Bathurst, Bella 1969–
BATHURST, Bella 1969–
PERSONAL: Born 1969, in London, England.
ADDRESSES: Home—Scotland. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin, Adult Editorial, 8th Floor, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116-3764.
CAREER: Has worked as a freelance journalist and illustrator.
AWARDS, HONORS: Somerset Maugham Award, for The Lighthouse Stevensons.
Special (young adult novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including the Washington Post, Manchester Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Observer, Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, and London Sunday Times.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book about shipwrecks.
SIDELIGHTS: Journalist and illustrator Bella Bathurst has also written both fiction and nonfiction books. In an interview on the Houghton Mifflin Web site, Bathurst commented, "It's enjoyable, writing fiction and nonfiction turn and turn about. It means I never, ever get bored."
Bathurst's first book, The Lighthouse Stevensons: The Extraordinary Story of the Building of the Scottish Lighthouses by the Ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson, tells the story of a family of engineers who built were responsible for saving many lives through their work designing and contructing almost one hundred lighthouses that guarded the treacherous shores of nineteenth-century Scotland. Bathurst's story focuses primarily on four lighthouses built by the family: Skerryvore, Bell Rock, Dhu Heartach, and Muclkle Flugga.
The building of these lighthouses presented serious challenges, including the danger of transporting raw materials to wet and slippery sites, political opposition from wreckers who made their living from shipwrecked boats, and the inadequate lighting equipment available at the time. Robert Louis Stevenson's grandfather, Robert Stevenson, became chief engineer of the newly formed Northern Lighthouse Board soon after 1786 and succeeded in creating lasting works of architecture, including the lighthouse at the infamous Bell Rock. His two sons, Alan and Tom, continued the family tradition. Although Alan died young, he left Scotland with such structures as the lighthouse at Skerryvore, which is considered a work of engineering art. The Stevenson lighthouse dynasty ended rather abruptly when Alan's son Bob became a highly regarded art historian. Tom fathered Robert Louis Stevenson, who began his career as a reluctant engineer but turned to writing novels and poetry. Nevertheless, his familiarity with Scotland's northern coast and its lighthouses served as a background for his books Treasure Island and Kidnapped.
Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Karl Miller called The Lighthouse Stevensons "a sweetly written and suitably lucid contribution to the history of these exhilarating kindly lights and of nineteenth-century Scotland, and is full of the good stories that the subgenre of scientific adventure requires." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "Bathurst's flamboyant and elegantly written saga is bursting with life," while Ben Downing, writing in the New Criterion, noted that the author "is to be commended for conveying … information with engaging verve and, still more, for imparting to us a keen sense of the Stevenson's accomplishments."
For her next book, Bathurst turned to fiction. Special focuses on adolescents as a group of girl boarding-school classmates take a two-week field trip to a Gloucestershire hostel, where they are chaperoned by two sadistic teachers. The girls come from dysfunctional families and, despite efforts by their chaperones to keep them under a watchful eye, are soon becoming involved in alcohol, drugs, and sex as they cavort with local youths from the nearby town. Although the town's temptations are great, Bathurst focuses much of the novel on the girls interactions with each other, including their jealousies and competitiveness, compounded by their general mistrust and meanness, which burst forth as they are removed from their day-to-day surroundings. The plot primarily revolves around Jules and her jealousy of the pretty, smart, and popular Caz. Nevertheless, Jules is irresistibly drawn to Caz and begins to think that she may be a lesbian, so she decides to lose her virginity with one of the town locals to prove that she is not. Other characters include Hen, an anorexic who practices self-mutilation, and Izzy, an unattractive girl who suffers from skin and respiratory allergies.
Writing in Booklist, Gillian Engberg noted that in Special Bathurst "elevates what could have been sensationalized material into a rich exploration of the subtle, often terrifying moments that define female adolescence." New York Times Book Review contributor William Ferguson felt that the narrative "is not strong, but the characterizations are excellent." Despite calling the author's writing "never less than fluid and pacey" and noting that the book contains "wonderful moments of insight," Geraldine Bedell noted in the Europe Intelligence Wire that "overall, these girls are so monotone in their mean-spiritedness that their gropings towards identity seem simply tiresome." In a review in the Spectator, Margaret Forster felt that the book's ending "is a little too melodramatic" and that "plenty of the themes running through it are clichéd." Nevertheless, Forster noted that the novel "explores, with great sensitivity, the discovery of personal identity, and marks a fine beginning as a novelist." Library Journal contributor Barbara Love concluded that Special is a "stunningly observed, wickedly funny, and ultimately tragic first novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 1999, Bryce Christensen, review of The Lighthouse Stevensons: The Extraordinary Story of the Building of the Scottish Lighthouses by the Ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson, p. 50; December 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The Lighthouse Stevensons, p. 676; March 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Special, p. 1273.
Boston Globe, May 25, 2003, Caroline Leavitt, review of Special, p. D9.
Europe Intelligence Wire, October 5, 2002, Julie Myerson, review of Special; October 20, 2002, Geraldine Bedell, review of Special.
Guardian (Manchester, England), August 9, 2003, Nicola McAllister, review of Special, p. 20.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Special, p. 326.
Library Journal, March 15, 2003, Barbara Love, review of Special, p. 113.
New Criterion, November, 1999, Ben Downing, review of The Lighthouse Stevensons, p. 73.
New York Times Book Review, November 9, 2003, William Ferguson, review of Special, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1999, review of The Lighthouse Stevensons, p. 64.
Quadrant, December, 1999, Oliver MacDonagh, review of The Lighthouse Stevensons, p. 84.
Spectator, October 12, 2002, Margaret Forster, review of Special, p. 67.
Times Literary Supplement, May 7, 1999, Karl Miller, review of The Lighthouse Stevensons, p. 26.
Houghton Mifflin Web site, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (January 28, 2005), interview with Bathurst.