The bold, strong-minded characters created by Gillian Avery were an antidote to her timidness as a child. She became a gifted children’s author as well as a leading authority on the history of children’s literature, specialising in the Victorian era. “Writing about the Thirties”, she once said, “would be so dowdy that no one would want to read about it.”
Her best-known novel A Likely Lad, set in the 19th century, tells the story of Willy Overs, who overcomes pressure from his father to stop his education and begin work in the insurance business. It won the Guardian award for children’s fiction in 1972 and was adapted for television in 1990.
All of her novels were imbued with a strong sense of social comedy — a reflection of her own good humour. She was praised for her detailed vignettes of Victorian life, yet Avery, ever modest, said that any impression of scholarship was a happy accident.
And the Guardian’s obit