Biography.

 
     
  A short biography of Aidan Chambers is available for  
  download in Adobe Acrobat format. Please click here  
     
     
  1934 - 1945
  Aidan Chambers was born in the country just outside Chester-le-Street
  seven miles north of Durham City on 27 December 1934. He was an only
  child, his father was a skilled woodworker and a keen gardener, his
  mother stayed at home, endlessly doing housework. His other male
  relatives were coal miners, his many aunts worked as maids in hotels and
  as shop assistants. There were five books in the home: a Bible, a small
  dictionary, handbooks about health and house repairs, and a collection
  of Aesop's Fables with coloured illustrations. Aesop's were the first
  stories Aidan heard read, while he looked at the pictures. Otherwise,
  reading, apart from the daily paper, was not a family occupation. There
  were no other children nearby except a girl, Marion, six months older. Up
  to the age of ten, when his family moved to another town, they were
With Marion, aged about 3,
  brother and sister, friends and lovers.
in a car made for him by
  School was a shock. He and Marion were separated for the first time - a
his father
  traumatic experience from which he thinks he never recovered. The
  importance of close friendship has been a theme in all his novels. He
  liked his infant school teacher because she read a story to the class
  every morning and made them act it out in the afternoon, accompanied
  by music improvised on drums, triangles, and toy trumpets. Aidan's best
  moment was as David slaying Goliath, who was played by the biggest
  boy and the bully in the class. Otherwise, he had a sorry time. All his life
  he has disliked figures, so he was always bad at Maths, and he found
  learning to read difficult. His teachers called him 'slow'. He couldn't read
  for himself and fluently until he was nine. He vividly remembers the
At nine, the year he was
  evening when at last he could do it.
beaten once a week for
 
not getting his sums right.
  1945 - 1953
Liked leather jackets
  Because of his bad start and the poor teaching in his old-fashioned war-
then as now.
  time primary school, he failed the eleven-plus exam, which determined
  whether or not he went to an academic grammar school or to a non-
  academic 'secondary modern'. Just after taking the exam, his family
  moved to Darlington, a town by the River Tees, on the border between
  Durham and Yorkshire. There his father became funeral manager of the
  Co-operative Society. Across the road from their house lived a boy,
  Alan, who befriended Aidan. Alan read a lot. He made Aidan join the local
  public library and together they each borrowed two books every week so
  that they had four to read. Still, it wasn't reading Aidan liked best, but
  going to the cinema, which he did twice a week, and the local theatre,
  which was mostly music hall - comedians, magicians, jugglers, acrobats,
On holiday with mother
  singers, leggy girl dancers, novelty acts, which today we'd call a Variety
and father the year
  Show.
he started grammar
  At thirteen he was transferred from secondary modern to the local
school. Great shorts.
  Queen Elizabeth I Grammar School along with fourteen other 'late
  developers'. It was there that he met the teacher who changed his life,
  the school's head of English, Jim Osborn. Jim was a brilliant, if sometimes
  scary teacher. From him, Aidan learned both the pleasures and the
  importance of reading great literature. It was Jim who first took him to
  see performances of Shakespeare's plays, an experience that gave him a
  life-long love of Shakespeare and of 'serious' theatre. It was Jim who
  encouraged him to perform in school plays and to learn how to speak in
His room by the
  public by taking part in meetings of the Debating Society. And it was Jim
time he was 18 and
  who persuaded him to buy a book every week and build his personal
about to leave
  library.
home. Embryo of his
  That was how Aidan came across D. H. Lawrence's novel Sons and
work-room now.
  Lovers. For the first time in his life, he read a book in which he found
  himself and the kind of people he knew. Sons and Lovers is about the
  growth from childhood to manhood of Paul Morel, whose father is a
  miner, and whose mother is determined, as Aidan's was, that her son
  should better himself by education and reading. Everything in the book
  was like the life Aidan himself knew. It is still the greatest novel ever
  written about the reality of mine workers' families and English working
  class life from 1900 to about 1950. As he finished reading the last page
  for the first time, aged fifteen, Aidan knew that what he would be was a
  writer of books and plays. He began attempting to write a novel the next
  day. But, though he wrote constantly, he told no one of his ambition
  except his girlfriend, Margaret, who lived in a nearby town and with whom
  he exchanged letters and weekly visits from the time they were fourteen
  until they were in their early twenties.
 
