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Penelope Lively (1933-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

(Penelope Margaret Lively)


Born 1933, in Cairo, Egypt; brought to England, 1945; Education: St. Anne's College, Oxford, B.A., 1956. Politics: "Left-wing." Hobbies and other interests: History, travel.


Office—Agent—Bruce Hunter, David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John St., Golden Sq., London W1F 9HA, England.


Freelance writer. Has also worked as a research assistant at Oxford University, as a book reviewer, and as host of Treasure Islands (radio program on children's literature), for British Broadcasting Corporation.


Society of Authors (former chairman), PEN, Royal Society of Literature (fellow).

Honors Awards

Children's Books of the Year, Child Study Association of America, 1972, for The Wild Hunt of the Ghost Hounds, 1973, for The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, 1974, for The House in Norham Gardens, 1976, for The Whispering Knights, and 1985, for The Revenge of Samuel Stokes; Children's Spring Book Festival Award, Book World, 1973, for The Driftway; Carnegie Medal, British Library Association, and Hans Christian Andersen Honor List, International Board on Books for Young Penelope LivelyPeople (IBBY), both 1973, both for The Ghost of Thomas Kempe; Whitbread Book of the Year Award, 1976, for A Stitch in Time; National Book Award, Arts Council of Great Britain for Adult Fiction, 1979, for Treasures of Time; Southern Arts Association Literature Prize for Adult Fiction, 1979, for Nothing Missing but the Samovar; fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1985; Booker-McConnell Prize, and shortlisted for Whitbread Award, both 1987, both for Moon Tiger; named to Order of the British Empire, 1989, named companion, 2001; honorary D.Litt., Tufts University, 1992, and Warwick University, 1998; several of Lively's books have been designated Horn Book honor books.



Astercote, illustrated by Antony Maitland, Heinemann (London, England), 1970, Dutton (New York, NY), 1971.

The Whispering Knights, illustrated by Gareth Floyd, Heinemann (London, England), 1971, Dutton (New York, NY), 1976.

The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, illustrated by Juliet Mozley, Heinemann (London, England), 1971, illustrated by Robert Payne, Pan Books (London, England), 1975, published as The Wild Hunt of the Ghost Hounds, Dutton (New York, NY), 1972, illustrated by Jeremy Ford, Puffin Books (London, England), 1984.

The Driftway, Heinemann (London, England), 1972, Dutton (New York, NY), 1973.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, illustrated by A. Maitland, Heinemann (London, England), 1973, Dutton (New York, NY), 1974.

The House in Norham Gardens, Dutton (New York, NY), 1974.

Boy without a Name, illustrated by Ann Dalton, Heinemann (London, England), 1974, Parnassus Press (Berkeley, CA), 1975.

Going Back, Dutton (New York, NY), 1975.

A Stitch in Time, Dutton (New York, NY), 1976.

The Stained Glass Window, illustrated by Michael Pollard, Abelard-Schuman (New York, NY), 1976.

Fanny's Sister, illustrated by John Lawrence, Heinemann (London, England), 1976, illustrated by Anita Lobel, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.

The Voyage of QV66, illustrated by Harold Jones, Heinemann (London, England), 1978, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.

Fanny and the Monsters (also see below), illustrated by John Lawrence, Heinemann (London, England), 1979, new edition, 1983.

Fanny and the Battle of Potter's Piece (also see below), illustrated by John Lawrence, Heinemann (London, England), 1980.

The Revenge of Samuel Stokes, Dutton (New York, NY), 1981.

Fanny and the Monsters and Other Stories (contains Fanny's Sister, Fanny and the Monsters, and Fanny and the Battle of Potter's Piece), Puffin (London, England), 1982.

Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories, illustrated by John Lawrence, Heinemann (London, England), 1984, Dutton (New York, NY), 1985.

Dragon Trouble, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood, Heinemann (London, England), 1984, Barrons (Hauppage, NJ), 1989, illustrated by Andrew Rowland, Crabtree (New York, NY) 2002.

A House Inside Out, illustrated by David Parkins, Deutsch (London, England), 1987, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.

Debbie and the Little Devil, Heinemann (London, England), 1987.

Judy and the Martian, Simon & Schuster (London, England), 1992.

The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree, illustrated by Terry Milne, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1994.

Good Night, Sleep Tight, illustrated by Adriano Gon, Walker Books (London, England), 1994, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.

