Writers

Add to researchAnne Fine

Anne Fine

Puffin

Born
Leicester
Genre
Children, Fiction
 
 
Biography
Anne Fine was appointed the second Children’s Laureate from 2001-2003.

She was born in the Midlands and studied politics and history at University, after which she took a variety of jobs including secondary school teaching.

Anne Fine published her first children’s book, The Summer House Loon, in 1978. Since then she has written books for both children and adults. Among her books for children, Flour Babies (1992) won a Carnegie Medal and the 1993 Whitbread Children’s Book Award, and Bill’s New Frock (1989) won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize.

Her books for older children include: The Tulip Touch (1996), about a girl called Tulip whose behaviour becomes increasingly sinister, and winner of the 1996 Whitbread Children’s Book Award; Goggle-Eyes (1989), which deals with the difficult relationship between Kitty and her mother’s boyfriend, won another Carnegie Medal, and was adapted for BBC Television; and Madame Doubtfire (filmed by Twentieth Century Fox as ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ starring Robin Williams). This book dealt with the subject of parental separation and divorce, and was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Whitbread Children's Book Award.

Her books for adults are Killjoy (1986); Taking the Devil’s Advice (1990); In Cold Domain (1994); Telling Liddy (1998); All Bones and Lies (2001); Raking the Ashes; and Fly in the Ointment (2008).

Her most recent children's books are Ivan the Terrible (2007), winner of a Silver Award in the 2007 Nestlé Children's Book Prize, The Killer Cat Strikes Back (2007), and The Killer Cat's Birthday Bash (2008).

Eating Things on Sticks, a further children's novel, will be published in 2009.

Anne Fine was awarded an OBE in 2003. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in County Durham.

Critical Perspective

Anne Fine was the Children’s Laureate from 2001 to 2003.

Her prolific output includes books for all ages, from very young children to adults, but she is most well-known for her novels aimed at the 8-12 year age range. Fine’s work is always humorous, but also quite provocative and hard-hitting, and she presents very honest depictions of ‘ordinary’ family life.

Fine’s earlier novels condemn adults quite harshly. In The Stone Menagerie (1980), Ally struggles with a domineering mother and an ineffectual father. Apart from occasional redeeming features, the parents are not shown sympathetically, and the novel follows Ally’s development of psychological strength, with which he determines to hold his ground against his family. As he tells Chloe, his mentally-ill aunt with whom he feels a particular empathy: ‘ “I’m going to dig my heels in when it all comes up for me. Refuse to budge, like you. But tell them why. I think it may be better in the long run” '.

The publication of The Granny Project in 1983 marked a change in which Fine’s work began to develop a more morally ambiguous tone, displaying sympathy for, and criticism of, both parents and children. The novels also become more humorous from this point onwards. The four Harris children are horrified by their parents’ plans to put their Granny in a nursing home. Convinced that this is an act of pure selfishness, the children embark on a campaign of manipulative tactics to persuade their parents to change their minds. However, the behaviour of Ivan, the eldest child, in particular, is so extreme that the narrative tone shifts to sympathising with the parents or, at least, suggesting that the situation is far from clear-cut. Ivan’s passionate ideals are applauded to some extent, but his attitude is shown to be ultimately flawed because he is wholeheartedly single-minded.

Mr and Mrs Harris’ response is to tell Ivan and his siblings that they must assume responsibility for Granny’s care if they wish her to remain at home, and the children, along with the reader, quickly realise the strain their parents have been under. Ivan collapses with exhaustion and all four find that their (rather self-righteous) compassion for Granny is challenged by the daily grind. Finally, a compromise is agreed in which parents and children will share responsibility, before Granny (rather conveniently) dies.

Fine’s subsequent novels continue in this vein, in which things are never black and white, and family life is shown to be turbulent. However, Fine does not do this with pessimism; rather, she suggests the importance of simply accepting the chaotic nature of family life and the fallible nature of individuals (both adults and children). The acceptance of this is shown to be liberating, and Fine’s use of humour enables her to present family turbulence in a fairly upbeat manner.

Fine’s novels display acute sensitivity towards the feelings and needs of children, yet she does not over-indulge the child’s point of view. Adult characters must learn to understand and accommodate their children, but the child is also expected to make an effort. In Goggle-Eyes (1989), Kitty’s negative reaction to her mother’s new boyfriend is presented as entirely understandable, but the novel’s relatively harmonious ending only comes about through mutual effort: Kitty’s mother and Gerald become sensitive to her feelings, but Kitty must also learn to compromise and accept Gerald for who he is. Even more poignantly, Simon in Flour Babies (1992) gradually comes to terms with the father who abandoned him. His school project - caring for a sack of flour as if it were a real baby - enables him to understand the stresses of parenthood, and he realises that his father simply could not cope. His father’s actions are not condoned, but Simon realises that, for his own peace of mind, he must let go and move on.

