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Michael, Livi 1960–

Michael, Livi 1960–

(Olivia Michael)

Personal

Born March 15, 1960, in Manchester, England; daughter of Ann Wood (a civil servant); married (divorced); married Ian Pople (a poet; separated); children: (first marriage) Paul; (second marriage) Ben. Education: Attended Tameside College of Technology; University of Leeds, B.A. (English; with first-class-honors), 1989, Ph. D., 1993.

Addresses

Home—Oldham, Lancashire, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Viking, c/o Penguin Group, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England. E-mail[email protected]

Career

Novelist. Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, England, instructor in English literature and creative writing, 1993–98; Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, England, instructor in English literature and creative writing, 1998–. Lecturer; participates in writing workshops.

Awards, Honors

Arthur Welton Award, and Society of Authors award, both 1992, both for Under a Thin Moon; John Steinbeck Award shortlist, and John Llewellyn Rhys Award shortlist, both 1994, and Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, 1995, for all Their Angel Reach; MIND Book of the Year/Allen Lane Award shortlist, 1997, for All the Dark Air; Banford-Boase Award shortlist, 2002, for Frank and the Black Hamster of Narkiz; Bronze award, Nestl é Children's Book Prize, 2005, for The Whispering Road.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN

Frank and the Black Hamster of Narkiz, Puffin (London, England), 2002.

Frank and the Chamber of Fear, Puffin (London, England), 2003.

Frank and the Flames of Truth, Puffin (London, England), 2004.

Frank and the New Narkiz, Puffin (London, England), 2005.

43 Bin Street, Orchard (London, England), 2005.

Seventeen Times as High as the Moon, Orchard Books (London, England), 2006.

YOUNG-ADULT NOVELS

The Whispering Road (young-adult novel), Putnam's (New York, NY), 2005.

The Angel Stone, Puffin (London, England), 2007.

City of Dogs, Puffin (London, England), 2007.

ADULT FICTION

Under a Thin Moon, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1992.

Their Angel Reach, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1994.

All the Dark Air, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1997.

Inheritance, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including Holding Out: Short Stories by Women, Crocus (Manchester, England), 1988; Shorts: New Writing from Granta Books, Granta (London, England), 1998; The City Life Book of Manchester Short Stories, Penguin (London, England), 1999; and On the Move: Feminism for the New Generation, Virago (London, England), 1999.

Sidelights

Livi Michael is an award-winning novelist whose adult fiction—including the novels Under a Thin Moon, All the Dark Air, and Inheritance—have been honored with a number of top literary awards. Reviewing All the Dark Air for the Times Literary Supplement, Carol Birch described Michael as "a brave writer tackling big themes by way of the lost, the unlovely, the tongue-tied and overlooked." While her writing for adults has been noted for its strong social and feminist content, Michael's books for younger readers are far more whimsical. Her four-novel series featuring an adventurous hamster includes the middle-grade novels Frank and the Black Hamster of Narkiz, Frank and the Flames of Truth, and Frank and the Chamber of Fear, while her young-adult novels The Whispering Road and The Angel Stone draw on regional history.

Born in Manchester, England, in 1960, Michael was raised with her hard-working single mom, and the family lived in public housing. Earning her bachelor's degree at the University of Leeds, Michael began writing after an early marriage and the birth of her first son, and finished her first novel while studying for her doctorate. As she explained on her home page, "I carried on writing in fits and starts, got discouraged with myself for never finishing anything, and eventually when I did finish something, typed it up and sent it to an agent. Or to four agents, in fact, who promptly sent it back. To which I responded in the calm and mature way I encourage in other aspiring writers (flinging myself to the floor and crying loudly). But the fifth agent accepted my novel, and the same week the manuscript of Under a Thin Moon was accepted by two major publishers!"

