Marcus Sedgwick (1968-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1968, in England; children: Alice.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Orion House, 5 Upper Saint Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9EA, England.
Writer, beginning 1994. Stone carver and wood engraver. Formerly worked as a bookseller, Heffers children's bookshop, Cambridge, England; Ragged Bears children's book publisher, Somerset, England, sales manager; Templar Publishing, Dorking, England, editor; Walker Books, London, England, former sales manager. Performer with International Band of Mystery ("Austin Powers" tribute band and acting troupe), as drummer Basil Exposition.
Branford Boase Award, 2000, for Floodland; Edgar Allan Poe nomination, Independent Reading Association award nomination, and Portsmouth Book Award nomination, all 2001, all for Witch Hill; Guardian Children's Fiction Prize shortlist, Carnegie Medal shortlist, and Blue Peter Book Award shortlist, all 2002, all for The Dark Horse; Guardian Book Award nomination, Sheffield Book Award shortlist, and Edgar Allan Poe shortlist, all for The Book of Dead Days.
Floodland, Orion (London, England), 2000, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2001.
Witch Hill, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2001.
The Dark Horse, Orion (London, England), 2002, Wendy Lamb (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor) Helen Ward, The Dragon Machine, illustrated by Wayne Anderson, Templar (Dorking, England), 2003.
Cowards, Orion (London, England), 2003.
The Book of Dead Days (also see below), Orion (London, England), 2003, Wendy Lamb (New York, NY) 2004.
A Winter's Tale (picture book), illustrated by Simon Bartram, Templar (London, England), 2003, published as A Christmas Wish, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
(Reteller) The Emperor's New Clothes (picture book), illustrated by Alison Jay, Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
The Dark Flight Down (sequel to The Book of Dead Days), Orion (London, England), 2004, Wendy Lamb (New York, NY), 2005.
The Foreshadowing, Orion (London, England), 2005.
Nick Riddle, editor, Outremer: Jaufre Rudel and the Countess of Tripoli: A Legend of the Crusades, Fisher King, 1994.
June Counsel, Once upon Our Time, Glyndley Books, 2000.
Though British author Marcus Sedgwick is well known for the dark themes in his fantasy novels for young adults, he assures readers he had a happy childhood. "I was a perfectly normal and happy child," he explained on his Web site. "Honestly. But I slunk into teenage-hood dressed in black, with strange hair-sprayed effects on top. A wonderful world of pretentious but potent dark music was revealed: in short, I became a goth. I know it's not clever now." Still moved by melancholy music and interested in vampires, graveyards, and other dark fantasy themes, Sedgwick has written books about a world flooded by global warming, a magician who has made a pact with a demon for his soul, and a girl with magic powers in an ancient Nordic tribe. He is also the author of several cheerful picture books, and has illustrated a collection of myths and a book of folk tales for adults.
After working as a bookseller and working inside children's publishing, Sedgwick began writing seriously in 1994. His first book, Floodland, was published in 2000 to praise from critics, and it received the Branford-Boase award for the best first children's novel of that year. Floodland tells the story of Zoe, who lives on her own on an island that used to be part of England before global warming caused the seas to rise. Trying to find her family, Zoe leaves her island and lands on the Island of Eels, where there is a power struggle over the limited food and supplies the island has to offer. "Most readers will enjoy this survival story for its heart-pounding plot and dystopic setting," commented Ellen Fader in School Library Journal. Though a Horn Book reviewer commented that the book could have used further developed characters, the reviewer concluded, "this first novel is sufficiently taut, accessible, and swift moving to make it an effective cautionary tale." Lynne T. Burke termed the novel a "nail-biter" in her review for Reading Today, while Barry Schwartz praised the "gripping ending" in his Book Report review.
Sedgwick followed Floodland with Witch Hill, the tale of a boy named Jamie, whose house is destroyed by fire, and who believes that his baby sister was killed in the flames before he could rescue her. Unable to put his memories of the fire from his mind, it fills his dreams; to add to his nightmares, he begins dreaming of an evil old witch trying to harm him, and a girl who is the victim of a witch hunt. It seems that the dreams have more meaning than normal nightmares, and that Jamie's dreams are tied into both the history of the town and a series of strange and terrifying events now troubling the village. John Peters, writing in Booklist, warned, "Don't read this suspenseful tale at bedtime."
The Dark Horse borrows its tone from Norse myth. Sigurd's clan is threatened by a group of raiders known only as the Dark Horse. His adopted sister, Mouse, who was raised by animals when she was very young and can still communicate with them, seems to be connected to the Dark Horse in some strange way. Sigurd and Mouse must go together on a quest to retrieve a mysterious box that only one person can open, which they retrieve near a stranger, who at first seems helpful, but later seems to be more dangerous than either of them realize. Coop Rennet in School Library Journal commented, "Making no concessions to moralizing or romanticizing, Sedgwick's tale is rich, involving, and vivifying." Horn Book reviewer Joanna Rudge Long praised, "the bleak setting is fully realized … and the events are gripping."
Sedgwick returned to a more modern setting with Cowards, a novel of two young men who refuse to fight during World War I, because they believe killing is wrong. Labeled by many as cowards, the pair are imprisoned, tortured, and eventually killed due to their beliefs. Staying away from the magical elements marking his earlier novels, Sedgwick infuses the novel with historical possibilities and raises modern concerns about the morality of war.
