SIOBHAN DOWD 1960 – 2007
CILIP Carnegie Medal Winning Children’s Writer & Human Rights Campaigner
Beginnings & Education
Irish at heart, Siobhan identified strongly with all things Celtic and spent long holidays at her parents’ cottage at Aglish in County Waterford, and then at another family residence in Wicklow Town. She was well known for her Celtic spontaneity, erupting into song or dance whenever the opportunity arose.
She went on to become the Programme Director of American PEN’s Freedom to Write Committee in New York. During her seven years in the US she founded the Salman Rushdie defence committee and travelled to Indonesia and Guatemala to investigate local human rights conditions for writers. She continued to produce many professional reports and articles and managed to fit in some short story writing.
On her return to the UK she co-founded English PEN’s Readers & Writers Programme, taking authors into schools in socially deprived areas, prisons, young offenders’ institutes and community projects.
Siobhan had great empathy with marginalised peoples particularly Irish travellers and the Roma which led her to co-edit an anthology of Romany prose and poetry. When undertaking her MA in gender and ethnic studies she focused on how Roma relate to their community’s narratives and stereotypes.
In 2004, her increased interest in children rights saw her appointed Deputy Commissioner for children’s rights in Oxfordshire where she worked with local authorities to ensure statutory services affecting children conformed to UN protocols.
In 2006 her fictional debut ‘A Swift Pure Cry’ was published, bringing her instant critical recognition along with several awards: the Eilis Dillon award in Ireland for a first children’s book and the Branford Boase Award. It was also shortlisted for the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the CILIP Carnegie Medal. ‘The London Eye Mystery’ was eventually published in 2007 winning the NASEN & TES Special Educational Needs Children’s Book Award and the Bisto Award in Ireland. In May 2007, Waterstone’s named her as one of their ‘25 authors of the future’.
Although her CILIP Carnegie Medal-winning novel ‘Bog Child’ was in fact the last book she wrote, it was published in 2008, before ‘Solace of the Road’ which appeared in 2009. Both titles received outstanding reviews and in May 2009 ‘Bog Child’ brought Siobhan the Bisto Award for the second time.
Siobhan Dowd’s second marriage was to Geoff Morgan, a librarian and musician, who recalled that she had always intended to settle down to write, “She felt she needed to experience life first in order to write to the standard that she aspired to. What she hadn’t expected, when she finally got round to writing, was that she would have so little time left.” It was shortly after her marriage to Morgan in 2004 that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Her friend, fellow writer and former CILIP Carnegie Medal winner Meg Rosoff observes, “I’m certain she knew she wasn’t going to live a long time, and that must have played a part in the urgency she felt, writing as if her life depended on it.”
Meg Rosoff says of ‘Bog Child,’ “Dowd appears incapable of a jarring phrase or a lazy metaphor. Her sentences sing, each note resonates with an urgent humanity of the sort that cannot be faked. ‘Bog Child’ sparkles with optimism and a deep passion for living.”
Siobhan Dowd: The Legacy
Rachel Billington who set up PEN’s Readers & Writers Programme with Siobhan describes her as, “An exceptional woman: wise, clever, original, keen to laugh, strong-minded, modest, efficient and loving.”
Two years on as she wins the CILIP Carnegie Medal, her editor and publisher David Fickling celebrates her life and work, talking of her, “Effortlessly, classy writing and the sheer musicality of her work; her ability to shine a torch, illuminating the darkest sides of humanity; her innate sensitivity to back voice that required so little editing and her extraordinary and unprecedented capacity to produce, not one, not two but four successive novels each of outstanding quality.”
Fickling also talks of Siobhan Dowd’s sense of fun and rich Irish humour. He reflects too on her altruism and life affirming capacity - a characteristic that comes out strongly in all her writing.
The Siobhan Dowd Trust
- ends -
25 June 2009