Bestselling author of teenage fiction, Robert Swindells, grasped a second chance offered by evening classes at Bradford College in 1967. His books are now translated into 21 languages, including Serbo-Croat, Catalan and Innuit.
Young people devour his books because they address challenging contemporary issues in an authentic and imaginative way. Robert has earned critical acclaim and a clutch of prizes for his writing, including the Children’s Book Award for Brother in the Land in 1984, Room 13 in 1989 and Blitzed in 2002; the Carnegie Medal for Stone Cold in 1994; the Sheffield Award for Unbeliever in 1996 and Abomination in 1999.
“When I failed the 11-plus, everybody told me I might as well forget
my ambition to teach. ‘You’ll go into the mill,’ I was told, ‘or a
shop, or if you’re really lucky you might just scrape an office job.’ I
accepted this, and between the ages of 15 and 26 worked in offices
and factories, with a 3 year stint in the RAF. Discontent squatted
on my life for 11 years. Then I met a man who was off to teacher
training at 35. He had 5 O levels. I had none, but hey - I was 9
years younger than him!”
That September Robert enrolled at evening classes to study Human Biology at O-level. “Our tutor was Mr. Smith, and it was his delight to produce shudders of disgust in a trio of sensitive ladies in the class. Bacteriology and parasitology were custom-made for this purpose. Mr. Smith spoke in loving detail about flour-weevils, streptococci and sarcoptes scabii, drawing squeals and groans from his three victims and laughter from the rest of us. School was never like this - I was in my element, and when the exam rolled round, I passed.
My confidence boosted by this modest success, I enrolled the following year for English Language, Religious Knowledge and British Constitution. Somebody told me 3 at once was too much but I wanted 5, the sooner the better. The quality of the tuition must have been high, because I passed all 3, plus the General Paper which didn’t involve classes. Gleefully, I resigned my job as a machine operator in a book-bindery and sailed on a cloud of euphoria to Oastler College of Education in Huddersfield. In 1972, at the age of 33, I qualified to teach.”
Robert had his first book published in 1973. Further books followed, and in 1980 he became a full-time author. “Now I have 67 publications and a Master’s Degree in Peace Studies from Bradford University. It all began in 1967 when I walked into Bradford College to study Human Biology. Everybody deserves a second chance.”
Photograph by Trevor Griffiths