Theresa Tomlinson (1946–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1946, in Crawley, Sussex, England; Education: Attended Hull College of Education. Politics: "Socialist." Religion: "Agnostic." Hobbies and other interests: Dancing, drawing, painting.
Agent—Caroline Walsh, David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John St., Golden Square, London W1R 4HA, England.
National Association of Writers in Education, British Society of Authors.
Sheffield Children's Book Award shortlist, for The Rope Carrier, The Herring Girls, and Dancing through the Shadows; Carnegie Medal shortlist, British Library Association, 1991, for Riding the Waves, and 1998, for Meet Me by the Steelmen; America Library Association Notable Trade Book for Children designation, and Booklist Editor's Choice designation, both for The Forestwife.
The Flither Pickers, Walker Books (London, England), 1987.
The Water Cat, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1988.
Summer Witches, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
Riding the Waves, Walker Books (London, England), 1990, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.
The Rope Carrier, Red Fox (London, England), 1991.
The Herring Girls, Red Fox (London, England), 1994.
The Cellar Lad, Red Fox (London, England), 1995.
Haunted House Blues, Walker Books (London, England), 1996.
Dancing through the Shadows, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1997.
Little Stowaway (picture book), illustrated by Jane Browne, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1997.
Ironstone Valley, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1998.
(And illustrator) The Lifeboat That Went by Land (picture book), Bayfair Publications (Robin Hood's Bay, North Yorkshire, England), 1999.
The Voyage of the Silver Bream, A. & C. Black (London, England), 2001.
The Rope Carrier, Red Fox (London, England), 2001.
Beneath Burning Mountain, Red Fox (London, England), 2001.
The Moon Riders, Corgi (London, England), 2003.
Voyage of the Snake Lady, Corgi (London, England), 2004.
"TIME SLIP ADVENTURES" SERIES; FOR CHILDREN
Meet Me by the Steelmen, Walker Books (London, England), 1997.
Night of the Red Devil, illustrated by Anthony Lewis, Walker Books (London, England), 2001.
Errand Lass, illustrated by Anthony Lewis, Walker (London, England), 2003.
Scavenger Boy, illustrated by Anthony Lewis, Walker (London, England), 2003.
Blitz Baby, illustrated by Anthony Lewis, Orchard Books (London, England), 2004.
The Forestwife, Red Fox (London, England), 1993, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Child of the May, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1998.
The Path of the She-Wolf, Red Fox (London, England) 2000.
The Forestwife Trilogy (contains The Forestwife, Child of the May, and The Path of the She-Wolf), Corgi (London, England), 2003.
British writer Theresa Tomlinson's novels, many of which are set in her native Yorkshire, are regional only in location, for their themes span borders and cross continents. While daily courage in the face of hardship is a major Tomlinson motif, her books are not overbearingly polemical. Character-driven, her high-action tales involve the reader in both historical and contemporary situations and generally feature assertive female protagonists. From the angst of a frustrated surfer to the exploits of Maid Marian in the forests of Sherwood, Tomlinson's novels engage young readers on several levels and generally end with an upbeat message. "I love writing about people who had a hard life but worked together and found ways to survive," Tomlinson once commented. "Resilience is what I admire most in human beings. I think that it is important to find exciting ways of passing a sense of history on to our children. A knowledge of the resilience of ordinary people who have lived before us can inspire modern children and help them with their own struggles and decisions."
Born in 1946, Tomlinson was raised in North Yorkshire and as a child had a strong desire to be a ballet dancer. Although she had no inclination to become a writer, her parents read to her and encouraged her love of books. "I started making little picture books for my own children when they were small," Tomlinson explained of her gradual transition to authorhood. "As the children got older, the stories got longer, and I found that I enjoyed it very much." Tomlinson's first official literary ventures included stories inspired by the local history of North Yorkshire, including stories told by her grandparents, "about the fisherwomen who arrived on the train early in the morning and stories about storms, shipwrecks, and daring lifeboat rescues."
