Lawrence, Iain 1955-
Lawrence, Iain 1955-
Born February 25, 1955, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada; son of Raymond Lawrence and Margaret (Smart) Lawrence; partner of Kristin Miller (a writer). Education: Studied journalism in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Home—R.R. No. 1, S16, C26, Gabriola Island V0R 1XO, Canada. Agent—Jane Jordan Browne, Multimedia Product Development, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Ste. 724, Chicago, IL 60605.
Writer. Worked as a journalist for newspapers in northern British Columbia, Canada; Prince Rupert Daily News, journalist, then editor.
Best Books for Young Adults citation, American Library Association (ALA), Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for Best Children's Mystery, Books for the Teen Age citation, New York Public Library, and Best Books of the Year citation, School Library Journal, all 1999, all for The Wreckers; ALA Best Books for Young Adults citation, and Books for the Teen Age citation, New York Public Library, both 2000, both for The Smugglers; ALA Notable Book and Best Books for Young Adults citations, Best Books citation, School Library Journal, Best Books citation, Publishers Weekly, and Books for the Teen Age citation, New York Public Library, all 2001, all for Ghost Boy; Best Children's Books citation, Publishers Weekly, 2001, for Lord of the Nutcracker Men; ALA Best Books citation, 2004, for B for Buster.
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
The Wreckers ("High Seas" trilogy), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
The Smugglers ("High Seas" trilogy), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
Ghost Boy, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2000.
The Buccaneers ("High Seas" trilogy), Delacorte (New York, NY), 2001.
Lord of the Nutcracker Men, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2001.
The Lightkeeper's Daughter, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2002.
B for Buster, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2004.
The Convicts, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2005.
The Cannibals (sequel to The Convicts), Delacorte (New York, NY), 2005.
Gemini Summer, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2006.
The Castaways (sequel to The Cannibals), Delacorte (New York, NY), 2007.
Far-Away Places: Fifty Anchorages on the Northwest Coast, Orca Books (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1995.
Sea Stories of the Inside Passage: In the Wake of the Nid, Fine Edge Productions (Bishop, CA), 1997.
Many of Lawrence's novels were adapted as audiobooks.
A writer whose books include young-adult novels and fast-moving middle-grade fiction as well as nonfiction, Canadian writer Iain Lawrence has assembled a body of work "that will appeal to a variety of readers," according to Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books online essayist Jeannette Hulic. "His books stand out from the crowd," continued Hulick, "thanks to his masterful pacing, his memorable and unusual characters, and his uncanny ability to capture the atmosphere of very specific times and places. I can't wait to see where he'll take us next."
Lawrence takes readers on high-seas adventures in his "High Seas" trilogy of books focusing on young John Spencer. Set in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, The Wreckers, The Smugglers, and The Buccaneers supply "edge-of-your-seat action," according to Hulick, as well as realistically rendered settings. The sea-bound adventures of the unfortunate Tom Tin are recounted in a second trilogy of novels—The Convicts, The Cannibals, and The Castaways—which bring readers along on a series of nineteenth-century high-seas
adventures. More history is served up in Ghost Boy, about an albino youth who works for a circus in the American West shortly after World War II, and Lord of the Nutcracker Men, in which a young boy thinks he can control his father's fate and the outcome of battles in France during World War I. A World-War II fighter pilot is the subject of B for Buster, and Gemini Summer sets a boy-loves-dog story in the mid-1960s. The Lightkeeper's Daughter, though set contemporaneously, also deals with the past.
Born in northern Ontario, Lawrence is the second of four children. Before he was two, the family moved to Toronto, and then proceeded to travel from home to home around Canada from Calgary to Victoria, British Columbia. By the time Lawrence left school, he had, as he noted on the Random House Web site, "lived in eleven different houses and gone to nine different schools." "It was hard at the time, as I was very shy and quite friendless," Lawrence further noted, "but now I think I was lucky to have grown up like that." One fond memory from his childhood is his father reading to him and his brother at bedtime. "He used funny voices for the characters," Lawrence recalled, "and made the stories seem utterly real. I remember being enchanted with Stuart Little, and being terrified by old Blind Pew and his roguish lot from Treasure Island. It gave me a love of books, and of reading." Encouraged in his writing by a third-grade teacher, he also created picture books for his younger brother about a beloved stuffed duck.
