Best-known for his Children's and Young Adult fiction, Robert Atkinson Westall (7 October 1929 15 April 1993) was born in North Shields and grew up on Tyneside during the Second World War. He held a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Art from Durham University and a post-graduate degree in Sculpture from the Slade School of Art in London. After spending two years in the British Army he went on to teach Art and write for various publications, including being an art critic for the Guardian newspaper.
Westall's best known work was the Children's novel The Machine Gunners, published in 1975 and winner of the Carnegie Medal that year. He went on to win the Medal once more in 1982 for The Scarecrows. Most of his novels drew on his personal experiences as a child on The Home Front; The Machine Gunners was about a group of young children scavenging parts from downed aircraft who found an intact and functional machine gun from a crashed Heinkel He 111 bomber and developed from him telling his son Christopher stories about the things he had done as a child. The Gunners went on to be adapted for the television by The BBC in 1983 and again for Radio in 2002
Despite the target audience of children and young adults, Westall's fiction was frequently dark and borrowed themes, ideas and stories from the Horror genre and were rarely afraid of killing characters or showing off terrifying situations. The Stones Of Muncaster Cathedral won the Dracula Society's Children of the Night award in 1991. Many of his novels featured some form of Time Travel; Urn Burial and Futuretrack 5 were out-and-out Science Fiction.
Robert Westall died on the 15th April 1993 aged 63. Several manuscripts have been published posthumously and two anthologies of his short fiction were released in 1996.
- The Machine Gunners (1975)
- The Wind Eye (1976)
- The Watch House (1977)
- The Devil On The Road (1978)
- Fathom Five (1979)
- The Scarecrows (1981)
- Break of Dark (1982)
- Futuretrack Five (1983)
- The Haunting of Chas McGill (1983)
- The Cats of Seroster (1984)
- Rachel and the Angel (1986)
- The Creature in the Dark (1988)
- Ghost Abbey (1988)
- Ghosts and Journeys (1988)
- Blitzcat (1989)
- The Call and Other Stories (1989)
- Old Man on a Horse (1989)
- A Walk on the Wild Side (1989)
- Echoes of War (1989)
- Urn Burial (1989)
- If Cats Could Fly (1990)
- The Kingdom by the Sea (1990)
- The Promise (1990)
- Stormsearch (1990)
- The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral (1991)
- Yaxley's Cat (1991)
- Fearful Lovers (1992)
- Gulf (1992)
- Falling Into Glory (1993)
- A Place For Me (1993)
- Size Twelve (1993)
- The Wheatstone Pond (1993)
- A Time of Fire (1994)
- The Witness (1994)
- Blitz (1995)
- Christmas Spirit (1995)
- The Night Mare (1995)
- Blizzard (1996)
- Harvest (1996)
- Love Match (1997)
- Voices in the Wind (1997)
- David and the Kittens (2003)
Works Contain Examples of:
- Author Appeal: See Cats Are Mean below. Westall was life-long cat lover and cats featured prominently in almost every book he wrote in a positive light.
- Blended Family Drama: In the backstory of The Wind Eye. When Bertrand and Madeline married, each had a child from a previous marriage (Beth and Mike). By the opening of the book the children get on quite well with each other, which is more than can be said for the adults.
- Blood for Mortar: The story "The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral" is about a cathedral which turns out to have incorporated a human sacrifice due to a Middle Ages master builder with secret pagan beliefs. In the story, the cathedral is being repaired, and attempts to absorb the protagonist as a new sacrifice.
- A Boy, a Girl, and a Baby Family: The protagonists of The Wind Eye are a slightly aged-up version; Mike and Beth are 16, while little sister Sally is about 5.
- Cats Are Magic: Invoked most directly in The Cats of Seroster, complete with Ancient Egyptian connections, but cats in Westall's fiction are almost always magical in some way. Most often, they're able to protect unwitting humans from nasty supernatural entities or can directly aid people in destroying or driving them away.
- Cats Are Mean: Generally averted and inverted in Cats of Seroster and Urn Burial, in which the cats are victimized as creatures of witchcraft by the Villains and the canine alien race are jerkasses, respectively. When there are cats in a Robert Westall novel or short story, you can guarantee they are there to help the hero, save the hero, or be the hero.
- Corrupt Church: Played straight in several novels including; The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral, Devil On The Road and The Cats of Seroster.
- Divorced Installment: Fathom Five was written as a sequel to The Machine Gunners, but in the original printing the connection was removed to make it a standalone work, with the protagonist renamed from Chas McGill to Jack Stokoe.
- No Communities Were Harmed: Westall's work is full of this trope; The Machine Gunners is set in Garmouth as a version of the author's home town of Tynemouth and Urn Burial is set in the fictional village of Unthank near the real town of Penrith in Cumbria. So much so in The Machine Gunners that there's a Westall Walk around the area.
- Not So Remote: At one point in The Wind Eye Mike washes up on a mist-covered beach, not knowing where or when he is (there's time travel in play). After walking for over an hour and not finding anything but sand dunes and birds he almost loses hope. Finally the mist clears to reveal he's in Ross Links nature reserve.
- Schmuck Bait: Two examples near the beginning of The Wind Eye: the Dirty Bottles at Alnwick (legend has it that if you touch them you die) and St Cuthbert's tomb in Durham Cathedral (legend has it that if a woman treads on it, the roof will drop on her). Madeline does tread on the tomb, and while she doesn't bring down the roof she certainly draws the saint's attention to their family.
- Underwear Swimsuit: In The Wind Eye Beth needs to take to the water; not having brought a swimsuit, she has to swim in her underwear. Unfortunately it's not up to the job and slips off, leaving her naked. This means she gets mistaken for a succubus in the seventh century, and then arrested for indecent exposure when she returns to the present day.