Berlie Doherty (b. 6 November 1943; Liverpool, UK; née Hollingsworth) is an English novelist, poet, playwright and screenwriter. She is best known for her children's books, for which she has twice won the Carnegie Medal. Her other works include novels for adults, plays for theatre and radio, television series and libretti for children's opera.
Born at Knotty Ash in Liverpool in 1943 to Walter Hollingsworth, Doherty was the youngest of three children. When she was four, the family moved to the seaside town of Hoylake, the setting of several of her early books. She was encouraged to write by her father, from whom she later wrote that she had 'inherited stories'. A railway clerk by trade, he was also a keen writer whose poetry had been published in the local newspaper. Doherty soon followed suit, with her poetry and stories appearing on the children's pages of the Liverpool Echo and Hoylake News and Advertiser.
Doherty attended Upton Hall Convent School. She read English at the University of Durham (1965), and then studied social science at the University of Liverpool. In 1978, after starting a family, she gained a postgraduate certificate in education at the University of Sheffield. A course in creative writing as part of the certificate led to a short story about the convent school; broadcast on local radio, it was to form the nucleus of Doherty's first adult novel, Requiem.
After employment as a social worker and teacher, Doherty spent two years writing and producing schools programmes for BBC Radio Sheffield.
Doherty's first book, the children's novel How Green You Are!, was published in 1982. She became a full-time writer in 1983, and has written a total of over thirty novels and picture books for children and young adults. According to Philip Pullman, "Doherty’s strength has always been her emotional honesty."
Her books encompass multiple genres. Some draw on her experience as a social worker to dramatise contemporary issues, including teenage pregnancy in Dear Nobody (1991), adoption in The Snake-Stone (1995), and African AIDS orphans and child trafficking in her latest novel, Abela: The Girl Who Saw Lions (2007). A conservationist, her story book Tilly Mint and the Dodo (1988) centres around the threat of species extinction. Spellhorn (1989) uses a fantasy setting to explore the experience of blindness. Several of her works have historical settings, such as Street Child (1993), which is set in 1860s London. Some of these are based on Doherty's own family history; Granny was a Buffer Girl (1986) includes the story of her parents' marriage, while The Sailing Ship Tree (1998) draws on the lives of her father and grandfather.
Doherty has stated that she is inspired by landscape, admiring Thomas Hardy for "the sense of people within a landscape" that his novels convey, and her works often have a strong sense of place. She now lives in Edale, Derbyshire in the Dark Peak, and many of her books are set in the Peak District. Children of Winter (1985) is loosely based on the story of the plague village of Eyam, and the drowning of the villages of Derwent and Ashopton by the Ladybower Reservoir is recounted in Deep Secret (2004). The fantasy picture book Blue John (2003) was inspired by the Blue John Cavern at Castleton.
Doherty often works with children and teenagers when developing her novels, having "a conviction that children are the experts and I can always learn from them." She read her first novel, How Green You Are! to one of her classes while working as a teacher in Sheffield. Tough Luck (1987) was written as part of a writer's residency at a Doncaster school, while her research for Spellhorn included extensive work with a group of blind children from a school in Sheffield.
Though best known for her works for children, Doherty has also written two novels for adults, Requiem (1991) and The Vinegar Jar (1994). On the differences between writing for children and adults, she has said, "Children need a good strong storyline. But they need sensitive writing and must be able to relate to the characters and the plot."
Her poetry collection Walking on Air was published in 1993, and her poems have also appeared in several anthologies. She edited the collection The Forsaken Merman and Other Story Poems (1998). Her poem 'Here lies a city's heart...', a Sheffield Arts commission, has been engraved on a Sheffield pavement.
Doherty has written many plays for radio, which she describes as "a wonderful medium to write for, inviting as it does both writer and listener to use their imaginations, to 'see' with their mind's eye." She has also written several plays for the theatre, including both adaptations and original works. She has adapted two of her novels for television, White Peak Farm for BBC1 (1988) and Children of Winter for Channel 4 (1994). She also wrote the 2001 series Zzaap and the Word Master about two children trapped in cyberspace, broadcast on BBC2 as part of the Look and Read schools programming.
Works associated with music
Several of Doherty's works are intended to be accompanied by music. She has written the libretti for three children's operas. Daughter of the Sea was adapted from her novel of the same name, and was first performed by a group including the Lindsay Quartet in 2004, with music composed by Richard Chew. The Magician's Cat (2004) was commissioned by the Welsh National Opera and features music by Julian Philips, composer in residence at Glyndebourne. Her most recent libretto, for the chamber opera Wild Cat, was also commissioned by the Welsh National Opera as part of the trilogy 'Land, Sea, Sky' on the theme of conservation, and was first performed in May 2007 by the WNO Singing Club (a youth group), directed by Nik Ashton. The libretto was partly translated into Welsh by poet Menna Elfyn, and the music was also composed by Philips.
Three commissions from the Lindsay Quartet were written to be read over live performances of their music. The Midnight Man was inspired by Debussy's Quartet in G minor, Blue John by Smetana's string quartet From My Life, and The Spell of the Toadman by Janá?ek's string quartet Kreutzer Sonata. The Midnight Man and Blue John were later published as picture books. Doherty's daughter, Sally, has also set The Midnight Man for spoken and singing voices, flute, clarinet, cello and harp.
Doherty has twice won the prestigious Carnegie Medal, for Granny was a Buffer Girl (1986) and Dear Nobody (1991). Granny was a Buffer Girl was also an honour book in the 1988 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. Dear Nobody also won the Sankei Award (1994) as well as a Writers' Guild Award for its adaptation (1991); it was included by The Guardian in a list of classics for young teens. Other awards include a Writers' Guild Award for Daughter of the Sea in 1997.
In 2002, the University of Derby awarded Doherty an honorary doctorate.
Doherty lives with children's writer, Alan Brown. She has three children by a previous marriage. Her two daughters have both worked in collaboration with her; Janna Doherty illustrated Walking on Air and Tilly Mint and the Dodo, and Sally set Midnight Man and Daughter of the Sea to music.