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Gillian Cross (1945–) Biography

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

(Gillian Clare Cross)


Born 1945, in London, England; Gillian CrossEducation: Somerville College, Oxford, England, B.A. (with first-class honors), 1969, M.A., 1972; University of Sussex, D.Phil., 1974. Hobbies and other interests: Playing the piano, orienteering.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Oxford Children's Books, Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon St., Oxford OX2 6DP, England.


Author of juvenile and young-adult books. Also worked as teacher, assistant to old-style village baker, office clerical assistant, and assistant to member of British Parliament.


British Society of Authors.

Honors Awards

The Dark behind the Curtain was a Carnegie highly commended book, 1982, and a Guardian Award runner-up, 1983; American Library Association (ALA) best books for young adults designation, and Whitbread Award runner-up, both 1984, ALA notable books of the year, 1985, and Edgar Allan Poe Award runner-up, Mys-tery Writers of America, 1986, all for On the Edge; Carnegie commended book, 1986, and ALA best books for young adults designation, 1987, both for Chartbreaker; ALA notable books of the year designation, 1987, for Roscoe's Leap; Carnegie commendation, 1988, for A Map of Nowhere; Carnegie Medal, 1990, and Parents' Choice award, 1991, both for Wolf; Smarties Grand Prix award, and Whitbread Children's Novel Award, both 1992, both for The Great Elephant Chase.


The Runaway, illustrations by Reginald Gray, Methuen (London, England), 1979.

The Iron Way, illustrations by Tony Morris, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1979.

Revolt at Ratcliffe's Rags, illustrations by Tony Morris, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1980.

Save Our School, illustrations by Gareth Floyd, Methuen (London, England), 1981.

A Whisper of Lace, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1981.

The Dark behind the Curtain, illustrations by David Parkins, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1982.

The Mintyglo Kid, illustrations by Gareth Floyd, Methuen (London, England), 1983.

Born of the Sun, illustrations by Mark Edwards, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1984.

On the Edge, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1984, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1985.

Swimathon!, illustrations by Gareth Floyd, Methuen (London, England), 1986.

Chartbreak, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1986, published as Chartbreaker, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1987.

Roscoe's Leap, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1987.

A Map of Nowhere, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1988, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1989.

Rescuing Gloria, illustrated by Gareth Floyd, Methuen (London, England), 1989.

Twin and Super-Twin, illustrations by Maureen Bradley, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1990.

The Monster from Underground, illustrated by Peter Firmin, Heinemann (London, England), 1990, illustrated by Chris Priestley, 2002.

Gobbo the Great, illustrated by Philippe Dupasquier, Methuen (London, England), 1991.

Rent-a-Genius, illustrated by Glenys Ambrus, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1991.

Wolf, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1991.

Beware Olga!, illustrated by Arthur Robins, Walker (London, England), 1993.

The Furry Maccaloo, illustrated by Madeleine Baker, Heinemann (London, England), 1993.

The Great American Elephant Chase, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1993, published as The Great Elephant Chase, Methuen (London, England), 1993.

The Tree House, illustrated by Paul Howard, Methuen (London, England), 1994.

What Will Emily Do?, illustrated by Paul Howard, Methuen (London, England), 1994.

The Crazy Shoe Shuffle, Methuen (London, England), 1995.

Posh Watson, Walker (London, England), 1995.

New World, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1995.

The Roman Beanfest, illustrated by Linzi Henry, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1996.

Pictures in the Dark, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1996.

The Goose Girl, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.

Tightrope, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.

Down with the Dirty Danes!, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

The Treasure in the Mud, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England, 2001.

Phoning a Dead Man, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002, published as Calling a Dead Man, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2002.


The Demon Headmaster (also see below), illustrations by Gary Rees, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1982.

The Prime Minister's Brain (sequel to The Demon Headmaster), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1985.

Hunky Parker Is Watching You, illustrated by Maureen Bradley, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1994, published as The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster, Puffin (New York, NY), 1995.

The Demon Headmaster Strikes Again, Puffin (New York, NY), 1997.

The Demon Headmaster Takes Over, Puffin (New York, NY), 1998.