Staying with Grandpa, illustrated by P. Howard, Viking (London, England), 1995.

A Martian Comes to Stay, Heinemann (London, England), 1995.

Two Bears and Joe, illustrated by Jan Ormerod, Viking (London, England), 1996.

Lost Dog, illustrated by Robert Bartelt, Macdonald Young Books (London, England), 1996.

One, Two, Three, Jump!, illustrated by Jan Ormerod, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 1999.

In Search of a Homeland: The Story of the Aeneid, illustrated by Ian Andrews, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2001.


The Presence of the Past: An Introduction to Landscape History (nonfiction), Collins (London, England), 1976.

The Road to Lichfield, Heinemann (London, England), 1977.

Nothing Missing but the Samovar and Other Stories, Heinemann (London, England), 1978.

Treasures of Time, Heinemann (London, England), 1979, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980.

Judgment Day, Heinemann (London, England), 1980, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981, reprinted, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Next to Nature, Art, Heinemann (London, England), 1982.

Perfect Happiness, Heinemann (London, England), 1983, Dial (New York, NY), 1984.

Corruption and Other Stories, Heinemann (London, England), 1984.

According to Mark, Heinemann (London, England), 1984, Beaufort Books (New York, NY), 1985.

Pack of Cards, Stories 1978–86, Heinemann (London, England), 1986, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Moon Tiger, Deutsch (London, England), 1987, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Passing On, Deutsch (London, England), 1989, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1990.

City of the Mind, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

Cleopatra's Sister, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived (autobiography), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

Egypt: Antiquities from Above (nonfiction), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.

Heat Wave (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

(Author of introduction) Rosalind Kerwen, The Mythical Quest: In Pursuit of Immortality—Tales of Glory, Love, and Grace, Pomegranate Artbooks, 1996.

Beyond the Blue Mountains (short story collection), Viking (New York, NY), published as The 5001 Nights, Fjord Press (Seattle, WA), 1997.

Spiderweb (novel), HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1999.

A House Unlocked (memoir), Grove (New York, NY), 2001.

The Photograph, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.

Making It Up, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.


Boy Dominic (teleplay for adults; three episodes), Yorkshire TV, 1974.

Time out of Mind (teleplay for children), BBC-TV, 1976.

Contributor to books, including My England, Heinemann, 1973. Author of introduction to books, including: Willa Cather, My Antonia; Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence; Ivy Compton-Burnett, Manservant and Maidservant and A Father and His Fate; and Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Also contributor of short stories and articles to periodicals, including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Encounter, Literary Review, and Quarto. Reviewer for newspapers; author of television and radio scripts.

Many of Lively's writings have been translated into foreign languages.


A House Inside Out was released as an audiobook by Chivers Audio, 1988. City of the Mind, Passing On, and Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories were released as audiobooks by Ingram, 1993, 1995, and 1996 respectively. The Photograph was adapted as an audiobook, HighBridge, 2003. Audiobook adaptations were also made of Cleopatra's Sister, 1994, Astercote, 1996, Heat Wave, 1996, among others.


In addition to gaining renown for her adult fiction, British writer Penelope Lively is considered one of the "most interesting and important writers of children's books" of the late twentieth century, according to a Horn Book contributor. Winner of one of Britain's most prestigious award for children's writers, the Carnegie Medal, Lively has earned other honors for her contributions to children's literature. "Rarely does a novelist prove consistently adept at writing for children and for adults—understanding, respecting, and reaching both audiences through storytelling relevant to diverse experience," commented Betsy Hearne in Horn Book. She added, "Even more rarely does she garner critical acclaim in both realms. Penelope Lively is the only writer to win both the Booker Prize and the Carnegie Medal—like winning both a Pulitzer Prize and a Newbery Medal" in the United States.

In all her written work Lively focuses on memory and the continuity of life. In A Sounding of Storytellers, she explained that she is "concerned to show that people and places as they are now incorporate the past, and that to see them without this dimension would be to see them 'flat,' lacking perspective." She further commented in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers that "Most of my books for children reflect, in one way or another, my own interest in the workings of memory—whether personal or collective. They all seem to come out differently—memory fantastical, memory experimental, memory pastoral or historical or comical—but somehow, so far, the theme has persisted." As Hearne observed, Lively deals with the past's effect on the present differently in her works for children and for adults, "tending in juvenile fiction toward supernatural manifestations such as ghostly characters or time-travel plots, and in adult fiction toward a psychological layering of recollection, imagination, flashback, and shifting viewpoint."

