Who's your hero?

Published on: 3 Hydref 2012

Rebecca Cobb's illustration for Children's Book Week 2012As part of our heroes and heroines theme for this year's Children's Book Week, three authors and illustrators tell us about their own heroes - be they real or fictional.


Paul Dowswell

Everyone has their heroes. They may be footballers or reality TV personalities like Wayne Rooney and Katie Price, or singers like Adele and Dizzee Rascal. These celebrities are modern day heroes although part of their fame, and the admiration they attract, comes from their fans wanting to be them, or at least lead the lives they lead.

Many of the heroes in my book led lives no one would envy. They are the Chernobyl firemen who dashed to certain death to contain a fire in a blazing nuclear reactor – young men who could feel escaping radiation burning their bodies even as they fought the flames.They are spies like Odette Sansom, or the German officer Claus von Stauffenberg, who risked or lost their lives fighting Hitler's evil Nazi regime. Or surgeons like Pauline Cutting who worked in a battlefront hospital in civil war Beirut, knowing she would be murdered if she was captured by opposition forces.

The heroes I write about come in many forms. You'll also find astronauts and test pilots who risked their lives for modest reward to push at the frontiers of science and exploration. Other pilots in my book fly helicopters in treacherous storms to rescue men and women from sinking ships. There are reckless showbiz stuntmen and fake heroes here too, and even animals who have saved human lives. But most of these stories have a quality of 'heroism' that I most admire. The men and women in them have stared death in the face to help others.

Paul Dowswell writes both fiction and non-fiction for children and young people, including Heroes (Usborne Publishing)


Lyn Gardner

I've never been one for the good girls. I like my heroines to come with a full set of flaws. It makes them human. So Antigone, daughter of King Oedipus, and the heroine of Sophocles' tragedy, is my kind of girl. Even her name sounds spiky.

Antigone may be almost 2,500 years old but she is as recognizable as any 21 st century stroppy teenager.

I was 15 when I first discovered her in a dusty old book, and she's been a heroine ever since. She's passionate and prickly, she's sulky and stubborn, she's damaged, she's completely uncompromising, and she's braver than a lioness with a pack of cubs and a crocodile infested river to cross.

She knows what she's got to do, and she does it when her Uncle Creon, ruler of Thebes, decrees that the body of her dead brother-- who has be proclaimed an enemy of the state-- must be left to rot. Antigone buries her brother even though she knows that the punishment is death. Even though she's in love with Creon's son. When she's caught and brought before Creon, she doesn't try to wriggle out of it but argues that her private duty to her brother is greater than her public obligations to the state.

Antigone frightens herself, she certainly frightens her sister who wants a quiet life, and she frightens me.

But I love and admire her too because however uncomfortable she sometimes makes us feel, she stands up for what she believes in, whatever the cost. One day I'm going to write a novel about her.

Lyn Gardner is The Guardian's theatre critic and author of the Olivia series (Nosy Crow)


Marcia Williams

When I was a child, I liked short books with lots of pictures. So I don't think I would ever have read Dickens if it hadn't been for one teacher: Miss Duncan. She was very strict, taught English and did not like fidgets! I was always a fidget - except when she read Dickens aloud. Then, my desk would fade from sight and I would be in Victorian England, sharing the trials of little Oliver Twist, or shaking in my boots with Pip.

I have re-read the stories many times since. The characters feel like friends to me now - just as they did to Dickens. So Dickens is my hero! In the year of his bicentenary, his world still has the power to excite the imagination. He has given us so many rich and sparkling characters that it is almost impossible to choose a favourite. I love them all - even the baddies like Bill Sikes make for a terrific read.

As for my heroine, it has to be Miss Duncan for introducing me to the joy of reading and opening the door to a world where heroes and heroines live for ever!

Marcia Williams is the author and illustrator of books for children including Charles Dickens and Friends and Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs (Walker Books)

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