Writers

Add to researchAlison Prince

Alison Prince

David Boni

Born
Kent
Genre
Poetry, Non-Fiction, Fiction, Children
 
 
Biography
Author and artist Alison Prince was born in 1931 and won a scholarship to Slade School of Art, after which she trained to be a teacher and became Head of Art at a London school.

In the 1960s, with Joan Hickson, she wrote the script for a 'Watch With Mother' BBC TV children's series about 'Joe', whose parents owned a transport cafe. She also wrote the scripts for 'Trumpton'.

She has since written many books for children of all ages, including those for Barrington Stoke's 'Gr8 Reads' teenager series. How's Business (1987) was written with children of a Lincolnshire Primary School and is set in World War II, also using the author's own experience as an evacuee. It was shortlisted for the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. She later worked with the same school when writing The Summerhouse (2004).

Other children's novels include The Sherwood Hero (1995), winner of the 1996 Guardian Children's Book Award; Bird Boy (2000); The Fortune Teller (2001); and Oranges and Murder (2002), a thriller for teenagers set in 1830s London, winner of the 2002 Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award and shortlisted for the 2003 Angus Book Award; Jacoby's Game (2006); and Outbreak (2008). Her book, My Tudor Queen (2001), is the diary of Eva de Pueblo, a fictional friend of Catharine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn and Me (2004) is a further diary, this time of Eve's daughter, who in turn writes about life under Anne Boleyn. A third book in this series was, by popular demand, published in 2011 - Henry VIII's Wives.

Alison Prince also writes for adults, and as well as a novel, The Witching Tree (1996), and the poetry collections Having Been in the City (1994) and The Whifflet Train (2003), has written a book of essays - The Necessary Goat (1992) and a collection of pieces entitled On Arran (1994), written originally for the local Arran Voice newspaper, which she edited.

She is also the author of two literary biographies: Kenneth Grahame: An Innocent in the Wild Wood (1994); and Hans Chrisian Andersen: The Fan Dancer (1998).

Alison Prince lives on Arran and was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Literature by the University of Leicester and Bishop Grosseteste College, Lincoln, for services to children's literature. Her latest book is No Ordinary Love Song (2011), a novel about first love.

Critical Perspective

Alison Prince's writing career began with television scriptwriting for children: the success of Joe (first screened 1966) led to an invitation to write the scripts for Trumpton (first screened 1967) which, together with its two sister series Camberwick Green and Chigley, became a much-loved classic British children's programme. Trumpton was aimed at pre-schoolers, and Prince was asked to write 13 stories - along with co-writing the song lyrics with Freddie Phillip - centring on the Trumpton fire brigade. The stories were not to involve smoke, fire or water, as this was too difficult to animate, so the result was a series of gentle and endearing stories about life in a traditional English town in which the drama of the day is usually a minor matter such as rescuing a cat from a tree. The simplicity was part of its appeal to young viewers, along with its reassuring predictability - each episode begins at 9am with a close-up of the Trumpton clock as the narrator, Brian Cant, announces: 'Here is the clock, the Trumpton clock. Telling the time steadily, sensibly, never too quickly, never too slowly. Telling the time for Trumpton.' Equally predictably, each episode ends at the park bandstand, where the Trumpton fire brigade transform into the local brass band and play to the watching townsfolk.

The Trumpton fire brigade appear to the infamous refrain of 'Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb!' which was penned by Prince. They are surrounded by an array of other characters, many of whom embody traditional 'Englishness': the mayor of Trumpton; Mr Troop the townhall clerk; Policeman Potter; Mrs Cobbit the flower-seller; Raggy Dan the rag-and-bone man and others. Most of the characters are identifiable by their occupations, and the jobs are usually straightforward manual activities which pre-schoolers can understand and emulate. To emphasise this, each of the major characters has a song about their work: 'I like my job as a carpenter / There's nothing I'd rather be / I've had my tools for many long years / They're all good friends to me.' This approach - creating children's characters whose identities are intertwined with their occupation - was to inspire later television programmes such as Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder. 

