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Anthony McGowan
McGowan in 2012
McGowan in 2012
Born 1 January 1965 (1965-01-01) (age 57)
Manchester, England
Occupation Author
Language English
Alma mater Manchester University
Open University
Genre Children's literature, Young adult fiction, Literary fiction, Nonfiction
Notable works Hellbent
The Knife That Killed Me
Henry Tumour
The Truth of Things series (Brock, Pike, Rook, Lark)
Notable awards CILIP Carnegie Medal (2020)
Spouse Rebecca Campbell
Children 2

Anthony John McGowan (born January 1965) is an English author of books for children, teenagers and adults. He is the winner of the 2020 CILIP Carnegie Medal for Lark.

In addition to his 2020 win, he has been twice longlisted (for The Knife That Killed Me in 2008 and Brock in 2014) and once shortlisted (for Rook in 2018) for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and is the winner of the 2006 Booktrust Teenage Prize for Henry Tumour.

Early life and education

McGowan was the second of five children born into a working-class Roman Catholic family in Manchester. His parents were both nurses and his family moved to the village of Sherburn in Elmet, outside Leeds, when he was a small child. He has said that he read primarily non-fiction nature books when he was young, but when he was nine, a teacher gave him JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: "I don’t think I’d ever read a novel before, not even an Enid Blyton. It took me several years to finish reading it, but afterwards, I’d become a different kind of person; one who read novels and might one day write one."

At age 11, he was sent to Corpus Christi Catholic College, a state school that he has called "one of the worst schools in Leeds...My upbringing until then had been fairly sheltered and quite rural. Suddenly I was surrounded by lots of disturbed and dangerous kids from a sink estate. Every break-time there’d be fights, and the teachers kept control with absolute brutality. On my very first day, I was talking in line outside, and the next thing I knew, I was looking up at the sky. A teacher had slapped me to the ground. It was a massive shock to the system."

His time at Corpus Christi had a profound influence on him and features prominently as inspiration in his books for young people: "I keep focusing on my school in my work because that’s when stuff happened in my head. Every day was full of conflict and terror and excitement. And I wanted to make kids and their social networks the focus of all my books...But also my memories of school are seared into my mind, and they are the stuff that fiction is made of: conflict and love and hate." In 2014 he said of it "I've never really left that school. In my imagination, I'm still there. All my books are set there. When I close my eyes at night, I'm back in that classroom."

McGowan went on to study Philosophy and Politics at Manchester University, obtaining a BA in 1986 and an M.Phil in 1990. He earned his PhD from the Open University in 1996 with a thesis titled The sublime machine: conceptions of masculine beauty 1750-1850.

Before turning to writing full-time, he worked as a nightclub bouncer, a journalist and a civil servant.

Children's fiction

In 2008, McGowan published his first book for middle readers, Einstein's Underpants and How They Saved the World. The Independent said of it "Einstein's Underpants is zany, irreverent and downright absurd - children will love it." In 2008 and 2009, he had four books in a series for children called The Bare Bum Gang published by Red Fox. The first book, The Bare Bum Gang and the Football Faceoff, was reviewed in the Telegraph by Dinah Hall, who wrote "There's a fine line between crude and funny, and McGowan treads it expertly. If this doesn't get 7- to 9-year-olds reading, nothing will."

In 2009–2010, he took part as one of the writers of a new Oxford University Press "guided reading" series designed to interest boys in reading, titled "Project X". McGowan penned approximately twenty of the titles in the series, which contains continuous adventure stories with a single set of main characters to take readers through the primary school years.

In 2011, he wrote The Donut Diaries, the first book in a trilogy which are credited to the main character, Dermot Milligan, an overweight boy threatened with being sent to Camp Fatso. The book won the Leicester Our Best Book Award 2012, and it was called "a warm, witty and inspiring tale" by the Telegraph. The sequel, The Donut Diaries: Revenge is Sweet was released in 2012, and the third in the series, The Donut Diaries: Escape from Camp Fatso came out the following year.

In 2011, it was announced that McGowan had been contracted to write four books that would revive the classic children's wildlife adventure series penned between 1949 and 1980 by the late Willard Price. The books were published between 2012 and 2014.

I Killed Father Christmas (Barrington Stoke, 2017) was his first book specifically targeted to middle readers with reading difficulties. It is the story of a boy who, after hearing his parents arguing, comes to believe that he is responsible for the death of Father Christmas, and thus must take his place.

Personal life

McGowan is married to novelist and London School of Economics academic Rebecca Campbell. They have two children.and live in West Hampstead, London.

He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1986 at the age of 21 and told his chance of survival was a percentage "in the low teens". He wrote an article for Wisden Cricket Monthly in 2019 about how listening to the Ashes cricket series on the radio helped get him through the ordeal.

He plays for the Authors Cricket Club with a number of other British writers. He contributed a chapter on social class divisions and the game of cricket to the book that team members collectively wrote to commemorate their first season of playing together, The Authors XI: A Season of English Cricket from Hackney to Hambledon. In 2013, he hit the first century (100+ runs in a single inning) of his life in a game against the Actors Cricket Club, a feat he later recounted in an article for the cricket journal The Nightwatchman.


Fiction for children

  • Einstein's Underpants and How They Saved the World (Yearling, 2008)
  • I Killed Father Christmas (Barrington Stoke, 2017)

The Bare Bum Gang series

  • The Bare Bum Gang and the Football Faceoff (Red Fox, 2008)
  • The Bare Bum Gang Battle the Dogsnatchers (Red Fox, 2008)
  • The Bare Bum Gang and the Valley of Doom (Red Fox, 2009)
  • The Bare Bum Gang and the Holy Grail (Red Fox, 2009)

Project X series

  • The X-bots are Coming... (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Attack of the X-bots! (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Lone Wolf (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Ant Storm (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Ant Attack (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Stage Fright (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Riding the Waves (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Hamster Rampage (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Tasmanian Terror (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Operation Shipwreck (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Exploring the Deep (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • The Chase (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Divided We Fall (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Ballerina of Doom (Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • Toyshop Terror (Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • The Snatcher (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • X-bot Reboot (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Revenge of the X-bots! (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • A New Alliance (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • A Dangerous Game (Oxford University Press, 2014)

The Donut Diaries series

  • The Donut Diaries (Corgi Children's, 2011)
  • The Donut Diaries: Revenge is Sweet (Corgi Children's, 2012)
  • The Donut Diaries: Escape from Camp Fatso (Corgi Children's, 2013)

Willard Price books

  • Leopard Adventure (Puffin, 2012)
  • Shark Adventure (Puffin, 2013)
  • Bear Adventure (Puffin, 2013)
  • Python Adventure (Puffin, 2014)
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