Coburn, Ann

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Coburn, Ann


Born in Northumberland, England; married; husband's name John; children: two.


Home—Berwick upon Tweed, England. Agent—Peters Fraser and Dunlop Group Ltd., Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.


Freelance writer, 1991—. Also writes for television. Has worked as an English teacher, a library assistant, a shop assistant, an airline meal packer, and a food vendor. Writer-in-residence, Seven Stories.


Writer's Award, Arts Council of England, 1996; John Whiting Award, 1997, for Get up and Tie Your Fingers.



Get up and Tie Your Fingers (also see below), performed in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1996, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2001.

Three Plays: Get Up and Tie Your Fingers, Safe, Devil's Ground, Absolute Classics (London, England), 2003.

Alex and the Warrior (for juveniles), Oberon Plays for Young People (London, England), 2004.

Also author of the play Daytime.


The Granite Beast, Bodley Head (London, England), 1991.

Welcome to the Real World, Bodley Head (London, England), 1992.

The Domino Effect, Bodley Head (London, England), 1994.

Glint, Red Fox (London, England), 2005, Eos (New York, NY), 2007.


Worm Songs, Bodley Head (London, England), 1996.

Web Weaver, Bodley Head (London, England), 1997.

Dark Water, Bodley Head (London, England), 1998.


Dream Team: Mission 1: Flying Solo, Walker Books (London, England), 2006.

Dream Team: Mission 2: Showtime, Walker Books (London, England), 2006.

Dream Team: Mission 3: Speed Challenge, Walker Books (London, England), 2007.

Dream Team: Mission 4: The Daydream Shift, Walker Books (London, England), 2007.


Material Entertainment has purchased the film rights to the "Dream Team" series, for a live-action movie to be written by Kirk De Micco.


Ann Coburn began writing novels for young readers with 1991's The Granite Beast. She has dealt with topical issues such as bullying and sexual violence in Welcome to the Real World and The Domino Effect, and has included otherworldly elements in some other works. The "Borderlands" novels involve time travel and the supernatural, and the "Dream Team," series features fairy-like "dream fetchers" who deliver dreams to humans. Coburn also has written plays, both for young people and for adults, including the award-winning adult selection Get up and Tie Your Fingers, which played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1996.

The Granite Beast centers on Ruth, a thirteen-year-old girl who has just lost her father. Her mother is determined to carry out her deceased husband's dream of owning a shop in Cornwall, so Ruth is uprooted from her home and school in Coventry. Her new Cornish classmates—and even her teachers—are unaccepting of her, forcing Ruth to rely upon the town outcast, seventeen-year-old car mechanic Ben. Ben comforts her when she begins having terrible nightmares; together they decipher the meaning of her dreams to figure out the nature of an impending disaster that will take place in a nearby abandoned tin mine. When Ruth's history teacher plans a field trip to that very mine, she is unable either to prevent the expedition or stay away herself. As a critic for Junior Bookshelf put it: "What happens in the tin-mine makes the exciting climax to this horror story."

There were several positive reviews for The Granite Beast, though Times Educational Supplement contributor David Self felt that "it has a middle section in which the plot rather awkwardly fails to progress." Self did concede that the novel "successfully marries school realism with fantasy." The Junior Bookshelf reviewer predicted: "Young readers will be loath to put the book down once they have started to read it." Graham Case, writing in School Librarian, deemed it a "really good read and well crafted."

Welcome to the Real World tells the story of five adolescents who are being bullied and blackmailed about embarrassing secrets by Andrew, the son of their school's caretaker. At first the victims are unaware of each other, but eventually they realize they are not alone and come together to deal with their mutual problem in what a Junior Bookshelf reviewer called "a denouement which would have done credit to The Avengers."

Though this same critic regarded Welcome to the Real World as a "rather worrying story" and seemed concerned that Coburn had not explored the probability that Andrew's bullying behavior was actually "a cry for help," the reviewer did praise the author's understanding of the characters' age group. Some other commentators complimented the book. In School Librarian, Maggie Bignell called it "well worth buying for the library" and for classroom study by secondary students. One of the novel's strengths, she said, is that it exposes adolescents to several different narrative forms, "from stream of consciousness to formally written school records" and "third-person narration."

The Domino Effect received praise for dealing with the controversial topics of sexual harassment and attempted rape. The novel concerns sixteen-year-old Rowan, whose mother is the target of her boss's campaign to ruin her career. The final step in his plan is to rape her at a business seminar he has asked her to lead. Rowan's mother only accepts this invitation because she believes her boss intends it as a step toward improving their hostile working relationship. She manages to escape full-scale brutalization; at first immobilized by shock, she eventually recovers and decides to seek justice. When the matter becomes public, the entire town takes sides, and Rowan loses both her boyfriend and the girl she thought was her best friend because of it. A Junior Bookshelf contributor, reviewing The Domino Effect with another young adult novel about sexual abuse, noted that both deal with "themes which forty years ago would not have been considered seriously by any British publisher, ten years ago would have been given far less explicit treatment." Linda Saunders, writing in School Librarian, cited the "humanity and realism" present in The Domino Effect, urging that it "should be read by younger as well as older teenagers." Val Bierman, writing in Books for Keeps, also had praise for The Domino Effect, declaring it "thoughtful" and "provocative." The Junior Bookshelf critic, like Saunders, concluded that the novel "deserve[s] to be read."