After writing stories for the children's programme, Jackanory, Prince then began to write children's books. Some are picture books for younger readers, but many are novels aimed at readers from middle-childhood to teenagers - Prince is therefore an extremely versatile author who writes empathetically for all ages. Many of these novels are historical, offering young readers a vivid glimpse of the past through the perspective of authentic child and teenage protagonists with whom modern readers can identify and empathise. Several of Prince's novels are set during World War II, including How's Business? (1987), which was shortlisted for the Nestle Smarties Book Prize. It was inspired partly by the author's own experiences as a wartime evacuee, but was also written with the help of a group of Lincolnshire primary school children - Prince spent two terms working with the children and incorporated their ideas and research into the novel. Doodlebug Summer (2006) and Outbreak (2008) are also set in World War II and again based partly on Prince's own childhood memories, though they are not autobiographical. Doodlebug Summer is set near the end of the war and depicts, through the eyes of a young girl, the terrifying experience of 'doodlebugs', the first unmanned bombs. Outbreak, in contrast, takes place as the war begins in 1939, as another young female protagonist, Miriam, struggles to understand why the adults around her are consumed by fear and anxiety. In these three novels, Prince thus offers a poignant depiction of different aspects of World War II from the perspective of children trying to comprehend world events that will indelibly shape their view of life.

The award-winning The Sherwood Hero (1995) has a contemporary setting in Glasgow, but it is also a modern-day version of Robin Hood, featuring a young girl Kelly who tries to steal from the rich to give to the poor. Prince skilfully re-presents this classic mythical story with a modern take on city life, homelessness, moral dilemmas and family relationships: Kelly fantasises about life in Sherwood Forest but she is simultaneously a recognisable modern teenager who is concerned about social inequality and, like most adolescents, experiences tension with her parents. Prince's novels are often set in quite intense and dramatic situations - some even veer into the supernatural, such as the thriller ghost story, Bird Boy (2000), which has a modern setting intertwined with a story from the past. The award-winning Oranges and Murder (2002) is another thriller, set in 1830s London and featuring a young boy, Joey, who sells oranges in the East End. As with all Prince's historical novels, it is well-researched, combining authentic period detail with a gripping story in which Joey, who finds himself wrongly accused of murder, searches for the truth about the crime and about his own mysterious family history.

Prince has also contributed several books to Scholastic's 'My Royal Story' series, which offers young readers a taste of history through fictional stories based on real events and real historical figures. Historical information is therefore presented within an entertaining narrative which brings the past to life by depicting authentic human stories behind the history and politics. Prince's My Tudor Queen (2001; later republished as Catherine of Aragon) and Anne Boleyn and Me (2004) were later collected as Tudor Stories for Girls (2009).  After many requests from child readers, Prince wrote a third book in this series, Henry's VIII's Wives (2011), which spans a 20-year period and encompasses the stories of Henry's remaining wives.

Prince's versatility as a writer is further demonstrated in her work for adults, which includes two critically acclaimed biographies: Kenneth Grahame: An Innocent in the Wild Wood (1994) and Hans Christian Andersen: The Fan Dancer (1998). As with her historical fiction, these biographies are extremely well-researched and well-written, combining detailed information with a lively and enjoyable read. Both biographies address rather unusual and eccentric characters, and Prince's approach combines sympathy with objectivity. She also presents convincing arguments: in the case of Andersen she argues that many of the themes in his stories are underpinned by a repressed homosexuality, and also offers evidence that he may have been the illegitmate son of King Christian VIII of Denmark. In her study of Grahame, Prince offers a sensitive but frank exploration of his somewhat bizarre marriage and the tragic suicide of his son.


