12 March 1909 – 18 February 1994
Though not confined to historical novels, Barbara Willard’s best fiction tended to be located in the past – in particular the Mantlemass sequence, set in her beloved Ashdown Forest, which traces the fortunes of two families, the Mallorys and the Medleys, between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Margaret Meek wrote that `her characters … are not cast in the heroic mould of Rosemary Sutcliff’s heroes. Instead their very frailty makes them human, rounded.’ Many would regard her as Sutcliff’s equal as a writer and some, at least in respect of dialogue, Sutcliff’s superior.
She came late to children’s literature. Born in Brighton, Sussex, of an acting family, she was herself an actress before becoming a novelist for adults. Her first children’s book, Portrait of Philip (1954), was revised from an earlier adult novel … and led to 60 more books for young people. She won the Guardian Award in 1974 for The Iron Lily and the Whitbread 10 years later for The Queen of the Pharisees’ Children. Newcomers to her work should perhaps begin with A Cold Wind Blowing (1972), the third of the Mantlemass novels and arguably the best. Of her two `intermingled families’. she remarks, `I have tried to imagine how they would have lived, and how they would have been affected by the events in the outside world – the change of dynasty from Plantagenet to Tudor, the Reformation, the Civil War. Because these people have come to seem so real to me, living as I do on their ground, I think perhaps they have some reality for readers.’ They have indeed.