Tomlinson's first published novel was inspired by the hardships endured by the wives of Yorkshire fishermen at the turn of the twentieth century, who braved all sorts of weather to gather shellfish bait, or "flithers," for their husbands. The Flither Pickers tells the story of the daughter of one such family, Lisa, who has the opportunity to break away from this harsh life by pursuing an education. Lisa is torn between loyalty to her family and her desire to become a writer, however. Thoroughly researched, like all Tomlinson's books, The Flither Pickers is also illustrated by the period photographs by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. In a Junior Bookshelf review, Marcus Crouch noted that Tomlinson "has written a most distinguished novel which is also a convincing piece of historical reconstruction." The critic also observed that Lisa's narrative has "a rough eloquence … which strikes exactly the right note." Writing in Books for Keeps, David Bennett commented that the community of women in the novel is realized "vividly and compassionately," while in a subsequent review the of the novel for the same publication he concluded that the "juxtaposition of story and pictures makes up one of the best produced and affecting paperbacks I've come across in the twelve years I've been reviewing fiction for young people."
The Water Cat, while also set in Yorkshire, takes place in the more recent past. Set in 1953 in a steel-working town, the novel focuses on a brother and sister who take in a stray cat. The bedraggled creature turns out to be anything but a garden-variety cat, however; in fact, it is a shape-changer, a merman whose access to the sea has been cut off by the steel plant. The children vow to help the merman return back to his rightful home in the ocean. In a Growing Point review, Margery Fisher noted that in "plain prose which is circumstantial enough to deny disbelief the author describes the practical contrivances by which Jane and Tom manage to carry the merman/cat past the metal barrier, helped by seagulls and pigeons which put up a diversion."
Other Tomlinson books that deal with social and economic history include The Rope Carrier, The Herring Girls, and The Voyage of the Silver Bream, the last about the battle between canals and railways. Tomlinson examines the forgotten craft of rope-making in the first title, which is set in a Derbyshire village. Minnie Dakin was born in the underground cottages in Peake Cavern, near Sheffield, England, and chances are that, like generations of rope workers before her, she will die there as well. When her sister Netty marries and then falls ill, Minnie is called from the caverns to help her. Witnessing the advances made during the growing Industrial Revolution, Minnie now wonders whether life would not be better above ground, amid Sheffield's bustling metal industries. "This is social and industrial history with a human face," observed Crouch, "and very convincing it is." Crouch went on to praise The Rope Carrier as "a most absorbing and attractive book, of great educational value but likely to be read with interest for its moving story and its vividly realized characters." Noting the book's descriptive passages, well-developed characters, and quickly paced plot, Geoff Dubber commented in School Library Journal that, "Clearly and carefully written, based loosely on real people, and interspersed with some excellent contemporary lithographs of the area," Tomlinson's novel "will have wide appeal."
In The Herring Girls, Tomlinson once again uses Victorian-era photographs by Sutcliffe to illustrate the lives of the young nineteenth-century women who cleaned fish during the herring season. In this story thirteen-year-old Dory is among them, forced into the trade to save her family from the poor house. George Hunt, reviewing the novel in Books for Keeps, described Dory's narration as "a good, honest, unadorned voice reminiscent of that of Laura Ingalls Wilder," while S.M. Ashburner noted in Junior Bookshelf that Tomlinson "presents a world that has gone forever, vividly recreating the economic hardships which then faced the poor."
More social history is served up in The Cellar Lad, a novel that deals with the efforts to gain the right to vote for all men and unionization for workers in the steel industry in Sheffield. Young Ben Sterndale and his family are caught up in these fights in a story "full of detail and very convincing," according to Linda Saunders in School Librarian. Reviewing The Cellar Lad for the Junior Bookshelf, Crouch noted that "Tomlinson has made the fictional interpretation of the English industrial revolution her own." With all the difficulties facing the characters in this novel, Crouch added, it "would have been easy to lay on the suffering with a trowel, but here is a writer who sees her subject whole."
Tomlinson brings to life the culture of the Yorkshire coast for younger readers in her picture book Little Stowaway, based on the true story of a young boy who stowed away on his father's fishing boat. In the book, little John Robert desperately wants to accompany his father when the man takes his boat out on the North Sea. Hiding behind the coal box, John is finally discovered by the cook, and the frightened little boy, worried about punishment, is hugged by his father. Unable to turn back, the boat plows out into the fishing grounds, where John Robert brings the fishermen such luck that they quickly fill their holds and are able to return to shore early. "Children will enjoy the return home and the heartfelt portrait of family reunion as much as the exciting journey," predicted Hazel Rochman in a Booklist review of the illustrated volume.