Beware of the Demon Headmaster, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2002.

Facing the Demon Headmaster, illustrated by Kevin Lyles, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England) 2002.


The Dark Ground, Dutton's Children's Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Black Room, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2004, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.


The "Demon Headmaster" series was adapted for British television, and was adapted as a musical published by Samuel French, 2003. Many of Cross's books have been adapted as audiobooks.


In novels such as The Dark behind the Curtain, Wolf, and Calling a Dead Man, as well as in her "Demon Headmaster" series, about a sinister school principal whose ambitions include controlling both his students and the world, British writer Gillian Cross blends suspense, history, adventure, and social concerns. Not one to shy away from the darker aspects of the world, such as violence, terrorism, and political intrigue, Cross weaves such themes into her fiction for older readers, while her books for middle graders features more lighthearted fare. A versatile author, she has also written across genres, from historical and Gothic fiction and school stories to comic novels, realistic fiction, and psychological thrillers. While her protagonists are often loners or misfits, these young men and women generally learn through experience and interaction, and grow as a result of contact—both positive and negative—with an adult world. One of England's most respected writers for children and young adults, Cross has won both the prestigious Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children's Novel Award.

Cross was born on Christmas Eve, 1945, in London, England. Her father held a doctorate in chemistry and managed a paint company, and her mother worked as an English teacher. Growing up in postwar England in a home filled with books, Cross early on learned to love stories and storytelling, and also gained an early love of writing. Known to her friends as a teller of tales, she regaled her classmates with imaginative tales on their daily trek to and from North London Collegiate School for Girls, a respected day school.

After graduation from secondary school, Cross worked as a volunteer teacher for teenagers in inner-city London, an experience that introduced her to a world totally different from the protected suburban one in which she had been raised. She then went to Oxford University, studying English literature at Somerville College. Still a student, she married and left her studies behind for a time to have her first child. She graduated with honors in 1969, earned a master's degree in 1972, and then a Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Sussex.

It was the writing of her doctoral thesis that convinced Cross she had the stamina to write novels. "What really made me into a writer was finishing my doctoral thesis," she once commented. "Suddenly, I was no longer a student. For the first time in my life I had lots of free time and no 'official' writing to do. And I was up to my knees in stories. I had two children by then, and I was always making up stories for them and making them small, illustrated books. I'd also helped to start a children's book group in Lewes, the small town where I was living by then. So I decided it was time I had a go at some proper writing. Thanks to my thesis I knew how to handle something long and, very tentatively, I began my first real book. It has never been published (quite rightly!), but by the time I'd finished it I was hooked and I went straight on to the next one. Four years later, when I had five finished books and a whole host of rejection slips, two of my books were accepted simultaneously, by two different publishers."

Cross's first two novels revealed her ability to tackle a range of subjects and settings. The Iron Way is an historical novel set in Victorian England that focuses on the effects brought about by the arrival of the railroad and its strict timetables in a small Sussex village. In her contemporary novel The Runaway two urban children of vastly different social backgrounds hide away together in an abandoned house. Although different, these two books demonstrate Cross's interest in history as well as the things that surface when individuals are forced to confront social, political, and ethnic differences. Reviewing The Iron Way in Booklist, Marilyn Kaye called the novel a "gripping story" about "hostility, friendship, and loyalty."

With Save Our School, Cross turned her talents to the school story, a genre that has comprised a large part of her work for middle-grade readers. In this comic novel she introduces the characters Barny, Spag, and Clipper, who make return appearances in The Mintyglo Kid, Swimathon!, and Gobbo the Great. Kathy Piehl, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, commented that this series "is notable for the camaraderie it depicts across ethnic and gender lines." Clipper, a West Indian girl, is easily a match for the two English boys who are her buddies. Employing slapstick humor, Cross sets her young protagonists to Herculean tasks, from saving the honor of Bennett Junior High School in Save Our School to organizing a swimming competition in Swimathon! Lots of action, plus a "familiar setting and school slang help carry even less-than-eager readers through the novels," Piehl noted. Reviewing Save Our School in the Times Literary Supplement, Anne Carter commented: "Racy, frequently vulgar and abounding in character, Barny, Spag and Clipper … are as real and recognizable as the streets among which they live." More humor for young readers can be found in Rescuing Gloria, Rent-a-Genius, and Down with the Dirty Danes!

