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Bernard (John) Ashley (1935-) Biography

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

Born 1935, in London, England; Education: Trent Park College of Education, certificate, 1957; Cambridge Institute of Education, Associate Diploma, 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Theater, music, football (soccer), travel.

Bernard Ashley


King's Farm Primary School, Gravesend, England, teacher, 1957-65; Hertford Heath Primary School, Hertford Heath, England, head teacher, 1965-71; Hartley Junior School, London, England, head teacher, 1971-76; Charlton Manor Junior School, London, head teacher, beginning 1977, retired 1995. Ashley Chappel Productions (professional theatre company), producer. Member, British Academy of Film and Television Arts children's awards committee; member of board of Greenwich Theatre. Military service: Royal Air Force, 1953-55; became senior aircraftman.


National Association of Headteachers, Writers Guild, BAPTA.

Honors Awards

Other Award, Children's Rights Workshop, 1976, for The Trouble with Donovan Croft; Carnegie Medal commendation, 1979, for A Kind of Wild Justice, and 1987, for Running Scared; best entertainment series for children citation, Royal Television Society, 1992, for Dodgem; Guardian Children's Fiction Prize shortlist, and Carnegie Medal shortlist, both 2000, both for Little Soldier; honorary D.Ed., University of Greenwich; honorary D. Lit., University of Leicester.



The Trouble with Donovan Croft, illustrated by Fermin Rocker, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1974, reprinted, 2002.

Terry on the Fence, illustrated by Charles Keeping, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1975.

All My Men, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1977.

A Kind of Wild Justice, illustrated by Charles Keeping, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1978, reprinted, 2002.

Break in the Sun, illustrated by Charles Keeping, S. G. Phillips, 1980.

I'm Trying to Tell You (short stories), illustrated by Lyn Jones, Kestrel (London, England), 1981.

Dinner Ladies Don't Count, illustrated by Janet Duchesne, F. Watts (London, England), 1981.

Dodgem (also see below), Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1982.

Linda's Lie, illustrated by Janet Duchesne, F. Watts (London, England), 1982.

High Pavement Blues, F. Watts (London, England), 1983.

Your Guess Is as Good as Mine, illustrated by Steven Cain, Barn Owl (London, England), 1983, illustrated by David Parkins, F. Watts (London, England), 1987.

A Bit of Give and Take, illustrated by Trevor Stubley, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1984.

Janey, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1985.

Running Scared (novelization of British Broadcasting Corporation television series of the same title), Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1986.

Bad Blood, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1988.

The Country Boy (novelization of Ashley's television series), Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1989.

The Secret of Theodore Brown, 1989.

Boat Girl, and Other Dockside School Stories, 1990.

Getting In, 1990.

The Caretaker's Cat, 1990.

The Ghost of Dockside School, 1990.

Cleversticks, illustrated by Derek Brazell, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.

Dockside School Stories, 1992.

More Stories from Dockside School, 1992.

Seeing off Uncle Jack, Viking (London, England), 1992.

(With son Christopher Ashley) Three Seven Eleven (based on the television series; also see below), Puffin (Harmondsworth, England), 1993.

Johnnie's Blitz, illustrated by Paul Hunt, Viking (London, England), 1995, Barn Owl Books, 2003.

I Forgot! Said Troy, illustrated by Derek Brazell, Viking (London, England), 1996.

A Present for Paul, illustrated by David Mitchell, Collins (London, England), 1996.

Justin and the Demon Drop-kick, illustrated by Nick Ward, Viking (London, England), 1997, Happy Cat Books (Essex, England), 2005.

Flash ("Pen Pals" series), Orchard (London, England), 1997.

King Rat, illustrated by Mark Robertson, Collins (London, England), 1998.

Tiger without Teeth, Orchard (London, England), 1998.

Justin and the Big Fight, illustrated by Nick Ward, Viking (London, England), 1999.

Little Soldier, Orchard (London, England), 1999, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.

Growing Good, illustrated by Anne Wilson, Bloomsbury Children's Books (London, England), 1999.

Who Loves You, Billy?, illustrated by Philip Hopman, Collins (London, England), 2000.

Playing against the Odds, illustrated by Derek Brazell, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2000.

Justin Strikes Again, illustrated by Nick Ward, Viking (London, England), 2001.

Double the Love, illustrated by Carol Thompson, Orchard (London, England), 2002.

Revenge House, Orchard (London, England), 2002.

Freedom Flight, Orchard (London, England), 2003.

The Bush, illustrated by Lynne Willey, Tamarind (Camberley, England), 2003.

Torrent, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2004.

Ten Days to Zero, Orchard (London, England), 2005.

A Present for Paul was been published in bilingual editions, including Turkish, Chinese, Somali, Yoruba, Bengali, Gujarati, and Arabic translations. Other books by Ashley translated into Welsh.


Calling for Sam, illustrated by Jane Cope, Orchard House (Concord), 1987.

Taller than Before, illustrated by Jane Cope, Orchard House (Concord), 1987.

