Barbara Mary Willard was born in Brighton, Sussex in 1909, and was educated at a convent school in Southampton. Her father was a Shakespearean actor; she absorbed Shakespeare from childhood and language was always important to her. Before the war she worked briefly as an actress and a playreader, before starting to write fiction. Barbara Willard wrote many adult novels before venturing into children's fiction; late in her writing career came the historical series known as the Mantlemass novels, and it is for these that she is now chiefly remembered. In 1967 she published A Grove of Green Holly (not one of the series) about a group of 17th century travelling players, hiding from Cromwell's soldiers in Ashdown Forest in Sussex, encountering iron workers and forest ways. From this root came the idea of writing about the same place and its development and change through earlier periods of history; a concept which was to evolve into the Mantlemass books. This series has received much critical acclaim and has ensured Barbara Willard a place in the mainstream of children's historical fiction, along with writers such as Geoffrey Trease, Rosemary Sutcliff and Cynthia Harnett. Two early volumes were runners up for the Guardian award for children's fiction, which she won with The Iron Lily in 1974.
(courtesy Belinda Copson)