When I was a child, dreaming that one day I might be an author, I used to gaze longingly at the ‘N’ shelves in bookshops and libraries, and imagine my own books parked next to E. Nesbit’s. She’s still there, with her classic stories The Railway Children, Five Children and It, and others. Philip Pullman, nearby, takes up an awful lot of space, but sometimes there’s room for me between them,” says Linda Newbery on her website.
There certainly is. Forget the alphabetical index. With Nevermore, Newbery has proved that she can rub shoulders with some of the better children’s authors. Newbery also writes for older readers—books such as Set in Stone, Sisterland, Some Other War and The Shell House. Two of them were shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, while Set in Stone was a category winner at the Costa Book Awards (given to writers based in Ireland and the UK) 2006. Her books for children include At the Firefly Gate, Lost Boy and Catcall (silver medal winner, Nestle Children’s Book Prize).
Nevermore: By Linda Newbery, Orion Books, 215 pages, Rs413.
She has also written many poems, the Oxford Book of Train Stories and the very funny Whatnot series (Whatnot is a dog adopted by a boy, Tim). If you can, get these books for the kids.
In Nevermore, 12-year-old Tizzie and her mother, Morag, leave London for good because Morag has found herself a job as a cook in Roven Mere, one of the old homes in the county which belongs to Lord Evershall. A rebellious Tizzie comes to terms with the new location and starts liking their new home, Cloud Cottage, that came with the job. She also finds Roven Mere and its inhabitants—barring a few—fascinating and, at the same time, a bit frightening. Gradually, Tizzie makes friends with Dave, the caretaker’s grandson, and Robin. She loves exploring the huge house, and Dave is her guide. What puzzles her is that the owners of the house don’t live here. The entire establishment is run by the staff. However, the man in charge, Finnigan, who hired Morag, keeps it in a permanent state of readiness for the return of Lord Evershall and his daughter, Greta.
Curious, Tizzie tries to find out more. Dave is not of much help. Finnigan, apart from being a good storyteller, is a handy carpenter, too. As Tizzie unravels more about the invisible Greta, she earns Finnigan’s, and surprisingly, her mother’s, ire. She also meets the dangerous-looking Jack Doughty.
Why is the household always on the edge? Who exactly is Finnigan and why does he wield such power in that house? Why was the name of the house changed to Roven Mere? Have the Evershalls been done away with? As Tizzie noses her way to the conclusion, a surprise hits her.
Newbery describes herself as “lazy, hardworking and inconsistent”. And, how does she go about writing? “I’m now a full-time writer: when I imagined this, I used to picture myself sitting at a desk for hours on end, writing. In practice, it rarely happens like that. I read a lot, go swimming and for walks, look after my garden, stare out of the window, play with my cats, cook, drink too much coffee and send far too many emails…and somehow produce quite a lot of words in between.” Strung together, they make for good reading, too.
The writer is the editor of Heek , a children’s magazine. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org