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4 March 2015
We are very sad to learn of the death of the wonderful English author Mal Peet on 2 March 2015. Mal wrote five novels for young adults: the popular Faustino trilogy, set in the world of South American football, the WWII novel Tamar, and Life: An Exploded Diagram. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honours including the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. He also co-authored educational and picture books with his wife and writing partner Elspeth Graham, and was a gifted illustrator. His first novel for adults, The Murdstone Trilogy, published in 2014, was described in the Guardian as 'an assured, even virtuouso, performance' and 'a genuinely funny comedy...with a Pratchettian mix of gusto and warmth.'
Despite being primarily known as a YA author, Mal's books defied easy categorisation. Susan Tranter described his writing as 'notable for its refusal to submit to categories...His books...prove that successful literature for young readers doesn't have to be didactic, or have overtly youthful themes, or even centre on young characters. It is the quality of the writing which is, ultimately, the most important thing.' Mal himself commented that he was 'deeply averse to categorising novels in terms of the presumed age of readership...My core beliefs are that these young readers are not necessarily or exclusively interested in books about people like themselves; and that they deserve writing of the highest quality.'
The IIML was privileged to have Mal and Elspeth as our guests in 2013, when Mal convened a popular workshop on Writing for Young Adults. The IIML's Director Damien Wilkins says: ‘We knew Mal was a terrific and acclaimed novelist but he was also a gifted teacher who quickly became an important mentor for a number of New Zealand writers. He threw himself into the world of children's books here, made many friends, told great stories, and communicated huge warmth and mischievous intelligence. He's a great loss.'
Mal was diagnosed with cancer late last year. Since his death was announced, tributes have poured in from fellow children's and YA authors such as Patrick Ness, John Green and Michael Rosen, from emerging writers and from readers around the world. Friend and author Meg Rosoff said: 'Nobody wrote like Mal. His humour was leavened with blackness, his gimlet eye with kindness, his substantial talent with modesty.'
Along with praise for his literary abilities, many have noted his generosity to others in the writing community; especially to those at the beginning of their careers. As his agent Peter Cox commented, Mal was 'universally adored and admired by other writers. His talent was as prodigious as his warm, wide-open heart.'
The staff at the IIML mourn the death of a friend and a great and generous writer. Our thoughts are with his family.