Saturday, 19 December 2015

Thank You and Farewell to Peter Malcolm de Brissac Dickinson, FRSL OBE 1927-2015

Photograph: Robin McKinley
Last Wednesday, we lost one of the great children's authors of all time, on his 88th birthday. Peter Dickinson was a writer of luminous, extraordinary prose, crafted with a delicate and yet always down-to-earth touch. His stories pulled me in, whirled me round and always, always made me think. He threw me right into the lives and thoughts of his characters, whether they were an orphan boy in Tibet (Tulku), or a girl in a valley hidden by magic (The Ropemaker). I read his books both as child and adult, and the influence he had on my own writing is sure and certain. Quite simply, I aspire one day to be a writer even a quarter as good as him. Peter's own words about the writing (and reading) of fiction should be quoted widely to all young writers (and some old ones too):
'It is not part of fiction's job to tell the reader what to think. But it can be fiction's job to show the reader how it feels, because that can only be done with the imagination.'
It is an extraordinary achievement to be nominated no fewer than nine times for the Carnegie Medal (most recently in 2012 for In the Palace of the Khans), and to win it twice. There were endless other awards too, both here and in the US, and a nomination for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal as well. Peter wrote 60 or more novels, and yet, if you ask people outside the book business if they have heard of him, the answer is invariably 'who?'. Why is this? Is it because he was writing long before the days of Potter, when children's books were a backwater at best, long before the days of social media and the 'public persona'? Who could fail to want to read the books of someone who describes himself as:
'a tall, elderly, bony, beaky, wrinkled sort of fellow, with a lot of untidy grey hair and a weird hooting voice — in fact he looks and sounds a bit like Gandalf’s crazy twin, but he’s only rather absent-minded, thinking about something else, or just day-dreaming.'
After the sad death of his first wife, Peter married another writer - Robin McKinley - and together they wrote a series of stories about the elements, Water being the first, and Fire the second (he published his Earth and Air stories on his own account, Robin being busy with other things). It was a perfect pairing in both senses, and for me, to have two of my favourite authors in one book was a marvellous bonus. 

If you haven't read anything by Peter, I urge you to go out and do so at the first opportunity. There is somuch to choose from, but my own favourites are The Blue Hawk, Merlin Dreams, The Lion Tamer's Daughter, Healer, A Box of Nothing and the two Ropemaker books. You can see all his books (and read about them) here. If you like them, tell others. Buy them for god children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews. Read them to your own. That would be a most fitting memorial for a man whose life was filled with the joy of stories, and the desire to tell them to others.

My thoughts and sympathies (and I'm sure of many of those reading this) go out to Robin, John, Philippa and all the rest of his family. Peter, wherever you are now, I hope there are roses, peace, and a great plethora of books. Thank you seems a small and insignificant thing to say for all the immense pleasure you have given and continue to give me with your marvellous worlds and words. But I shall say it anyway. God bless your imagination.

OUT NOW from Orchard, Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out now: new Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review


catdownunder said...

Tulku was marvellous. So was Blue Hawk" and "Healer" and oh so many more. His settings were amazingly diverse. Utterly wonderful writer!

Sue Bursztynski said...

An amazing writer, I didn't know! How sad! I must mourn and then post about it myself. I hadn't realised he was married to Robin McKinley - what a way to find out!:-(

Joan Lennon said...

A fine writer and an big, wide ideas man - a potent combination.

Emma Barnes said...

I've never read any of his books, which amazes me. How have they slipped under my radar? Maybe my local library had a grudge against him, because I don't remember ever seeing any of his books. Inspired by your post, this is something I am definitely going to put right in 2016, so thank you for this post!

Katherine Langrish said...

Peter Dickinson is one of the greats. Lovely tribute, Lucy.

C.J.Busby said...

I hadn't heard this. So sad. I loved his books as a child - Emma, I think you'd like them too. Try the Weathermonger.

Unknown said...

I am reading The Kin with my son - great book-, and have 'The changes' to read after. Peter Dickinson was such a wonderful writer - far away from formulaic genre books.

Mary Hoffman said...

I agree with everything in Lucy's wonderful post. My own favourite is The Dancing Bear. It is so sad that he is not more widely known. As elegant and lovely writer as he was a man.

Elspeth Scott said...

He will be sadly missed. I am another whose favourite is The Dancing Bear but I also have great affection for Tulku and I think I can safely say I enjoyed everything he wrote, for children and for adults.