I was passing one of my bookshelves yesterday and a title by Ann Pilling caught my eye. It prompted the question, ‘Whatever happened to her?’ Throughout the 1980s and 90s she was a highly prolific writer of children’s books. I can find no previous mention of her in the ACHUKA blog archive, which goes back to 2003, coincidentally the year in which it appears she stopped publishing children’s fiction [see bibliography below]. Her second children’s novel, Henry’s Leg, was a winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, but appears now to only be available second-hand. I remember that book particularly fondly because I dramatised it for a primary school production and the legs from a mannequin that were used as props in the play rested in a corner of my office for many years after the event.
The answer to my question was readily found on the homepage of her website. She is still writing, but has turned exclusively to poetry.
I have written poetry all my life but on my 60th birthday I decided to set children’s writing aside and focus on poetry. Writing all those books for children was a good training ground. I have chewed over many millions of words before committing a few select ones to paper (children like directness, pithyness, strong colour and they deserve the best). Emily Dickinson advised few words in a poem then added ‘but they must be the chiefest words’. In weaving stories for the young, and the not so young, I sat for many years on my poetic instinct. The poet Kate Clanchy said that my poems have ‘the passion of long-stored speech’ so perhaps waiting for so long to ‘focus’ has had its benefits.
I’m surprised to find she has no entry in the the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. In Victor Watson’s Cambridge Guide to Children’s Books In English she does, where it is acknowledged that in addition to the success of Henry’s Leg she had two other books nominated for the Carnegie Medal. She also wrote as Ann Cheetham, and the Cambridge Guide gives attention to this side of her work.
For readers of ten upwards, a set of chilling Ghost Stories, published now as Ann Cheetham novels and combining aspects of the supernatural and elements of horror, form a distinct aspect of the author’s work.The first title, Black Harvest (1983), has become an eponym for the series and, in serving to enlarge the understanding of young readers, is the book which the author feels best represents her as a writer.
The following bibliography is taken from Wikipedia and is unverified
by Ann Cheetham.
Black Harvest (1983)
The Beggar’s Curse (1984)
The Witch of Lagg (1986)
The Pit (1987)
The Empty Frame (1997)
by Ann Pilling
The Year of the Worm (1984)
Henry’s Leg (1985)
The Friday Parcel (1986)
No Guns No Oranges (1986)
Our Best Stories (1986), eds. Pilling and A. Wood
The Big Pink (1987)
The Beast in the Basement (1988)
Dustbin Charlie (1988)
On the Lion’s Side (1988)
The Big Biscuit (1989)
The Jungle Sale (1989)
Our Kid (1989)
Getting Rid of Aunt Mildred (1990)
The Donkey’s Day Out (1990)
Before I Go to Sleep: Bible Stories, Poems, and Prayers for Children, selected and retold, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (London: Kingfisher, New York: Crown Publishers, Toronto: Kids Can Press, 1990); reissued 2000 as A Kingfisher Treasury of Bible Stories, Poems and Prayers for Bedtime OCLC 59564291
The Boy with His Leg in the Air (1991)
Vote for Baz (1992)
Considering Helen (1993)
The Kingfisher Children’s Bible: Stories from the Old and New Testaments, retold, illus. Denton (2003); reissued 2003 as The Kingfisher Book of Bible Stories OCLC 53072371
Realms of Gold: Myths and Legends from Around the World, retold, illus. Denton (1993); reissued 2003 as The Kingfisher Treasury of Myths and Legends OCLC 52470749
The Baked Bean Kids (1993)
Mother’s Daily Scream (1995)
The Life of Jesus (1996)
Noah’s Ark (1996)
Amber’s Secret (2000)
Why Bear Has a Stumpy Tail and Other Creation Stories (2000)
The Catnappers: The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat (Collins, 2003), as by Ann Cheetham, illus. Clare Mackie OCLC 51107280
Many of these are unremarkable shorter titles for younger children but the novels and ghost stories are worth keeping an eye out for when browsing in second-hand booksellers.