Geoffrey Trease (11 August 1909 – 27 January 1998) was one of the most prolific writers of all time. He published a staggering 113 books between 1934 (Bows Against the Barons) and 1997 (Cloak for a Spy). His work has been translated into 20 languages. He was Chair of the Society of Authors and a member of the Royal Society of Literature.
Trease was a meticulous writer, best known for writing children’s historical novels. He strived to ensure these portraits were historically accurate, perhaps because it was in his genes – his grandfather was a historian. He wanted children’s literature to be taken seriously and to function as a site for serious study and debate. This meant he was a pioneer in creating authentic leading characters of both sexes.
He’s certainly a figure to consider for Dawn of the Unread as he was born in Nottingham. The son of wine merchants, he shunned the family business and opted for a writing career. During his formative years at Nottingham High School he wrote stories, poems and a three-act play. This led to him winning a scholarship in Classics at Oxford University. For most people this would have been enough but Trease resigned after a year and headed for the big smoke to pursue his dreams of becoming a writer.
His stories would range from Ancient Greece (The Crown of Violet), the Middle Ages: (The Red Towers of Granada); Elizabethan England: (Cue for Treason); Restoration: London (Fire on the Wind); the French Revolution: (Thunder of Valmy); the Bolshevik Revolution (The White Nights of St Petersburg); and World War II: (Tomorrow Is a Stranger). But for Nottingham, the defining novel would be Bows Against the Barons.
Based on the legend of Robin Hood, Bows against the Barons tells the story of a young adolescent who joins a band of outlaws and rebels against the feudal elite. In contrast to traditional portrayals of Robin as a nobleman and loyal subject of the king, Trease positions our favourite man in tights as a populist figure of the radical left. This is the story of class struggle, of guerrilla rebels rather than ‘merry men’. Illustrations in the original publication feature rioters holding up hammer and sickle imagery.
Alan Gibbons will be bringing Trease back to life and has been selected as he, too, is a children’s writer and also published by Five Leaves who republished Trease’s debut novel. I have approached Nottingham High School to look at ways that we could collaborate, potentially by incorporating the project into school work or holding a reading there.