Lawrence dropped out of high school during his senior year and worked in a logging camp for a while. By the time he returned to school, he knew he wanted to be a writer. "Over the next couple of years I churned out short stories that nobody liked, a book that nobody published, and historical articles that I did sell, to a newspaper supplement," Lawrence recalled. "I lived at home, working at odd jobs that never lasted terribly long; fishing for salmon off the west coast; picking daffodils at Easter; inflating balloons and setting up skittles at a carnival; clearing streams in the Rockies; fighting forest fires on Vancouver Island; taking down the bigtop tent of a traveling circus."
When Lawrence saw that he was not progressing with his writing as he wished, he took classes at a journalism school in Vancouver, British Columbia. Journalism jobs at various small-town newspapers in northern British Columbia filled the next ten years, one of which found him at the Prince Rupert Daily News. "For the most part I enjoyed it immensely," Lawrence reported on the Random House Web site. "I learned a lot about writing: how to do it quickly without fretting over every word; how deadlines could be inspiring, and how to tell a story in as few words as possible. I worked my way up to become the editor of the daily paper in Prince Rupert."
Meanwhile, Lawrence was keeping up his twin passions of writing and sailing. At a writer's group, he met Kristin Miller, a fellow writer and quilter who lived on a remote island with no telephone or electricity. The two soon became a couple, and Lawrence decided to adopt Miller's career track and shift from journalism to freelance writing. Taking a job at a fish farm, he devoted his free time to writing and sailing. When the fish farm went bankrupt, he became a caretaker for the radio transmitter on the island.
Books were taking shape for Lawrence as well, in particular an adult title about a boy who was shipwrecked and then captured by the wreckers. When an agent suggested he rework that novel for a teen audience, he did so and the book—which had made the rounds of publishers for a couple of years as an adult title—sold within a few months.
The Wreckers is set on the barren Cornwall coast of England where a community makes its living by luring ships onto the rocks near their shore. When the ships sink, the villagers loot what is left of the wreck, using tools as well as clothing from the dead sailors. When the ship Isle of Skye crashes on the rocks, fourteen-year-old John Spencer survives. Escaping from the villagers, the teen heads off into the countryside, staying one step ahead of those who hope to kill him and keep their secret. Searching for his father, the boy encounters the legless Stumps, a cruel and threatening man. "Not knowing whom he can trust," noted a contributor for Publishers Weekly, "John has to feel his way through a web of intrigue and treachery."
In her review of The Wreckers, Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan compared Lawrence's fiction debut to the adventure novels of Robert Louis Stevenson, citing the book's "graceful prose, vivid details, and fast-paced action." Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns found the novel to be a "fast-moving, mesmerizing" tale "in the grand tradition," while Starr E. Smith concluded in School Library Journal that Lawrence "expertly weaves maritime lingo and details into the narrative, creating an entertaining and engrossing nautical adventure."
John's adventures continue in The Smugglers, another "riveting high-sea adventure featuring swashbuckling characters, salty dialogue and a taut succession of cliff-hangers," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. In this installment, John and his father buy the Dragon, a ship they hope to use for the wool trade. John is entranced by the vessel, but soon father and son seem to be cursed by the schooner: their captain is murdered before they can set sail for London and the replacement they hire turns out to be a rogue who brings on board a crew of criminal types. After John receives an anonymous message to watch out for harm from an unlikely quarter, the sixteen year old becomes aware that smuggling is taking place. Now he must quickly learn to deal with a crew of con men.
Reviewing The Smugglers for Booklist, Phelan remarked that "John makes a stalwart, sympathetic Everyman, surrounded by a cast of memorable and wildly colorful characters." The critic dubbed the second volume of the "High Seas" trilogy "a well-written period adventure," while a Horn Book reviewer described Lawrence's story as a "thrilling adventure with enough gore and mayhem to satisfy devotees of the genre." Writing in School Library Journal, Smith declared The Smugglers a "real page-turner."
