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 Christian 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 books include No Ordinary Love Song (2011), The Lost King (2014), and Forbidden Soldier (2014).
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