Mal Peet

Mal by Tim Cuff 007

Mal Peet was born in Norfolk, England and read English and American Literature at the University of Warwick.

His first novel, Keeper, was published in 2003, followed by Tamar (2005), The Penalty (2006), Exposure (2008) and Life: an Exploded Diagram (2011), all published by Walker Books in the UK and Candlewick Press in the USA.

His awards include the Branford Boase Award, a Nestle Children’s Book Award, The Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Children’s Book Prize as well as a number of American awards.

With his wife and fellow writer Elspeth Graham, he continues to write books for younger readers. “I don’t really see any barrier between teenage fiction and adult literature”Their Cloud Tea Monkeys, illustrated by Juan Wyngaard, was shortlisted for the 2011 Kate Greenaway Medal.

“I find myself, by happy accident, writing ‘Young Adult’ fiction”, says Mal.  “However, I dislike such categories. I try to write stories that will attract younger readers and make them feel part of a wider readership. I do not feel able to write books that are only about, or even exclusively for, teenagers; and I am inclined to be suspicious of books which ‘target’ them. Such books usually give off a strong whiff of condescension; although there are, of course, very honourable exceptions.

Similarly, I see genres as generating sets of rules or conventions that are only interesting when they are subverted or used to disguise the author’s intent. My own way of doing this is to attempt a sort of whimsical alchemy, whereby seemingly incompatible genres are brought into unlikely partnerships. Keeper, for example, is a combination of sports biography, ghost story and Arthurian legend.

If I were to try to describe the way in which I write, the only word I would use without qualification is ‘slowly’.”


  • Branford Boase Award UK  – winner
  • Smarties Book Prize UK – Bronze award
  • Chicago Public Library Best Books for Children and Teens USA
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults USA
  • Junior Library Guild Selection USA
  • Texas Lone Star Reading List USA
  • Deutscher Jungendliteraturpreis Germany – shortlist
  • Irish Times – Top 30 Critics choice

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‘Written with skill, humanity and a vibrant passion for its subject, the book is irresistible on two counts: the absolute conviction of the football journalism and the mysticism of the scenes where Gato meets his mentor and coach, a man cheated by the death of his own dream, who cannot rest until he sees the dream fulfilled. Physical, spiritual – Arthurian, even – this is true enchantment.’
— Jan Mark, Times Educational Supplement

‘I have always known that football, despite its present grimy face, is an almost perfect metaphor for life. Mal Peet’s novel shows it in the loyalty, doggedness, the flowering of the soul granted by total devotion to a forbidding form of professionalism, the struggle of cultures, the essential nobility which, obscured though it may now be, it is always there. Even if you hate football, read this superbly written book and be captivated by it.’
- Dennis Hamley, School Librarian


  • Carnegie Medal UK – winner
  • New York Times Book Review USA – Editors’ Choice
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults USA – Top Ten
  • Book Sense Book of the Year USA – Nominee
  • Chicago Public Library Best Books for Children and Teens
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice USA
  • School Library Journal USA Best Books of the Year
  • Junior Library Guild USA Selection
  • de Gouden Lijst, Holland – winner

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‘Mal Peet, who won the Branford Boase Award for Keeper, has written a complex and rewarding novel which is two stories in one. The themes of both stories are secrecy, bravery, love and what it makes us do, and, above all, those two enormous moral perplexities: is it permissible to do bad things for good reasons? And does the end justify the means? Peet moves effortlessly and skilfully between the 1940s and the present and the characters are strong and well-drawn. Terrific stuff.’
- Adele Geras, Times Educational Supplement

‘In Peet’s Carnegie Medal-winning work, he tells the interwoven stories of Tamar the spy and Tamar the teenager in beautifully visualized episodes. Meticulously crafted scenes develop this long, complex and elegant work that is both a historical novel and a reflection on history—how a young girl’s life has been shaped by a past she never knew. Readers will be torn: they’ll want to slow down and savor the gorgeously detailed prose, but speed up to find out what happens next. Simply superb’
- Kirkus Reviews, starred

‘It takes a disciplined author to hide secrets within secrets, to create puzzles, codes and metaphors that will prise them open, and then to hand everything over to readers without signaling each bit of legerdemain with a moment of “aha!” And it takes ambition to apply such intricate storytelling to a sweeping plot.  The deeper a reader wades into the novel, the cleverer its apparatus appears.  The British author Mal Peet shows both restraint and daring.’
- Elizabeth Devereaux, The New York Times

The Penalty

  •  Booktrust Teenage Prize UK – shortlist
  • Guardian Children’s Book Prize UK – longlist
  • New York Public Library Books for the Teenage USA
  • BBYA Nomination USA
  • Irish Times – Top 30: Critic’s choice

