Penelope Margaret Lively became one of Britain’s most popular and prolific twentieth century writers. Growing up in Egypt, she received no formal education until the age of twelve when, after her parents divorced, she was enrolled in an English boarding school. Although she hated the school, Lively read widely and eventually obtained a place at Oxford University, where she graduated with a B.A. in modern history in 1954. Following her marriage and the birth of two children, Lively began to write children’s stories, discovering in that genre a scope for exploring her favorite and enduring concern: the complicated relationship between the past and recovery of that past through collective and personal memory.
After publishing her first story, Astercote, in 1970, other children’s books quickly followed. Of these, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, which was awarded a Carnegie Medal, became particularly popular. In that work, Lively describes the experiences of James Harrison, a ten-year-old boy who is blamed for various mysterious occurrences—including breakages and misplaced items—in the old cottage to which his family has recently moved. James discovers that the real culprit is the ghost of a former inhabitant, Thomas Kempe, who is angered by the modernization of the cottage and of the village. James also finds a collection of letters describing the similar experiences of Arnold Luckett, a boy of about his own age, in the mid-nineteenth century. Unlike James, Arnold apparently had little difficulty convincing his elders of the ghost’s existence. Only through the information he gleans from Arnold...
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