a b "Jill Paton Walsh, novelist ranging from children's stories to Dorothy Sayers mysteries – obituary". The Telegraph. 20 October 2020. Retrieved 20 October 2020. (subscription required)
  6. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (18 November 2020). "Jill Paton Walsh, Multigenerational Writer, Dies at 83". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Jill Paton Walsh: Knowledge of Angels author dies at 83". Yahoo News. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  8. ^ "Jill Paton Walsh obituary". 26 October 2020.
  9. ^ "Phoenix Award Brochure 2012"[permanent dead link]. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
    See also the current homepage, "Phoenix Award".
  10. ^ Walsh, Jill Paton; Betsy Hearne, Marilyn Kaye (eds) (1981). Celebrating Children's Books: Essays on Children's Literature in Honor of Zena Sutherland. New York: Lathrop, Lee, and Shepard Books. pp. 37. ISBN 0-688-00752-X.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  11. ^ The Guardian, 24 October 2010
  12. ^ The Attenbury Emeralds. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2010. ISBN 978-0-340-99572-3.
  13. ^ The Late Scholar. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014. Paperback, 368 pages. ISBN 1444751905, ISBN 978-1444751901.
  14. ^ Hengest's tale. Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 26 August 2013.

External links[edit]