(Robert) Geoffrey TreaseFRSL (11 August 1909 – 27 January 1998) was a prolific British writer who published 113 books, mainly for children, between 1934 and 1997, starting with Bows Against the Barons and ending with Cloak for a Spy in 1997. His work has been translated into 20 languages. His grandfather was a historian, and was one of the main influences on his work. He is best known for the children's novel Cue for Treason (1940).
Trease is best known for writing children's historical novels, whose content reflects his insistence on historically correct backgrounds, which he meticulously researched. His ground-breaking study Tales Out of School (1949) pioneered the idea that children's literature should be a serious subject for study and debate. When he began his career, his radical viewpoint was a change from the conventional and often jingoistic tone of most children's literature of the time, and he was one of the first authors who deliberately set out to appeal to both boys and girls and to feature strong leading characters of both sexes.
Trease was born in Nottingham in 1909, third and youngest son of George Trease (1873–1932), a wine merchant, and his wife Florence Dale (1874–1955), a doctor's daughter. He won a scholarship to Nottingham High School, where he wrote stories, poems, and a three-act play; awarded a Classics scholarship to Oxford University, he found his tutors dull and after a year, left university without a degree and moved to London. Intent on becoming a writer, he also worked with slum children and joined a left-wing group called the "Promethean Society" whose members included Hugh Gordon Porteus and Desmond Hawkins.
Trease described his own childhood reading as 'a diet of classist and racist historical adventure' but in 1933, he came across a translation of a Russian book titled Moscow has a Plan, in which a Soviet author dramatised the First five-year plan for young readers. Inspired by this, in 1934 Trease wrote Bows Against the Barons, a left-wing update of Robin Hood that showcased a radical approach to historical literature for young people. This included the use of modern English, rather than linguistic mannerisms, strong male and female characters, often from less privileged levels of society and meticulous attention to detail. An enduring belief in equality and fairness is a theme in many of his books, as are links between the historical settings of his novels and contemporary issues.
Trease also wrote modern school stories, including the five Black Banner novels set in the Lake District, the first being No Boats on Bannermere), as well as a number of adult novels, history, plays for radio and television, and biographies. Trease authored a guide aimed at teaching creative writing to young adults, The Young Writer: A Practical Handbook. He wrote three books of autobiography: A Whiff of Burnt Boats (1971), Laughter at the Door (1974), and in the last year of his life, the final part, Farewell the Hills. This was written for his family and friends, and published privately after his death.
Trease was an acknowledged influence on authors such as Hester Burton and inspired others, such as Rosemary Sutcliff and Leon Garfield. While in some ways they outpaced him, he continued to write and published 113 books before 'calling it a day' at the age of 88 because of illness. Many were translated for foreign markets, including Asia and Europe. In the United States he won the New York Herald Tribune Book Award for the Children’s Spring Festival 1966 for This is Your Century.
He married Marian Boyer (1906-1989) in 1933 and they spent most of their marriage in Colwall, near the Downs School, Great Malvern. They had one daughter, Joyce and moved to Bath to be closer to her, shortly before Marian's death.
^Desmond Hawkins, When I was: a memoir of the years between the wars
Macmillan, 1989 ISBN0333489683 (pp. 73-4)
^The Promethean Society's key influences included Marx, Freud, Trotsky, Wells and Gandhi. Trease noted wryly: "We did not worry unduly about reconciling the contradictions". Carpenter and Pritchard, (p.541).