Sedgwick's next pair of novels return to the themes of magic and its dangers as the magician Valerian and his servant, Boy, seek a way for Valerian to get out of a pact he made with a demon. Set in a city reminiscent of eighteenth-century Europe, The Book of Dead Days, tells the story of how Boy, along with an orphaned girl named Willow, follow Valerian through the City without understanding his motivation—they only know that if they don't help him, he will die, which would leave them out in the cold. The three search for a mysterious book that may help Valerian find a way to avoid his fate. Leaving much unanswered, the book paves the way directly to its sequel, The Dark Flight Down, during which Boy and Willow are captured by Emperor Frederick, a terrifying man who employs necromancers. Reviewing the first novel in Horn Book, Joanna Rudge Long commented that the "dark thriller reaches a satisfactory denouement" leaving readers waiting for answers in the sequel. "Readers who enjoy fast-paced melodrama with an overlay of the supernatural will devour this tale and wait eagerly for the next installment," noted Bruce Anne Shook in a review for School Library Journal. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews named the first installment a "fascinatingly brooding tale," and Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist, noted, "This is a haunting novel, and the possibility of more is definitely enticing."
Though much lighter in tone than his novels, Sedgwick's picture books also involve magical occurrences. A Winter's Tale, published in the United States as A Christmas Wish, tells the story of a boy who lives in a fairly warm climate who wishes for snow for Christmas, so that his home will look like the world in his snow globe. In the night, his wish is granted, and snow surrounds his home, freezing the nearby lake to allow the boy to ice skate. Characters such as gingerbread men, polar bears, dancers, living snowmen, and a snow wizard—presumably the one responsible for the magic—appear to fill the snowy wonderland. "The reader must decide if [the story] is happening outdoors, in the snow globe, or in the boy's imagination," commented a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. Feeling that the plot was fairly thin, Karin Snelson of Booklist nevertheless admitted that any reader who had ever been transfixed by the magic of a snowglobe "may be transported by this visual winter fantasy."
In a retelling "true to the spirit of the original" according to Carolyn Phelan of Booklist, Sedgwick brings Hans Christian Andersen's story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" to readers in the form of rhymed couplets. The traditional tale relates how two swindling tailors, here depicted as weasels, convince an emperor that they have magical cloth which appears to be invisible to the unworthy. The emperor, drawn as a lion in Sedgwick's retelling, does not wish to seem unworthy, and commissions a robe made of the magical cloth. His advisors (a tortoise and a hare) take turns admiring the imaginary cloth, until a small frog child at the end of the book points out the obvious fact that the emperor is naked. Maria B. Salvadore called Sedgwick's version "a fresh look and sound for an old tale," and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised the book as a "buoyant collaboration" between Sedgwick and illustrator Allison Jay.
Sedgwick lives in Sussex, England, with his young daughter, Alice. When he is not writing, he performs as a drummer and actor with the International Band of Mystery, a group that pays tribute to the "Austin Powers" movies. Sedgwick also to schools and literary festivals to give workshops on writing.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 1, 2001, John Peters, review of Witch Hill, p. 320; September 15, 2003, Karin Snelson, review of A Christmas Wish, p. 248; September 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of The Book of Dead Days, p. 123; October 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Book of Dead Days, p. 338.
Book Report, November-December, 2001, Barry Schwartz, review of Floodland, p. 66; May 16, 2003, "Walker Books," p. 12.
Bookseller, July 13, 2001, "Award for Editor Turned Novelist," p. 38; May 2, 2003, "Shortlist Hat-Trick for Sedgwick," p. 6.
Horn Book, March, 2001, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Floodland, p. 213; March-April, 2003, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Dark Horse, p. 217; November-December, 2004, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Book of Dead Days, p. 718.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2003, review of A Christmas Wish, p. 1320; September 1, 2004, review of The Emperor's New Clothes, p. 874; October 1, 2004, review of The Book of Dead Days, p. 968.
Publishers Weekly, January 29, 2001, review of Floodland, p. 90; September 22, 2003, review of A Christmas Wish, p. 71; September 6, 2004, review of The Emperor's New Clothes, p. 61.
Reading Today, June, 2001, Lynne T. Burke, review of Floodland, p. 32.
School Library Journal, March, 2001, Ellen Fader, review of Floodland, p. 256; September, 2001, Janet Hilburn, review of Witch Hill, p. 232; November, 2001, Lori Craft, review of Floodland, p. 76; March, 2003, Coop Renner, review of The Dark Horse, p. 237; October, 2003, Susan Patron, review of A Christmas Wish, p. 67; April, 2004, review of The Dark Horse, p. S48; October, 2004, Maria B. Salvadore, review of The Emperor's New Clothes, p. 129; November, 2004, Bruce Anne Shook, review of The Book of Dead Days, p. 154.
International Band of Mystery Web site, http://www.internationalbandofmystery.com/ (April 28, 2005).
Marcus Sedgwick Home Page, http://www.marcussedgwick.com (April 28, 2005).
Orion Books Web site, http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/ (April 28, 2005).*
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