One of Fine’s most well-known books is Madame Doubtfire (1987) which was made into a Hollywood film (Mrs Doubtfire) starring Robin Williams. Daniel and Miranda Hilliard are in the process of separating, and both use underhand methods in the fight for their children’s affections. The situation is presented humorously, but as in much of Fine’s work, the humour has a sharp edge to it, and Fine disliked the Hollywood film because it replaced this sharpness with sickly-sweet sentimentality. Fine’s novel emphasises that strong love and strong negative feelings can, and usually do, exist side by side, and this is particularly evident in a scene in which Daniel swings, in a brief moment, from violent rage to overwhelming love towards his son: ‘Daniel … caught a look of rising terror on his son’s face … he reached out to his son, setting himself to mend the rupture between them …’ The narrative tone is quite matter-of-fact, and Daniel is not condemned. Rather, the novel suggests that it is relatively ‘normal’ for a loving parent (and a loving child) to experience such extremes of emotion, particularly under stress. Thus, Fine invites us to come to terms with the imperfections in ourselves and others.

Although Fine sympathises with adults, however, she is ultimately on the child’s side, and draws a clear dividing line between acceptable and non-acceptable adult fallibility. In The Tulip Touch (1996), the title character is a young girl who is being horrifically abused by her father - we do not witness the abuse directly, but Tulip’s behaviour indicates emotional, physical and possibly sexual abuse. However, the story is told from the point of view of Tulip’s friend, Natalie, whose family display more acceptable fallibility. While Natalie, like most of Fine’s protagonists, develops her own inner strength and learns to accept her parents’ shortcomings (while equally becoming aware of her own), Tulip’s future is bleak.

The Tulip Touch was inspired by the story of James Bulger, who was murdered by two 10-year old boys in 1993. Fine was horrified by the media’s reaction to the two boys, and her novel engages with the debate regarding ‘Original Sin’ versus ‘Original Innocence’. She creates a child character who is a ‘realistic’ product of abuse, exhibiting disturbed and sickening behaviour, yet Tulip is always shown to be a victim of her environment, as Natalie’s father makes clear: ‘ “No one is born evil. No one” ’ . The Tulip Touch suggests that children are everybody’s responsibility, and harshly condemns both the attitudes of individuals and the social and legal systems which prevent Tulip getting the help she needs.    

On the whole, however, Fine’s child characters are loveable survivors. With the exception of Tulip, who is in extreme circumstances, Fine’s protagonists are usually on a psychological journey, in which they find inner strength and learn to cope with themselves and the world around them. Her novels show great empathy with children, but also suggest that a successful (or even reasonable) family life depends upon effort and compromise from both adults and children. In Fine’s work, no-one is perfect and no-one is expected to be perfect, but all must try their best.

Fine has also written a collection of short-stories, Very Different: and other stories, published in 2001 to celebrate her appointment as Children’s Laureate. She also compiled three collections of well-known poetry, A Shame to Miss, volumes 1, 2 and 3 (2003), each aimed at a different age-group, with the intention of making poetry enjoyable to young people. She continues to produce a regular output of novels, and has now published more than 50 books in total.


