Obituary: Nina Bawden / British author of 'Carrie's War'

Jan. 19, 1925 - Aug. 22, 2012

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Nina Bawden, a British writer for children and adults whose work included books born of personal tragedy, died Wednesday at her home in London. She was 87.

Her son, Robert, announced the death, The Associated Press reported.

The author of more than 40 books, including novels and volumes of nonfiction, Ms. Bawden was celebrated in Britain as a writer for young people. Critics praised her finely drawn characters and her keen, sympathetic understanding of those characters' inner lives.

Her best-known title for children is "Carrie's War," published in 1973. The story of an English girl's evacuation to a Welsh mining village during World War II, the novel was based on Ms. Bawden's own wartime evacuation.

"Carrie's War" was adapted twice for British television; the most recent adaptation was broadcast in the United States on the PBS series "Masterpiece Theater" in 2006.

Ms. Bawden's adult novels were often called comedies of manners, though an undertow of melancholy was rarely far from the surface. In these books, too, she examined a spate of breakdowns -- of communication, of relationships, of families, of sanity -- and the often turbulent psyches that lay beneath her characters' calcified British middle-class exteriors.

Reviewers sometimes chided Ms. Bawden for her plotting -- some novels had too much plot, they said; others too little. But she was, critics agreed, a master of realist description.

"Poll was the naughtiest one of the family," she wrote in her 1975 children's novel, "The Peppermint Pig," "and the dreadful thing happened on one of her naughty days; a dark day of thick, mustardy fog that had specks of grit in it she could taste on her tongue."

Ms. Bawden's descriptive gifts were perhaps nowhere more evident than in two later books: the novel "Circles of Deceit," a finalist for the Booker Prize in 1987, and the memoir "Dear Austen," published in 2005.

In the novel, Ms. Bawden wrote of a troubled young man -- a character based on her son Nicholas, who had battled schizophrenia and committed suicide.

In the memoir, she recounted the death of her husband in a railway accident that also left her badly injured.

Nina Mary Mabey was born on Jan. 19, 1925, in Ilford, near London. When she was 14, she and her schoolmates were evacuated to the countryside; she spent the war with a series of families in England and Wales.

As a young woman, she studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford. After graduating, she married Harry Bawden, with whom she had two sons.

Her early novels, published in the 1950s, were mainly adult gothics and mysteries. By the middle of the decade, her marriage had ended in divorce; she wed Austen Kark in 1954, and they had a daughter.

In the early 1980s, Nicholas Bawden, 33, left home and was never heard from again. His family learned months later that his body had been pulled from the Thames.

In 2002, on their way to a party in Cambridge, Ms. Bawden and her husband boarded a high-speed train from London. The train derailed in the Hertfordshire town of Potters Bar; Kark was killed instantly. Ms. Bawden awoke in the hospital with multiple broken bones to learn her husband was dead.

The Potters Bar crash, which killed seven and injured more than 70, was widely seen as a consequence of the privatization of Britain's railways.

Though Ms. Bawden suffered post-traumatic stress after the crash and was unable to write for several years, she eventually produced "Dear Austen." She became an outspoken advocate for train safety

Ms. Bawden was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1995.

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