A versatile story teller, Tomlinson has also written books with contemporary settings and themes, focusing on issues ranging from intergenerational relationships to fighting cancer in novels for older readers, while presenting middle graders with her entertaining "Time Slip Adventures" series. In the young-adult novel Summer Witches she addresses the misconceptions concerning powerful women. In the novel friends Sarah and Susanna decide to clean out a World War-II air-raid shelter uncovered in Sarah's backyard and use it as a clubhouse. In doing so, they discover evidence of earlier inhabitants of the shelter: Lily and Rose, the two older women who live nearby. The girls had branded Lily as something of a witch due to the elderly woman's inability to speak and her knowledge of healing plants. Eventually Sarah and Susanna come to learn that Lily, far from being a witch, has a sad secret involving the shelter and a tragic incident fifty years before. "Gradually," a reviewer for Junior Bookshelf commented, "the two girls come to realize that many so-called witches of the past were really 'wise' women who knew much about the use of herbs and nature's secrets, and were seldom evil." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews noted that, "with admirable skill, Tomlinson weaves her serious theme into an appealing, accessible story with likable, well-individualized characters and a neatly satisfying conclusion." Horn Book reviewer Martha V. Parravano concluded that "middle-grade girls will be hooked immediately by the private hideaway with a sense of mystery surrounding it," as well as by Tomlinson's tale, which "unfolds, living up to its enticing premise."
Children from the present gain a new appreciation for the comforts of modern civilization in Tomlinson's "Time Slip Adventures" books, which include The Errand Lass, Night of the Red Devil, and Scavenger Boy. In The Errand Lass young girl who is miserable in her new school setting is transported back into the past during a visit to a Sheffield museum, and finds herself one of many children employed in polishing silverware in a cutlery factory. The lives of nineteenth-century steelworkers is similarly brought to life through a modern preteen's eyes in Meet Me by the Steelmen, while in Scavenger Boy Michael learns that while cotton is soft, life in a cotton mill was nothing of the sort.
Steven Engelfried, writing in School Library Journal, described Riding the Waves as a "strong novel about the surprising relationship that evolves between a boy and an elderly woman." Set in a small English coastal town, the novel deals with the dreams of Matt, who desperately wants to be part of a group of surfers. Such membership is elusive until Matt is forced to visit an old family friend, Florrie, for a class project. A bond slowly forms between the two when Matt, an adoptee, learns that Florrie was long ago forced to give up her out-of-wedlock child. When Matt accompanies Florrie to the beach one day, their relationship is cemented: expecting to be embarrassed by the old woman, Matt is instead introduced through her to the surfers, who have a soft spot in their hearts for Florrie from the days when she ran a local restaurant. Deborah Abbott noted in Booklist that Tomlinson's "startlingly refreshing story about an intergenerational friendship" is "well-paced" and has "an upbeat and satisfying ending." Applauding the book for its well-crafted characters, Sheila Allen observed in School Library Journal: "There are so many aspects to this book to absorb and encourage the reader…. Surfing, history, adoption, care of and respect for the elderly, are all woven into this very readable tale."
Tomlinson's own struggle with breast cancer inspired her novel Dancing through the Shadows. "When faced with a long period of treatment," the author once commented, "I felt that it would be beneficial to try to keep writing, so I decided to use what was happening to me as the theme for a novel. I wrote as though I was the young daughter of a woman going through the experience. Once I'd decided to do this, I found that I felt much better. When I went to the hospital, suddenly I was a researcher, rather than a patient. It was very therapeutic. The story is quite upbeat and also suggests ways of giving help."
In the novel, Ellen's mother has breast cancer, and Ellen, along with the rest of the family, is trying to be supportive. Soon Ellen begins to find some solace at an abandoned spring that her teacher discovers near the school, one that was probably once sacred and had healing powers. Restoring the natural spring to a semblance of its former pristine condition parallels the chemotherapy Ellen's mother is receiving, until both are finally restored to health. "Gracefully avoiding didacticism, Tomlinson makes regular reference to the many sources of healing," noted a writer reviewing Dancing through the Shadows for Kirkus Reviews. "Readers will be borne along by the lively pace and the first-person, dialogue-heavy style." A contributor to Publishers Weekly noted the themes of "courage, survival and rebirth" and concluded: "Tomlinson addresses painful truths about the progression of cancer and at the same time celebrates the resiliency of body and spirit."