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‘I can’t begin to describe how terrific this book is – a glorious, cartwheeling, magical, frightening story.’
- Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Guardian

‘Impossible to put down once picked up.’
- Geraldine Brennan, Times Educational Supplement

‘Cogently constructed and elegantly written, this latest novel is teenage fiction at its best.’
- Kate Agnew, The Guardian

‘Peet’s language is beautiful and assured, with flashes of sardonic humor as well as a sense of poignancy and heartbreak… any reader who starts this astounding novel will be hard-pressed to put it down. Stunning, original and compelling.’
- Kirkus Reviews, starred


  • Winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize UK
  • The Best Children’s Books Ever UK – The Guardian
  • Junior Library Guild Selection USA
  • BCCB Blue Ribbon USA
  • Shortlisted for the Inky Awards Australia

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‘It is totally electrifying. You don’t have to care about football (though Peet’s descriptions of what it feels like almost converted me) because he makes you care so much about his characters. Clever, funny, moving and superbly well written, it’s the work of a major author.’
- Amanda Craig, The Times

‘Money, love and fame are intoxicatingly combined, giving a young couple superstar status. But this potentially benign combination becomes deadly dangerous when others become jealous. The pressures of the media and the power it has to destroy, the pitfalls of superstardom, the terrible gap between the lives of the rich and the rest and the horrible consequences of jealousy are all sensitively explored in this headlong gripping thriller.’
- Julia Eccleshare, The Guardian

Life: an Exploded Diagram

  • Sunday Times UK – Children’s Book of the Year
  • East Anglian Book Award UK – Winner
  • Coventry Inspiration Book Awards UK
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize USA – shortlist
  • Booklist’s Editors’ Choice List USA
  • Kirkus’s Best of 2011 USA

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‘Brilliant, especially in that it breaks pretty much every single alleged “rule” of writing for teenagers. Witty, super-smart, heartbreakingly generous, it’s so good you almost want to keep it a secret.’
- Patrick Ness

Confirms Peet’s position – one of our best novelists

‘For some time now Mal Peet has been the most elegant prose stylist in the world of young-adult fiction. Life An Exploded Diagram is his finest work to date, by turns hysterically funny, sad, poignant, bitter, and rude, but always with that unfakeable sense of deep truth. The eye he casts on his characters is both unblinking and yet sympathetic, their foibles understood and forgiven in the very moment of exposure. Although any intelligent teenager would gain much from reading this book, it deserves a wider readership, and confirms Peet’s position not just as a great writer of children’s fiction, but one of our best novelists, full stop.’
- Anthony McGowan

Surely the finest young-adult book of the year

‘Surely the finest young-adult book of the year is Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram, of which it is hard to identify any feature that makes it specifically for younger readers.  A fitting contender for adult prizes, this is a coming-of-age story set in Norfolk, interspersed with a behind-the-scenes account of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Working class Clem Ackroyd is born early when a Hurricane startles his mother by shooting her chimney pot to bits (‘’ ‘I was expectun,’ she’d often say, over the years. ‘But I wunt expectun that,’ ‘’). As a sixth former, Clem falls in love with Frankie, the local landowner’s daughter, and their compelling and compulsive relationship gives this story its focus.  In fact, though, every detailof Clem’s family history, of the mad machinations of American warmongers, and of the Norfolk way of life is rivetting.  This story has indignation, passion and humour, always expressed with an exhilarating choice of words.’
- Nicolette Jones, The Sunday Times

‘Peet’s warmth, humour and fierce intelligence are soaked into every page as he moves effortlessly between first-time fumblings in the strawberry fields of rural Norfolk and the wrangling for power at the heart of the Oval Office.  Is it a cliche for a reviewer to label a book unmissable?  Tough.  Like me you’ll probably read it twice, just because you can.’
- The Scotsman

Quality writing at this level defies an age-range

‘Even for an author of Peet’s calibre this is an ambitious project: a three generational story that spans World War II, the Cuban missile crisis and 9/11, set against a rich, rural Norfolk background and the intense political tension of the Cold War – with rites-of-passage sexual experimentation along the way. But Peet handles this complex narrative with such confidence and skill that the journey is almost seamless, and the darkness of the subject matter is offset by a dry and clever wit. The main characters: working class Clem and his upper-class young secret lover, Frankie, are fully-rounded and their respective families mirror Britain’s social divide and the disappearing old country life. It’s a book for older and committed teenage readers or adults of any age – quality writing at this level defies an age-range.’
- Sally Morris, The Daily Mail


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