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Elizabeth Hawksley: Children’s author, Ann Turnbull

October 21, 2010

Ann Turnbull

Ann Turnbull’s books have been short-listed for the Whitbread Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize amongst others, and I have long been a fan of her writing. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at the Historical Novel Society conference in Manchester. She was talking about her three latest books, young adult novels set during the English Civil War, including Alice in Love and War.

She showed us some of the maps and old prints she uses in her research, as well as printed material. The explosion of printing in the Civil War meant that, for the first time, we can hear the voice of the common man. Research is a difficult area for historical novelists; I have read too many books full of glaring ‘information dumps’. Sometimes, I can even tell which history books the author has been reading.

Ann Turnbull’s research, however, is unobtrusively woven into the story with great subtlety. It illuminates both the political and military backgrounds and the mindset of the time. She is interested in how war affects ordinary people, especially women.

Alice in Love and War opens in 1644; sixteen-year-old Alice is thrilled when handsome Royalist corporal, Robin Hillier, shows an interest in her and she persuades him to take her with him when his regiment leaves. She’s sure he loves her and that they’ll be married one day. It is a terrible mistake ….

 Alice soon finds herself in a very vulnerable position. We both admire her for her courage and are deeply concerned for her as she rides through the countryside full of marauding soldiers, happy to plunder, rape and murder, and hostile villagers for whom Alice, a despised woman from the baggage train, is ‘vermin’. Alice has much to learn about men, love, and the brutal realities of war – and Ann Turnbull does not pull her punches.

I am always interested in how other writers work, and I was fascinated to learn that Ann writes in longhand, in pencil, (she finds it more comfortable) and uses small notebooks for a time line and notes on various things she thinks she’ll need.      

I was delighted to meet Ann and to have the opportunity of hearing her speak. Her website is:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2010 3:50 pm

    Great review Elizabeth and that’s certainly whetted my appetite to look at Anne Turnbull’s latest book. And she writes just how Roald Dahl wrote – in pencil in longhand! Excellent. I always have a slight sneaking guilt that I have moved totally onto the laptop. But only for fiction. I write all my poetry longhand – in fibre tip Muji pens ( my favorite colour is bottle green.) Thanks for such an interesting post.

    • October 22, 2010 5:57 pm

      Ann put up some slides of her notebooks, too. Fascinating – full of little historical snippets which might come in useful and notes to self. I always enjoy seeing how other writers work. I myself do the first draft in longhand on the right hand page and my notes to self on the left. Dickens did something similar, so I feel in excellent company!


      • Nikki permalink
        November 1, 2010 6:47 pm

        Thanks Liz, I always like historical fiction as there’s always a snippet of an idea or comment that can blow out into a much larger story. A hologram. I think it’s those perspectives that make stories come to life – whether written in longhand, Pitman, or times-new-roman! Looking forward to your first children’s historical fiction book…

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