Lawrence rounds out his "High Seas" trilogy with The Buccaneers, which begins as seventeen-year-old John and the crew of the Dragon unwittingly put themselves in harm's way by rescuing a mysterious man in a lifeboat. This man has already crossed paths with the feared Captain Bartholomew Grace. As the story progresses, his presence on John's ship compels Grace to pursue the Dragon. When the captain of the Dragon is taken sick, it is up to John to sail the ship and bring it home safely.
The Buccaneers "offers plenty of full-blooded salty characters, cunning dialogue, surprises around every corner and a classic battle between good and evil," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews writer noted that, "heavily scented with blood, gunpowder, and bracing sea air, this nautical episode makes riveting reading." Burns, writing in Horn Book, maintained that Lawrence's third installment matches the other two "for edge-of-the-seat adventure and feats of derring-do." Burns concluded that this was a "voyage not to be missed." Adding to the chorus of praise, Connie Tyrrell Burns stated in School Library Journal that The Buccaneers "will be gobbled up" by fans of the first two novels. In Phelan's opinion, the novel serves as a "fine conclusion" that is "sure to please the many readers of this richly atmospheric trilogy."
With The Convicts Lawrence returns readers to the sea, this time through the life story of fourteen-year-old Tom Tin. Raised in a small but stable home, Tom finds his world disrupted after his father, a ship's captain, is unjustly imprisoned. As misfortunes continue to multiply, Tom finds himself on the streets of 1820s London, where he runs afoul of a gang of street urchins and is ultimately convicted of murder and shipped off to Australia aboard the convict ship Lachesis. Called "one of the darkest yet most engrossing of Lawrence's adventure novels" by a Publishers Weekly reviewer, The Convicts "powerfully draws readers into another time and place" wherein "gripping Dickensian coincidences abound," the critic added. "Brilliant writing, adventure and a likable character … will entrance all readers who love an old-fashioned tale well told," concluded a Kirkus Reviews writer of the novel.
The sad fortunes of Tom Tin continue to play out in The Cannibals and The Castaways. Tom and loyal friend Midgely finally escape from the ship taking them to Australia. In The Cannibals Tom and the five mates accompanying him in the stolen longboat are shipwrecked on a Pacific island inhabited by a wild-eyed man named Mr. Mullock. The island paradise is also home to a tribe of headhunters, and as Tom and his crew repair their ship and set sail in hopes of avoiding the savages, they are hotly pursued. Bad luck continues to shadow Lawrence's young hero in The Castaways as Tom and his company of boys learn to be sailors with the help of a pair of castaways they rescue. Finally arriving at an island in the Caribbean, the young crew finds their luck turning as a new life stretches out before them. In Publishers Weekly a critic wrote of The Cannibals that the novel "offers a Robert Louis Stevenson brand of excitement that will draw fans of exotic adventure tales." "Lawrence's prose, as always, is beautifully wrought," concluded a Kirkus Reviews writer, the critic contending that the author's tale of the high seas contains "some of the most exciting scenes anywhere in children's literature."
From the high seas, Lawrence transports readers to America's Pacific Northwest shortly after World War II in Ghost Boy, a tale of belonging and learning how to fit in. Harold Kline is fourteen, extremely tall, nearly blind, and albino. It is that last characteristic that has earned him the name Ghost Boy. When a circus comes to town, Harold sees it as a chance to run off and escape the small town where he has been ridiculed all his life. Slowly he wins acceptance with the other "freaks" in the circus, and when he trains the circus elephants to play baseball, even the circus owner learns to accept Harold. In Booklist Frances Bradburn called Ghost Boy a "surprising book" full of "pain and poignancy, with gratifying undercurrents of love and humor." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that Lawrence's "poignant adventure invites readers to look beyond others' outer appearances and into their souls," and Toni D. Moore wrote in her School Library Journal review that the "touching novel will speak especially to readers who consider themselves different, flawed, or misunderstood."