Elizabeth O’Reilly, 2007

Bibliography

2009
Eating Things on Sticks, Doubleday
2008
The Killer Cat's Birthday Bash, Puffin
2008
Fly in the Ointment, Bantam
2007
The Killer Cat Strikes Back, Puffin
2007
Jamie and Angus Together, illustrated by Penny Dale, Walker
2007
Ivan the Terrible, Egmont
2006
The Road of Bones, Doubleday
2006
The Return of the Killer Cat, Puffin
2006
On the Summerhouse Steps, Corgi Children's Books
2005
Raking the Ashes, Bantam
2004
The More the Merrier, Corgi Children's Books
2004
Nag Club, Walker
2004
Frozen Billy, Doubleday
2003
A Shame to Miss 3, compiler, Corgi Children's Books
2003
A Shame to Miss 2, compiler, Corgi Children's Books
2003
A Shame to Miss 1, compiler, Corgi Children's Books
2002
Up on Cloud Nine, Doubleday
2002
The Jamie and Angus Stories, illustrated by Penny Dale, Walker
2002
How to Cross the Road and not Turn into a Pizza, illustrated by Tony Ross, Walker
2001
Very Different: and Other Stories, Mammoth
2001
Ruggles, illustrated by Ruth Brown, Andersen Press
2001
All Bones and Lies, Bantam
2000
Bad Dreams, Doubleday
1999
Roll Over Roly, illustrataed by P. Dupasquier, Puffin
1999
Countdown, illustrated by David Higham, Heinemann
1999
Charm School, illustrated by Ros Asquith, Doubleday
1998
The Twelve Dancing Princesses, illustrated by Debi Gillori, Hippo
1998
Telling Liddy, Bantam
1998
Loudmouth Louis, illustrated by Kate Aldous, Puffin
1996
The Tulip Touch, Hamish Hamilton
1996
Keep it in the Family, Penguin
1996
Jennifer's Diary, illustrated by Kate Aldous, Hamish Hamilton
1996
How To Write Really Badly, illustrated by P. Dupasquier, Methuen
1996
Care of Henry, illustrated by Paul Howard, Walker
1995
The Play of Goggle-Eyes, with questions and activities by Alison Jenkins, Heinemann
1995
Step by Wicked Step, Hamish Hamilton
1995
Celebrity Chicken, illustrated by Tim Archbold, Longman
1994
The Diary of a Killer Cat, illustrated by Steve Cox, Hamish Hamilton
1994
Press Play, illustrated by Terry McKenna, Picadilly
1994
In Cold Domain, Viking
1994
Anne Fine Trilogy, illustrated by P. Dupasquier and Kate Aldous; contents: 'Bill's New Frock'; 'The Country Pancake'; 'The Angel of Nitshill Road', Mammoth
1992
The Same Old Story Every Year, illustrated by Vanessa Julian-Ottie, Hamish Hamilton
1992
The Haunting of Pip Parker, Walker
1992
The Genie Trilogy, contents: 'A Sudden Puff of Glittering Smoke'; 'A Sudden Swirl of Icy Wind'; 'A Sudden Glow of Gold', Mammoth
1992
The Angel of Nitshill Road, illustrated by P. Dupasquier, Methuen
1992
Flour Babies, Hamish Hamilton
1992
Chicken Gave it to Me, illustrated by P. Dupasquier, Methuen
1991
The Worst Child I Ever Had, illustrated by Clara Vullianny, Hamish Hamilton
1991
The Book of the Banshee, Hamish Hamilton
1991
Stranger Danger, illustrated by Jean Baylis, Puffin
1991
Poor Monty, Methuen Children's Books
1991
Design a Pram, illustrated by P. Dupasquier, Heinemann
1991
A Sudden Glow of Gold, Picadilly Press
1990
Taking the Devil's Advice, Viking
1990
Only A Show, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood, Hamish Hamilton
1990
A Sudden Swirl of Icy Wind, Picadilly Press
1989
The Country Pancake, illustrated by P. Dupasquier, Methuen
1989
Goggle-Eyes, Hamish Hamilton
1989
Bill's New Frock, Methuen
1989
A Sudden Puff of Glittering Smoke, Picadilly Press
1988
Crummy Mummy and Me, illustrated by David Higham, Malin/Deutsch
1988
A Pack of Liars, Hamilton
1987
Madame Doubtfire, Hamish Hamilton
1986
The Killjoy, Bantam
1986
Anneli the Art Hater, Methuen
1985
Scaredy-Cat, Heinemann
1983
The Granny Project, Methuen
1981
Round Behind the Ice-House, Methuen
1980
The Stone Menagerie, Methuen
1979
The Other, Darker Ned, Methuen Children's Books
1978
The Summer-House Loon, Methuen

Awards

2007
Nestlé Children's Book Prize (Silver Award), Ivan the Terrible, 6-8 years category
2006
Carnegie Medal, The Road of Bones, shortlist
2004
Red House Children's Book Award, The More The Merrier, shortlist Younger Readers category
2003
OBE
2002
Carnegie Medal, Up On Cloud Nine, shortlist
2001
Children's Laureate
1996
Whitbread Children's Book Award, The Tulip Touch
1993
Whitbread Children's Book Award, Flour Babies
1993
Publishing News Children's Author of the Year Award
1993
Carnegie Medal, The Angel of Nitshill Road, shortlist
1992
Carnegie Medal, Flour Babies
1990
Publishing News Children's Author of the Year Award
1990
Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (Gold Award), Bill's New Frock, 6-8 years category
1990
Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Goggle-Eyes
1990
Carnegie Medal, Goggle-Eyes
1987
Whitbread Children's Book Award, Madame Doubtfire, shortlist
1987
Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Madame Doubtfire, shortlist
1984
Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, The Granny Project, shortlist

Author Statement

Reading was the single great pleasure of my childhood, so it's hardly surprising I write for children as well as for adults. I think my main interest is in how people keep from murdering one another, especially in families. Clearly, when writing for the very young, an author has to keep on the velvet gloves (though I do try to stay honest). Middle range children can take a fairly hefty dose of realism in their reading, so long as there's some sort of hope in there somewhere. But in novels for adults, you can let rip entirely. Mine are all black comedies (except for the first one, The Killjoy, which is simply black).