Berlie Doherty

Berlie Doherty (b. 6 November 1943; Liverpool, UK; née Hollingsworth) is an English novelist, poet, playwright and screenwriter. She is best known for her children's books, for which she has twice won the Carnegie Medal. Her other works include novels for adults, plays for theatre and radio, television series and libretti for children's opera.

Education and early career

Born at Knotty Ash in Liverpool in 1943 to Walter Hollingsworth, Doherty was the youngest of three children. [ British Council: Contemporary Writers: Berlie Doherty] (accessed 15 September 2007)] [ Harper Collins Publishers (Australia): Berlie Doherty: Biography] (accessed 15 September 2007)] When she was four, the family moved to the seaside town of Hoylake, the setting of several of her early books. She was encouraged to write by her father, from whom she later wrote that she had 'inherited stories'. [ Doherty B. 'I Remember and Let’s Pretend', in "Something About the Author Autobiographical Series", Vol 16 (Gale Press, USA) (extracted at Doherty's website)] (accessed 15 September 2007)] A railway clerk by trade, he was also a keen writer whose poetry had been published in the local newspaper. [,,1000009328,00.html Penguin Books: Berlie Doherty] (accessed 15 September 2007)] Doherty soon followed suit, with her poetry and stories appearing on the children's pages of the "Liverpool Echo" and "Hoylake News and Advertiser". [,,1000009328,00.html?sym=QUE Penguin Books: Berlie Doherty: Interview] (accessed 15 September 2007)]

Doherty attended Upton Hall Convent School. She read English at the University of Durham (1965), and then studied social science at the University of Liverpool. In 1978, after starting a family, she gained a postgraduate certificate in education at the University of Sheffield. A course in creative writing as part of the certificate led to a short story about the convent school; broadcast on local radio, it was to form the nucleus of Doherty's first adult novel, "Requiem".

After employment as a social worker and teacher, Doherty spent two years writing and producing schools programmes for BBC Radio Sheffield. [ Berlie Doherty's official website: Plays] (accessed 15 September 2007)]

Career as a writer

Doherty's first book, the children's novel "How Green You Are!", was published in 1982. She became a full-time writer in 1983, and has written a total of over thirty novels and picture books for children and young adults. According to Philip Pullman, "Doherty’s strength has always been her emotional honesty."Pullman P. Review of "Daughter of the Sea" for "The Guardian". Quoted in [,,1000009328,00.html Penguin Books: Berlie Doherty] (accessed 15 September 2007)]

Her books encompass multiple genres. Some draw on her experience as a social worker to dramatise contemporary issues, including teenage pregnancy in "Dear Nobody" (1991), adoption in "The Snake-stone" (1995), and African AIDS orphans and child trafficking in her latest novel, "Abela: The Girl Who Saw Lions" (2007). [ Berlie Doherty's official website: Novels] (accessed 17 September 2007)] A conservationist, her story book "Tilly Mint and the Dodo" (1988) centres around the threat of species extinction. [ Berlie Doherty's official website: Story books] (accessed 19 September 2007)] "Spellhorn" (1989) uses a fantasy setting to explore the experience of blindness. Several of her works have historical settings, such as "Street Child" (1993), which is set in 1860s London. Some of these are based on Doherty's own family history; "Granny was a Buffer Girl" (1986) includes the story of her parents' marriage, while "The Sailing Ship Tree" (1998) draws on the lives of her father and grandfather.

Doherty has stated that she is inspired by landscape, admiring Thomas Hardy for "the sense of people within a landscape" that his novels convey, and her works often have a strong sense of place. [ Peak Experience: Meet Berlie Doherty: At home in the inspirational Peak District] (accessed 12 September 2007)] She now lives in Edale, Derbyshire in the Dark Peak, and many of her books are set in the Peak District. "Children of Winter" (1985) is loosely based on the story of the plague village of Eyam, and the drowning of the villages of Derwent and Ashopton by the Ladybower Reservoir is recounted in "Deep Secret" (2004). The fantasy picture book "Blue John" (2003) was inspired by the Blue John Cavern at Castleton.

