Tomlinson, Theresa 1946-
TOMLINSON, Theresa 1946-
PERSONAL: Born August 14, 1946, in Crawley, Sussex, England; daughter of Alan (a vicar) and Joan (a teacher) Johnston; married Alan Tomlinson (an architect), 1967; children: Rosie, Joe, Sam. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Attended Hull College of Education. Politics: Socialist. Religion: "Agnostic."
ADDRESSES: Home—65 Hastings Rd., Sheffield, South Yorkshire S7 2GT, England. Agent—Caroline Walsh, David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John Street, Golden Square, London W1R 4HA, England. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: Author, 1987—.
MEMBER: National Association of Writers in Education, Society of Authors.
The Flither Pickers, photographs by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, Littlewood Press, 1987.
The Water Cat, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1988.
Summer Witches, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
Riding the Waves, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1990, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.
The Rope Carrier, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1991.
The Forestwife, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1993, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.
The Herring Girls, photographs by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1994.
The Cellar Lad, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1995.
Haunted House Blues, Walker Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Dancing through the Shadows, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1997, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1997.
Meet Me by the Steelmen, Walker Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Little Stowaway, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1997.
Child of the May (second book in "Forestwife" trilogy), Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Ironstone Valley, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1998.
The Path of the She-Wolf (third book in "Forestwife" trilogy), Red Fox, 2000.
Night of the Red Devil, Walker Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Voyage of the Silver Bream, A. & C. Black (London, England), 2001.
Beneath Burning Mountain, Red Fox, 2001.
The Moon Riders, Corgi (London, England), 2003.
Scavenger Boy, Walker Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Errand Lass, Walker Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Blitz Baby, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Voyage of the Snake Lady, a sequel to The Mood Riders.
SIDELIGHTS: "I love writing about people who had a hard life, but worked together and found ways to survive," Theresa Tomlinson once told CA. "Resilience is what I admire most in human beings. I think that it is important to find exciting ways of passing a sense of history onto our children. A knowledge of the resilience of ordinary people who have lived before us can inspire modern children, and help them with their own struggles and decisions." Reviewing The Cellar Lad,one of Tomlinson's novels for young readers, Marcus Crouch of Junior Bookshelf noted that "Theresa Tomlinson has made the fictional interpretation of the English industrial revolution her own." Tomlinson's novels, many of which are set in her native Yorkshire, are regional only in location, while their themes cross borders and continents. Daily courage in the face of hardship is a major Tomlinson motif, yet her books, as many reviewers have noted, are not heavily polemical. They are character-driven and involve the reader in both historical and contemporary situations, generally featuring strong female protagonists. From the angst of a frustrated surfer to the exploits of Maid Marian in the forests of Sherwood, Tomlinson's novels engage young readers on several levels and generally end with an upbeat message delivered not with a sledgehammer but with a smile.
Tomlinson was raised in North Yorkshire and as a child had a strong desire to be a ballet dancer. She had no inclination to become a writer, but her parents read to her and encouraged a love of books in the young girl. "I started making little picture books for my own children when they were small," Tomlinson commented. "As the children got older, the stories got longer and I found that I enjoyed it very much." Tomlinson started her literary career writing stories inspired by the local history of North Yorkshire. "My grandparents used to tell me about the fisherwomen who arrived on the train early in the morning and stories about storms, shipwrecks, and daring lifeboat rescues."
Writing what she knew, Tomlinson first published a novel of the hard life of the wives of Yorkshire fishermen at the turn of the twentieth century. These women endured all sorts of weather to gather shellfish bait, or flithers, for their husbands. The Flither Pickers tells the story of the daughter of one such family, Lisa, who has the opportunity to break away from this harsh life by pursuing an education. But Lisa is torn between loyalty to her family and her desire to become a writer. Like all Tomlinson's books, this one was thoroughly researched; it also uses period photographs by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe to illustrate the text.
Tomlinson's next book also employed the setting of Yorkshire, but this time a bit later in history. Set in 1953, The Water Cat takes place in a steel-working town and involves a brother and sister who take in a stray cat. This animal turns out to be anything but a garden variety cat; in fact it is a shape-changer, a merman whose access to the sea has been cut off by the steel plant. The children vow to help the merman get back to his rightful home in the ocean. In a Growing Point review, Margery Fisher noted that in "plain prose which is circumstantial enough to deny disbelief the author describes the practical contrivances by which Jane and Tom manage to carry the merman/cat past the metal barrier, helped by seagulls and pigeons which put up a diversion."
