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Writer and literary omnivore

Susan Cooper: Writer and literary omnivore

Susan Cooper recalls her parents reading to her during nights spent in an air raid shelter.
Susan Cooper recalls her parents reading to her during nights spent in an air raid shelter. (thelostland.com)

The British-born writer Susan Cooper started her career doing legwork for Ian Fleming at The London Times in the 1950s and writing books on the side. Only when she came stateside with her first husband in the 1960s was she able to write full time. Here she added to her award-winning "The Dark Is Rising'' saga and turned out a litany of novels for adults and children as well as plays and screenplays. She even talked her husband, the late actor Hume Cronyn, into writing a book with her. Her latest is "The Magic Maker,'' a biography of her friend John Langstaff, creator of the Christmas Revels. She lives on an island in a salt marsh in Marshfield.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

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COOPER: There's three on the bedside table. One is "Just Adrian,'' a collection of pieces by Adrian Mitchell, a wonderful English poet who was an old friend of mine. Another is "Blink & Caution,'' a young-adult book by a wonderful Canadian writer named Tim Wynne-Jones. And I have a wonderful collection of poems, "Flying at Night'' by Ted Kooser, a former poet laureate.

BOOKS: Do you regularly read poetry?

COOPER: Not all the time. As a ritual I read T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets'' every year. I like them because they have a preoccupation with time.

BOOKS: Did you read young-adult novels before you started writing them?

COOPER: No. I don't know if there were any when I was that age. It's a publishing phenomenon in the last two or three decades. When I was a kid in Britain during and after World War II there was so little published. I also lived in the country a long way from the library, so I was thrown back on what happened to be on my parents' shelves. I remember skipping through the bits of their big set of Dickens and reading what I could understand when I was 8 or 9, like "Great Expectations.''

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BOOKS: So you had mostly adult books?

COOPER: There were some books for children being published by Arthur Ransome. He wrote a series that started with "Swallows and Amazons,'' which are fantasy stories about kids who live on boats. To my great delight, my kids loved them and now they are reading them to their children.

BOOKS: Did your parents read to you?

COOPER: They read to us in our air raid shelter. We'd be down there for hours at night. The worst time was in 1941 when I was 6. I have a vivid memory of my mother reading Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses'' of all things. We had a candle and each time a bomb landed outside the flame would shake.

BOOKS: What did you read in college?

COOPER: I went to Oxford, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were in control of the English syllabus. It stopped at 1832. We read a lot of Middle English. A friend of mine says the reason so many of us who were students then became writers is that they taught us to believe in dragons.

BOOKS: Did you ever talk books with Ian Fleming?

COOPER: No. We did not have a social relationship. He was a lovely man, tall and elegant. He smoked 60 cigarettes a day in a long holder. He said he wrote the first Bond book out of shock of having got married for the first time when he was 40.

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BOOKS: Do you read much nonfiction?

COOPER: I'm an omnivore. I have a whole wall of biographies. I liked the one about Michael Gambon by Mel Gussow. I'm planning to read "The Swerve'' by Stephen Greenblatt. It's about the Renaissance. He wrote the most wonderful book about Shakespeare, "Will in the World.''

BOOKS: Any kind of book you don't read?

COOPER: I'm not too big on pornography.

AMY SUTHERLAND


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