Because her father worked for the National Bank of Egypt, Lively was born in Cairo and spent much of her childhood at the family's rambling home in the rural area outside the city. "Our house had been built at the turn of the [twentieth] century in a style of southern American colonial houses—shutters and verandahs and what, to me, was a huge garden teeming with mongooses and other creatures," the author once recalled. Educated at home by a family nurse, Lively had only read about lushly overgrown, rainy landscapes until her first visit to England with her parents. An only child, she described her childhood as "lonely but agreeable," and these early years have found their way into several of her books, including Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived, which focuses on her time in Egypt; A House Unlocked, the story of her grandmother's home and its inhabitants; and Making It Up, a sort of "antimemoir" in which Lively imagines what would have happened had incidents in her life taken different turns.

Lively spent World War II in Egypt with her family, and following the war her parents divorced. Now age twelve, Lively was sent to England to attend boarding school. At first the British landscape seemed strange, and formal schooling proved challenging. At boarding school Lively performed well academically, but soon discovered that a love of poetry was actively discouraged in favor of sports. She wrote poetry anyway, pocketing her poems when a disapproving teacher walked by. Curiously, Lively was once reprimanded for reading The Oxford Book of English Verse on her own time, which made an indelible mark on her. Despite some difficulties, she maintains a positive attitude about those years at school: "There's something stimulating in having to fight against the stream," she once commented.

Although she was an avid reader and an excellent student of the English language, Lively elected to major in history at St. Anne's College, Oxford, inspired by her roots in Egypt and the rich tapestry of English history. After graduation she completed a secretarial course in London, then returned to Oxford to work. There she met and married Jack Lively, a university teacher, and the couple started their family within a year of their In the easy-reading chapter book Dragon Trouble Peter gives his grandfather a birthday gift that hatches into a pair of problems that soon grow too big to handle. (Illustrated by Andrew Rowland.)marriage. Because caring for her children was important to her, Lively left her job; by the time they were both in school, she was eager to begin a new career.

Through her reading in history, Lively became intrigued by landscape history, and this interest eventually inspired her to fictionalize her thoughts on the subject. The result: "something unique, a kind of book that is neither history nor fantasy but has something of both, and that cannot be labeled conveniently—a book where the power of place is a stronger force than most of the characters, where 'history is now,'" according to David Rees in his The Marble in the Water: Essays on Contemporary Writers of Fiction for Children and Young Adults.

Lively's first novel for children, Astercote, was published in 1970. In this novel, as well as those that have followed, the author deals with serious topics, but seasons them with a dash of humor. As she noted in a Horn Book essay: "Children, as far as I am concerned, are very unsolemn creatures, and those of us who are being so presumptuous as to intrude upon their imaginative world shouldn't be solemn either." Lively also shares her interest in history and the passage of time through books such as The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, about a boy named James who encounters a mischievous three hundred-year-old ghost. Once a respected village sorcerer, the ghost is annoyed that his sage advice is ignored in the modern world. The ghost's reaction causes so much trouble in James's life that the boy is compelled to find a way to lay the spirit to rest. Lively's award-winning A Stitch in Time finds Maria encountering the past through a sampler stitched by a girl named Harriet a century before. Obsessed with the long-dead Harriet, Maria soon hears a ghostly dog barking and has forebodings of disaster.

Looking to the future rather than the past, The Voyage of QV66 spins a story in which humanity has been washed away by a great flood and through the survivors—many of them children—that evolution must begin anew. Other books for children include the easy reader Dragon Trouble as well as several pictures books, such as The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree and Good Night, Sleep Tight, which are both dedicated to Lively's grandchildren. The simple text in One, Two, Three, Jump!, a picture book featuring illustrations by Jan Ormerod, "creates a pleasing interaction of repetition and variation," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. As Hearne concluded of the author's simple texts: "Clearly, Lively writes for the child without as well as the child within. She has a realistic grasp of what children are like and what they like."

Like many creative authors, Lively's writings have reflected the course of her own life, and she wrote most of her books for young readers while her own children were of school age. Since the late 1980s most of her writing has been for adults, although she has taken a break from novels and memoirs to produce In Search of a Homeland, a retelling of Virgil's Aeneid that is geared for younger readers. "I am writing books, not conforming to some kind of preconceived notion of what children like to read or of what makes a good children's book," Lively once explained regarding her books for younger readers in a Horn Book essay. "I have no idea, frankly about either of these things." Regarding her shift to adult novels, she added: "I'd gone as far as I could with children's books."