  During his teenage years, Aidan spent most of his
  school holidays working on the nearby farm of a
  distant cousin, and walking the moors around
  Swaledale, above Richmond in Yorkshire - an area he
  used as the setting for his novel BREAKTIME.
 
 
  1953 - 1960
The farmhouse
  By the time Aidan was seventeen, Jim Osborn had decided he was to be a
where he spent
  teacher. But first he had to serve two years compulsory military service
many of his
  in the Royal Navy, where, by a nice irony, he was called a 'Writer' -
holidays from the
  meaning a clerk - in the Supply and Secretariat division. He spent
age of 10 to 18.
  eighteen months working in a naval office in Portsmouth, where there was
  so little to do that for most of the time he read books bought from a
  second-hand bookshop across the road from the office.
  Then came two years' teacher training at a college attached to London
  University, where he wrote his first play to be performed and generally
  enjoyed himself. In 1957, after qualifying, he was appointed English
  teacher in charge of drama at Westcliff High School for Boys, a grammar
  school in Southend-on-sea, a weekend holiday resort for East End
  Londoners, a place full of raunchy fun and famous for having the longest
  pier in the world. There he sailed his own dinghy, one day almost
His boat 'Guru',
  drowning when it capsized during a sudden storm, a scene he later
model for 'Tumble' in
  recycled in his novel DANCE ON MY GRAVE. He read, went to the cinema,
Dance on my Grave.
  attended the London theatres as often as he could, and was so happy
  and hard-worked in his job that he wrote very little. It was there he
  learned that teaching is not a profession for a would-be writer. It requires
  the same energy you need to write a novel, and is exhausting.
  During his three years at Westcliff, Aidan made friends with a group of
  young fellow teachers who happened to be practising Christians. He had
  always been interested in religion, but as a non-believer. His new friends
  gradually brought him round to their belief. He started attending a lively
  Anglo-Catholic church, decided to be confirmed and to investigate the
  monastic life. For no reason he could explain, the monastic life had
  always interested him, and he had often thought that, if he were a
  Christian, he would want to be a monk. If you're going to do something,
  do it with total commitment and go as deeply in to it as you can.
  1960 - 1968
  Just at this time, 1960, he heard of a new modern-style Anglican
  community that was being started by two brothers. The monks would do
  ordinary jobs such as teachers, social workers and factory hands,
  anything so long as their work had to do with children or young people.
  They would live as nearly as possible like the ordinary people around
  them. And they would not try to convert anyone except by the example
  of their own lives. Aidan met the brothers, liked what they told him,
  resigned from his teaching job and joined the order the week they set up
  their first monastery in a house in Stroud, Gloucestershire. He used his
  experience as a monk in his novel NOW I KNOW.
  For a year he was a novice, learning the monastic ropes. Then he took a
  job as English teacher in charge of the library and drama at Archway
  Secondary Modern school, Stroud. It was during his seven years there
  that Aidan found his audience and published his first books. These were
  stories and plays written for the pupils he taught. Two of the plays,
  JOHNNY SALTER and THE CHICKEN RUN, are still in print. He also began to
  gain a reputation as a teacher and school librarian. He was asked to give
  talks at teachers' conferences and to write articles and reviews for
  educational magazines. Soon he was so busy that his monastic life began
  to suffer.
Brother Aidan in 1965.
  The crunch came in 1967. By then he knew he was not a true-believing
  Christian. What had attracted him was the glorious old language and
  theatrical ritual of the church. He also knew he would have to choose
  between life as a doubting monk or life as a dedicated writer. He could
  not be both. No contest really. Since the night he finished reading Sons
  and Lovers he had known he was a writer at heart. So he left the
  monastery. A year later, in 1968, he resigned from his teaching job, and
  since then has lived as a free- lance writer, who happens also because of
  his interest in education to give talks and lectures and workshops for
  teachers and librarians.
 
