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For the young-adult novel Stone Cold (Heinemann, 1993), which dealt with homelessness, he won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognizing the year's outstanding children's book by a British subject.
Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, Swindells worked for a newspaper after leaving school aged 15. He served with the Royal Air Force and held various jobs before training as a Primary school teacher. While in training he wrote his first novel, When Darkness Comes, which was published by Brockhampton Press of Stenhousemuir in 1973. He combined writing with teaching until 1980 when he took up writing full-time. He was still writing as of his 71st birthday (March 20, 2010).
He first won the Red House Children's Book Award with Brother in the Land (1984), a novel set in a post-apocalyptic world. Swindells was a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and is quoted as saying that the work "... came out of my own anger and frustration ... you can't kill selectively with nuclear weapons, you wipe out millions of people ...". He won three more Red House awards for Room (13), Nightmare Stairs (Short novel, 1998) and Blitzed (Younger readers, 2003).
In a 2010 by-election and in the 2011 local elections, Swindells stood as the Green Party of England and Wales candidate for the Worth Valley ward of Bradford City Council. In 2010, he took 11% of the vote, putting him in third place.
Swindells has won several annual book awards.
- 1985 Red House Children's Book Award, Brother in the Land
- 1990 Red House Award, Room 13
- 1993 Carnegie Medal, Stone Cold
- 1998 Red House Award for Short Novel, Nightmare Stairs
- 1998 Angus Book Award, Unbeliever
- 2003 Red House Award for Younger Readers, Blitzed
- Runners up, etc.
- 1984 Carnegie Medal high commendation, Brother in the Land[a]
- 2001 Hampshire Book Award shortlist, Ruby Tanya
- Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. CCSU lists 32 "Highly Commended" runners up for the Carnegie Medal from 1966 to 2002 but only three before 1979 when the distinction became approximately annual. There were 29 "HC" books in 24 years including Swindells alone in 1984.
- (Carnegie Winner 1993) Archived 17 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
- "Robert Swindells". Bookbox. Channel 4 Learning. Archived from the original on 12 October 2010. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
- "When darkness comes". Library of Congress Online Catalog. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
- "Bradford City Council Worth Valley By-election results" (PDF). Bradford City Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 April 2012.
- "Past Winners". Red House Children's Book Award. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
- "Angus Book Award: Previous Shortlists and Winners" Archived 7 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Angus Council. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
- "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 13 July 2012.
- Hampshire Book Award.[full citation needed]