Monica Hughes Biography

Monica Hughes Biography

Monica Hughes spent World War II doing something most women did not: she worked on breaking German codes. Hughes was born in England, spent some of her childhood in Egypt, and went to school in Scotland before joining the Women’s Royal Naval Service. She eventually moved to Canada and began working at Ottawa’s National Research Council. In Ottawa, Hughes began writing science fiction novels for young adults as well as survival stories. Her Isis trilogy is one of her most famous works, and Hunter in the Dark is considered her masterpiece. It follows a young man struggling with leukemia and details his spiritual journey. She won many awards, including the Phoenix Award, for literary merit. She was also named to the Order of Canada in 2002.

Facts and Trivia

  • Hughes was designed dresses in London and Zimbabwe for a few years. At other points, she was a bank clerk and laboratory technician. 
  • Hughes originally intended to pass through Canada on her way to Australia, but she ended up remaining in Canada for most of her life. Canadian culture and history figures prominently in much of her writing.
  • Canadian author Kit Pearson wrote that Hughes was “perhaps her country’s most distinguished writer for children.” Irma McDonough once said that Hughes’s books would be considered “classics by many new generations of young people.”
  • While at school in Scotland, Hughes’s teachers encouraged her to enter a short story competition, which she won. The prize was a chocolate bar—quite a luxury since it was wartime.
  • Although she had written for most of her life, Hughes couldn’t get anything published until the 1970s.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Monica Ince Hughes, the daughter of Phyllis (Fry) and Edward Lindsay Ince, was born in Liverpool, England, on November 3, 1925. Before she was a year old, her father became head of the Mathematics Department at the University of Cairo, so the family moved to Egypt. When Monica and her sister reached school age, the Inces returned to London, and the girls were enrolled in the Notting Hill and Ealing High School, a private girls' school whose students were taken on frequent field trips to the British Museum, where Monica became fascinated by the development of language and the resulting power of storytellers over their audience.

Equally enthralling to the young girl were the books and stellar observations she shared with her father, an avid amateur astronomer. Her mother's accounts of the 1910 appearance of Halley's Comet increased Monica's interest in astronomy and helped to develop her narrative skill, but discovery of Jules Verne's novels focused her interest on science fiction. Her reading of adventure novels and the classics also influenced her writing.

Monica Hughes did not at first consider a career as a writer. After further schooling at the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus (Harrogate, Yorkshire) and a year at Edinburgh University, Hughes served in the Women's Royal Navy Service during World War II. She held a variety of other jobs, including dress designer in London (1948-1949) and in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (1950), bank clerk in Umtali,...

(The entire section is 499 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Monica Hughes was born Monica Ince in Liverpool, England, on November 3, 1925. Her parents then both worked at the University of Liverpool, her father, E. L. Ince, a Welshman, in mathematics and her mother, Phyllis Fry, an Englishwoman, in biology. A few months after young Hughes's birth, her parents left Liverpool so that her father could take up a new position as head of the department of mathematics at the new University of Cairo in Egypt.

Young Hughes's first memories are of Egypt: their first house in Heliopolis, walks in the desert with the nanny for Hughes and her younger sister, and seeing mirages of palm trees and buildings floating in the sky. Later they lived in an apartment in Cairo, with a spectacular view of the pyramids, which they visited on weekends. Her parents climbed the Great Pyramid for the view, while the girls played with bottle caps littered in the sand at its base. "So much for history," sighed Hughes in Something about the Author Autobiography Series. She still remembers little lizards, birds of prey, and the wind-blown sand; these and other memories became elements in her novels Sandwriter and The Promise.

The Ince family returned to England in 1931 so the girls could attend school in a suburb of London. Young Hughes was pleased and excited by the exposure to music and a wider range of books, particularly Norse mythology and the works of E. Nesbit. For a while she wanted to be an archaeologist and Egyptologist, but seeing Boris Karloff in the film The Mummy gave her nightmares for weeks and put an end to that ambition.

When the Ince family moved to Edinburgh in 1936, young Hughes found refuge from the plain, cold city and boring school by borrowing books from the nearby Carnegie library. She plunged into the dramas of nineteenth-century writers and the works of Jules Verne. All her small allowance went on hardcover blank books in which she would write exciting titles and "Chapter One." Then she would sit and dream of being a famous writer. That and a journal kept when she went on vacations was all the writing she did at that time.

When the Second World War began in 1939, Hughes and her sister were sent away, first to an isolated hunting lodge in Scotland and later to a boarding school in Harrogate, not far from the Yorkshire moors where the Bronte sisters had lived. There she was encouraged to write fiction, as well as essays and compositions.

After her father died, Hughes could no longer...

(The entire section is 1024 words.)