Robert Westall

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Robert Westall
BornRobert Atkinson
7 October 1929
North Shields, Northumberland, England, UK
Died15 April 1993(1993-04-15) (aged 63)
Warrington, England, UK
Alma materDurham University
Slade School of Art
GenreChildren's literature, war, horror, drama
SubjectSecond World War, adolescence
Notable works
Notable awardsCarnegie Medal
1975, 1982
Guardian Prize
SpouseJean Underhill (m. 1958)
Children1 son

Robert Atkinson Westall[1] (7 October 1929 – 15 April 1993) was an English author and teacher best known for fiction aimed at children and young adults. In the latter case, some deal with complex, dark and adult themes.[2][3] He has been called "the dean of British war novelists".[4] His first book, The Machine Gunners, won the 1975 Carnegie Medal for the year's outstanding children's book by a British subject.[5] It was named one of the top ten Medal-winning works for the 70th anniversary celebration in 2007.[6] 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[edit]

Robert Westall was born 7 October 1929 in North Shields,[7] 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.[8] From 1953 until 1955, Westall served in the British Army as a Lance Corporal in the Royal Corps of Signals.[7] He subsequently became a teacher, including holding the positions of Head of Art and Head of Careers at Sir John Deane's Grammar School in Northwich, Cheshire.[8] Westall served as a branch director of Samaritans between 1966 and 1975[1] and also contributed as a journalist to publications such as Cheshire Life and The Cheshire Chronicle and to The Guardian as an art critic.[3]


Westall was inspired to become a writer by telling his son Christopher stories about his experiences during the Second World War.[1] His first book, The Machine Gunners, published by Macmillan in 1975, told a Second World War story about English children who find "a crashed German bomber in the woods complete with machine gun".[5] It was adapted as a BBC television serial in 1983.

Machine Gunners was set in Garmouth, a fictionalised Tynemouth, where he returned in other novels, including The Watch House (1977) and Fathom Five (1979), which continues the Machine Gunners story. Christopher was killed in a motorbike accident at the age of 18 in 1978.[8] He became the inspiration for The Devil on the Road (1978), commended for the Carnegie Medal,[9] and for a short story in The Haunting of Chas McGill (1983).[1][clarification needed]

Westall won a second Carnegie Medal for The Scarecrows (Chatto & Windus, 1981).[10] 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.[3][7] 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.[11] He finally won the once-in-a-lifetime Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for The Kingdom by the Sea (Methuen, 1990).[12] Both that work and Gulf (1992) were highly commended runners-up for the Carnegie Medal.[9][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 helped to assist and mentor new writers.

Death, memorial and legacy[edit]

Westall died on 15 April 1993 in Warrington Hospital of respiratory failure as a result of pneumonia.[3] At the time of his death, he lived in lodgings with his landlady, Lindy McKinnel, at 1 Woodland Avenue in the village of Lymm. He had his own cottage a few paces away, where each day he left his home to write. Previously he had lived at 20 Winnington Lane, Northwich and 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, the following year. There is also a Westall Walk, which takes people round locations used by the children's writer in his stories.

In October 2006, A Trip to Tynemouth by the Japanese animator Hayao 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 "Wimpy" comes from Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons.

Selected bibliography[edit]

According to WorldCat, participating libraries hold editions of Westall's books in 17 foreign languages.


  • The Machine Gunners (1975)
  • The Wind Eye (1976)
  • The Watch House (1977)
  • The Devil on the Road (1978)
  • Fathom Five (1979)
  • The Scarecrows (1981)
  • Break of Dark (1982)
  • Futuretrack Five (1983)
  • The Haunting of Chas McGill (1983)
  • The Cats of Seroster (1984)
  • Rachel and the Angel (1986)
  • The Creature in the Dark (1988)
  • Ghost Abbey (1988)
  • Ghosts and Journeys (1988)
  • Blitzcat (1989)
  • The Call and Other Stories (1989)
  • Old Man on a Horse (1989)
  • A Walk on the Wild Side (1989)
  • Echoes of War (1989)
  • Urn Burial (1989)
  • If Cats Could Fly (1990)
  • The Kingdom by the Sea (1990)
  • The Promise (1990)
  • Stormsearch (1990)
  • The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral (1991)
  • Yaxley's Cat (1991)
  • Fearful Lovers (1992)
  • Gulf (1992)
  • Falling Into Glory (1993)
  • A Place For Me (1993)
  • Size Twelve (1993)
  • The Wheatstone Pond (1993)
  • A Place to Hide (1994)
  • A Time of Fire (1994)
  • The Witness (1994)
  • Blitz (1995)
  • Christmas Spirit (1995)
  • The Night Mare (1995)
  • Blizzard (1996)
  • Harvest (1996)
  • Love Match (1997)
  • Voices in the Wind (1997)
  • David and the Kittens (2003)

