William Mayne

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William James Carter Mayne[1] (16 March 1928 – 24 March 2010) was an English writer of children's fiction. The first novel he published was in 1953, called Follow the Footprints. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature calls him one of the outstanding children's authors of the 20th century.[2] The Times Literary Supplement reportedly called him "the most original good writer for young people in our time".[3] The contemporary children's author Aidan Chambers calls him "notoriously little read by children and much read by adults", essentially an observer and watcher.[4] The Guardian Children's Book Editor Julia Eccleshare calls him "one of the most highly regarded writers" and influential although "sometimes thought of as inaccessible for his young readers".[1] He once said, "All I am doing is looking at things now and showing them to myself when young."[1]


Mayne was born in Hull, the son of a doctor. He attended school until the age of 17 but "the only part of his education he valued" was five years at the choir school attached to Canterbury Cathedral; those experiences were the foundation for his Choir School series of four novels.[1] The school was evacuated during World War II from Kent to Cornwall.[5] He lived for most of his life in North Yorkshire.

In 2004 he was imprisoned for two and a half years and placed on the British sex offenders registry for life after admitting sexual abuse of "young girl fans" (11 indecent assaults). According to The Guardian, the prosecutor "said Mayne had treated young visitors as adults". He was also described in the courtroom as "the greatest living writer of children's books in English".[6] According to Eccleshare, "Mayne's books were largely deliberately removed from shelves from 2004 onwards", after his conviction.[1]

He was found dead at his home in Thornton Rust, North Yorkshire, on the morning of 24 March 2010.[1][7]


Mayne wrote more than a hundred books including the Choir School quartet comprising A Swarm in May, Choristers' Cake, Cathedral Wednesday and Words and Music (1955–1963) and the Earthfasts trilogy comprising Earthfasts, Cradlefasts and Candlefasts (1966–2000), an unusual evocation of the King Arthur legend.

For A Grass Rope he won the 1957 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject.[8] He was also a commended runner up for the Medal five times — twice in competition with himself — for A Swarm in May (1955), Choristers' Cake (1956), Member for the Marsh (1956), Blue Boat (1957), and Ravensgill (1970).[9][a] Finally he won the 1993 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for Low Tide, a once-in-a-lifetime book award established in 1966, judged by a panel of British children's writers.[10]

A Swarm in May was adapted as a feature film by the Children's Film Unit in 1983[11] and a five-part television series of Earthfasts was broadcast by the BBC in 1994.[12]


  • 1957 Carnegie Medal, A Grass Rope[8]
  • 1993 Guardian Prize, Low Tide[10]
  • 1997 Kurt Maschler Award, or the "Emils", to Mayne and Jonathan Heale for Lady Muck, recognising integrated writing and illustration in a British children's book[5][13]

Selected works[edit]

  • Follow the Footprints (1953)
  • The World Upside Down (1954)
  • A Swarm in May (1955) †
  • Member for the Marsh (1956)
  • Choristers' Cake (1956) †
  • The Blue Boat (1957)
  • A Grass Rope (Oxford, 1957)
  • Underground Alley (1958)
  • Cathedral Wednesday (1960) †
  • The Twelve Dancers (1962)
  • Words and Music (1963) †
  • Plot Night (1963)
  • A Parcel of Trees (1963)
  • Whistling Rufus (1964)
  • No More School (1965)
  • Pig in the Middle (1965)
  • Earthfasts (1966) ‡
  • Over the Hills and Far Away (1968)
  • Ravensgill (1970)
  • A Game of Dark (1971)
  • Skiffy (1972)
  • A Year and a Day (Hamilton, 1976), illus. Krystyna Turska[5]
  • It (1977)
  • While the Bells Ring (1979)
  • Winter Quarters (1982)
  • Salt River Times (1982) illus. Elizabeth Honey
  • Drift (1985)
  • Kelpie (1987)
  • Antar and the Eagles (1985)
  • Low Tide (Jonathan Cape, 1992)
  • Oh Grandmama (Hamish Hamilton, 1993), illus. Maureen Bradley
  • Cuddy (1994)
  • Bells on her Toes (OUP, 1994), illus. Maureen Bradley
  • Cradlefasts (1995) ‡
  • Lady Muck (Heinemann, 1997), illus. Jonathan Heale
  • Midnight Fair (1997)
  • Candlefasts (2000) ‡
  • Emily Goes To Market (2004)
  • Every Dog (2009)
† Choir School series (1955 to 1963)
‡ Earthfasts series (1966 to 2000)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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), with the "High" distinction approximately annual in 1979. There were about 160 commendations of both kinds in 49 years including five for 1955, six each for 1956 and 1957 (two years Mayne was competing with himself), and three 1970 — including no high commendations.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Eccleshare, Julia (5 April 2010). "William Mayne obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-04-06.
  2. ^ Watson, Victor. "Mayne, William". The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. Jack Zipes, ed. Oxford University Press. 2006. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
  3. ^ Bennett, Catherine (26 May 2004). "The author abused children: should we read his books?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
  4. ^ Chambers, Aidan (1980). "William Mayne Criticism – Aidan Chambers". eNotes. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
  5. ^ a b c Mayne, William (2000). A Year and a Day. London: Walker Books. Page 4.
  6. ^ Wainwright, Martin (5 May 2004). "Children's author jailed for sex attacks". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
  7. ^ "Shamed author found dead". Darlington & Stockton Times. Newsquest. 24 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
  8. ^ a b (Carnegie Winner 1957). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  9. ^ "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  10. ^ a b "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". theguardian 12 March 2001. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  11. ^ "A Swarm in May", Time Out. Retrieved 2013-03-30
  12. ^ Earthfasts at Little Gems Retrieved 2013-03-30
  13. ^ "Kurt Maschler Awards". Book Awards. bizland.com. Retrieved 2008-08-01.

External links[edit]