Peter Dickinson was a tall, elderly, bony, beaky, wrinkled sort of fellow, with a lot of untidy grey hair and a weird hooting voice — in fact he looked and sounded a bit like Gandalf’s crazy twin, but he was only rather absent-minded, thinking about something else, or just day-dreaming.
He was born in the middle of Africa, within earshot of the Victoria Falls. Baboons sometimes came into the school playground. When people went swimming in the Zambezi they did it in a big wooden cage let down into the water, so that the crocs couldn’t get at them. For the hot weather the family went south to his grandfather’s sheep-and-ostrich farm in South Africa.
When he was seven the family came back to England so that he and his brothers could go to English schools, where they taught him mostly Latin and Greek. He didn’t have an English lesson after he was twelve, and nobody ever told him to write a story. He was fairly good at games.
He led an ordinary kind of life — not much by way of adventures, but some silly things. Such as? Well, when he had to join the army, just after World War II, they managed to turn him into two people; so he was bashing away at infantry training at a camp in Northern Ireland when two sea-sick military policemen showed up and tried to arrest him for being a deserter from a different camp in the south of England, where his other self was supposed to be bashing away.
He was tutoring a boy in a huge old castle in Scotland when the butler (it was that sort of household) said to him at breakfast one day “Ah, sir, it’s a long time since we heard screams coming from the West Wing!” (Peter’s screams, not the boy’s.)
And he was knocked down by a tram on his way to the interview for his first job, with the magazine Punch, and arrived all covered with blood and dirt, but they gave him the job because he was the only candidate. He stayed there seventeen years.
He and his first wife had two daughters and two sons, and he had six grandchildren. He and his second wife, the American writer Robin McKinley, lived in an almost-too-pretty country town in the south of England.
Peter died on his 88th birthday, 16 December 2015.