Updale, Eleanor 1953-

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Updale, Eleanor 1953-
(Eleanor Naughtie)


Born 1953, in London, England; married James Naughtie (a broadcaster); children: three. Education: St. Anne's College, Oxford, B.A. (with first-class honors); Ph.D. coursework at Queen Mary, University of London, 2002-07.


Home—Richmond, Surray, England. Agent—Catherine Clarke, 2A North Parade, Oxford OX2 6LX, England. E-mail[email protected].


Writer. British Broadcasting Corporation, London, England, current-affairs producer for television and radio, 1975-90. Trustee of Gulbenkian Prize for Museums and Galleries; trustee of Listening Books (charity organization); member of clinical ethics committee, Great Ormond Street Hospital; patron of Prince of Wales Arts and Kids Foundation.


British Society of Authors, Scattered Authors Society.


Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, Silver Smarties Prize for children's literature, and Blue Peter Award for "The Book I Couldn't Put Down," all for Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?; Outstanding International Books selection, Children's Book Council, 2006, for Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?; Marjorie Thompson Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement, Queen Mary, University of London.


Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?, Scholastic (London, England), 2003, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Montmorency and the Assassins: Collector, Killer, Collaborator?, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Montmorency's Revenge, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including Thirteen, edited by John McLay, Orchard Books, 2005; and War: Stories of Conflict, edited by Michael Murpurgo, Macmillan, 2005. Contributor to London Times.


Montmorency was adapted as a play produced by the Arkle Theatre Company, as a BBC Radio serial, and as an audiobook, Listening Library, 2004.


Eleanor Updale, the pen name of British writer Eleanor Naughtie, is the author of the "Montmorency" series of historical adventure novels. Updale, who was born in London, England, studied history at Oxford University's St Anne's College before joining the staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), where she worked as a television and radio producer. In 1990, Updale left the BBC to raise her three children and devote her time to other interests, including the Prince of Wales Arts and Kids Foundation. Updale returned to school in 2000 to pursue her doctoral degree in history.

The "Montmorency" novels were inspired by the bedtime tales Updale made up and told to her children. In Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? she introduces the rascally title character, a small-time burglar who suffers horrible injuries after he falls through a skylight during an attempted break-in. His life is saved by the experimental techniques employed by Dr. Robert Farcett, a skilled surgeon. While serving his prison term, Montmorency is occasionally taken to scientific presentations as a human exhibit showcasing Farcett's surgical artistry. At these meetings, Montmorency learns about Victorian London's recently completed sewer system and hatches a brilliant plan: upon his release, he will adopt a new identity, that of a wealthy and debonair gentleman, and fund his ventures by navigating the sewers and entering the city's poshest neighborhoods in search of valuables as his alter ego, Scarper. According to London Guardian contributor Jan Mark, Updale's novel "develops into an atmospheric yarn as Montmorency pursues his dual existence above and below the streets of Victorian London." The thief's scheme proves quite successful, until Lord George Fox-Selwyn learns of his new friend's secret life and entices Montmorency to spy for the British government. Popular with readers in both England and the United States, Montmorency garnered a number of awards and earned strong reviews. Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick noted that "the details of a thief's life and Montmorency's struggle to maintain his two identities will keep readers turning the pages," and deemed Updale's fiction debut a "clever and often suspenseful historical novel."

Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer? continues the adventures of the wily rogue-turned-secret agent. Set several years after Montmorency, Updale's second installment finds the protagonist in the throes of opium addiction, the tragic result of an assignment in the Ottoman underworld. Fox-Selwyn brings his friend to Scotland and calls upon Dr. Farcett to help his former patient. During Montmorency's recovery, the men stumble upon a pair of seemingly unrelated mysteries: a series of bombings in London and the strange deaths of a number of infants on a remote Scottish island. "Updale commandingly escorts readers through the layers of London society as her protagonists investigate the cases," observed Booklist critic Jennifer Mattson. According to Karyn N. Silverman, writing in School Library Journal, "this is another rousing and meticulously researched adventure, full of details about London and Scotland that bring the past to vivid life." Horn Book contributor Betty Carter called Montmorency on the Rocks "a literary journey filled with unpredictable events, a fast-moving plot, and a fascinating visit to the Victorian era."