Lord of the Nutcracker Men deals with World War I from the point of view of a ten-year-old son of one of
the combatants. Before Johnny's father enlists in the British Army, he carves his son a set of toy soldiers. Now that his father is away in France, letters arrive to announce how ugly the war actually is. Also enclosed are new toy soldiers that the boy's father has carved. As Johnny plays with these soldiers, arranging them in German and English armies, the battles he stages seem to foreshadow those his father fights in real life. Johnny soon begins to think that he might control the fate of his father and the entire British Army. For Susan P. Bloom, writing in Horn Book, Lord of the Nutcracker Men is a "poignant, believable tale told with the sure touch of someone who shapes his craft with the same precision, imagination, and intensity as Johnny's ingenious father." In School Library Journal, Cheri Estes praised Lawrence's "vivid language," further noting that through the use of first-person narration "readers travel the heights and depths with Johnny's emotions and feel present in the story." A critic for the Washington Post Book World called Lord of the Nutcracker Men an "impressively original take on the idea that war and madness are closely allied."
A sixteen-year-old pilot is the focus of B for Buster, "a gritty, unglorified picture" of the life of a fighter pilot during World War II, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. As the novel opens, it is the spring of 1943. Sixteen-year-old Kak lies about his age and enlists in the Canadian Air Force as a way of escaping from an abusive family situation. Soon the teen finds himself assigned to a bomber squadron based in England, where his job is to drop bombs during flying raids over Germany. The teen battles nightmares and a fear of flying in order to follow his orders, and his biggest challenge is to be one of the few men in his squadron to survive the odds and stay alive. Calling the novel "as meticulously researched" as Lawrence's other works, a Publishers Weekly critic added that B for Buster is also "powerful enough to make audience members reevaluate their concepts of war and courage." Although Kak's story is not a unique one, in the opinion of a Kirkus Reviews writer it rises above others on the strength of Lawrence's "eloquent writing, a fast-paced plot, and research neatly woven into the narrative." "This is a lyrical coming-of-age novel and a fascinating bit of aviation history," concluded School Library Journal reviewer Ginny Gustin.
Set in a Toronto suburb in 1965, during the Vietnam War, Gemini Summer finds nine-year-old Danny River mourning the accidental death of his older brother, Beau. Then a stray pup suddenly arrives and adopts Danny as its owner, causing the boy to believe that the dog embodies his dead brother's spirit. Naming the dog Rocket in honor of Beau's love of the U.S. space program, Danny decides to make one of Beau's dreams come true: he travels from his rural home in Hogs Hollow to Florida's Cape Canaveral, where he witnesses the launch of a space rocket and meets astronaut Gus Grissom. Gemini Summer is "both moving and humorous," wrote Bloom in a Horn Book review, and Booklist writer Krista Hutley cited Lawrence's use of "small, descriptive details that breathe life into the people and the setting." "Lively prose, quirky characters and strong dialogue animate this moving story," a Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded of Gemini Summer.
While most of Lawrence's novels feature boy protagonists, not so with The Lightkeeper's Daughter. The novel tells the story of Squid McCrae, who at age seventeen returns to the remote lighthouse island off the coast of British Columbia where she grew up. She has come to introduce her daughter to her parents, and it is a hard journey home for her. Squid remembers her idyllic childhood, when she and her brother Alastair explored Lizzie Island. Her brother wanted desperately to leave the island, but Squid's father would not allow it. Because of this, Squid blames her father for Alastair's subsequent death. Now, returning to this childhood home, the past and present collide as Squid strives to make sense of the death of her brother years ago. Calling the novel "lush and deceptively quiet," Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg added that Squid's story "raises interesting questions about freedom, responsibility, and happiness." Lawrence "excels at creating a vivid picture of island life—its fascinating side as well as its crippling limitations," Margaret Mackey wrote in a review of The Lightkeeper's Daughter for Resource Links, the critic adding that the author's "haunting and complex story has much to offer to sensitive readers."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, June 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Wreckers; January 1, 1999, review of The Wreckers, p. 782; April 1, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Smugglers, p. 1424; May 1, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Wreckers, p. 1606; November 1, 2000, Frances Bradburn, review of Ghost Boy, p. 526; May 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Buccaneers, p. 1753; November 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Lord of the Nutcracker Men, p. 474; January 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of The Lightkeeper's Daughter, p. 879; March 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of The Convicts, p. 1284; December 15, 2006, Krista Hutley, review of Gemini Summer, p. 49.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 2000, Elizabeth Bush, review of Ghost Boy, pp. 70-71; October, 2001, Elizabeth Bush, review of Lord of the Nutcracker Men, pp. 64-65; July-August, 2001, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Buccaneers, p. 413; September, 2004; Elizabeth Bush, review of B Is for Buster, p. 26; January, 2006, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Cannibals, p. 236; December, 2006, Elizabeth Bush, review of Gemini Summer, p. 176.