Released in 1992, Michael's debut novel focuses on two mother-daughter relationships that are challenged by poverty. Drawing from the author's past, the novel follows the mothers' fall from the working classes, with the consequence that their respective daughters know only poverty. For the older women, suicide looms as a solution, while their daughters attempt to escape both their mothers and their pasts through alcohol and dysfunctional, futureless relationships. Praised by reviewers, Under a Thin Moon won both Britain's Society of Authors Award and the Arthur Welton Award. Another award-winning novel, Their Angel Reach, again focuses on the lives of underprivileged and working-class women, this time via five narratives connected in subtle but telling ways. Within the intertwined lives of the novel's female character, Michael weaves gang members, Satanists, and a serial killer, but ends her story on a hopeful note. All the Dark Air takes an even more optimistic tack as it follows a pregnant woman's evolution toward motherhood.

Michael's 2000 novel, Inheritance, draws on the history and landscape of greater Manchester, where Michael grew up, and is far less political that her previous novels. A combination melodrama, detective story, and historical novel, the novel introduces Louise, a London-based career woman who returns to Manchester to deal with two deaths as she sorts out her mother's effects. There she encounters her Aunt Martha, a woman from the rural working classes, whose memory has been erased from the family history. As Louise discovers Martha's history, she becomes involved in the history and present of the woman's home village and discovers a dark family secret.

In 2002 Michael introduced herself to younger readers with Frank and the Black Hamster of Narkiz, which was inspired by her younger son's love of animals. In the novel a spunky hamster breaks free from his cage, travels under the floorboards, and discovers his destiny as an adventurer. In Frank and the Chamber of Fear the courageous rodent attempts to discover why several of his fellow hamsters have gone missing, while Frank and the Flames of Truth brings the fearless hero closer to his destiny, as well as into a confrontation with an evil hamster named-Humphrey.

A compelling piece of local history inspired Michael to write her first young-adult novel, The Whispering Road, which takes place in rural Manchester in the 1830s. The story's narrator, Joe, is living at a workhouse with his younger sister, Annie, after being abandoned by their mother, when the siblings are sold to a nearby farmer. Suffering harshly under the man's brutality, the pair run away and make their way back to the city in hopes that they can locate their mother. On the way they encounter a variety of colorful characters, both good and bad; Annie discovers a gift for prophecy, and Joe joins a gang of streetwise orphans before finding a new home with a newspaperman working to reform the city's poverty. In School Library Journal Connie Tyrell Burns noted that The Whispering Road, with its "blend of magical realism and grim history," has "much that will appeal to teen readers," while Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper wrote that Michael's "writing style remains vivid … and the odd assortment of characters piques interest." Calling Joe "an engaging companion," London Guardian contributor Adèle Geras added that "the relation-shop between him and his sister is touching, and children will enjoy finding out what happens to them both."

Readers travel even further back in time in The Angel Stone, which was inspired by John Dee, an occultist who inspired the character of Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest and dedicated his life to alchemy and pursuing other pivotal mysteries of life.

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 267: Twenty-first-Century British and Irish Novelists, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002, pp. 211-221.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The Whispering Road, p. 1584.

Critical Survey, Volume 8, number 1, 1996, pp. 26-36; Volume 12, number 1, 2000, Pat Wheeler and Sharon Monteith, interview with Michael, pp. 94-107.

Guardian (London, England), March 5, 1992, Philip MacCann, review of Under a Thin Moon; December 27, 1994, Jenny Turner, review of Their Angel Reach; January 22, 2005, Adèle Geras, review of The Whispering Road.

New Statesman & Society, November 25, 1994, Carol Birch, review of Their Angel Reach.

School Librarian, winter, 2002, review of Frank and the Black Hamster, p. 201; spring, 2004, Andrea Rayner, review of Frank and the Chamber of Fear, p. 33; summer, 2005, Sarah McNicol, review of The Whispering Road, p. 104.

School Library Journal, August, 2005, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of The Whispering Road, p. 131.

Times Literary Supplement, March 6, 1992, Nicholas Clee, review of Under a Thin Moon; December 9, 1994, Lavinia Greenlaw, review of Their Angel Reach; December 27, 1996, Carol Birch, review of All the Dark Air; May 12, 2000, Ali Smith, review of Inheritance.

ONLINE

British Council Web site, http://www.contemporarywriter.com/ (July 7, 2006), "Livi Michael."

Livi Michael Home Page, http://www.livimichael.com (July 7, 2006).

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