Arthur Ransome (1884 – 1967)
Childhood: Arthur Mitchell Ransome was born in Leeds in England in 1884, the eldest child in a family of 2 boys and 2 girls. His dad was a professor of history at Yorkshire College. While he and his mum were very close, his Dad was never very nice to him, so that when Arthur was 13 and his Dad died, he felt very sad as he felt he’d disappointed his father. As a boy, Arthur loved collecting things and making models of things, and he loved the family holidays at a place called Coniston Water in the famous and beautiful Lake District of England.
School Days: Arthur’s first school was a prep school in the town of Windermere, where there weren’t many books, so Arthur would spend his holidays reading voraciously. He then attended the famous Rugby School but he wasn’t happy there either – he had bad eyesight, was bad at sport, and wasn’t very good at school work. When he left school, he tried to study chemistry at Yorkshire College, but gave up after a year and left for London with the grand ambition of one day being a writer.
How he became a writer: Arthur’s first job in London was as an errand boy in a small publishing business. But he started writing immediately. In 1906 when he was just 22, his first books were published; these were nature books for children. He immediately immersed himself in the bohemian life of the literary set in London, at the same time getting married to a very eccentric woman called Ivy Constance Walker which sadly ended in divorce. He was bored and life was difficult, so he soon went looking for adventure.
In 1913 Arthur went to Russia to start studying Russian folklore but when the First World War broke out, he became a war correspondent for British newspapers, including The Guardian. During this time he continued to live in Russia, writing about the Russian Revolution and meeting important people such as the communist leaders Lenin and Trotsky. He even fell in love with and later married Trotsky’s personal secretary Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina! Some people say that during this time he worked as a double agent, spying for the British Secret Service as well as the Russians! He also wrote a book called Old Peter’s Russian Tales, a collection of 21 Russian folk stories.
In 1924 Arthur returned with his new wife to live in the Lake District in England. He wrote articles for the Manchester Guardian (often about fishing), and sometimes went overseas on assignment, including trips to Egypt and China. In 1929, an old friend returned to Coniston from Italy with her husband and 5 children, and Arthur provided two small boats for the kids to sail, called the Swallow and the Mavis. He spent a long summer teaching the children to sail, so when the family returned to Italy, he decided to write a book based on their time together, about two families of children who sail boats on Lake Windermere. It was called Swallows and Amazons and was later to become one of the best-loved children’s books of all time! It was published in the UK in 1930, and in the United States in the same year. He immediately followed it with sequels – in fact by the time the series was finished 16 years later it comprised 12 books! The books were eventually so popular that he was able to retire to write for the rest of his life.
Like many of my Amazing Authors, Arthur Ransome won many medals for his writing, the most prestigious being the Carnegie Medal for Peter Duck in 1936.
Fascinating facts: As if Arthur Ransome’s life as a writer wasn’t fascinating enough, here are some more intriguing facts about him!
- At Rugby School, he lived in what used to be Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) ‘s study room!
- His books all remain popular and are still all in print, 80 years after Swallows and Amazons was first published!
- He is very popular in Japan and the former Czechoslavakia;
- Czech astronomer Antonin Mrkos even named an asteroid after him (6440 Ransome)!
- He hated the first illustrations in Swallows and Amazons so much that the publisher scrapped them all except the map, and from the third book onwards in the series, Arthur Ransome himself drew all the illustrations!
- In October 1919, it was Arthur who delivered the secret armistice proposals to the Bolsheviks in Russia!
“You write not for children but for yourself. And if by good fortune children enjoy what you enjoy, why then you are a writer of children’s books.”
“Who would wave a flag to be rescued if they had a desert island of their own? That was the thing that spoilt Robinson Crusoe. In the end he came home. There never ought to be an end.”
“Grab a chance and you won’t be sorry for what might have been”
” When a thing’s done, it’s done, and if it’s not done right, do it differently next time”
While Arthur Ransome himself never had a website, his books are still so loved that others have made websites devoted to him!
See for example: http://www.arthur-ransome.org/ar/ which is the website of the Arthur Ransome Society;