October 7, 1929–April 5, 1993
Robert Westall wrote books for young adults that are charged with energy and offer sharp insights into the feelings of adolescent protagonists. War is a frequent setting for his stories. He was accused of being overly violent and pessimistic in his realistic depictions of sexuality, family tensions, teenage emotions, and the horrors of war. Westall wrote many ghost tales and short stories as well as occasional works of historical fantasy and science fiction.
“Ever since I wrote The Machine-Gunners (and in spite of the fact that my last three books have been fantasies) people keep consulting me about realism in children's books,” Westall said in 1979. “Rather as if I'd been appointed high priest and was being asked to read the entrails.” He went on to say of violence and death in fiction that, “to a child, death has no immediacy. Children think they will live forever; dying is for grandpa and grandma—one of their duties, like giving sweets on demand, going bald or wrinkled, smelling funny and wearing old-fashioned clothes. Duties which render them as comfortably alien a species as the giraffe. So a child can afford to be detached and fascinated by death.”
Westall won two Carnegie Medals for his fiction: for The MachineGunnersin 1976 and for The Scarecrows in 1982. Educated at the University of Durham and the University of London, he was married and had a son.