Nina Bawden

7th September 2012 at 01:00
The author of more than 40 books for children and adults has died, aged 87

Nina Bawden, who has died aged 87, produced more than 40 novels for adults and children over 50 years.

Her writing was driven by a desire to mine her own experiences which led her, from 1963, to write a children's book one year and an adult novel the next.

As a baby, Nina was brought up with Pat, the daughter of her father's earlier marriage, until this nine-year-old girl was expelled forever from the house. It was only 25 years later that she discovered the existence of this half-sister.

She and her two younger brothers grew up in Goodmayes, Essex, near the London Docks in Ilford. Her father, Charles Mabey, was often away at sea and her teacher mother, Ellaline, never took to suburban life. Sharing this discontent, Nina retreated into stories or plays written for her model theatre.

On the declaration of war, the 14-year-old scholarship girl was evacuated from her school, Ilford County High - first to Suffolk and then to South Wales, an experience that inspired her children's novel Carrie's War.

In 1943, she went to Somerville College, Oxford, where she read French before changing to philosophy, politics and economics. One of her fellow undergraduates was Margaret Roberts, whom she described as "a plump, neat, solemn girl". The future prime minister's political ambitions were obvious even then - and very different from the socialism favoured by Nina Mabey.

On leaving Oxford, Nina married Harry Bawden, a returning ex-serviceman and classical scholar some years older than herself. They had two children, Niki and Robert, but in 1950 she met Austen Kark, an ex-naval officer who was also married. They married in 1954 and her third child, Perdita, was born in 1957. Austen Kark eventually became managing director of the BBC World Service.

Her writing career began in 1953 with a detective story, Who calls the Tune, but before long she found her niche, sticking to the middle-class backgrounds she knew best.

The Birds on the Trees, written in 1970, and Circles of Deceit (1987) had their origins in the death of her son, Niki, a schizophrenic who drowned himself.

The dark tone of some of her work presaged the realism commonplace in much of today's children's literature.

She was one of the first writers for children to create characters who could be jealous, selfish and bad- tempered; her young readers responded with grateful letters.

On 10 May, 2002, her husband Austen was among seven passengers killed in the Potters Bar rail accident; Bawden, aged 77, suffered multiple injuries. She made an almost full recovery and led a campaign to try to make Jarvis, the contractor responsible for maintaining the track, accept liability. Her final days were blighted by the sudden death of her daughter and main support, Perdita, from aggressive cancer, earlier this year.

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