"Writing is a very deliberate and hard-working process," Lively noted of her calling in Horn Book. "It's certainly not a question of sitting down and waiting for the muse to strike. It's all conscious." She ponders an idea for at least a year before putting pen to paper. "I have no working methods—except to try to pack thirty hours into twenty-four," she explained in A Sounding of Storytellers, "because for every stint at the typewriter I need twice as long for talking, and listening, and reading, and generally paying attention to the world."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994, pp. 412-413.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 7, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Chosen for Children: An Account of the Books Which Have Been Awarded the Library Association Carnegie Medal, edited by Marcus Crouch and Alec Ellis, The Library Association, 1977, pp. 167-168.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7, 1977, Volume 50, 1988.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 161: British Children's Writers since 1960, edited by Carolyn C. Hunt, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 233-244.

Rees, David, The Marble in the Water: Essays on Contemporary Writers of Fiction for Children and Young Adults, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1980, pp. 185-198.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 9, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.

Thursday's Child: Trends and Patterns in Contemporary Children's Literature, American Library Association, 1981, p. 41.

Townsend, John Rowe, A Sounding of Storytellers, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1979.


Booklist, June 1 & 15, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Good Night, Sleep Tight, p. 1787.

Books for Keeps, January, 1996.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1985, p. 189; January, 1988, p. 95; April, 1994, Betsy Hearne, review of The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree, pp. 265-266; June 1999, review of One, Two, Three, Jump!, p. 358.

Canadian Review of Materials, January 30, 2004, Liz Greenaway, review of Dragon Trouble.

Christian Science Monitor, November 7, 1973, Robert Nye, "Being Young Means Being Surprised," p. B4; May 4, 1977, Jill Paton Walsh, "Legend-Smiths Spin Tales of Hobgoblins and Fossils," p. B2.

Growing Point, July, 1973, Margery Fisher, review of The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, pp. 2200-2201; May, 1978, pp. 3318-3119.

Horn Book, February, 1977, Virginia Haviland, review of A Stitch in Time, pp. 52-53; February, 1978, Penelope Lively, "Children and the Art of Memory: Part I," pp. 17-23; April, 1978, Penelope Lively, "Children and the Art of Memory: Part II," pp. 197-203; August, 1981, Penelope Lively, "Bones in the Sand," pp. 641-651; July, 1985, p. 450; March, 1999, Betsy Hearne, "Across the Ages: Penelope Lively's Fiction for Children and Adults," p. 164.

Junior Bookshelf, October, 1984, p. 219; December, 1987, p. 276; August, 1994, p. 129; April, 1996, review of Two Bears and Joe, p. 61, and review of Staying with Grandpa, p. 68.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1994, review of The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree, p. 559.

Magpies, March, 1996, review of Staying with Grandpa, p. 22.

New Statesman, May 21, 1976, Martin Fagg, "In Search of Lost Time," p. 686.

New York Times Book Review, May 19, 2002, review of A House Unlocked, p. 7; May 25, 2003, review of A House Unlocked, p. 24; December 7, 2003, review of The Photograph, p. 69.

Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1999, review of One, Two, Three, Jump!, p. 56; August 15, 2005, review of Making It Up, p. 53.

School Librarian, December, 1978, Robert Bell, review of The Voyage of QV66, p. 357; November, 1994, p. 146; May, 1995, p. 59; May, 1996, p. 57.

School Library Journal, October, 1979, Sara Miller, review of The Voyage of QV66, p. 152; June, 1995, Kate McClelland, review of Good Night, Sleep Tight, p. 91; July, 1999, Lisa Dennis, review of One, Two, Three, Jump!, p. 76.

Spectator, December 9, 1995, p. 47.

Times Educational Supplement, July 15, 1994, p. 29; April 7, 1995, p. 17.

Times Literary Supplement, April 6, 1973, review of The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, p. 380; January 24, 2003, Jennifer Potter, "The Girl in the Picture," p. 22.


British Council Web site, http://www.contemporarywriters.com (September 17, 2005), "Penelope Lively."

Penelope Lively Home Page, http://www.penelopelively.net (September 17, 2005).

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