Further books dealing with social and economic history include The Rope Carrier, The Herring Girls, and The Cellar Lad. The forgotten craft of rope-making is examined in the first of these, set in a village of such workers who live in the underground cottages vicinity of Sheffield, England. Minnie Dakin is born in this cave and chances are that she will die in it as well, just as generations of rope workers have before her. But when her sister Netty marries and soon thereafter falls ill, Minnie is called from the cave to help. Soon, however, she wonders if life is much better amid the growing metal industries of Sheffield.
In The Herring Girls, Tomlinson once again used photographs by Sutcliffe to illustrate the lives of young nineteenth-century women who cleaned fish during the herring season. Thirteen-year-old Dory is among them, forced into the trade in order to save her family from the poor house. More social history was served up in The Cellar Lad, a novel dealing with attempts at getting the right to vote for all men and unionization for workers in the steel industry in Sheffield. Young Ben Sterndale and his family are caught up in these fights.
Tomlinson has also written books with contemporary settings and themes, dealing with issues ranging from intergenerational relationships to fighting cancer. In Summer Witches, she takes on the misconceptions concerning powerful women. Two young friends, Sarah and Susanna, decide to clean out an old World War II air-raid shelter uncovered in Sarah's back yard and use it as a clubhouse. In doing so, they discover evidence of earlier inhabitants of the shelter, two older women who live nearby—Lily and Rose. They have thought of Lily as something of a witch, for she is unable to speak and has wisdom of healing plants. Eventually the two young girls come to learn that Lily, far from being a witch, has a sad secret involving the shelter and a tragic incident from fifty years ago.
Steven Engelfried, writing in School Library Journal, described Tomlinson's Riding the Waves as a "strong novel about the surprising relationship that evolves between a boy and an elderly woman." Set in a small English coastal town, the novel deals with the dreams of Matt, who desperately wants to be part of a group of surfers. Such membership is elusive until Matt is forced to visit an old family friend, Florrie, for a class project. A bond is slowly formed between the two when Matt, an adoptee, learns that Florrie was long ago forced to give up her out-of-wedlock child. When Matt accompanies Florrie to the beach one day, their relationship is cemented: expecting to be embarrassed by the old woman, Matt is instead introduced to the surfer group who have a soft spot in their hearts for Florrie from the days when she ran a chip shop. Deborah Abbott noted in Booklist that this "startlingly refreshing story about an intergenerational friendship" was "well-paced" and had "an upbeat and satisfying ending."
Tomlinson's own struggle with breast cancer inspired her novel Dancing through the Shadows. "When faced with a long period of treatment," Tomlinson commented, "I felt that it would be beneficial to try to keep writing, so I decided to use what was happening to me as the theme for a novel. I wrote as though I was the young daughter of a woman going through the experience. Once I'd decided to do this, I found that I felt much better. When I went to the hospital, suddenly I was a researcher, rather than a patient. It was very therapeutic. The story is quite upbeat and also suggests ways of giving help." In the novel, Ellen's mother has breast cancer, and Ellen, along with the rest of the family, is trying to be supportive. Soon Ellen begins to find some solace at an abandoned spring which her teacher discovers near the school, one that was probably once sacred and had healing powers. Restoring the natural spring to a semblance of its former pristine condition parallels the chemotherapy Ellen's mother is receiving, until both are finally restored to health. "Gracefully avoiding didacticism, Tomlinson . . . makes regular reference to the many sources of healing," noted a writer for Kirkus Reviews. "Readers will be borne along by the lively pace and the first-person, dialogue-heavy style." A contributor to Publishers Weekly observed that themes of "courage, survival and rebirth are explored in this story of a teenager coping with her mother's illness," concluding that "Tomlinson addresses painful truths about the progression of cancer and at the same time celebrates the resilience of body and spirit."
