While Penelope Lively is well known as a novelist, she first earned an international reputation in the early 1970’s as a writer of literature for children. Indeed, she has continued to write in both genres since 1977. Even in her earliest children’s stories, one can see strong traces of the concerns subsequently also explored in her adult fiction. The most widely known of her children’s books, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973), describes the experiences of young James Harrison as he encounters the ghost of a seventeenth century former inhabitant of the cottage in which James now lives. Blamed for the poltergeist’s mischievous actions, James discovers the significance of historical perspective in explaining the world at large. Here, as in many of Lively’s works for children, most notably A Stitch in Time (1976), the supernatural is the medium by which the past comes into contact with the present.
Along with many stories for older children, Lively has published one picture book for infants, The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree (1994; illustrated by Terry Milne). She has produced several collections of short stories for adults, and many of her short stories have appeared in magazines ranging from Cosmopolitan to The Literary Review. In addition, she has published full-length works of nonfiction, including The Presence of the Past: An Introduction to Landscape History (1976) and the memoir Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived (1994), in which she looks back to her early childhood in Egypt. She has also written numerous radio and television scripts, book reviews, and other articles for academic and nonacademic publications, including travel articles for The New York Times as well as articles on various topics for leading newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.