Saturday, June 27, 2015

Peter Malcolm de Brissac Dickinson OBE FRSL (born 16 December 1927) is a prolific English author and poet, best known for children's books and detective stories.

Dickinson won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association for both Tulku (1979) and City of Gold (1980), each being recognised as the year's outstanding children's book by a British subject. Through 2012 he is one of seven writers to win two Carnegies; no one has won three. He was also a highly commended runner-up for Eva (1988) and four times a commended runner-up.

For his contributions as a children's writer Dickinson was a finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 2000.


Dickinson was born in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), the second of four sons to a man in the colonial service and a farmer's daughter. He loved stories about knights in armour and explorers, such as Ivanhoe and King Solomon's Mines, and read "anything by Kipling", who influenced his writing greatly.

His parents moved to England so that he and his brothers could attend English schools. His father died suddenly but Peter entered Saint Ronan's prep school in 1936 with support from the family. His novel Hindsight is based on the period in Devon after the school was evacuated from Kent during the war. He entered Eton College in 1941.

Dickinson was at Eton until 1946. After completing his National Service (1946â€"48), he studied at King's College, Cambridge, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1951. For seventeen years he worked as assistant editor, resident poet and reviewer for Punch magazine. His first two books were published in 1968 and very well received, one mystery for adults and one science fiction for children. He completed sequels to both debut novels and left Punch to be a full-time author next year. He continued to write poetry for entertainment and occasionally on commission.

Dickinson married Mary Rose Barnard in 1953; the couple had two daughters and two sons including the author John Dickinson. Mary Rose died in 1988, the same year that the first two grandchildren were born. As of 2009 there are six grandchildren.

In 1983, Dickinson had met Robin McKinley, an American author of fantasy, some written for children. After a long friendship, they married in 1991. She said in 2009 that she cannot judge the literary work of people she likes personally, but: "Fortunately I had been passionately devoted to his books years before I met him so I can merely go on thinking they're wonderful and he's brilliant now."

Dickinson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999 and appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours.

He has been chairman of the Society of Authors and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

For years he listed manual labour as one pastime; at 85 he lists only bridge and gardening. He no longer visits schools or delivers talks.


Dickinson has written almost fifty books, which fall into three general categories: crime fiction for adults (including the James Pibble series), speculative and supernatural fiction for older children, and simpler children's books. One of his few other books was the collection Chance, Luck and Destiny (1975), which he calls "prose and verse, fact and fiction, on the themes of the title". It won the second annual Boston Globeâ€"Horn Book Award for children's nonfiction in 1977.

The "Changes" trilogy comprises three early books for children, The Weathermonger, Heartsease and The Devil's Children (1968 to 1970). It was heavily adapted in 1975 as a BBC TV series, The Changes. The trilogy was written in reverse order: The Devil's Children is actually the first book in terms of the trilogy's chronology, Heartsease the second, and The Weathermonger the third.

Dickinson's first two mysteries both won the Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger, Skin Deep in 1968 and A Pride of Heroes in 1969. He has been at least as successful with his children's books. He won the 1977 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for The Blue Hawk, an award judged by British children's writers, which no author may win twice. For Tulku (1979) he won both the Whitbread Children's Book Award and finally the Carnegie Medal after being a commended runner-up three times. He won the Carnegie again next year for City of Gold. In 1982 he was named to the International Board of Books for Young People Honor List for Tulku, and The Iron Lion was selected one of New York Times Notable Books. Eva (1988) was a runner-up for both the Carnegie (highly commended) and the Horn Book Award. In 2008 it won the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association as the best English-language children's book that did not a major award when it was originally published twenty years earlier. Dickinson and The Seventh Raven (1981) had won the same award in 2001. The Kin (1998) made the Whitbread Award shortlist.

City of Gold and other stories from the Old Testament (Gollancz, 1980), illustrated by Michael Foreman, was a "radical" retelling of 33 stories, according to the retrospective online Carnegie Medal citation. "It is set in a time before the Bible was written down, when its stories where handed from generation to generation by the spoken word." Illustrator Foreman was highly commended runner-up for the Library Association's companion Kate Greenaway Medal.

A pair of alternative history novels, King and Joker (1976) and Skeleton-in-Waiting (1989), are based on the premise that Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence (1864â€"1892) survives and ultimately reigns as Victor I of England.

The biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award conferred by the International Board on Books for Young People is the highest recognition available to a writer or illustrator of children's books. Dickinson was one of five finalists for the writing award in 2000 (and the British nominee in 1988 as well).

A collection of his own previously published and new poetry, The Weir: Poems by Peter Dickinson, was published on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2007, as a gift from his four children.

His latest works are Earth and Air (Small Beer Press, 2012), and In the Palace of the Khans (Peter Dickinson Books, 2012). The former continues the "Tales of Elemental Spirits" whose first two volumes Water and Fire comprise stories by both Dickinson and Robin McKinley.

Dickinson's literary archive is one of those in the Seven Stories National Centre for Children's Books.

Motion pictures

In 1982, Rankin/Bass Productions released The Flight of Dragons, a made-for-TV animated film, aspects of which were based on Dickinson's novel. The character design in the film bears a resemblance to the illustrations in the book. However, the novel The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson was the inspiration for the film's plot. One of the main characters is Peter Dickinson, the book's author himself struggling to complete his text.


Short story collections

  • Merlin Dreams (1988)
  • The Lion Tamer's Daughter and other stories (New York: Delacorte, 1997)
  • Touch and Go (1999)
  • Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits (2002), by Dickinson and Robin McKinley; later, Elementals: Water
  • Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits (2009), by Dickinson and Robin McKinley
  • Earth and Air: Tales of Elemental Creatures (2012), by Dickinson alone

Other books

  • Chance, Luck and Destiny (1975) â€"about probability and coincidence; winner of the Boston Globeâ€"Horn Book Award, nonfiction category
  • The Flight of Dragons (Pierrot Publishing, 1979), illus. Wayne Anderson â€""speculative natural history" adapted by Rankin and Bass jointly with another work as the animated film The Flight of Dragons (1982)
  • City of Gold and other stories from the Old Testament (1980), retold by Dickinson, illus. Michael Foreman â€"winner of the 1980 Carnegie Medal

See also



  • Townsend, John Rowe, "Dickinson, Peter", Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick (London: Macmillan, 1978), pp. 371â€"74.

External links

  • Official website
  • Peter Dickinson at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  • "Keyword = dickinson, peter" at Kirkus Reviews

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