The author's personal experience has also inspired a trilogy focusing on Marian of Sherwood Forest. "As a child I loved Robin Hood stories," Tomlinson recalled, "but felt a little frustrated that Marian, the only woman that a girl could identify with, was usually locked up in a castle and needing to be rescued. I wanted to imagine Marian rushing through the forest like the men, having adventures and doing the rescuing herself." To satisfy this need for an exciting story, Tomlinson penned a series of three novels comprising the "Forestwife" trilogy: The Forestwife, Child of the May, and The Path of the She-Wolf. In The Forestwife Mary de Holt runs away from an arranged marriage at age fifteen and flees into a nearby forest. Accompanied by her nurse, Agnes, she tries to find the local wise woman, the Forestwife, whom some believe is a witch. Discovering that the woman has died, Agnes takes on the role of forestwife, renaming her young charge Marian, and training the young woman as her assistant. The duo's adventures involve people on the run and a group of defrocked, renegade nuns. Romance enters Marian's life from an unlikely source: Agnes's offputting son, Robert, a local outlaw whom Marian grows to love as he becomes Robin Hood. Wen Agnes dies, however, Marian must forgo her plan to marry Robin due to her obligation to become the new forestwife. She enlist the many women of the forest to join together and aid in her fight against injustice. Reviewing The Forestwife in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Deborah Stevenson called it "an atmospheric read about a durable heroine," while Booklist reviewer Cooper deemed the novel a "rich, vibrant tale with an afterword that describes how various legends are braided into the story."
The second book in the "Forestwife" trilogy, Child of the May focuses on Magda, the daughter of John and an apprentice to Marian, now the forestwife. By the age of fifteen, Magda has grown bored with the drudgery and safety of Barnsdale forest and longs for adventures with her father and the rest of the band of outlaws. She gets her wish, and more, when she aids her father and Robin Hood in the rescue of Isabel and her mother, Lady Matilda, from the clutches of the sheriff of Nottingham. "Tomlinson does a fine job of juxtaposing the story's many exciting moments with history," noted Cooper, who also found Magda to be "strong and prickly, and tender when necessary." Anne Deifendeifer St. John, writing in Horn Book, also had praise for this installment in the trilogy, noting that, "although the plot is well constructed, the novel's strength is in its fully realized setting and cast of strong-willed characters." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews felt that "Tomlinson's language creates a powerful mood; readers will hope for more news of Magda, with her courage, strength, and skills."
Further news of Magda comes in the final novel in the "Forestwife" trilogy. In The Path of the She-Wolf, set in the time of the Magna Carta, it appears that King John may be about ready to repeal the hated Forest Laws. When the king reneges on his promise to implement the Magna Carta, however, Marian, Magda, and Robin Hood must band together for one last battle that ends in tragedy but preserves Marian's legacy for future generations. The three volumes of the series were combined into a single volume, The Forestwife Trilogy, and published in 2003.
Pulling up her literary stakes, Tomlinson moves her focus from Briton to ancient Troy in her book The Moon Riders. Dedicating her life to the service of Maa, goddess of the moon, thirteen-year-old Myrina joins a nomadic tribe of amazons, known as the Moon Riders. Expert horsewomen, the Moon Riders range through Asia Minor and, under the leadership of Penthesilea, enter history through their involvement in the Trojan war. Tomlinson continues Myrina's story in Voyage of the Snake Lady, which references Myrina's chosen totem, the serpent, which is tattooed on her arms. Sometimes captured and enslaved, and living precariously off the land, Myrina endures storms, shipwreck, and other challenges in her effort to survive and reunite the Moon Riders following the fall of Troy.