Doherty often works with children and teenagers when developing her novels, having "a conviction that children are the experts and I can always learn from them." She read her first novel, "How Green You Are!" to one of her classes while working as a teacher in Sheffield. "Tough Luck" (1987) was written as part of a writer's residency at a Doncaster school, while her research for "Spellhorn" included extensive work with a group of blind children from a school in Sheffield.

Though best known for her works for children, Doherty has also written two novels for adults, "Requiem" (1991) and "The Vinegar Jar" (1994). On the differences between writing for children and adults, she has said, "Children need a good strong storyline. But they need sensitive writing and must be able to relate to the characters and the plot."


Her poetry collection "Walking on Air" was published in 1993, and her poems have also appeared in several anthologies. [ Berlie Doherty's official website: Research] (accessed 18 September 2007)] She edited the collection "The Forsaken Merman and Other Story Poems" (1998). [ Berlie Doherty's official website: Short stories] (accessed 18 September 2007)] Her poem 'Here lies a city's heart...', a Sheffield Arts commission, has been engraved on a Sheffield pavement. [ [ Public Art Research Archive, Sheffield Hallam University: Celia Kilner (calligraphy)/Berlie Doherty (poet) Poem 'Here lies a city's heart ...', 1997] (accessed 18 September 2007)]


Doherty has written many plays for radio, which she describes as "a wonderful medium to write for, inviting as it does both writer and listener to use their imaginations, to 'see' with their mind's eye." She has also written several plays for the theatre, including both adaptations and original works. She has adapted two of her novels for television, "White Peak Farm" for BBC1 (1988) and "Children of Winter" for Channel 4 (1994). She also wrote the 2001 series "Zzaap and the Word Master" about two children trapped in cyberspace, broadcast on BBC2 as part of the Look and Read schools programming.

Works associated with music

Several of Doherty's works are intended to be accompanied by music. She has written the libretti for three children's operas. [ Berlie Doherty's official website: Using music] (accessed 17 September 2007)] "Daughter of the Sea" was adapted from her novel of the same name, and was first performed by a group including the Lindsay Quartet in 2004, with music composed by Richard Chew. "The Magician's Cat" (2004) was commissioned by the Welsh National Opera and features music by Julian Philips, composer in residence at Glyndebourne. [ [ Welsh National Opera: WNO MAX: "The Magician's Cat"] (accessed 18 September 2007)] Her most recent libretto, for the chamber opera "Wild Cat", was also commissioned by the Welsh National Opera as part of the trilogy 'Land, Sea, Sky' on the theme of conservation, and was first performed in May 2007 by the WNO Singing Club (a youth group), directed by Nik Ashton. The libretto was partly translated into Welsh by poet Menna Elfyn, and the music was also composed by Philips. [ Welsh National Opera: WNO MAX: "Wild Cat"] (accessed 17 September 2007)]

Three commissions from the Lindsay Quartet were written to be read over live performances of their music. "The Midnight Man" was inspired by Debussy's Quartet in G minor, "Blue John" by Smetana's string quartet "From My Life", and "The Spell of the Toadman" by Janáček's string quartet "Kreutzer Sonata". "The Midnight Man" and "Blue John" were later published as picture books. [ Berlie Doherty's official website: Picture books] (accessed 19 September 2007)] Doherty's daughter, Sally, has also set "The Midnight Man" for spoken and singing voices, flute, clarinet, cello and harp.


Doherty has twice won the prestigious Carnegie Medal, for "Granny was a Buffer Girl" (1986) and "Dear Nobody" (1991). [Living Archive: Celebrating Carnegie and Greenaway Winners: [ "Grannie Was a Buffer Girl"] & [ "Dear Nobody"] (accessed 19 September 2007)] "Granny was a Buffer Girl" was also an honour book in the 1988 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. [ [ Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards: Winners and Honor Books 1967 to present] (accessed 19 September 2007)] "Dear Nobody" also won the Sankei Award (1994) as well as a Writers' Guild Award for its adaptation (1991); it was included by "The Guardian" in a list of classics for young teens. [ [,,566370,00.html "The Guardian": Classics for young teens (9 October 2001)] (accessed 19 September 2007)] Other awards include a Writers' Guild Award for "Daughter of the Sea" in 1997.

In 2002, the University of Derby awarded Doherty an honorary doctorate.

Personal life

Doherty lives with children's writer, Alan Brown. She has three children by a previous marriage. Her two daughters have both worked in collaboration with her; Janna Doherty illustrated "Walking on Air" and "Tilly Mint and the Dodo", and Sally set "Midnight Man" and "Daughter of the Sea" to music.


Novels for children and young adults

*"How Green You Are!" (1982)
*"The Making of Fingers Finnigan" (1983)
*"Jeannie of White Peak Farm" (1984; originally published as "White Peak Farm"; adapted for television 1988)
*"Children of Winter" (1985; adapted for television 1994)
*"Granny was a Buffer Girl" (1986; adapted for radio 2002/3)
*"Tough Luck" (1987)
*"Spellhorn" (1989)
*"Dear Nobody" (1991; adapted for radio 1993)
*"Street Child" (1993; adapted for radio 2000 and for television)
*"The Snake-stone" (1995; adapted for radio 2005)
*"Daughter of the Sea" (1996; libretto 2004)
*"The Sailing Ship Tree" (1998)
*"The Snow Queen" (1998; adapted from Hans Christian Andersen)
*"Holly Starcross" (2001)
*"Deep Secret" (2004)
*"Abela: The Girl Who Saw Lions" (2007)

Picture books, story books and short story collections

*"Tilly Mint Tales" (1984)
*"Tilly Mint and the Dodo" (1988)
*"Paddiwak and Cosy" (1988)
*"Snowy" (1992)
*"Old Father Christmas" (1993; retelling of story by Juliana Horatia Ewing)
*"Willa and Old Miss Annie" (1994)
*"The Magical Bicycle" (1995)
*"The Golden Bird" (1995)
*"Our Field" (1996; retelling of story by Juliana Horatia Ewing)
*"Running on Ice" (1997)
*"Bella's Den" (1997)
*"Tales of Wonder and Magic" (edited; 1997)
*"The Midnight Man" (1998)
*"The Famous Adventures of Jack" (2000)
*"Fairy Tales" (2000)
*"Zzaap and the Word Master" (2001; accompanied by television series)
*"The Nutcracker" (2002)
*"Coconut Comes to School" (2002)
*"Tricky Nelly's Birthday Treat" (2003)
*"Blue John" (2003)
*"The Starburster" (2004)
*"Jinnie Ghost" (2005)
*"The Humming Machine" (2006)

Poetry collections

*"Walking on Air" (1993)
*"Big Bulgy Fat Black Slugs" (1993; with Joy Cowley and June Melser)
*"The Forsaken Merman and Other Story Poems" (edited; 1998)

Novels for adults

*"Requiem" (1991; expanded from radio play of 1982)
*"The Vinegar Jar" (1994)

elected plays*, radio plays

*"The Drowned Village" (1980)
*"Unlucky for Some" (1980)
*"Home" (1982)
*"A Case for Probation" (1983)
*"Sacrifice" (1985)
*"Return to the Ebro" (1986; adapted as a radio play as "There's a Valley in Spain", 1990)*
*"The Sleeping Beauty" (1993)*

Libretti for children's opera

*"Daughter of the Sea" (2004)
*"The Magician's Cat" (2004)
*"Wildcat" (2007)


External links

* [ Berlie Doherty's official website]

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