Worm Songs, the first of the "Borderlands" series, set along England's border with Scotland, introduces the four main characters: Alice, Frankie, David, and Michael. Alice is concerned about her relationship with her stepfather and stepbrothers, while Frankie is worried that her move from the United States to the Borderlands signals her parents' impending divorce. All four are members of a photography club, and through photography they are able to travel to different time periods. In Worm Songs, they meet Martha, a midwife and healer of the sixteenth century who is about to be burned as a witch. She is reconciled to her own death but asks the four friends to ensure the survival of her infant daughter. "The carrying out of this task," according to a contributor to Junior Bookshelf, "makes for fascinating reading." The book also found favor with several other reviewers. Gaye Hicyilmaz, discussing Worm Songs (as well as the second "Borderlands" novel, Web Weaver) in the Times Educational Supplement, compared Coburn favorably to prolific and popular British children's writer Enid Blyton and labeled Worm Songs a "delight." Similarly, the Junior Bookshelf reviewer remarked: "When the last pieces of this cleverly contrived jigsaw are slipped neatly into their places, a most satisfactory picture is revealed," and added: "Coburn's economy of style ensures that every word contributes to the storyline."

Web Weaver finds the four friends involved in a mystery surrounding an antique Victorian camera, which Hicyilmaz described as having "a life of its own." She reported that this plot device "forces" the protagonists "to consider the question of whether ‘seeing is believing,’" and further commented that "Coburn understands that most paradoxical of childhood yearnings: the dream of a safe adventure."

Coburn continued the "Borderlands" series with Dark Water, which takes the time-traveling characters on a historic sailing trip. Alice's father, a geoscientist, decides to take his daughter and her three friends along with him on a survey of a region known as the Devil's Hole, a sort of Bermuda triangle of the British Isles. The captain they hire to sail them into the region is reluctant to do so, having lost a grandfather to this treacherous bit of sea. When they finally enter the region, their navigation equipment fails and they are suddenly swept onto a collision course with an oncoming green blob on the radar screen.

Critics saw several reasons to recommend the novel. A reviewer for the Sunday Times Book Shop found it "a suspenseful and elegant combination of the scientific and the spooky," while Griselda Greaves, writing in School Librarian, praised Coburn's "clearly defined" characters and the "honestly written" style of the novel, which could draw young readers away from more commercial supernatural fiction such as the "Goosebumps" books and instead allow them to appreciate "better written and more scientifically challenging examples of the genre."

The "Dream Team" series began with Dream Team: Mission 1: Flying Solo, in which several dream-fetcher trainees go off on their own for the first time to deliver dreams to humans. The dream fetchers are just seven centimeters tall, so their work can be hazardous. It becomes even more so in Dream Team: Mission 2: Showtime, in which the fetchers have to deliver dreams to people at the circus and in a boat on the open water. This book also involves a dream concocted to help relieve a recipient's guilt feelings. Coburn plans for the series to have eight entries.

Glint is a nonseries novel in which a boy, Danny, disappears on his eleventh birthday. The police think he may be dead, and they even suspect his father of murder. His devoted fifteen-year-old sister, Ellie, believes he is still alive, and while searching for him, she is drawn into a fantastical world much like one they had dreamed up together. This book drew praise for its combination of real-world and otherworldly elements, and especially for Ellie's dramatic quest. "While Glint is a psychological thriller entwined with fantasy," observed reviewer Sarah Sawtelle, "the most compelling story is of one girl's determination to find her brother regardless of the obstacles that get in her way." A contributor to Reading Matters pronounced the novel "a really successful mix of fantasy and reality. Brilliant. Highly recommended," and also noted that Ellie's search mission was a "heart-stopping" adventure.



Books for Keeps, March, 1995, Val Bierman, review of The Domino Effect, p. 16.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1991, review of The Granite Beast, 171; February, 1993, review of Welcome to the Real World, p. 28; February, 1995, review of The Domino Effect, pp. 48, 49; December, 1996, review of Worm Songs, p. 264.

School Librarian, August, 1991, Graham Chase, review of The Granite Beast, p. 113; February, 1993, Maggie Bignell, review of Welcome to the Real World, p. 29; May, 1995, Linda Saunders, review of The Domino Effect, p. 76; autumn, 1998, Griselda Greaves, review of Dark Water, p. 135.

Sunday Times Book Shop, June 21, 1998, review of Dark Water.

Times Educational Supplement, September 6, 1991, David Self, review of The Granite Beast, p. 30; April 4, 1997, Gaye Hicyilmaz, review of Worm Songs and Web Weaver, section 2, p. 8.


Ann Coburn Home Page, (January 16, 2008).

Literature Northeast, (April 20, 2007), "Ann Coburn Dream Team Books to Get Big Screen Treatment."

Reading Matters, (January 16, 2008), review of Glint., (January 16, 2008), Sarah Sawtelle, review of Glint.

Walker Books Web site, (January 16, 2008), brief biography.