'A reminder of the true art of storytelling': Celebrating Henrietta Branford's powerful novel Fire, Bed & Bone

Published on: 26 June 2019

Henrietta Branford's iconic novel Fire, Bed & Bone is being released in a special new edition to mark the 20th anniversary of the author's death. Here, writers explain why it's such a vital children's book...

The front cover of Fire, Bed & Bone and author Henrietta Branford

Henrietta Branford had already made her mark as an author when she was diagnosed with cancer in 1998.

Dimanche Diller, a neo-Gothic tale about an orphaned heiress who falls into the hands of a villainous pseudo-guardian, had won the Smarties Prize, while Fated Sky, the eventful and often tragic life of a young Viking girl, had been shortlisted for the Guardian Award.

But the publication of Fire, Bed & Bone announced her as an author of extraordinary brilliance.

Fire, Bed and Bone recounts the events of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, seen through the eyes of an old hunting dog. Corrupt clergy, greedy landowners and the ravages of disease are all shown as they affect an ordinary peasant family, and all described with ingenuous bewilderment by the dog who sees her family suffering without understanding the reasons.

Very short - indeed, it's only 128 pages - it is nonetheless powerful and moving, 'one of those books which oozes confidence from the first line to the last', according to Marcus Sedgwick, a long-time fan of Henrietta Branford.

'It's far from being the first novel narrated by an animal,' he adds, 'but remains a masterclass in how to pull off that feat successfully. Its prose is robust and rhythmic; flawless in its execution, showing just what complex themes and stories one can address in a "book for children".'

Remembering Henrietta Branford

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Henrietta Branford's death, and the 20th anniversary of the award set up in memory of her and her equally gifted editor, Wendy Boase of Walker Books.

The Branford Boase Award is given annually to the author of the year's outstanding debut novel for children, and uniquely, is shared with the book's editor.

It was Henrietta's wish that the award was set up - she was determined that her success late in life should be remembered in a prize that would give new authors like herself more opportunities.

Since the first Branford Boase Award was given in 2000, the prize has become a byword for talent and excellence in children's books, launching and building the careers of authors Frances Hardinge, Marcus Sedgwick, Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Siobhan Dowd, Jenny Downham and Kevin Brooks amongst many others.

Now, as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, Walker Books have reissued Fire, Bed and Bone in a new edition, with an introduction by Celia Rees.

How Fire, Bed & Bone is still relevant today

Fire, Bed & Bone is, Rees says, 'as fresh and exciting today as when first published'.

Sedgwick agrees: 'Fire, Bed & Bone won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and 22 years later I think it would still win.'

Meanwhile, 2015's Branford Boase Award winner Rosie Rowell is another contemporary author struck by the enduring power of the novel.

She says: ''The story of the suffering endured by the least powerful and displaced is as relevant and timely as ever. Small acts of heroism performed by those least powerful may not change history, but can change and even save the lives of those we love.

'At a time when children's books are competing with the frenetically evolving world of technology, Branford's quiet, engrossing and vividly real writing is a reminder to writers of the true art of story-telling.'

The winners of the 20th Branford Boase Award will be announced at a ceremony at Walker Books on 27 June 2019.

The shortlist features seven fresh, original and exciting voices, so there's much to celebrate - but it's wonderful too that today's readers can discover again the voice of Henrietta Branford.

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