Arthur Ransome was born on January 18, 1884, in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. He always wanted to become a writer, and as a boy was fascinated by fairy tales, which his mother discouraged. His dad encouraged him to use his imagination, spending lots of time sailing and camping and exploring with Arthur in the English countryside - the same places that inspired Wordsworth, and settings which would later crop up in Arthur's books. Sadly, his dad died when Arthur was only 13.

Arthur went to boarding school at Rugby, where he lived in what had been Lewis Carroll's study. He had poor vision, zero athletic skills, and crummy academic performance, so he did not have a great time.

He went on to study chemistry at Yorkshire College, but, after reading J.W. Mackail's Life of William Morris, decided to work in publishing instead, and eventually became a journalist, ghost writer, and reviewer.

Arthur got married and had a daughter, but it didn't work out - every website I researched referred to it as "a disaster." So Arthur went to Russia. It was 1913, and he wanted to research a book on Russian fairy tales. When World War I broke out, he was stuck there, and saw the revolution firsthand. He was promptly appointed foreign correspondent for the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian. Through his reporting, he grew very close to the Bolsheviks, including Lenin. Lenin had few channels of communication to the West, and knew Arthur could be useful to him. He allowed Arthur full access to the Kremlin, and the two were known to share an occasional game of chess.

At first, Arthur was sympathetic to the Communists, which caused him to be accused of being a Bolshevik spy, but by the time World War II came around, he was hep to the badness of communism.

When he wasn't busy whupping Lenin at chess, Arthur was falling in love with Trotsky's secretary. Her name was Eugenia Shelapina. When Arthur was allowed to leave the country, he wanted to take her to England with him, but she was unable to leave Russia. They settled in the Gulf of Riga in the Baltic, where they lived for four years. They bought a boat and named it the Racundra, and sailed it around the Baltic. This was the inspiration for Arthur's first book, Racundra's First Cruise, a nonfiction account of their travels. it soon became a bestseller, and the profits allowed him to quit journalism and do what he'd really always wanted to do - write books for kids.

In 1924, Arthur was finally officially divorced from his first wife, and immediately married Eugenia. They sold the boat and bought a house in Low Ludderburn. Over the next ten years he wrote twenty books, some collections of fairy tales, some other things, including Swallows and Amazons, which I personally have never heard of but which my sources assure me is a fundamental classic of children's literature.

The Ransomes moved to Suffolk, by the River Orwell. Arthur bought another boat, the Nancy Blackett, which became the inspiration for We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea, which is generally considered his best book.

Arthur was to own several more boats, but his health was failing. He died on June 3, 1967, and is buried in a churchyard which he described as one of the most peaceful places on earth.

He leaves a good legacy, a stack of books for kids - he never could quite remember how many he'd written. Unfortunately, one of them involves a character named "Able Seaman Titty" - but we'll forgive him that.

He wore a tweedy jacket and a silly hat and a sillier mustache - please see, and see if you can't imagine Arthur selling papers on the corner for a penny, or riding one of those bicycles which can't decide on a constant wheel size.

The Arthur Ransome Society was started in June of 1990. Its goals are to celebrate Ransome's life and his work, and to encourage people of all ages to take part in outdoor activities such as sailing, walking and fishing.

I have saved the best part of Arthur Ransome for last. When children came to have tea with him - and it happened a lot - he never made then have bread and butter first, as was the custom. He recognized this as a terrible way of filling up bellies with boring food, instead of the good stuff. Arthur always went straight for the cake.


"The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a single resting place."

"Syria is mostly made, I believe, of sand. Anyhow, that is what it sounds like."

"Softly, at first, as if it hardly meant it, the snow began to fall."


(note: this is not nearly all of them. The US is an idiot and lets good things go out of print. Go to England and you'll find plenty more titles.)

All the Lights in the Night

The Big Six

Coot Club

Coots In the North

Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Study

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship   (1969 Caldecott Medal)

Great Northern

Missee Lee

Oscar Wilde: A Critical Study   (this book brought charges of libel against Arthur! But he beat them.)

Peter Duck

The Picts and the Martyrs

Pigeon Post

Secret Water


Swallows and Amazons

We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea

Winter Holiday

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