I have just read the sad news that Nina Bawden, who wrote for both adults and children, died today.
Image courtesy ofhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9492604/Nina-Bawden-author-of-Carries-War-dies.html (where you can also read her obituary)
Although I hadn’t read any of Bawden’s books when I was younger, I was aware of her name as I grew older. When Holly started learning about World War II at school, and became interested in the tales of child evacuees, I showed her a copy of Carrie’s War, arguably Bawden’s most famous children’s book, in our local bookshop. From reading Bawden’s obituary tonight, it appears she based the story on her own experiences of being evacuated as a teenager, first to Ipswich and then to south Wales. The Guardian’s children’s editor, Julia Eccleshare, said that the novel was her best-known work because it “…remains strangely timeless while also standing as one of the most sensitive and revealing accounts of the bewildering experiences and the complex emotions surrounding them experienced by children evacuated during the second world war.” You can read more here.
Image courtesy of fantasticfiction.co.uk
From just reading the blurb, Holly was hooked and she soon devoured the story – so quickly in fact that I barely had a chance to read the story myself. She urged me to do so in my own time, so affected was she by it.
We then moved on to another book, The Secret Passage:
This was actually Bawden’s first children’s novel, completed in 1963, and written for her own three children when they had found a secret passage in the cellar of their house. As with most of her fiction, either for adults or children, she used her own experiences and explored emotions and possibilities arising from them. Publishing company Faber & Faber writes of the book: “It beautifully reflects her own inquisitive nature – as she herself has said: ‘I was a keyhole child, fearsomely curious’ – wedded to her subtly innovative ability to empathise with the child’s view.”
On reading her obituary, I was surprised to read that she had been injured and widowed at the dreadful Potters Bar rail crash ten years ago. She and her husband Austen had been on their way to a party when the train carriage they were in was derailed. Bawden suffered extensive injuries, while Austen was one of eight people who died at the scene. After the event, she fought tirelessly for justice for the victims of the crash, becoming a very eloquent spokesperson for everyone involved on that terrible day. Oddly enough, Holly and I were at a wedding celebration in Potters Bar exactly a week ago today.
Discovering Nina Bawden’s life reads like an epic tale itself. Full of love, fear, happiness and tragedy, it is easy to see where she drew her inspiration from. But the true talent is in conveying that to generations of others, as Julia Eccleshare sums up: “[She had a] natural gift for storytelling, which combined with a rare understanding of the very particular way in which children see the world.”
What a wonderful legacy to leave behind.