Margaret I. McAllister (1956–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1956, in Tynemouth, England; Education: Newcastle Polytechnic, degree (education and English). Politics: "Center." Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Theater, dance, music, history.
Agent—Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency, Thorley Manor Farm, Thorley, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0SJ, England.
Buddle Arts Centre, Wallsend, England, teacher of dance and drama. Also worked as teacher of creative writing, church cleaner, supply teacher, teacher of excluded children, and dogsbody in a retreat house.
A Friend for Rachel, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1997, published as The Secret Mice, 2002.
Hold My Hand and Run, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1999, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Never Wash Your Hair, illustrated by Tim Archbold, Pacific Learning, 1999.
Ghost at the Window, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2000, published as Fire Lion, 2001, published under original title, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
The Worst of the Vikings, Pacific Learning, 2000.
The Mean Dream Wonder Machine, Pacific Learning, 2000.
The Doughnut Dilemma, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2000.
(Adapter) Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Pacific Learning, 2000.
My Guinea-Pig Is Innocent, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2001.
Wimmer, illustrated by Maureen Bradley, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2001.
(Adapter) Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2001.
The Octave of Angels, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2001, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.
The Jam Street Puzzle, illustrated by Tony Sumpter, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2002.
The Life Shop, Lion (Oxford, England), 2004.
"MISTMANTLE CHRONICLES" NOVEL SERIES; UNDER NAME M.I. McALLISTER
Urchin of the Riding Stars, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2005.
Urchin and the Heartstone, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2006.
Author's books have been translated into six languages.
"OXFORD READING TREE" SERIES
Threads of Deceit, illustrated by Tim Clarey, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2003.
Black Death, illustrated by Alice Englander, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2003.
Snow Troll, illustrated by Steve Cox, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2003.
The Magic Porridge Pot, illustrated by Peter Utton, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2003.
Emily and the Lamb, illustrated by Dawn Vince, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2005.
When asked in an interview for the Mistmantle Web site how long she had been writing books, Margaret I. McAllister responded: "Since I could write. Before that, I made up stories in my head." An imaginative author who includes fantasy elements in much of her fiction, McAllister published her first book, A Friend for Rachel, in 1997. A Friend for Rachel focuses on a girl who desperately needs a friend after her family moves to a new town. What Rachel finds instead are two talking church mice which she must keep secret from her parents. McAllister's more recent books include her "Mistmantle Chronicles" novels, published under the name M.I. McAllister. Including Urchin of the Riding Stars and Urchin and the Heartstone, the "Mistmantle Chronicles" have been translated into six languages.
McAllister's novel Hold My Hand and Run is set in the 1600s in England and tells the story of Kazy Clare and her efforts to protect her sister Beth from their wicked aunt's abuse. The best course of action seems to be running away, so Kazy and Beth flee, hoping to find safety. While noting that McAllister's characters are not always well rounded, Booklist contributor Stephanie Zvirin wrote that "the adventure … will hold young readers." Debbie Stewart, writing for School Library Journal, cited the book as "a readable historical novel set in a period not frequently explored." Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido, reviewing another of McAllister's historical novels, commented that the author demonstrates "a flair for historical fiction" in Hold My Hand and Run.
Incorporating a mix of fantastic elements, Ghost at the Window is a story about Ninian House, a building that seems to move through time. The community accepts this oddity, and young Ewan, who lives in Ninian House, is accustomed to the bizarre change in scenery around his home. However, when a young girl named Elspeth appears to him, asks for help, and then vanishes, he realizes that more than time travel is at work. McAllister's "tightly wound plot speeds along without a wasted word," reported a contributor to Kirkus Reviews, while Beth L. Meister noted in School Library Journal that the building's "time-shifting, casually accepted by Ewan's parents and other local residents, gives this fast-paced ghost story an unusual twist."
Urchin of the Riding Stars, the first novel in the "Mistmantle Chronicles," is a book McAllister waited for several years to write. "I've had the idea of the misty island for ages, but I don't know where it came from," she explained in an interview on the Mistmantle Web site. "A friend suggested I write an animal story so I moved the animals into the island and it worked." The book's setting, the island of Mistmantle, is inhabited by an animal court ruled by a kindly hedgehog king who is manipulated by his trusted advisor, Captain Husk. The valorous Captain Crispin is a threat to Husk's plans, and when Crispin is exiled, his page, Urchin, begins to think it may be up to him to keep all of Mistmantle from falling to Husk's evil. "Urchin is a sweet hero," noted GraceAnne A. DeCandido in a review of the first series installment in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly critic compared McAllister's "brisk and colorful tale" to Brian Jacques's popular "Redwall" series and Kenneth Graeme's classic novel Wind in the Willows.
Though McAllister often writes in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, her novels tackle real-life issues. Both her science-fiction novel The Life Shop, and the "Mistmantle Chronicles" ponder the idea of a perfect world created by sacrificing the weak or the infirm. In an interview with Bookseller, McAllister explained that this concept is woven into Urchin of the Riding Stars through the relationships among animal characters that "have … implicit trust in their leaders. Captain Husk culls any young animals born in any way weak or dam-aged, and the idea is, 'We have to do it. It's necessary and kinder to them really.' So the animals don't like it, but they accept it." In the futuristic The Life Shop, heroine Lorna stands against those attempting to weed out weakness in order to create a perfect world by defending her disabled brother.
McAllister once told SATA: "Aspiring writers sometimes feel discouraged because they think you have to be brainy to succeed. I'm not! I just like words and stories.
"I suppose I write about the things that make an impression on me—ancient churches with their candlelit festivals, and the history of the north of England, for example. Writing is a way of immersing myself in these things and inviting the reader in, too.
"For me, the mark of a really good children's book is that you can enjoy it at any age. If you can fall in love with a book as a child, and come back to it as an adult without feeling patronized or uneasy, it has strength. I could go on reading C.S. Lewis and Lucy Boston forever."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 1, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Hold My Hand and Run, p. 1477; May 1, 2002, review of Ghost at the Window, p. 1459; October 1, 2005, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Urchin of the Riding Stars, p. 59.
Bookseller, December 10, 2004, "Something Rotten in Mistmantle," p. 28.
Books for Keeps, May, 1997, p. 24; July, 1999.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 2002, review of Ghost at the Window, p. 373.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Ghost at the Window, p. 958; July 1, 2005, review of Urchin of the Riding Stars, p. 739.
Magpies, July, 1997, review of A Friend for Rachel, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, September 12, 2005, review of Urchin of the Riding Stars, p. 72.
School Librarian, August, 1997, p. 158; spring, 2003, review of The Secret Mice, p. 33; spring, 2005, Joan Nellist, review of The Life Shop, p. 35.
School Library Journal, July, 2000, Debbie Stewart, review of Hold My Hand and Run, p. 107; August, 2002, Beth L. Meister, review of Ghost at the Window, p. 194.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2000, review of Hold My Hand and Run, p. 190; August, 2002, review of Ghost at the Window, p. 204; April, 2003, review of Ghost at the Window, p. 13.
Bloomsbury Publishing Web site, http://www.bloomsbury.com/ (March 24, 2006), profile of McAllister.
Lion Publishing Web site, http://www.lion-publishing.co.uk/ (March 24, 2006), profile of McAllister.
Mistmantle Web site, http://www.mistmantle.co.uk/ (March 24, 2006).
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