Joan Lingard, author of Kevin and Sadie series, dies aged 90

The writer was known to generations of teenagers in Northern Ireland as the creator of Belfast’s star-crossed lovers

The author Joan Lingard, who wrote the groundbreaking Kevin and Sadie series of young adult novels about teenagers who find love across the religious divide during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, has died.

The Bookseller reported on Thursday that Ms Lingard “passed away peacefully” on July 12th, aged 90.

She was known to generations of teenagers in Northern Ireland as the creator of Belfast’s own pair of star-crossed lovers, Catholic Kevin and Protestant Sadie, and followed their adventures in a series of five books, including The Twelfth Day of July (1970) and Across the Barricades (1972).

The Northern Irish writer Jan Carson paid tribute to Ms Lingard, and said her “Kevin and Sadie books, an absolute staple of our school book boxes, were my very first experience of encountering characters who sounded like me and came from the same part of the world as me.

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“Lingard played an enormously instrumental role in reminding so many of us Northern Irish creatives that our stories were valid, interesting and worth exploring.

“As such, we should all be incredibly grateful for the legacy she leaves behind.”

The managing director of Penguin Random House Children’s, Francesca Dow, told The Bookseller that Ms Lingard was “an incredible writer who gave us some of the most important stories of her time” and her Kevin and Sadie books were “essential reading”.

“A love story set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the emotions she shared, the situation she portrayed so vividly still resonate with young people today.”

In an interview with the Irish Post in 1998, Ms Lingard described how she had been inspired to create the characters of Kevin and Sadie after a friend from Belfast came to visit her at her home in Edinburgh.

“She was only recently married, to an Orangeman. We argued, but in spite of that, I liked him, which made you think more about it, and he also got on well with my kids, who were all under five.

“He would tell them bedtime stories, and I could hear them laughing.

“One night by the bedroom door I heard them and he was saying: ‘Who’s the good man?’ And they said, ‘King Billy’. ‘What does King Billy ride?’ ‘A white horse’ … ‘And who’s the bad man?’ And they yelled ‘the Pope!’

“And he laughed because they had it all off pat, and I laughed because they didn’t know what they were talking about.

“And he said, ‘now, now, it’s only a joke’. And I thought it could have been his own kids. It could have been the start of brainwashing.

“It was at that point I thought, I’m going to write a book for young people. And The Twelfth Day of July was born.”

Joan Lingard was the author of more than 60 books for adults and children, including After Colette, Dreams of Love and Modest Glory.

She was born in Scotland but moved to Belfast as a toddler and lived there until she was 18 before returning to Edinburgh.

She was a member of Scottish PEN and in 2009 was awarded the Royal Mail award for Scottish Children’s Books. In 1998 she received an MBE for services to literature.

Her most recent children’s book, Trouble on Cable Street, was published in 2014.

She is survived by her husband Martin, children Kersten, Bridget and Jenny, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times