Cross hatched her most popular character in 1982 when her middle-grade novel The Demon Headmaster was published. Focusing on an adult figure that has been cast as the villain for centuries, the novel was a spin-off of her books about Barny, Spag, and Clipper. The demonic headmaster began life as the subject of an essay penned by Clipper for a school writing competition, and when Cross's young daughter heard the story, she encouraged her mother to expand the idea into a book. In The Demon Headmaster a villainous headmaster hypnotizes everyone in his school, but his dastardly plan to control minds is ultimately foiled by a group of non-conformist kids, led by foster-child Dinah Glass, who form the Society for the Protection of Our Lives Against Them, or SPLAT. Immediately popular with readers, Cross's villain was unstoppable; he has returned to hatch maniacal plans in several other novels, including The Prime Minister's Brain, The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster, The Demon Headmaster Takes Over, and Beware of the Demon Headmaster. "A rattling good yarn" is the way Ann Martin described the first "Demon Headmaster" novel in the Times Literary Supplement, and her sentiments were somewhat echoed by Booklist critic Ilene Cooper who noted that the book "has plenty of creepy moments."

In The Prime Minister's Brain the megalomaniacal educator is out to brainwash students who are part of a national computer competition, and once again it is up to Dinah and her SPLAT team to stop him. In Revenge of the Demon Headmaster, he tries to pass on subliminal messages via a popular television show, while The Demon Headmaster Strikes Again finds him making plans to genetically re-engineer the world. In his fifth outing, The Demon Headmaster Takes Over, the evil one schemes to control the Hyperbrain, a worldwide smart computer, while in Facing the Demon Headmaster he seems to have some involvement with a popular new musical club and its mysterious masked DJ. In every case, Dinah and SPLAT do battle and save the world, winning praise from reviewers such as a Books for Keeps critic who dubbed The Demon Headmaster Takes Over a "fast moving and very readable thriller."

In addition to her quirky thrillers for younger readers, Cross has also proved herself a master of the suspense novel in books such as Whisper of Lace, The Dark behind the Curtain, On the Edge, and the award-winning Wolf. In these novels she blends history, psychology, social and moral issues, and come up with page-turning tales. In A Whisper of Lace she focuses on inter-family intrigue against an historical setting, with smuggling as a narrative hook. "Layer and layer of observation and manipulation add to the plot's suspense," according to Piehl. Neil Philip, reviewing the title in the Times Educational Supplement, felt that Cross "brilliantly puts the stagy conventions of costume fiction … at the service of a real sense of history's complexity."

In The Dark behind the Curtain, a school production of the musical Sweeney Todd calls forth a group of ghostly children who once suffered under a cruel master. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Geoffrey Trease maintained that "Cross has a practiced icy hand at producing a delicious frisson," while Dorothy Nimmo, writing in School Librarian, found the novel "gripping." In On the Edge a modern-day London teen is kidnapped by terrorists who want to abolish the family unit. As a hostage, Tug Shakespeare is held by the terrorist group at a remote cottage, but when Jinny Slattery, who lives nearby, becomes suspicious, her controlling father ridicules her concerns. With its focus on themes of freedom and individuality, On the Edge was a runner-up for both the Whitbread and Edgar Allan Poe awards. In Horn Book, Mary M. Burns called the novel "a tense, compelling adventure-mystery in which the lives of two adolescents move on convergent tracks to a chilling denouement."

Virtual reality games are at the heart of New World, and as with many plots of the "Demon Headmaster" series, youthful protagonists must battle the hidden agenda of programmers. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted in a review of the book that "the pace never slackens, the characters are subtly developed and suspense is delivered in wholesale quantities." With Pictures in the Dark, Cross creates "a spellbinding novel of emotional suspense, spiked with a highly British sort of magical realism," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. A chance photograph brings young Charlie into the lives of classmate Jennifer and her secretive younger brother, leading him to mysteries and the supernatural. Deborah Stevenson, reviewing the novel for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, described Pictures in the Dark as "very, very chilling."