Short fiction collections[edit]

  • Break of Dark (1982)
  • The Haunting of Chas McGill and Other Stories (1983)
  • Rachel and the Angel and Other Stories (1986)
  • Ghosts and Journeys (1988)
  • Antique Dust (1989)
  • The Call and Other Stories (1989) (a.k.a. The Call and Other Strange Stories, 2003)
  • The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral (1991) (a.k.a. In Camera and Other Stories, 1992)
  • Fearful Lovers and Other Stories (1992, a.k.a. Fearful Lovers 1993)
  • Demons and Shadows: The Ghostly Best of Robert Westall (1993) (a.k.a. The Best of Robert Westall: Volume One: Demons and Shadows, 1999)
  • Shades of Darkness: More of the Ghostly Best Stories of Robert Westall (1994) (a.k.a. The Best of Robert Westall: Volume Two: Shades of Darkness, 1999)
  • Christmas Spirit: Two Stories (1994)
  • Shadows of War (2019)


  • Children of the Blitz (1985)
  • The Making of Me (2006) (autobiographical)



  • Hitch-Hiker,(First story in Break of Dark), BBC Radio 5 (1990) [13]
  • The Machine Gunners, BBC Radio 4 (2002)
  • The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral, BBC Radio 4 (1996) [14]
  • The Wheatstone Pond, BBC Radio 4 (2002)
  • Yaxley's Cat, BBC Radio 4


Awards and honours[edit]

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

  • 1977 Honor Book: The Machine Gunners[18]
  • 1982 Honor Book: The Scarecrows[18]

Carnegie Medal

  • 1975: The Machine Gunners[5]
  • 1981: The Scarecrows[10]
  • 1990 highly commended runner-up: The Kingdom by the Sea[9][a]
  • 1992 highly commended runner-up: Gulf[9][a]
  • 1978 commended runner-up: Devil on the Road[9][a]

Dracula Society Children of the Night Award

  • 1991: The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral[19]

Guardian Children's Fiction Prize

Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, ages category 9–11 years

  • 1989: Blitzcat[2]

Sheffield Children's Book Award

  • 1991: The Promise [21]


Robert Westall's papers, deposited between 2003 and 2010, are at Seven Stories, National Centre for Children's Books.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 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.)


  1. ^ a b c d Eccleshare, Julia (21 April 1993). "Obituary: Robert Westall". The Independent. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b 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.
  3. ^ a b c d Grimes, William (20 April 1993). "Robert Westall, 63, Art Teacher And Author of Children's Books". New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b c (Carnegie Winner 1975) Archived 6 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  6. ^ "70 Years Celebration: Anniversary Top Tens" Archived 27 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine. The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards. CILIP. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  7. ^ a b c "Robert Westall". Authors and Illustrators Archive. The Wee Web. Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  8. ^ a b c 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.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  10. ^ a b (Carnegie Winner 1981) Archived 5 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  11. ^ a b 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.
  12. ^ a b "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". 12 March 2001. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  13. ^ "Radio 5 - 29 October 1990 - BBC Genome". BBC. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  14. ^ BBC MEDIA CENTRE, Schedule announcement and brief synopsis of first broadcast
  15. ^ Smart, James (23 January 2009). "War & travel (part three)". 1000 novels everyone must read. The Guardian. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  16. ^ "The Watch House". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  17. ^ "Best Fiction for Young Adults". American Library Association. Retrieved 21 January 2012.[dead link]
  18. ^ a b "Winners and Honor Books 1967 to present". Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards. The Horn Book, Inc. Archived from the original on 19 October 2011. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  19. ^ "The Children of the Night Award". Dracula Society. Archived from the original on 23 December 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  20. ^ "The Kingdom by the Sea". Culture: Books. The Guardian. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  21. ^ "Previous Winners". Sheffield City Council. Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  22. ^ "Seven Stories: Robert Westall archive". Seven Stories Collections Department. Retrieved 11 June 2014.

External links[edit]