Down-and-Out, illustrated by Jane Cope, Orchard House (Concord), 1988.

The Royal Visit, illustrated by Judith Lawton, Orchard House (Concord), 1988.

All I Ever Ask…, illustrated by Judith Lawton, Orchard House (Concord), 1988.

Sally Cinderella, illustrated by Jane Cope, Orchard House (Concord), 1989.


Roller Madonnas, illustrated by Kim Harley, A & C Black (London, England), 1997.

Rapid, illustrated by Kim Harley, A & C Black (London, England), 1999.

Respect, illustrated by Kim Harley, A & C Black (London, England), 2000.


Stitch Up, Orchard (London, England), 1997.

The Scam, Orchard (London, England), 1997.

Framed, Orchard (London, England), 1997.

Mean Streets, Orchard (London, England), 1997.


Don't Run Away (reader), illustrated by Ray Whittaker, Allman, 1966.

Wall of Death (reader), illustrated by Ray Whittaker, Allman, 1966.

Space Shot (reader), illustrated by Laszlo Acs, Allman, 1967.

The Big Escape (reader), illustrated by James Hunt, Allman, 1967.

The Men and the Boats: Britain's Life-Boat Service (nonfiction), Allman, 1968.

Weather Men (nonfiction), Allman, 1970, revised edition, 1974.

Running Scared (television screenplay), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 1986.

Dodgem (television screenplay; based on Ashley's novel), BBC, 1993.

(With son, Christopher Ashley) Three Seven Eleven (television series), Granada, 1993.

(Editor) The Puffin Book of School Stories, Puffin (Harmondsworth, England), 1992.

Author of plays The Old Woman Who Lived in a Cola Can, produced 1988; and The Secret of Theodore Brown, produced 1989. Also author of children's television serial, "The Country Boy," BBC-TV. Contributor to various educational and literary journals.


While most of Bernard Ashley's stories are set in the Charlton area of London where he himself grew up, teenagers everywhere can identify with the protagonists he creates in novels such as Running Scared, Little Soldier, and Break in the Sun. Mistreated and misunderstood, victims of child abuse, crime, or racism, the multi-racial or otherwise marginalized protagonists in Ashley's books attempt to understand themselves as they learn to cope in a world that is sometimes harsh and unforgiving.

Running Scared, a novelized version of a popular television series Ashley wrote for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), is a typical example of Ashley's work. In this novel, Paula, a white teenager, and her best friend Narinder, a Sikh girl born in India, find themselves involved in a fight against crime when Paula's grandfather becomes an inadvertent witness to a robbery. Reviewing the book for the Times Literary Supplement, Tony Bradman commented: "In the similarities in the way the two girls feel about the pressures on their respective families, the novel reveals the common humanity of two communities who live uneasily together." Bradman also praised Ashley for writing a "novel around the subject of racism" that "avoids preaching."

Prior to writing books, Ashley gained years of experience teaching school and guiding children as a head-teacher in England, and his background has allowed him to make observations and create plots, characters, and dialogue that is realistic to younger readers. As he explained in an interview posted on his Web site, he began writing at age thirty while teaching a class of students with reading problems. They "had nothing to read that grabbed them," Ashley recalled. "The stories I wrote for them weren't much good—but a publisher saw them and treated me as an author, and I responded by becoming one." Additionally, he views reading as an antidote to the results-driven system in which children are educated. As he wrote in Books for Your Children, "the educational system contains a high proportion of built-in stresses of one sort and another—the whole business of examination and the awaiting of results, the changing of schools and classes, the pressure to read and to compute—and we must constantly ask ourselves how unacceptable stresses can be relieved."

Ashley explores some of these stresses in his first novel, The Trouble with Donovan Croft. In this book, a Jamaican boy named Donovan loses his ability to speak when he finds out that his mother has deserted him and that his father is sending him to a foster home. Keith Chapman, Donovan's foster brother, gradually learns to attune himself to Donovan's moods and stands up to those who make fun of his brother. Although Keith is ostracized by his own friends for protecting Donovan, he gains in maturity through the experience, while also forging a strong relationship with Donovan. Writing in the Children's Book Review, Barbara Sherrard-Smith declared that The Trouble with Donovan Croft has "rare quality," and Ashley "has a keen ear for dialogue." Especially appreciative of the realistic language used by Ashley, the critic went on to say that "it is tempting to quote at length … to give the flavour of this book … but it is more sensible to urge others to read it."

In Terry on the Fence, Ashley tells the story of an eleven year old who runs away only to find himself being threatened at knife-point by a gang of youths. Terry is forced to participate as gang members break into his school and steal two radios. As the gang makes its escape, its leader, Les, prevents Terry's capture by helping him over a fence. Later, after Terry's school principal persuades the boy to admit his involvement in the theft of the radios, and the police catch the gang's leader, Terry is stuck on another "fence." Should he testify against Les and save himself, or refuse to turn on Les and face punishment? A reviewer for School Library Journal concluded that Ashley's "skillful characterizations and well-constructed plot should find an audience among good readers."

