Joan Lingard 8 April 1932 – 12 July 2022
Nicholas Tucker remembers Joan Lingard
Joan Lingard, who has died aged ninety, was a writer who always entertained while changing minds too. Author of around sixty books, mostly for children, she was best known for her Kevin and Sadie quintet, set in Belfast during the worst of the 1970 Troubles. A modern version of Romeo and Juliet, it describes how a 13-year-old Protestant girl and a Catholic boy one year older eventually find each other despite huge opposition from all quarters. Life for them as a couple remains hard, but Joan was never one for easy answers. Marrying young, she brought up three children at a time when money was tight. But things improved with her literary success, with the quintet soon adopted as an examination text and widely translated. These supremely readable books remain in print fifty years later and were also successfully dramatised.
Born in a taxi on the way to hospital in Edinburgh, Joan moved to Belfast aged two. At eleven she wrote her first novel, and as a member of a committed Christian Science family observed the sectarian violence going on around her with some degree of detachment. But losing her mother to cancer when she was sixteen, she left Belfast and Christian Science behind to start a new life in Edinburgh, where she trained as a primary school teacher and married early. Her first novel came out in 1963 to be followed by many more. Her first novel was published in 1963, to be followed by many more. Divorce followed, but almost immediately after she married Martin Birkhans, a Latvian-Canadian architect and university teacher. A much-loved husband and father, he featured in in Joan’s 1983 novel Tug of War, describing his experience of fleeing from Latvia in 1944. This fine novel was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.
Always politically engaged, she founded the Scottish Writers Against the Bomb group. Her 1987 novel The Guilty Party was based on her daughter’s experience of protesting against nuclear weapons at Greenham Common. Presented with an MBE in 1998 for services to children’s literature, she continued to get the most out of life, enjoying her wide circle of friends while also reveling in five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Moving into a nursing home in 2017 close to Edinburgh Castle, she died on July 12, the same much-contested date that was also the setting for the opening novel in her Kevin and Sadie quintet, The Twelfth of July.