Set in 1898, Montmorency and the Assassins: Collector, Killer, Collaborator? follows the now-middle-aged gentleman-spy from London to Florence, Italy, and then to Paterson, New Jersey. In the work, Mont-morency and Fox-Selwyn investigate the theft of several prized specimens from the collection of an eminent Italian naturalist. Accompanied on their trip by Fox-Selwyn's young nephew, Frank, Montmorency learns of a terrorist plot by a group of Italian anarchists. Placing his life in grave danger, Frank goes undercover to infiltrate the agitators, while Montmorency pursues leads in the United States, where he encounters inventor Thomas Edison, among others. "Updale is not afraid to mix real people with her fictitious characters and to give us an insight into Victorian ideas, events and inventions, though her writing rarely preaches and, even more importantly, never veers into pastiche," observed Philip Ardagh in London's Guardian. Other critics noted the author's balanced portrayal of historical events; as Horn Book reviewer Kitty Flynn stated, "Updale writes in vigorous detail about both the struggles of the working class and the privileged trappings of the aristocracy." School Library Journal critic Ginny Gustin deemed Montmorency and the Assassins a "well-plotted, action-packed adventure," and Mattson similarly noted: "For those who like elaborately plotted, atmospheric mysteries, Updale's Victorian spy thrillers fit the bill."

Playing out against the backdrop of Queen Victoria's funeral, Montmorency's Revenge follows the former thief's search for the men who gunned down one of his faithful companions. Assisting Montmorency are his son, Tom, and Frank Fox-Selwyn. "The assassins are as cunning as they are secretive, and there is a long transatlantic chase in store, with the attempted murder of the President of the United States brewing," explained Amanda Craig in an outline of the novel's plot for the London Times. "The band of friends will need all their cunning, as well as the help of Scotland Yard, to prevent more murders."

Because of her background in history, "it's not really a surprise that my books tend to be set in the past," Updale remarked in a Stories on the Web interview. "I love trying to fit all the fictional details in amongst the real things, that can't be changed. But really, I write about people, how their minds work, and how they behave towards each other—and those things don't change very much over the years. I think the most important thing is to try to make sure your reader wants to know what is going to happen next."



Booklist, May 15, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat,Murderer?, p. 1653; March 15, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Montmorency and the Assassins: Collector, Killer, Collaborator?, p. 45.

Bookseller, February 17, 2006, review of Montmorency's Revenge, p. 40.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 2005, review of Montmorency on the Rocks, p. 407.

Guardian, May 31, 2003, Jan Mark, "Beneath the Streets," review of Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?, p. 33; May 14, 2005, Philip Ardagh, review of Montmorency and the Assassins, p. 33.

Horn Book, March-April, 2005, Betty Carter, review of Montmorency on the Rocks, p. 209; March-April, 2006, Kitty Flynn, review of Montmorency and the Assassins, p. 196.

Kirkus Reviews, March, 2005, review of Montmorency on the Rocks, p. 360; January 15, 2006, review of Montmorency and the Assassins, p. 90.

Kliatt, May, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Montmorency, p. 24; May, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of Montmorency on the Rocks, p. 19; January, 2006, Paula Rohrlick, review of Montmorency and the Assassins, p. 14.

School Librarian, autumn, 2003, review of Montmorency, p. 161; autumn, 2004, Cherie Gladstone, review of Montmorency on the Rocks, p. 163.

School Library Journal, April, 2005, Karyn N. Silverman, review of Montmorency on the Rocks, p. 143; May, 2006, Ginny Gustin, review of Montmorency and the Assassins, p. 138.

Times (London, England), May 20, 2006, Amanda Craig, "Good Clean Fun in the Sewer," review of Montmorency's Revenge, p. 18.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2005, Rollie Welch, review of Montmorency on the Rocks, p. 140; February, 2006, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Montmorency and the Assassins, p. 493.


Eleanor Updale Home Page,http://www.eleanorupdale.co.uk (November 20, 2006).

Stories from the Web,http://www.storiesfromtheweb.org/ (November 20, 2006), interview with Updale.

Telling Tales Web site,http://www.tellingtrails.co.uk/ (November 20, 2006), "Eleanor Updale."