According to Helen Gregory writing in the School Library Journal, the world Ashley creates in Break in the Sun is "convincing in its detail as well as interesting in its novelty." In this novel, thirteen-year-old Patsy Bligh runs away from her abusive stepfather Eddie and the bedwetting problem she has had since Eddie's marriage to her mother. As she tours on a showboat, she is pursued by Eddie and a young neighbor named Kenny. According

A thirteen-year-old runaway is pursued by her abusive stepfather in Ashley's compelling coming-of-age novel Break in the Sun. (Illustration by Charles Keeping).

to a reviewer for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, the rapid scene shifts between Patsy's experiences and Kenny and Eddie's chase serve to make Break in the Sun "a dramatic story." Also impressed with the novel, a Times Educational Supplement reviewer wrote that "Ashley understands how children work," and Break in the Sun possesses "a throbbing immediacy which undeniably grips the reader."

Ashley's highly praised novel A Kind of Wild Justice was characterized as a "tense thriller" by a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Ronnie, who lives in a London slum, fears for his life because his parents are involved with criminals. After his mother runs away with one of these ne'er-do-wells and his father is arrested, Ronnie finds out about the criminals' plans. As Kathy Piehl reported in School Library Journal, the boy manages, in the end, "to get his father out of jail and to take revenge" on the criminals. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books appreciated the novel's "good pace and suspense" as well as the "vivid picture" it paints "of a poor, multi-ethnic community."

Shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal and Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Ashley's 2002 novel Little Soldier focuses on Kaninda, an African boy who is orphaned during a time of civil war, joins a rebel force to avenge his family's murder at the hands of the Yusulu tribe, and then is brought by the Red Cross to live with a London family. Resentful of the family who has taken him in, steeped in the violence of the African war, and still wishing to avenge the death of his parents and baby sister, Kaninda gradually finds himself drawn into a local gang as an outlet for his own aggression. Meanwhile, his new foster sister, Laura, is battling demons of her own, and looks to Kaninda's turmoil as a way to find redemption for her involvement in a tragic car accident. As Kliatt contributor Claire Rosser noted, in a complex but "well written" novel, "Ashley presents the London [gang] world through the eyes of Kaninda, and that is quite amazing." In Publishers Weekly a reviewer also had praise for Little Soldier, calling it "timely" and "meticulously orchestrated," and noting that Ashley forces readers to examine "the tragic consequences and effects of violence before judging the characters' actions."

In addition to writing novels for middle-grade and older readers, Ashley has also penned stories for elementary-aged children, all of which reflect his characteristic concern for the problems of minorities and outsiders. In Cleversticks, for example, young Ling Sung believes he is the only student in his class who does not have a special talent: He cannot yet tie his shoelaces, button his jacket, or write his name. However, at snack-time, when the resourceful Ling Sung uses two paintbrushes as chopsticks, the other children in the class are impressed with his ability. After Ling Sung teaches them how to use chopsticks, his fellow students help him learn other skills they have acquired. As Diane S. Marton noted in her School Library Journal review, the "strength" of Ashley's book "lies in the ethnic diversity of the children and teachers."

Ashley remains enthusiastic about the prospect of assisting children and young adults through literature. He once wrote in Books for Your Children, "I very much hope books can help children with problems. But let's make no mistake about it, whatever value literature may have in this sort of way, the most important thing about books must always be the pleasure they can give."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Ashley, Bernard, Cleversticks, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.


Booklist, May 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Little Soldier, p. 1518.

Books for Your Children, summer, 1976, Bernard Ashley, "Children under Stress," pp. 10-11.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1977, p. 170; April, 1979, review of All My Men, pp. 129-130; June, 1979, review of A Kind of Wild Justice, p. 169; February 2, 1981, review of Break in the Sun, p. 106; September, 1982, review of Dodgem, p. 2; September, 1991, p. 4; July, 1992, p. 288.

Children's Book Review, summer, 1974, Barbara Sherrard-Smith, review of The Trouble with Donovan Croft, pp. 61-62.

Kliatt, May, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of Little Soldier, p. 5.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 6, 1992.

Publishers Weekly, March 19, 1979, review of A Kind of Wild Justice, p. 94; January 21, 2002, review of Little Soldier, p. 91.

School Library Journal, May, 1977, review of Terry on the Fence, p. 77; April, 1979, Kathy Piehl, review of A Kind of Wild Justice, pp. 65-66; March, 1981, Helen Gregory, review of Break in the Sun, p. 154; January, 1982, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of Dinner Ladies Don't Count, p. 60; September, 1982, Karen Harris, review of Dodgem; March, 1993, Diane S. Marton, review of Cleversticks, p. 170; October, 2003, review of Little Soldier, p. 68.

Times Educational Supplement, August 15, 1980, review of Break in the Sun, p. 20.

Times Literary Supplement, October 21, 1977, p. 1247; June 20, 1986, Tony Bradman, review of Running Scared.


Bernard Ashley Web site, http://www.bashley.com/ (October 23, 2004).

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