Elizabeth O'Reilly, 2011

Bibliography

2011
No Ordinary Love Song, Walker
2011
Henry VIII's Wives, Scholastic
2009
Tudor Stories for Girls, 'My Tudor Queen', 2001; 'Anne Boleyn and Me', 2004, Scholastic
2008
The Sherwood Nightmare, Macmillan
2008
Outbreak, A & C Black
2008
Help, illustrated by Pulsar Studios, Barrington Stoke
2006
Speed, illustrated by Hannah Webb, Barrington Stoke
2006
Jacoby's Game, Walker
2006
Doodlebug Summer, A & C Black
2005
Smoke, illustrated by Pat Morgan, Barrington Stoke
2004
Tower-Block Pony, Orchard
2004
The Summerhouse, Walker
2004
Luck, illustrated by Pat Morgan, Barrington Stoke
2004
Anne Boleyn and Me, Scholastic
2003
Three Blind Eyes, Oxford University Press
2003
The Whifflet Train, Mariscat Press
2003
Spud, illustrated by Kate Sheppard, Young Corgi
2002
Turnaround, Barrington Stoke
2002
Screw Loose, Barrington Stoke
2002
Oranges and Murder, Oxford University Press
2002
Boojer, illustrated by Kate Sheppard, Young Corgi
2001
The Fortune Teller, Hodder
2001
My Tudor Queen, Scholastic
2001
Bumble, illustrated by Dorry Weir, Young Corgi
2000
Second Chance, Barrington Stoke
2000
Bird Boy, Hodder
2000
Acts of Union, Mammoth
2000
A Nation Again, Mammoth
2000
A Biker's Ghost, Pearson Education
1999
The Biggish Ewe, editor and illustrator, Brodick Books
1999
Dear Del, Hodder
1999
Cat Number Three, illustrated by Doffy Weir, Young Corgi
1998
Hans Christian Andersen: The Fan Dancer, Allison and Busby
1997
Piccadilly Magic Dad, illustrated by Magda Van Tilburg, Methuen
1997
Fergus, Fabulous Ferret, Hodder
1997
Fatso's Rat, Hodder
1996
The Witching Tree, Allison and Busby
1995
The Sherwood Hero, Macmillan
1994
On Arran, Argyll Publications
1994
Kenneth Grahame: An Innocent in the Wild Wood, re-issued by Faber and Faber, 2009, Allison and Busby
1994
Having Been in the City, Taranis Books
1993
Merv on the Road, Pan Macmillan
1993
A Dog Called You, Pan Macmillan
1993
A Book of Arran Poetry, edited with Cicely Gill; illustrated by Saji Gill, Arran Theatre and Arts Trust
1992
The Necessary Goat, Taranis Books
1988
Blue Moon and other stories, Marilyn Malin Books/Andre Deutsch
1988
A Haunting Refrain, Methuen
1987
How's Business, Hodder
1986
The Type One Super Robot, Marilyn Malin Books/Andre Deutsch
1986
The Others, Methuen
1986
Nick's October, Methuen
1986
A Job for Merv, illustrated by David Higham, Marilyn Malin/Andre Deutsch
1985
Rock On, Mill Green, Armada
1984
Scramble!, Methuen
1983
Night Landings, illustrated by Edward Mortelmans, Methuen
1983
A Spy at Mill Green, Armada
1982
The Sinister Airfield, illustrated by Edward Mortelmans, Methuen
1982
Mill Green on Stage, Armada
1982
Mill Green on Fire, Armada
1982
Haunted Children, illustrated by Michael Bragg, Methuen
1980
Who Wants Pets?, Methuen
1979
The Turkey's Nest, Methuen
1979
The Night I Sold My Boots, Heinemann
1975
Whosaurus? Dinosaurus, with Joan Hickson, Studio Vista
1975
The Doubting Kind, Methuen
1972
Joe and the Nursery School, with Joan Hickson, BBC Books
1972
Joe Moves House, with Joan Hickson, BBC Books
1971
The Red Alfa, Methuen
1969
The House on the Common, Methuen
1968
Joe and a Horse and other stories, with Joan Hickson, BBC Books

Awards

2006
Literary Review Grand Poetry Prize
2003
Angus Book Award, Oranges and Murder, shortlist
2002
Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award, Oranges and Murder
1998
Literary Review Grand Poetry Prize
1996
Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, The Sherwood Hero, joint winner
1988
Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, How's Business, shortlist

Author Statement

I write because there would be little point in living did I not do so.