Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Tamar

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A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal

by Mal Peet

Tamar by Mal Peet X
Tamar by Mal Peet
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 432 pages
    Sep 2008, 432 pages

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About the Author

Keeper, Mal Peet's debut novel for teens was published in October 2003; it won the Branford Boase Award and a Nestlé Children's Book Award. Tamar is his second book for teens. It won the Carnegie Medal* shortly after being published in the UK in 2005, and has recently been released in the USA. His third book, The Penalty, a follow up to Keeper, was published in the UK in 2006 and in the USA last month (Aug 2007).

After university, Peet tried to teach but "quit and went on walkabout" He worked in a hospital mortuary, hung out with a bunch of gypsies and worked with a road crew in Canada. In the 1980s he began to write and illustrate books for children in collaboration with his wife, Elspeth Graham, having become interested in children's literature after their own children were born. Together they have written more than 120 educational picture books. Peet has also worked as an illustrator for magazines such as Time Out and Private Eye (the UK's leading magazine of political satire).

He grew up a "very hungry little reader" as a member of "an emotionally impaired family on a council estate in a one-horse market town in Norfolk". As a child, he always had his nose in a book. His best memories are of a new book arriving each month from a book-of-the-month mail-order company and of putting off starting to read it until he could bear it no longer. He also vividly remembers his first visit to the town library and realizing how many books there must be in the world! Comics were also an early love - he would sit in the bus shelter during his newspaper round and read all the comics before he delivered them! His favorite place to read as a child was at the top of a tall tree at the end of his family's garden. Today, he likes to read in bed on a cold wet Sunday morning, in the shade of a tree on a hot day and any other time or place he happens to be. He and Elspeth live in Devon, in the South of England and have three grown children. In person he is described as "charming, with plentiful white hair and a booming laugh."

Peet holds strong views on children's literature. Expressing a dislike of the typical teen novel for girls with a pink sparkly cover, he says, "I'm appalled at how badly edited they are." He also loathes "sword and sorcery fantasy" as defined as Tolkien and his successors; and also hates "sensitive issue-led books about boys with Asperger's", most likely a reference to Mark Haddon's, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He also has words to say about the ubiquitous publishing term "crossover fiction", as he sees no barrier between teen and adult fiction.

When asked his views on reading, he replies, "Not reading, or not being able to read, must be like going through life with a bag over your head and only a little hole to see through. The world would be so small. Apart from the zillion practical reasons for reading, there's the pleasure thing: reading is such a huge, mind-expanding pleasure; why would you deny yourself that, when life is so short?"

*The Branford Boase Award is awarded annually for an outstanding first novel to a first-time writer of a book for young people. It also acknowledges the role of the editor in identifying and nurturing new talent. It is named after novelist Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase, a founder and editorial director of Walker Books who both died of cancer in 1999.

The Nestlé Children's Book Award (formerly the Smarties Book Prize) is awarded annually to children's books written by a UK citizen or resident. The prize is administer by Booktrust, an independent charity which promotes books and reading.

The Carnegie Medal, named after Scottish-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for young children.

This article was originally published in September 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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