  1968 - 2005
  The next turning point came in 1975. Having written for young readers for
  ten years, Aidan finally began the books he had always felt he should
  write but could never quite get down on paper. The first of these,
  BREAKTIME, bubbled out like water from a spring. The second became his
  best-known novel, DANCE ON MY GRAVE. By the time he finished it he
  knew there would be a sequence of six - novels which are related, like a
  family, but each one individual and different from the others. Like the first
  two, NOW I KNOW, THE TOLL BRIDGE, and POSTCARDS FROM NO MAN'S
  LAND each took at least five years to write. He completed the sixth novel,
  THIS IS ALL- THE PILLOW BOOK OF CORDELIA KENN in 2005 and it was
  published in the same year.
  When he left the monastery, Aidan decided to go on living in
  Gloucestershire. But his work often took him to London. It was there that
  he met an American magazine editor, Nancy Lockwood. From the first
  time they met they began a conversation which is still continuing. They
  were married in 1968. In 1969 they started a small publishing company,
  Thimble Press, in order to produce a magazine edited by Nancy, SIGNAL,
1970. With Nancy
  which is about children's and youth literature. It soon became
outside their rented
  internationally known and highly regarded by professionals in the field.
cottage in the Cotswolds
 
 
  Thimble Press has also published over thirty books
  on the same subject. For their services to children's
  books, Aidan and Nancy were honoured with the
Eleanor Farjeon Award for 1982.
 
 
Receiving the Eleanor Farjeon
  Besides his books, Aidan has edited many books by other writers, has
Award in 1982.
  written for stage, radio and television, and for many newspapers and
  magazines in both Britain and elsewhere. He is frequently invited to other
  countries as author and speaker, especially in recent years to Sweden
  and the Netherlands. He has kept in touch with the teaching of literature.
  His books THE READING ENVIRONMENT and TELL ME: CHILDREN, READING
  & TALK resulted from his work with teachers and librarians.
 
  But at the centre of everything he does is the writing of his
  novels and plays and the reading of other people's books.
  He says he writes because he has to, and reads because
  he wants to.
 
 
  Of the awards he has received for his work, the one that pleases him the
Caught in the act,
  most is the 1999 Carnegie Medal for POSTCARDS FROM NO MAN'S LAND.
working on Breaktime.
  The Medal is given after a great deal of discussion among British
  children's and youth librarians. Not only have the public librarians always
  been a great support to him as a teacher and writer, he knows that
  without access to every book in the language provided by a free public
  library service he could never have become the writer and reader that he
  is.
  Aidan was the recipient of the 2002 Hans Andersen Award. Given every
  other year in recognition of an author's body of work by the International
  Board on Books for Young People, this international award, sometimes
  called 'the little Nobel', was first given in 1956 to the British writer
  Eleanor Farjeon. Aidan is only the second British author to have been
  honoured. His acceptance speech can be found in JOURNALISM.
  For information about IBBY and the award log on to www.ibby.org.
 
In 2003 Aidan received an honorary doctorate from the University of
Umeň, Sweden.
       
2005 -    
  The sixth and last of the novels in the DANCE SEQUENCE, This Is All: The Pillow    
  Book of Cordelia Kenn, was published in 2005. It brought Aidan the most    
  passionate responses from readers of any of his books so far.    
       
  After finishing it, he decided to renovate the house where he and his wife,    
  Nancy, have lived since 1975. The job took six months, until August 2005, and    
  ended with Aidan suffering a violent attack of sciatica that put him out of action    
  until early in 2006. He worked at new projects for six months then came down    
  with an attack of shingles, which kept him off work for another four months.    
       
  It was mid-2008 before he felt fully well again and could return to solid work.    
  But the hiatus was useful. It gave him time and reason to review his life so far.    
  And out of that time in the wilderness came three projects: an antenovel    
  centred on the insurgent life of an old man, a critical memoir on the Poetics of    
  Youth Literature, and a collection of short stories, 'of defiance and moments of    
  truth', about young people. He has also written the beginning of a youth novella.    
       
  He was awarded an Honorary Degree of Letters by the University of    
  Gloucestershire in 2008 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of    
  Literature in 2009. And he is still frequently invited to lecture in other    
  countries, especially Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.    
       
  In 2010 The National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) presented    
  Aidan with their Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to English    
  Education.    
       
  In 2011 Oxford Brookes University conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate of    
  Literature.    
       
       
 
More information:  
For a long account, including photos, see:  
Gale Research publications: 'Aidan Chambers' in Something About the Author: the Autobiographical Series, Vol 12, 1991, pp 37-55. Gale Research has a website, but you pay to use it. Major library systems should hold copies of the book.  
 
 
All contents are ©Aidan Chambers unless otherwise stated.
 
   

 

 

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