Praising The Moon Riders in a London Guardian review, Adéle Geras noted that "Tomlinson has done her research," and praised her ability to "transport" readers into Myrina's world. Noting the author's skill in bringing to life "the texture of daily life" in the ancient world, Geras added of the novel: "there are terrible deaths, accounts of almost superhuman courage and hope of new birth at the end of the story." Andrea Deakin, writing in Okanagan College's Deakin Newsletter Online, noted that, "totally convincing, fast-moving, and often very moving," Voyage of the Snake Lady serves Tomlinson's first "Moon Riders" novel as "a very satisfying sequel."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Volume 60, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Booklist, March 1, 1991, Ilene Cooper, review of Summer Witches, p. 1389; May 1, 1993, Deborah Abbott, review of Riding the Waves, p. 1593; March 1, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of The Forestwife, p. 1241; November 1, 1997, Michael Cart, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 463; October 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Child of the May, p. 413; November 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Little Stowaway, p. 600; April 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of The Forestwife, p. 1479.
Books for Keeps, May, 1992, David Bennett, review of The Flither Pickers, p. 20; July, 1993, David Bennett, "David Bennett on the Novels of Theresa Tomlinson," p. 32; May, 1996, George Hunt, review of The Herring Girls, p. 13.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1995, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Forestwife, p. 252.
Growing Point, January, 1989, Margery Fisher, review of The Water Cat, p. 5087; January, 1992, Margery Fisher, review of The Rope Carrier, p. 5641.
Guardian (London, England), February 8, 2003, Adéle Geras, review of The Moon Riders.
Horn Book, May-June, 1991, Martha V. Parravano, review of Summer Witches, p. 332; November-December, 1998, Anne Deifendeifer St. John, review of Child of the May, p. 742; November, 1998, Anne Deifendeifer St. John, review of Child of the May, p. 742.
Junior Bookshelf, August, 1989, review of Summer Witches, p. 181; December, 1990, Marcus Crouch, review of The Flither Pickers, p. 302; June, 1991, A.R. Williams, review of Riding the Waves, p. 123; December, 1991, Marcus Crouch, review of The Rope Carrier, p. 269; June, 1995, Marcus Crouch, review of The Cellar Lad, p. 110; June, 1996, S.M. Ashburner, review of The Herring Girls, p. 126.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1991, review of Summer Witches, p. 540; May 1, 1993, review of Riding the Waves, p. 605; September 15, 1997, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 1464; October 1, 1998, review of Child of the May, p. 1465.
Magpies, May, 1989, review of The Water Cat, p. 28; March, 1998, review of Little Stowaway, p. 31; May, 2003, review of The Moon Riders, p. 42.
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1993, review of Riding the Waves, p. 72; February 13, 1995, review of The Forestwife, p. 79; November 3, 1997, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 86; October 26, 1998, review of Child of the May, p. 68.
School Librarian, August, 1995, Linda Saunders, review of The Cellar Lad, p. 119; spring, 1998, Cliff Moon, review of Little Stowaway, p. 37; autumn, 1998, Kay Ecclestone, review of Child of the May, p. 159; autumn, 2000, review of The Path of the She-Wolf, p. 159; autumn, 2001, review of Beneath Burning Mountain, p. 161; spring, 2002, review of The Voyage of the Silver Bream, p. 34; autumn, 2004, Sarah McNicol, review of Voyage of the Snake Lady, p. 163.
School Library Journal, February, 1991, Sheila Allen, review of Riding the Waves, p. 33; May, 1991, Virginia Golodetz, review of Summer Witches, p. 95; February, 1992, Geoff Dubber, review of The Rope Carrier, p. 33; May, 1993, Steven Engelfried, review of Riding the Waves, p. 110; March, 1995, Susan L. Rogers, review of The Forestwife, p. 225; November, 1997, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 124; November, 1998, Cheri Estes, review of Child of the May, p. 131; November 1, 1998, Cheri Estes, review of Child of the May, p. 131.
Times Educational Supplement, December 7, 1990, Sandra Kemp, review of The Flither Pickers, p. 30; August 11, 1995, David Buckley, review of The Cellar Lad, p. 17.
Times Literary Supplement, February, 1988, Deborah Singmaster, review of The Water Cat, p. 120.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1995, Mary L. Adams, review of The Forestwife, p. 100; Nancy Thackaberry, February, 1998, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 391; October, 1998, review of Child of the May, p. 290; April, 1999, review of Child of the May, p. 16.
Okanagan College Deakin Newsletter Online, http://www.okanagan.bc.ca/ (March, 2005), Andrea Deakin, review of Voyage of the Snake Lady.
Theresa Tomlinson Web site, http://www.theresatomlinson.com (November 21, 2005).
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