Jan MarkJan Mark

by Clive Barnes

One of the heartening ways in which e-book publishing is developing is the republication of classic titles that have long been out of print. One such e-list is Hodder Silver, which has recently re-issued a number of older science fiction and fantasy titles, including three remarkable books from Jan Mark’s early career.

Jan entered the world of children’s books with the stunning Thunder and Lightnings (1974). This won first prize in a Penguin/Guardian competition to find a new writer for children and went on to take the Carnegie medal. From then to her death in 2006 she was one of the major voices in British children’s literature, writing for all ages with empathy, acute observation and a stylish clarity and wit.  Handles won her a second Carnegie Medal in 1983, and in 1984 she was IBBY UK’s nomination for the Hans Andersen Medal. Her skill as a writer was perhaps best represented by her collections of short stories, including Nothing to be Afraid of (1980) and Hairs in the Palm of the Hand (1981); among the most accomplished examples of that demanding genre.

Jan was known mainly for her work set in home and school, the real worlds of childhood and adolescence, so the titles now reissued as e-books, The Ennead (1978), Divide and Rule (1978) and Aquarius (1982), show an entirely different side to her writing. John Rowe Townsend described Jan as travelling to “the farthest frontier of children’s literature” in these books, both in the concentration that they demand of their readers and, in contrast to much of her later work, their deeply pessimistic mood. What we might now call crossover books, which can be read with equal interest by teenagers or adults, these novels imagine worlds where her protagonists are manipulated and abused by mysterious malignant social, political and religious regimes. They are well worth sampling for the first time or, indeed, revisiting.

More details of the Jan Mark titles and the full Hodder Silver list can be found on their website.