|Born||14 July 1921|
Brighton, Sussex, England
|Died||2 June 1996 (aged 74)|
Islington, London, England
|Genre||Children's historical novels, literary adaptation of classical myth and legend|
|Notable works||The God Beneath the Sea|
|Notable awards||Guardian Prize |
Leon Garfield FRSL (14 July 1921 – 2 June 1996) was a British writer of fiction. He is best known for children's historical novels, though he also wrote for adults. He wrote more than thirty books and scripted Shakespeare: The Animated Tales for television.
Garfield attended Brighton Grammar School (1932–1938) and went on to study art at Regent Street Polytechnic, but his studies were interrupted first by lack of funds for fees, then by the outbreak of World War II. He married Lena Leah Davies in April, 1941, at Golders Green Synagogue but they separated after only a few months. For his service in the war he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. While posted in Belgium he met Vivien Alcock, then an ambulance driver, who became his second wife (in 1948) and a well-known children's author. She also greatly influenced Garfield's writing, giving him suggestions, including the original idea for Smith.
After the war Garfield worked as a biochemical laboratory technician at the Whittington Hospital in Islington, writing in his spare time until the 1960s, when he was successful enough to write full-time.
Garfield wrote his first book, the pirate novel Jack Holborn, for adult readers, but an or at Constable & Co. saw its potential as a children's novel and persuaded Garfield to adapt it for younger readers. In that form it was published by Constable in 1964. His second book, Devil-in-the-Fog (1966), won the first annual Guardian Prize and was serialised for television, as were several of his later works (below). Devil was the first of several historical adventure novels, typically set late in the eighteenth century and featuring a character of humble origins (in this case a boy from a family of traveling actors) pushed into the midst of a threatening intrigue. Another is Smith (1967), in which the eponymous hero, a young pickpocket, is accepted into a wealthy household; it won the Phoenix Award in 1987. Yet another is Black Jack (1968), in which a young apprentice is forced by accident and his conscience to accompany a murderous criminal.
In 1970 Garfield's work started to move in new directions with The God Beneath the Sea, a re-telling of numerous Greek myths in one narrative, co-authored with Edward Blishen and illustrated by Charles Keeping. It won the annual Carnegie Medal for the best British children's book. Garfield, Blishen, and Keeping collaborated again on a sequel, The Golden Shadow (1973). The Drummer Boy (1970) was another adventure story, but concerned more with a central moral problem, and apparently aimed at somewhat older readers, a trend continued in The Prisoners of September (1975), republished in 1989 by Lions Tracks under the title Revolution!, The Pleasure Garden (1976) and The Confidence Man (1978). The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris (1972) is a black comedy in which two boys decide to test the plausibility of the tale of Romulus and Remus, using the baby sister of one of the boys. Most notable at the time was a series of linked long short stories about apprentices, published separately between 1976 and 1978, and then as a collection, The Apprentices. The more adult-themed books of the mid-1970s met with a mixed reception and Garfield returned to the model of his earlier books with John Diamond, which won a Whitbread Award in 1980, and The December Rose (1986). In 1980 he also wrote an ending for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished at the death in 1870 of Dickens, an author who had a major influence on Garfield's own style.
Garfield's novels for children all have historical settings. The early novels are mostly set in the late eighteenth century, but from John Diamond on they tend to be set in the nineteenth century. They are not novels about major historical events, which are rarely depicted, or social conditions, which provide only starting points for the personal stories of the characters. In the few novels in which Garfield handles actual events he writes of them from the limited and subjective viewpoints of his characters.
The novels owe much to Dickens and to Stevenson. The latter's Treasure Island clearly provided a model for Jack Holborn, with its shifting alliances of manipulative characters in pursuit of a treasure. Garfield also acknowledged the brothers in Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae as inspiration for the book. Beyond these specific debts, Garfield shares Stevenson's fondness for binding a relatively conservative hero to a more forceful personality outside the bounds of conventional morality.[a] Another recurring plot line, most evident in Smith and The December Rose, in which an outcast is integrated into a supporting household, owes more to Dickens. Garfield also shares with Dickens a preference for urban settings, generally in London.
Garfield's father broke off contact with him when he divorced his Jewish wife. Roni Natov argues that this may have had an influence on Garfield's work, giving particular significance to fathers and father figures.
Many of Garfield's books have been adapted for film or television: Devil-in-the-Fog was televised in 1968; Smith in 1970; The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris was made into a 6-part BBC serial in 1979; Black Jack was made into a feature film by Ken Loach in the same year; John Diamond was made into a BBC television series in 1981; Jack Holborn was made into the German Christmas mini-series Jack Holborn by ZDF in 1982; The Ghost Downstairs was televised in 1982; "Mr Corbett's Ghost" was made into a television film with Paul Scofield and John Huston in 1987. In addition Garfield himself wrote the script for the 1986 television serial, The December Rose, afterwards adapting it as a novel, and for Shakespeare: The Animated Tales (1992 and 1994), a well regarded Russian animation of Shakespeare, commissioned by the Welsh Channel Four, S4C; for this he was awarded the 1995 Sam Wanamaker Award.
Devil-in-the-Fog (1966) won the inaugural, 1967 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. The newspaper-sponsored Prize is judged by a panel of children's writers and it annually recognises one new British children's novel by an author who has not won it.
The God Beneath the Sea (1970) won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject that has not previously won the prize.[b] From 1967 to 1970 Garfield was also a Commended runner up for the Carnegie Medal three times, for Smith, Black Jack, and Drummer Boy, the latter in competition with his Medal-winning work.[c]
Smith won the 1987 Phoenix Award (from the mythical phoenix, which is reborn from its ashes) from the Children's Literature Association as the best English-language children's book that did not win a major award when originally published.