In The Great American Elephant Chase, set in 1881, young Tad, an orphan, eagerly takes a job with a travelling salesman who uses an elephant to help sell his elixir. When the salesman dies in a train accident, Tad aids the man's daughter in attempting to get the animal to safety in Nebraska, one step ahead of a group of people attempting to steal the imperiled pachyderm. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that Cross, an "author of splendidly complex, challenging thrillers, sets a picaresque adventure in 19th-century America" with this tale, concluding of the Smarties Prize-winning novel that the trip into the past is "grand, old-fashioned fun." Writing in Booklist, Emily Melton called the novel "a heartwarming story of courage and perseverance," while in School Library Journal Sally Margolis described The Great American Elephant Chase as part "showboat melodrama, part Dickensian squalor, part Barnum hype, and all adventure."

Moving from past to present, Cross plumbs emotional depths in Tightrope, which finds a teenager shouldering the burden of caring for her disabled mother in a rundown urban neighborhood. A serious, highly conscientious girl, Ashley struggles to handle the responsibilities that have been heaped on her: too many responsibilities. To cope with the lack of a childhood, she develops an alter-ego, Cindy, a graffiti artist who eventually takes up with members of a local gang. Martha V. Parravano, reviewing Tightrope for Horn Book, deemed the novel a "riveting psychological thriller" with a "satisfying, catch-your-breath ending," while a Publishers Weekly critic praised its "impeccable plotting" and "complex characterizations."

Moving from stark reality to fantasy, Cross began her "Dark Ground Trilogy" in 2004 with The Dark Ground. Setting the stage for her fantasy tale, she introduces Robert, a teen flying home from a trip with his family. After a strange vision in a mirror, he falls into unconsciousness, and awakens to find himself naked and alone in a vast forest full of gigantic plants and creatures. As the story continues, Robert learns to view his world from a new perspective; he has shrunk in size to mouse-like proportions and must now join other tiny creatures in their quest to stay alive. Describing The Dark Ground as "creative, mysterious fantasy bookend[ing] … a woodland survival story," a Kirkus Reviews critic praised Robert's determined quest to reunite with his family as "heart-stoppingly dangerous." While noting that the novel leaves many questions for subsequent series installments, Horn Book contributor Roger Sutton praised Cross for her skill in "evoking the change in scale and all the difficulties in survival it would entail." The series continues in The Black Room, as Robert escapes the woodland world and now hopes to rescue Lorn, a girl he fears is becoming drawn into a sinister underground world.

In young-adult novels such as Tightrope, The Dark behind the Curtain, and The Dark Room, Cross portrays the harsh, even malevolent, side of human nature, and this tendency has contributed to her popularity among teen readers. Writing about the underside of life in a realistic manner reflects her philosophy that elements such as violence belong in children's literature. Noting the violence that surfaces in age-old fairy and folk tales, she observed in School Librarian that "Death and danger and injury are hard, definite, dramatic things. Human life is taxing and fulfilling and—absolute," and "the old dramatic virtues and vices standing out sharply. Love. Hate. The struggle for power. Irrevocable choices. Physical damage. And I've thought, 'So the stories didn't exaggerate after all. It's all there. As absolute, as heroic in its dimensions as anything in Tolkien—or Shakespeare.'"

Despite being salted with the darker aspects of life, Cross's writing for older teens is never depressing. She believes individuals are capable of confronting difficult problems, making decisions, and living happier, more informed existences as a result. "I like to write for children and young people because then I feel free to write about important things: love, death, moral decisions," Cross once noted. "I find a lot of adult fiction is cynical and despairing, concerned with illustrating the powerlessness and unimportance of ordinary people. I believe that ordinary people are important and that everyone has the power to influence his own life. I think the young know that too."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 24, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume 9, Beacham Publishing (Osprey, FL), 1999.

Carter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1984.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 28, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Hunt, Caroline C., editor, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 161: British Children's Writers since 1960, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Pendergast, Tom, and Sarah Pendergast, editors, St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Reginald, Robert, Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, 1975–1991, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, third edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1989.