Personal experience also inspired a trilogy focusing on Marian of Sherwood Forest. Tomlinson recalled: "As a child I loved Robin Hood stories, but felt a little frustrated that Marian, the only woman that a girl could identify with, was usually locked up in a castle and needing to be rescued. I wanted to imagine Marian rushing through the forest like the men, having adventures and doing the rescuing herself." To satisfy this need for an exciting story, Tomlinson wrote The Forestwife, telling the story of Mary de Holt, who runs away from an arranged marriage at age fifteen. Taking to the forest with her nurse, Agnes, the pair try to find the local wise woman, the Forestwife, whom some think of as a witch. But the woman has died, and Agnes takes her role, renaming her young charge Marian, and taking her on as assistant.
Adventures there are in plenty, involving people on the run and a group of defrocked, renegade nuns. Agnes's son, Robert, is a local outlaw whom Marian initially dislikes, but soon grows to love as he becomes Robin Hood. Yet when Agnes dies, Marian's plans for marrying Robin come to an end, for she must now become the new Forestwife, enlisting the many women of the forest into a band to fight injustice. Reviewing the novel in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Deborah Stevenson called it "an atmospheric read about a durable heroine." In a starred review, Booklist's Ilene Cooper called The Forestwife a "rich, vibrant tale with an afterword that describes how various legends are braided into the story." Tomlinson followed up this initial Marian tale with two others, Child of the May and The Path of the She-Wolf.
Whether writing of the medieval forest, the plight of workers in the industrializing nineteenth century, or about contemporary teenagers facing their own modern challenges, Tomlinson fuels her stories with the theme of resiliency. In her dozen-plus novels for young readers, she reveals not only history but the ordinary men and women who created it.
More recently Tomlinton told CA: "In recent years I've found that the detailed local history themes that I have so much enjoyed writing are little in demand. I've struggled to find something that I want to write about, that will also be popular on the shelves of bookshops and libraries. The Moon Riders was my eventual solution: a mix of mythology, adventure, and a touch of magic."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 1993, Deborah Abbott, review of Riding the Waves, p. 1593; March 1, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of The Forestwife, p. 1241; November 1, 1997, Michael Cart, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 463; October 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Child of the May, p. 413; November 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Little Stowaway, p. 600; April 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of The Forestwife, p. 1479.
Book Report, September-October, 1995, Kathryn Whetstone, review of The Forestwife, p. 42; November-December, 1997, Judith Beavers, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 43.
Books for Keeps, May, 1992, pp. 20-21; September, 1992, p. 11; July, 1993, p. 32; May, 1996, p. 13.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1991, p. 229; March, 1995, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Forestwife, pp. 252-253.
Growing Point, June, 1989, Margery Fisher, review of The Water Cat, p. 5089; January, 1991, p. 5450; January, 1992, pp. 5641-5642.
Horn Book, May-June, 1991, Martha V. Parravano, review of Summer Witches, p. 332; November, 1998, Anne Deifendeifer St. John, review of Child of the May, p. 742.
Junior Bookshelf, August, 1989, p. 181; December, 1990, p. 302; June, 1991, p. 123; December, 1991, p. 269; June, 1995, Marcus Crouch, review of The Cellar Lad, pp. 110-111; June, 1996, p. 126; October, 1996, p. 195.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1991, p. 540; September 15, 1997, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 1464; October 1, 1998, p. 1465.
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1993, review of Riding the Waves, p. 72; February 13, 1995, review of The Forestwife, p. 79; November 3, 1997, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 86.
School Librarian, February, 1991, p. 33; February, 1992, p. 33; August, 1995, Linda Saunders, review of The Cellar Lad, p. 119.
School Library Journal, May, 1991, Virginia Golodetz, review of Summer Witches, p. 95; May, 1993, Steven Engelfried, review of Riding the Waves, p. 110; March, 1995, Susan L. Rogers, review of The Forestwife, p. 225; November, 1997, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Dancing through the Shadows, p. 124; November 1, 1998, Cheri Estes, review of Child of the May, p. 131.
Times Educational Supplement, November 11, 1988, p. 52; December 7, 1990, Sandra Kemp, review of The Flither Pickers, p. 30; November 8, 1991, Gillian Avery, review of The Rope Carrier, p. 38; November 11, 1994, Gillian Cross, review of The Herring Girls, p. R3; August 11, 1995, p. 17.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1995, p. 100.