Susan Gates Biography (1950-)
In 1989 Susan Gates published her first novel, The Burnhope Wheel, and she has been writing ever since. Being a writer was not what she had planned for her life, however; when she was only eighteen, Gates became a teacher in Malawi, Africa. She returned home to England after teaching there, studied American literature at Warwick University, and then continued on as a teacher in England. "When I was growing up in Grimsby, it never occured to me [to be a writer]," the author noted in an interview for Schoolsnet.com. "Writing seemed to be a different world that kids like me could never be part of—but I was wrong." Though she didn't start off writing comedy, Gates's best-known novels have a comedic and sometimes horrific bent; whether including killer coats, vampire spiders, or killer mushrooms, Gates knows how to make readers both laugh and wait in suspense to see what will happen next.
The Burnhope Wheel tells the story of Ellen and Dave, two teens who have a strange attraction to the abandoned Burnhope lead mine. Ellen finds a photograph of two miners who were killed in an accident, and soon after begins hearing the voice of one of the miners in her head. Together, Ellen and Dave find the treasure that had led to the deaths of the two miners, and almost meet the same fate themselves when the mine suddenly seems to come alive and the dead miner gains control over Ellen's mind. "The novel has some very exciting moments and will attract readers of the supernatural," wrote Susan F. Marcus in a review for School Library Journal.
Beware the Killer Coat was Gates's first novel to earn the Sheffield Children's Book Award. Far more silly than The Burnhope Wheel, Beware the Killer Coat tells the story of Andrew, who is convinced the coat he got from a "jumble-sale" isn't quite right. The way the zippers look like sharp teeth and the way the coat clings to him while he's wearing it lead Andrew to believe that his coat is actually out to get him! Andrew's coat troubles continue in Return of the Killer Coat, in which he must save his friend Alice from falling prey to the killer coat—which has disguised itself by becoming a different color.
With Cry Wolf, Gates returns to a slightly more serious story. Danny has disappointed his mother by skipping school and not having what his mother considers to be good friends. In order to appease his mother, Danny invents an imaginary friend, Sebastian, who fills all his mother's requirements. But in doing so, he discovers that his brother Tid also has an imaginary friend, one he calls Wolf, who has creepy yellow eyes and silver teeth; Tid seems to be warning Danny of some danger as well, and Danny suspects that there's more to Wolf than just imagination. Bette D. Ammon called Cry Wolf "Good scary stuff," in her review for Kliatt. Brian E. Wilson, writing for Booklist, pointed out that Gates also spins a "humorous, clever story."
Instead of a killer coat, fatal fungi appear in Killer Mushrooms Ate My Gran. Young Maggot and his super-powered Gran have to save the world from an invasion of mutant mushrooms. It seems that the only thing that can stop them is a powerful and repulsive green tea. Gran falls to the mushrooms, and Maggot manages to save her and destroy the mushrooms, only to find out that several of the mushrooms have escaped! Louise L. Sherman, writing for School Library Journal, called Killer Mushrooms Ate My Gran a "mildly scary, humorous story" that "will please elementary graders." In her interview with Schoolsnet.com Gates explained that Gran "is based on my Great Gran who lived to be 102 and was a very formidable lady. . . . I was scared stiff of her!"
Gates also wrote the "Revolting Rabbles," a series of chapter books for younger readers that features the Rabble family. When Mr. Rabble no longer has work as a historian, he forms a company that will hire out to do historical reenactments—and coerces his family into joining him. The Rabbles are hired to perform various time periods, from the Elizabethan and Victorian eras to the Dark Ages to ancient Egypt, but things never go quite as planned. Story narrator Rae Rabble tells how things go awry, and worries constantly about what else might go wrong. In Toffs and Toshers, for example, while Mr. Rabble researches the Dark Ages, Rae's older brother Ryan, an inventor, tries to develop a superior suit of armor, and her younger brother obsesses about the Black Plague.
In Return of the Mad Mangler Gates again combines silliness and horror. Leon's favorite tree is reputed to be haunted by a ghost of a washerwoman known as the Mad Mangler. When the tree is stolen, Leon gathers a crew to help him recover it, including his siblings, Donny and a sister known only as Leather Girl, and Bernard, who also had a tree stolen. The four trace the tree to the home of an aging rock star, and there encounter the Mad Mangler herself. Cindy Lombardo, reviewing the audio version of Return of the Mad Mangler for School Library Journal, commented that "Listeners who relish wacky humor and unusual settings will delight in this tale of science run amok."
In her interview with Schoolsnet.com, Gates offered the following advice to young writers: "I'm tempted to say, just do it. Don't listen to advice or at least don't listen to too much as it tends to cramp your style. Despite what I've just said I'm going to give some advice—just open your mind, be alert to the world around you and generally be a nosy parker—I know I am."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 15, 2002, Brian E. Wilson, review of Cry Wolf, p. 774.
Kliatt, September, 2002, Bette D. Ammon, review of Cry Wolf, p. 51.
School Library Journal, December, 1989, Susan F. Marcus, review of The Burnhope Wheel, p. 118; July, 2001, Louise L. Sherman, review of Killer Mushrooms Ate My Gran, p. 60; December, 2003, Cindy Lombardo, review of Return of the Mad Mangler, p. 75.
Times Educational Supplement, December 8, 1989, Penelope Farmer, review of The Burnhope Wheel, p. 27.
Northern Children's Book Festival Web site, http://www.ncbf.org.uk/ (March 29, 2004), profile of Gates.
Oxford University Press Web site, http://www.oup.co.uk/ (March 29, 2004), profile of Gates.
Schoolsnet.com, http://www.schoolsnet.com/ (March 29, 2004), interview with Gates.*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: E(mily) R. Frank (1967-) Biography - Personal to Martha Graham (1893–1991) BiographySusan Gates (1950-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights