It's actually quite possible that the room is not silent and there is fiddling and prodding and psst-psst-pssting going on in the background. But I am reading Carrie's War and the skull is in the pond and the house is burning and the curse is coming true as a train huffs and puffs Carrie away.
Nina Bawden's writing, unlike many children's books, never shies away from real life. They don't have the miserable grittiness you might fear, they are an unblinking account of (ok, yes fictional) events as they happen, or as they are interpreted by the characters. Any unsettling themes of Carrie's War (besides World War 2) that had upset the 11 year old Carrie are rationalised by an adult Carrie revisiting the Welsh village she was evacuated to 30 years before.
Even the names, Johnny Gotobed, Druid's Bottom, Hepzibah and Albert Sandwich are just the right side of plausible, unusual, maybe amusing but not silly. Bawden was able to tap into a child's thinking process. She recognised, or remembered from her own evacuation days, children's powers of observation, demonstrated by Carrie's younger brother Nick who knows not to be scared of stern Mr Evans, because he has clacking false teeth. “I like writing for children. It seems to me that most people underestimate their understanding and the strength of their feelings and in my books for them I try to put this right.”
It is hard to think of many adults who consider children in intelligent terms. Living with higher chances of skinned knees, playground taunts and getting your hand stuck in the toaster surely makes you more capable of grasping certain tragic situations. Yet still we reckon it is best to lie to children. We insist that people don't die; they go to sleep, that unpleasant occasions or time apart won't last long and adults always know best. Bawden chose her subjects well, guilt, loneliness and jealousy because from childhood onwards these can be painfully prominent in our lives. It's sad, but you're never too young for disaster to strike.
Disaster seems to have struck Nina Bawden's rather unfairly. One of her sons from her first marriage suffered from schizophrenia and drowned in the Thames in 1981. Her daughter from her marriage to Austen Kark, Perdita died in March this year.
In addition to her writing, Bawden should be remembered as a survivor of the Potters Bar rail crash in 2002 in which her husband Austen Kark was killed. Bawden and Perdita Kark campaigned tirelessly for answers about the crash, although Bawden had no memory of it.
Bawden was described by her Virago publisher Lennie Goodings as: “...very wise, fiercely gentle, very funny and irreverent.”