Booklist, January 1, 1980, Marilyn Kaye, review of The Iron Way, p. 666; June 15, 1983, Ilene Cooper, review of The Demon Headmaster, pp. 1336-1337; January 15, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of Wolf, pp. 1052-1053; March 15, 1992, Emily Melton, review of The Great American Elephant Chase, p. 1320; February 1, 1995, p. 999; January 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Pictures in the Dark, p. 858; September 15, 1999, Roger Leslie, review of Tightrope, p. 247; September 1, 2004, Sally Estes, review of The Dark Ground, p. 106.

Books for Keeps, May, 1998, review of The Demon Headmaster Takes Over, p. 27.

Books for Your Children, summer, 1984, Gillian Cross, "How I Started Writing for Children," pp. 15-16.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1983; March, 1985; June, 1985; July-August, 1986; March, 1987; January, 1988; June 1993, p. 312; June, 1995, pp. 340-341; January, 1997, Deborah Stevenson, review of Pictures in the Dark, pp. 161-162.

Growing Point, January, 1984, Margery Fisher, review of Born to the Sun, p. 4189.

Horn Book, November-December, 1980, Ann A. Flowers, review of Revolt at Ratcliffe's Rags, p. 647; July-August, 1985, Mary M. Burns, review of On the Edge, p. 453; January-February, 1989, Claudia Lepman-Logan, "Books in the Classroom: Moral Choices in Literature," p. 110; May-June, 1989, Mary M. Burns, review of A Map of Nowhere, p. 375; September-October, 1993, p. 596; July-August, 1995, p. 465; January-February, 1997, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Pictures in the Dark, p. 54; January, 2000, Martha V. Parravano, review of Tightrope, p. 74; July-August, 2002, Lauren Adams, review of Phoning a Dead Man, p. 457; September-October, 2004, Roger Sutton, review of The Dark Ground, p. 579.

Junior Literary Guild, October, 1987-March, 1988.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1989, review of A Map of Nowhere, pp. 375-376; March 15, 1993, review of The Great American Elephant Chase, p. 368; August 15, 1999, p. 1309; August 1, 2004, review of Kirkus Reviews, p. 739.

Publishers Weekly, March 13, 1995, review of A New World, p. 70; September 23, 1996, review of Pictures in the Dark, p. 77; August 23, 1999, review of Tightrope, p. 60; March 4, 2002, review of Phoning a Dead Man, p. 81; July 1, 2002, Kit Allerdice, "The British Invasion," p. 26; November 1, 2004, review of The Dark Ground, p. 52.

School Librarian, December, 1982, Dorothy Nimmo, review of The Dark behind the Curtain, p. 358; May, 1991, Gillian Cross, "Twenty Things I Don't Believe about Children's Books," pp. 44-46; winter, 2001, review of Calling a Dead Man, p. 210; May, 2002, Kim Carlson, review of Phoning a Dead Man, p. 147.

School Library Journal, April, 1987, Jack Forman, review of Chartbreaker, p. 108; January, 1993, p. 65; May, 1993, Sally Margolis, review of The Great American Elephant Chase, p. 104; December, 1993, p. 24; March, 1995, p. 222; November, 1996, p. 40; September, 1997, p. 130; May, 1998, p. 50; October 1999, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Tightrope, p. 148; January, 2002, Maren Ostergard, review of Gobbo the Great (audiobook), p. 75; September, 2004, Susan L. Rogers, review of The Dark Ground, p. 202.

Times Educational Supplement, April 9, 1982, Neil Philip, "Blackmail and Old Lace," p. 29.

Times Literary Supplement, March 27, 1981, Anne Carter, "Encouraging Stories," p. 340; July 23, 1982, Geoffrey Trease, "Curdling the Blood," p. 788; September 17, 1982, Ann Martin, "Forms of Believability," p. 1002; September 30, 1983, Sarah Hayes, review of Born of the Sun.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1993, p. 215; December, 1995, p. 313; June, 1996, p. 86; June, 1998, p. 102; June 2002, review of Phoning a Dead Man, p. 115.


Gillian Cross Web site, http://www.gillian-cross.co.uk (November 17, 2005).

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