English Journal, November, 1999, Chris Crowe, review of The Wreckers, p. 149; November, 2000, Ken Donelson, review of The Smugglers, p. 153.
Horn Book, July-August, 1998, Mary M. Burns, review of The Wreckers, p. 491; May, 1999, review of The Smugglers, p. 331; July, 2001, Mary M. Burns, review of The Buccaneers, p. 455; November-December, 2001, Susan P. Bloom, review of Lord of the Nutcracker Men, pp. 752-753; March-April, 2006, Kristi Elle Jemtegaard, review of The Convicts, p. 208; November-December, 2006, Susan P. Bloom, review of The Cannibals, p. 720; November-December, 2006, Susan P. Bloom, review of Gemini Summer, p. 717.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2001, review of The Buccaneers; May 15, 2004, review of B for Buster, p. 493; April 1, 2005, review of The Convicts, p. 419; October 15, 2005, review of The Cannibals, p. 1140; October 1, 2006, review of Gemini Summer, p. 1017.
Kliatt, July, 2001, Claire Rosser, review of The Buccaneers; September, 2002, review of The Lightkeeper's Daughter; September, 2003, Shaunna Silva, review of Lord of the Nutcracker Men, p. 18; May, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of B for Buster; November, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Cannibals, p. 39.
New York Times Book Review, April 15, 2001, review of Ghost Boy, p. 24; March 10, 2002, Elizabeth De- vereaux, review of Lord of the Nutcracker Men, p. 20; September 19, 2004, review of B for Buster, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, June 1, 1998, review of The Wreckers, p. C48; June 29, 1998, Bella Stander, "Iain Lawrence," p. 26; March 22, 1999, review of The Smugglers, p. 93; November 8, 1999, review of The Wreckers, p. 71; October 30, 2000, review of The Smugglers, p. 68; July 30, 2001, review of The Buccaneers, p. 86; July 5, 2004, review of B for Buster, p. 57; April 4, 2005, review of The Convicts, p. 61; October 24, 2005, review of The Cannibals, p. 59; September 4, 2006, review of Gemini Summer, p. 67.
Resource Links, October, 2001, K.V. Johansen, review of The Buccaneers, p. 39; December, 2002, Margaret Mackey, review of The Lightkeeper's Daughter, p. 48; February, 2006, K.V. Johansen, review of The Cannibals, p. 46.
School Library Journal, June, 1999, Starr E. Smith, review of The Smugglers, p. 132; September, 2000, Toni D. Moore, review of Ghost Boy, p. 233; July, 2001, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of The Buccaneers, p. 110; November, 2001, Cheri Estes, review of Lord of the Nutcracker Men, p. 160; July, 2004, Ginny Gustin, review of B for Buster, p. 106; July, 2005, Bruce Anne Shook, review of The Convicts, p. 105; January, 2006, Carolyn Lehman, review of The Cannibals, p. 136; November, 2006, Kim Dare, review of Gemini Summer, p. 140.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2004, review of B for Buster, p. 219; October, 2005, review of The Cannibals, p. 306; December, 2006, Ed Goldberg, review of Gemini Summer, p. 426.
Washington Post Book World, January 27, 2002, review of Lord of the Nutcracker Men.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Online,http://www.lis.uiuc.edu/puboff/bccb/ (December 1, 2001), Jeanette Hulick, "Rising Star: Iain Lawrence."
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (October 27, 2007), "Iain Lawrence."
Red Cedar Awards Web site,http://www.redcedar.swifty.com/ (January 9, 2002), "Iain Lawrence."