Novelist and children's author Jill Paton Walsh has died at the age of 83, her agent has confirmed.
The London-born writer won numerous awards for her children's books, including The Whitbread Prize in 1974 for The Emperor's Winding Sheet.
She self-published her third novel, Knowledge of Angels, after failing to find a UK publisher - it went on to be shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize.
Paton Walsh received a CBE for services to literature in 1996.
She was born Gillian Bliss in 1937 and was educated in north Finchley, London, before graduating from St Anne's College, Oxford.
She went on to teach English at a grammar school in Enfield, north London, for three years between 1959 and 1962.
In 1961 she married Anthony Paton Walsh and they had three children although the couple later split.
Paton Walsh embarked on her career writing children's fiction, including some of her best known works, Fireweed, Unleaving, A Parcel of Patterns and Gaffer Samson's Luck, all published in the 70s and 80s.
Her later adult novels included Lapsing (1986), The Serpentine Cave (1997) and A Desert in Bohemia (2000).
Paton Walsh was also known for continuing the work of Dorothy L Sayers with her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane stories.
In an interview published on her website, she described herself as a "late starter" to writing, at the age of 26.
"When I began to write, I was living at home with a baby, and missing the children I had been teaching," she explained.
"I didn't feel very grown-up, and I realised I knew a lot about what my second formers had liked to read, and what they had not liked. I thought I might manage a story to please them."
Paton Walsh also created several picture books for small children, including When I Was Little Like You, Connie Came to Play and When Grandma Came.
I'm amazed the BBC didn't mention her second husband, the children's literature scholar, novelist, and Edgar winner, John Rowe Townsend! They married in 2004 and he died in 2014.
Jill Paton Walsh was greeted with acclaim in the 1960s when she began writing young-adult books that challenged her readers in both plotting and messaging. There was “Fireweed” (1970), a story of two British adolescents who set up housekeeping in a
bombed-out building during World War II. There was “Goldengrove” (1972), about two youths who navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood during an eventful summer.
But in 1994 Ms. Paton Walsh achieved a whole different level of acclaim, by an unlikely route, with a book for adults, “Knowledge of Angels,” a genre-defying medieval fable about an atheist and a girl raised by wolves. Here she delved into themes of
faith and reason and more.
Yet despite her success with books for young readers, “Knowledge of Angels” struggled to assert itself: No one in her native England would publish it.
“British publishers wouldn’t even say what they didn’t like about it,” Ms. Paton Walsh told The Daily Mail of London that year, “so I couldn’t even change it to suit them.”
And so, in a move that was rare for the time, she published it herself — and had the last laugh. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, one of the top literary awards in the world, and is said to be the first self-published book to make that
Peter Lewis of The Daily Mail had a crisp rebuke for all those publishers — 19 was the final count — who had said no to the book. “To open it and start reading,” he wrote, “is to be appalled by their lack of judgment.”...
...Her next young adult book, “Goldengrove,” was about two youngsters accustomed to spending summers at their grandmother’s seaside home and how one particular summer changed everything. Writing in The Times Book Review, Barbara Wersba, herself an
author of young adult books, praised Ms. Paton Walsh’s ability to write “as though she were still 12 years old.” But, she wrote, that didn’t mean that Ms. Paton Walsh’s books were juvenile.
“I find it significant that ‘Goldengrove’ will be marketed for children between the ages of 11 and 14,” Ms. Wersba wrote, “and never reach their parents. The current division of fiction into Lots of Sex for the grown-ups and Less Sex for the
kids is not only silly but wasteful, for the grown-ups are missing some beautiful and highly original work.”
Ms. Paton Walsh aged the “Goldengrove” characters in “Unleaving” (1976). In 1979, with “A Chance Child,” she gave readers a compelling look at child labor in the 19th century....