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Postcards from Slough
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Susan Cooper

Authoress Susan Mary Cooper was born on the 23rd May 1935 in Burnham, Buckinghamshire. Her father John Richard Cooper was an academic working for the Natural History Museum until he went to fight in the First World War. Her mother, Ethel Maybelle Cooper, nee Field, was a primary school teacher. She had a younger brother called Roderick who also became a writer. Cooper lived in Buckinghamshire until she was 21 when she went to live with her grandmother in Aberdovey, on the mouth of the River Dyfi in mid Wales. Her time spent here gave her a background for much of her writing.

Cooper attended Slough High School and went on to earn a degree in English from the University of Oxford. After graduating she worked as a reporter for Ian Fleming at The Sunday Times. She began writing The Dark is Rising series of children’s fantasy fiction books in her spare time although her first published novel, Mandrake (1964), was an adult science fiction work.

 

In 1962, Cooper immigrated to the United States to marry Nicholas J Grant, Professor of Metallurgy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a widower with three children and the couple were to have two more children together, Jonathan Roderick Howard Grant (b 1965) and Katharine Mary Grant (b 1966). Cooper then concentrated on her writing career. Her next novel was Over Sea, Under Stone (1965) which was the first The Dark is Rising series. Her third novel was Dawn of Fear (1970) which is based in Slough and is based on her experiences as a child during the Second World War.

 

In 1983, both of Susan Cooper’s parents died and her marriage to Grant was dissolved. In 1996 she married Canadian-American actor Hume Cronyn who was widower of Jessica Tandy. Cronyn died in 2003.

 

In 2007, The Dark is Rising was adapted into a film but renamed The Seeker starring Alexander Ludwig, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McShane and Frances Conroy. It was not well received by the critics who claimed it was too like JK Rowlings Harry Potter series, perhaps suggesting a rip-off. The novel the Dark is Rising was written in 1973 whereas the first Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was written in 1997, twenty-four years later.

Cooper attended Slough High School and went on to earn a degree in English from the University of Oxford. After graduating she worked as a reporter for Ian Fleming at The Sunday Times. She began writing The Dark is Rising series of children’s fantasy fiction books in her spare time although her first published novel, Mandrake (1964), was an adult science fiction work.

 

In 1962, Cooper immigrated to the United States to marry Nicholas J Grant, Professor of Metallurgy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a widower with three children and the couple were to have two more children together, Jonathan Roderick Howard Grant (b 1965) and Katharine Mary Grant (b 1966). Cooper then concentrated on her writing career. Her next novel was Over Sea, Under Stone (1965) which was the first The Dark is Rising series. Her third novel was Dawn of Fear (1970) which is based in Slough and is based on her experiences as a child during the Second World War.

 

In 1983, both of Susan Cooper’s parents died and her marriage to Grant was dissolved. In 1996 she married Canadian-American actor Hume Cronyn who was widower of Jessica Tandy. Cronyn died in 2003.

 

In 2007, The Dark is Rising was adapted into a film but renamed The Seeker starring Alexander Ludwig, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McShane and Frances Conroy. It was not well received by the critics who claimed it was too like JK Rowlings Harry Potter series, perhaps suggesting a rip-off. The novel the Dark is Rising was written in 1973 whereas the first Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was written in 1997, twenty-four years later.

Dawn of Fear

This is a children’s book set in the Second World War. With air raids a constant threat, Derek and his friends become expert in identifying the aircraft fighting in the sky above. As many young boys do they build a secret camp. A rival gang sabotage it and there seems to be as much fighting among them as in the air. This culminates in a violent battle between them. That night there was a particularly prolonged air raid the results of which bring home an unexpected tragic reality to Derek the following morning.

 

Susan Cooper apparently based the story on her childhood experiences growing up in Slough during the Second World War. The book is out of print but I managed to find a second-hand paperback copy in very good condition on the internet. Dawn of Fear is a compelling, gritty story and the ending is surprising and tragic, full of emotion. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Novels

Mandrake (1964)

Over Sea, Under Stone* (1965)

Dawn of Fear (1970)

The Dark is Rising* (1973)

Greenwitch* (1974)

The Grey King* (1975)

Silver on the Tree* (1977)

Seaward (1983)

The Boggart (1993)

The Boggart and the Monster (1997)

King of Shadows (1999)

Green Boy (2002)

Victory (June 2006)

Ghost Hawk (2013)

Children’s picture books

Jethro and the Jumbie (1979)

The Silver Cow: A Welsh Tale (1983)

The Selkie Girl (1986)

Matthew's Dragon (1991)

Tam Lin (1991)

Danny and the Kings (1993)

Frog (2002)

The Magician's Boy (2005)

 

Biography and non-fiction

Behind the Golden Curtain: A View of the USA (1965)

J. B. Priestley: Portrait of an Author (1970) – biography of the English writer and socialist John Boynton Priestley.

Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children (1996)

The Magic Maker: A Portrait of John Langstaff and his Christmas Revels (2011 juvenile biography of John Langstaff, founder of the Revels.

 

Drama

Foxfire (1982) – stage play written in collaboration with Hume Cronyn and produced on Broadway starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.

 

Television

Dark Encounter (Shadows, Series 2; Thames Television, mid-1970s)

The Dollmaker (ABC, 1984)

To Dance with the White Dog (Hallmark, 1993)

Jewel (CBS, 2001)

Awards

In 2012, Susan Cooper won the American Library Association (ALA) Margaret A Edwards Award which recognises a writer with a particular body of work for ‘significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature’. Cooper won for the five books of The Dark is Rising series of novels.

 

Cooper has also won awards for single books

1974, Newbery Honor for The Dark Is Rising

1976, Newbery Medal for The Grey King

1976, Tir na n-Og Award for The Grey King

1978, Tir na n-Og Award for Silver on the Tree

1989, B'nai B'rith Janusz Korczak Literary Prize for Seaward

Many thanks to the offices and staff of Fiona McTaggart MP for their help and initial lead on this article.

My name is Gary Flint. To make comments on the contents of this website please click below:

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