Born in Worcestershire, England. Education: Earned Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Playing piano.
Academic and writer. Formerly worked as a bookseller, waiter, fruit-picker, library assistant, factory worker, church organist, and civil servant; Institute of Geography, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, academic researcher.
Branford Boase Award nomination, 2004, and Angus Book Award, Angus Council, German Youth Book prize nomination, and New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age designation, all 2005, all for Inventing Elliot; second prize in short-story competition.
Inventing Elliot, Dial (New York, NY), 2003.
Although British author Graham Gardner has been writing consistently since childhood, and at age nineteen received recognition for his talent by winning second prize in a local short story competition, he devoted his college career to the study of geography rather than to creative writing. However, his dream of publication prompted Gardner to work on a work of long fiction at the same time he was studying for his doctoral degree. His dreams came to fruition when his novel, Inventing Elliot, was published, and honored with critical praise as well as the 2005 Angus Book Award.
Inventing Elliot centers around a teen who manages to escape the role of school geek only to find himself in an equally unpleasant position. Constantly falling victim to relentless bullies at school, Elliot does not find much comfort at home, where his mother works several jobs in order to pay the bills and his father has become depressed following a brutal mugging. When the family moves and Elliot must deal with a new school, he views the situation as an opportunity. Determined to change his future, he updates his geeky image and adopts the disdainful and unfeeling attitude of the "in" group in order to stay safe. Ironically, his ruse proves so successful that Elliot is recruited by the Guardians, the secret society that rules his school, where he suddenly finds that he is situated on the other side of the geek-bully equation.
Inventing Elliot was described as "a chilling and heartbreaking study of bullying and adolescent terror" by Booklist critic GraceAnn A. DeCandido. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer, less enthusiastic, wrote that the "clearly foreseeable act of redemption" that comprises the conclusion of Gardner's novel "undermines the story's credibility," Vicki Reutter noted in her School Library Journal review of Inventing Elliot that the title character "is an appealing protagonist, and his need to fit in will strike a chord with most readers." On the Counterculture Web site, Clare O'Brien praised Gardner's fiction debut, noting that the novel "offers a powerful insight into the masks and armour we assume in an effort to defend ourselves from danger, and the moral sacrifices we make in order to maintain an illusion of security."
Gardner told Something about the Author: "I write about the real world, and I write from my own experiences. I count myself very lucky that I have had a highly varied life—I've been a fruit-picker, library assistant, factory worker, waiter, shop assistant, undergraduate and Ph.D. student, civil servant, academic researcher, chorister, and church organist—because it means I have lots of material to draw on.
"It also helps that I am from a large family—I'm the second oldest of ten children—as I can use my brothers' and sisters' experiences (along with those of other relatives, friends, neighbours, and colleagues). Inventing Elliot is about the ways that all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, construct a series of "masks" in order to try and present a face, a persona, that others will find acceptable. It came about as the result of thinking about how, after I'd left school where I'd been bullied, I'd acted harder and cooler than I felt in order to survive a series of increasingly tough jobs. Several events in the story area adapted from real events that either happened to me or that I witnessed.
"I write visually: I 'see' in my mind a picture of what I'm going to write about, and I do my best to describe that picture in words. As I'm doing that, I think about what the picture means and try to put that into words too. I'm particularly concerned with portraying my main character's thinking and emotions—I can't begin a story without knowing their intentions and motivations.
"I was inspired to write Inventing Elliot after the picture of a boy, aged about 13-14 years, standing in a room with bare walls, looking at an open suitcase on a bed, came uninvited into my head. I instantly knew three things: this boy was escaping a terrible past (I didn't know what, exactly; that part of his story came later); that he had been given the opportunity to start his life over again in a place where nobody knew him; and that he was going to use this opportunity to 'reinvent' himself—become a different person."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 15, 2004, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Inventing Elliot, p. 1613.
Bookseller, December, 2002, Wendy Cooling, review of Inventing Elliot.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2004, review of Inventing Elliot, p. 133.
Kliatt, March, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Inventing Elliot, p. 10; September, 2004, Janet Julian, review of Inventing Elliot, p. 62.
Publishers Weekly, March 22, 2004, review of Inventing Elliot, p. 87.
School Library Journal, March, 2004, Vicki Reutter, review of Inventing Elliot, p. 212.
Sunday Times (London, England), March, 2003, review of Inventing Elliot.
Angus Book Award Web site, http://www.angus.gov.uk/ (February 27, 2005), "Graham Gardner."
British Broadcasting Corporation Web site, http://www.bbc.co.uk/Blast/ (February 27, 2005), "Graham Gardner."
CounterCulture Web site, http://www.counterculture.co.uk/ (February 27, 2005), Clare O'Brien, review of Inventing Elliot.
Orion Publishing Group Web site, http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/ (February 27, 2005).