William Mayne has died

William Mayne was a British author of many fine fantasies (and some realistic fiction) for children. He wrote, among other things, the Hob stories, which are fantastic bedtime reading, and tell the ways in which a friendly household familiar (Hob) banished other supernatural creatures from his home. I love the Hob stories. His fantasy books for older children include Earthfasts and A Game of Dark, both very memorable. I am especially fond of my own copy of A Grass Rope, because I bought it 15 minutes before I met Megan Whalen Turner at The Book Barn in Niantic way back when King of Attolia was young...

But sadly, I can't enjoy his books (especially the ones with girls) as much as I did before he plead guilty to child abuse.


  1. We read and loved the Hob stories (on the recommendation of Pickled Bananas, I might add). And I remember Earthfasts and The Hill Road from my own childhood (my elementary school librarian gave me the discarded copies). You're right, though--the crimes he committed make it harder to enjoy his work.

  2. I knew William well (so did my daughter and sons) and I tried to help him when his trial became a travesty. The Guardian report of the trial is factually accurate but the quotations from the prosecutor were never made good in evidence and the charge made by the one woman who did give evidence did not stick. Things are generally not so simple as they appear.

  3. William died early on the 24th March 2010 after a short period of ill health in his own home as he would have wished. He was watched over during his illness by people who cared about him and his welfare.
    He was a man who wrote beautiful books, a wordsmith. He loved Wensleydale where he lived for over fifty years and left English Literature a treasure chest of over 200 books.
    We knew William for twenty years and he spent many Saturday mornings sat in our kitchen next to the aga, drinking coffee and chatting about a great many subjects. By us he will be greatly missed.

  4. The debate over William Mayne is interesting. But do his books reflect the obsessions of the person?--you would expect them to, but I've read half a dozen (so there are 90-odd I haven't read) and I never felt uncomfortable at all--quite the opposite: I admired the power of the writing in Low Tide and thought the exploration of a child's psychology (with no mention of sex at all) in Chorister's Cake was outstanding. It was a real eye-opener, in fact, about how adult psychology is not far away from child psychology in the end. Can anyone tell me if girl protagonists are a subject of uncomfortable attention in any other books that I haven't read?
    So far, my judgment is that the works are notably restrained, containing no fantasy exploration in that area at all. (In contrast, much-revered children's writers like Arthur Ransome, J. M Barrie and C. S. Lewis do make me feel uncomfortable at times.)
    Can we divide the person from the author on the title-page? I think we can. It's true I feel uncomfortable about Fascist architecture, while admiring its formal qualities, so there I don't divide man from maker--or perhaps I do: and feel uncomfortable not about what I know of the beliefs of the architect but of the sense of auhoritarian power that I can see directly expressed in the forms. To return to Mayne: nothing I have read of his suggested to me the paedophile, so I continue to admire his stories. It is a difficult case, though.

  5. I don't recall the girl protaganists being treated as anything other than matter-of-factly; what bothers me, and I'm not sure whether it is true or just something repeated until it seems true, is that one way he gained the confidence of girls in real life was to offer to write them into his books....

    I agree that Chorister's Cake is outstanding; and this, one of his first books, I have no trouble re-reading because it was from a different place in his life.

  6. These are difficult question. A possible parallel with Mayne is Georges Simenon, who seems to have been a sex-addict, yet his books are remarkably restrained about sex--indeed they are wonderful, humane pictures about the problems of existence, showing great understanding and sympathy. When I read them I have no feeling that I need to visualize the actual George Simeneon.
    You might say that no lives of others were damaged--but (from my limited knowledge) I know he had a very close and dominant relationship with his daughter who then comitted suicide. (It reminds me that psychological maiming is not unique to pedophilia: many parents can ruin the lives of their children.) Anyway, difficult person who harmed people around him, yet also wrote books full of humanity. I would not like to be without the books of Simenon or Mayne; my judgements on the actual persons with the same name as those on the title-pages belongs to another area.


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