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Westall, Robert

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1929-1993) UK art teacher (1960-1985), antique shop proprietor and author whose work, until near the end of his life, was usually for the Young Adult market or for younger children; from the beginning of his career, he was clearly at the forefront of those authors who had begun to respond to their audience's need for more direct confrontation with issues that concerned them. His nonfantastic debut novel, The Machine-Gunners (1975), which formed the basis of the play The Machine-Gunners (first performed 1986; 1986) and won the Carnegie Medal, is a realist tale set during World War Two, a period also intimately described in his nonfiction Children of the Blitz: Memories of Wartime Childhood (1985). The novel evoked comparison's with William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954); the sequel was Fathom Five (1979).

Westall's second novel The Wind Eye introduced supernatural forces (in the form of St Cuthbert), and these recur often in novels such as The Watch House (1977), Ghost Abbey (1988), Old Man on a Horse (1989 chap) and The Promise (1990); and in many stories throughout his collections, which include Break of Dark (coll 1982), The Haunting of Chas McGill and Other Stories (coll 1983), Rachel and the Angel and Other Stories (coll 1986), Ghost and Journeys (coll 1988), The Call and Other Stories (coll 1989), Echoes of War (coll 1989), A Walk on the Wild Side: Cat Stories (coll 1989), The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral: Two Stories of the Supernatural (coll 1991), The Fearful Lovers and Other Stories (coll 1992; vt Fearful Lovers 1993), and others. Two retrospective assemblies, Demons and Shadows; The Ghostly Best Stories of Robert Westall (coll 1993) and Shades of Darkness: More of the Ghostly Best Stories of Robert Westall (coll 1994), assemble supernatural tales, excepting those which first appeared in Voices in the Wind (coll 1997). Westall also published a fine collection of ghost stories for adults, Antique Dust: Ghost Stories (coll 1989), in which a studied primness only adds a horrific reticence to the resonances of M R James (1862-1936). He edited Ghost Stories (anth 1988).

Of sf interest is a Time-Travel tale, The Devil on the Road (1978), where a young biker Timeslips into the seventeenth century, where he finds himself confronting Witchfinder Hopkins. Westall most straightforward sf story, Futuretrack 5 (1983), is set in Dystopian Near Future whose citizens, on reaching adulthood, are assigned social functions according to their predetermined "nature", Cities have been ghettoized, and dissent is treated by lobotomy; as often was the case in Young Adult novels of this sort, this world does turn out to have a fatal secret, which the young protagonist uncovers. The Cats of Seroster (1984) is, unusually for Westall, Sword and Sorcery, set in an imaginary medieval world. Urn Burial (1987), a tale of the awakening of long-dormant Aliens, is an example of Horror in SF.

Westall's sudden death of pneumonia cut short a career in full flood. [PN/JC]

see also: Children's SF; Fantasy.

Robert Atkinson Westall

born Tynemouth, Northumberland: 7 October 1929

died Warrington, Cheshire: 15 April 1993

works (selected: nonfantastic works and works for younger children are generally excluded)



  • The Machine-Gunners (London: Macmillan, 1975) [Machine-Gunners: hb/]
    • The Machine-Gunners: The Play (London: Macmillan, 1986) with Ali Taylor [play version of the above: first performed 1986 Polka Theatre, London: Machine-Gunners: hb/]
  • Fathom Five (London: Macmillan, 1979) [Machine-Gunners: hb/Patricia Drew]

individual titles

collections and stories


Best Stories

individual titles

works as editor

  • Ghost Stories (London: Kingfisher Books, 1988) [anth: illus/hb/Sean Eckett]


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