Clarke, Julia 1950-
CLARKE, Julia 1950-
PERSONAL: Born September 15, 1950, in Surrey, England; daughter of Pauline Margaret (Rutherford) Reay; married Michael Clarke (a journalist), August 8, 1979; children: Matthew, Bethany. Education: Goldsmiths' College, London, certificate in education, 1974; University of Leeds, M.A. (with distinction), 1999. Religion: Church of England.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—Harlow Grange Farm, Otley Rd., Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England. Agent—Rosemary Canter, Peters Fraser & Dunlop, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.
Summertime Blues, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2001.
The Starling Tree, Collins Flamingo (London, England), 2001.
Breakers, Collins Flamingo (London, England), 2002.
Between You and Me: Secrets, Lies, Love, Kisses,Tears, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2002.
Author's work has been translated into Catalan, German, and Swedish.
Author of six novels for adults. Also author of articles and short stories.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Fountains Earth (tentative title), a teen novel set on a farm after a contemporary crisis of foot-and-mouth disease.
SIDELIGHTS: In novels such as Summertime Blues and The Starling Tree, British novelist Julia Clarke writes about the emotional traumas and heartaches of the teenage years as many adolescents perceive them. Her characters often have parents who don't seem to care about them, who seem less mature than the teenagers themselves, and whose family decisions leave the young people with few choices of their own. Her characters see themselves stuck in unbearable circumstances from which they are desperate to break free. Clarke portrays them with sympathy, some critics claim, but also with a benign sense of humor.
Summertime Blues is the story of Alex, a teenager who sees himself as unwanted, uncomfortable, and perhaps unable to change his fate. When his parents divorce, Alex learns that neither really wants him around. His father in London is far too preoccupied with his pregnant girlfriend. His mother has remarried and moved to rural Yorkshire, reluctantly taking Alex with her to spend the summer. The boy feels miserable and out of place in the countryside, especially when he meets his new stepsister, Faye, a young woman of his own age so beautiful and perfect that Alex seems completely intimidated in her presence. In a School Librarian review, Linda Saunders described poor Alex as a boy "who is his own worst enemy." The situation changes when Alex meets a companion who distracts him from his own glum mood by teaching him to work with homeless animals. He gains enough self-confidence to believe that the admiration of his beautiful stepsister might not be so unattainable after all. Finally his father needs his help, and Alex returns to London to assist in welcoming his fragile, premature stepbrother into the world. The critical response to Summertime Blues was mixed. Saunders suggested that, while the protagonist is a teenage boy, the story might appeal more to girls, but she and other reviewers pointed to the realistic issues raised in the story and the authentic teenage voice of Alex as narrator. Books for Keeps contributor George Hunt called Summertime Blues a "moving and compelling" portrayal of the anguish of growing up.
The Starling Tree is a similar growing-up novel about a girl. Clarke presents Fawn through the girl's own eyes as the most normal component in a troubled family. Fawn studies hard at school and strives in general to be the best person she can be. She lives with her musician father, whose dissipated past has left him too paranoid and damaged to leave the house and earn a living, and a mother who spends all her energy working to raise the family out of poverty. Fawn's twin brother Ginna has become involved with a rowdy gang and is neglecting his education. On top of that, her soul-mate, a longtime boyfriend, has moved away. When it seems the situation couldn't be much worse, a new music teacher comes to town, and Fawn falls tumultuously and hopelessly in love. The music teacher encourages Fawn to pursue her gift for music, and she begins to emerge from the gloomy confines of her family and all of its problems. A Guardian reviewer called The Starling Tree "a real find" that portrays with "freshness and truth" how it really feels to be a teenager in love for the first time. In Magpies critic Anne Briggs reflected an opposite view, that the "melodramatic" plot, unrealistic dialogue, and unbelievable characters would deter the typical teenage reader. A Books for Keeps contributor, on the other hand, recommended The Starling Tree as "a novel of alienation and loss: but one of hope and regeneration, too."
Clarke's third novel, Breakers, is the story of a teenage girl thrust into the role of mother. "Cat" mothers her mother who, it seems, has never been and never will be a grownup. She also mothers her little sister, who might otherwise never have a real mother. At the same time, Cat is growing up herself and struggling to build a life of her own. Kate Kellaway described Breakers in the London Observer as a token "of how dark—and distorted—being a teenager can be."
Clarke told CA: "I started writing when my children were very small and I was at home with them. I wrote six novels for adults, articles, and short stories.
"I started writing stories for teenagers when my children were teenagers. My son was ill and at home for two years, and we studied the English exam syllabus together (and read teenage books). I believe that reading for pleasure is vitally important for education, and I try to write stories that are accessible and emotionally satisfying.
"I have been influenced (and inspired) by To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye. Writing through the eyes of a child or young adult is a constant challenge and joy to me."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books for Keeps, July, 2001, review of The StarlingTree, p. 28.
Guardian, July 25, 2001, review of The Starling Tree, Arts section, p. 16.
Magpies, May, 2001, Anne Briggs, review of TheStarling Tree, p. 38.
Observer (London, England), June, 2002, Kate Kellaway, review of Breakers.
School Librarian, September, 2001, George Hunt, review of Summertime Blues, p. 27; winter, 2001, Linda Saunders, review of Summertime Blues, p. 210.
Times (London, England), July 11, 2001, review of Summertime Blues.
Times Educational Supplement, August 17, 2001, Adéle Geras, review of Summertime Blues, p. 19.