More about Nina Bawden >
Wartime Cookery and how to feed your kids >
A bit about rationing >
Facts and figures >
Interview with evacuee Douglas Bentley >
Interview with evacuee Gwen Nutting >
Interview with non-evacuee Bette Trenchard >
Stories sent in by readers >
Nina was born in 1925. Her father was a marine engineer. The family were not poor, but, according to Nina, “no one's job was secure in those days”, and so her father “had a fear of poverty that affected all of us”. Nina's mother saw education as a way to ensure her daughter's future and, at the age of eleven, Nina found herself under a great deal of pressure to succeed in a scholarship examination for the local grammar school: “It wasn't the first time in my life I had been afraid, but I believe it was the first time I had been afraid for someone else and it is a fear that haunts me still. I can put up with my own disappointments; it is other people's that I cannot bear.”
Nina Bawden's memory of how responsibility can weigh on a young girl informs the character of evacuee Carrie Willow, charged with looking after her little brother Nick, in Carrie's War. Fortunately, Nina succeeded in gaining her scholarship to Ilford County High School. She studied there until the outbreak of World War II, when, like many other British children, she was evacuated to the country. At first, Nina was evacuated to Ipswich, but after Hitler's invasion of the Low Countries, the school was moved to Wales. Nina and her friend Jean stayed for a week with a miner's family in Blaengarw, South Wales, but were then moved to the larger town of Aberdare. Nina cried to leave Blaengarw, and her vivid memories of this coal mining valley town would later inspire the creation of the unnamed town which provides the setting for Carrie's War.
As a girl, Nina dreamed of working on a newspaper and becoming a war correspondent. She studied at Somerville College, Oxford, alongside Margaret Roberts, later Lady Thatcher. A passionate and committed socialist, Nina was shocked when Margaret announced her intention to join the Conservative Party.
Nina's first novel, Who Calls the Tune, a detective story,
was published in 1953. She wrote it in secret, “telling no
one what I was doing in case they should laughat me”. The novel
was a success:
“It came out to astonishingly good reviews and it
seemed to me that life could hold no more happiness without bursting.” Other, critically acclaimed, adult novels followed, and it was not until 1963 that Nina wrote her first children's novel, The Secret Passage. She chose to write it because “I wanted to give my children something that would encourage them to feel they could make a difference to what happened in the world, show them fictional children who were people like themselves, bright and gutsy and determined, able to think, to reason, to hold a moral view.” Since The Secret Passage, Nina Bawden has alternated between writing children's books and adult literary fiction, achieving great success in both.
In 1972, Nina wrote an adult novel, Anna Apparent, about a wartime evacuee who suffers terrible abuse on a Welsh hill farm. After writing Anna Apparent, Nina remembered her own experiences as an evacuee in Wales, and began to write Carrie's War: “Sometimes I am not sure at the beginning on which side a book will fall. And sometimes, publishing a novel as a children's book is a matter of marketingÉ When I started Carrie's War I had not intended it for children; it was only slowly, as I wrote the first chapter, that I began to see the direction it was taking.”
Carrie's War was published in 1973, and, like many of Nina Bawden's books, has never been out of print. It was adapted for television in the 1970s, and was filmed by BBC Wales in 2002. Carrie's War won a Phoenix Award in 1993, twenty years after its original publication. Nina Bawden served as a magistrate for many years, and was awarded a CBE in 1995. In 2002, Nina's husband Austen Kark was killed in the train crash at Potter's Bar. Nina herself was badly injured in the terrible accident. She published a book, Dear Austen, exploring her response to the crash and its aftermath. She currently lives in Islington, and is working on a new children's book.
Quotes are from Nina Bawden's autobiography, In My Own Time.