Richard Adams … Watership Down

Richard Adams … Watership Down

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Richard Adams, aged 94, at home in Hampshire. Photograph: Graham Turner/Guardian

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Richard Adams (1920 – 2016) was an English novelist who is best known as the author of Watership Down, Shardik and The Plague Dogs. He studied modern history at university before serving in the British Army during World War II. Afterwards, he completed his studies, and then joined the British Civil Service. It was during this period that he began writing fiction in his spare time.

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Richard Adams originally began telling the story that would become Watership Down to his two daughters on a car trip. They eventually insisted that he publish it as a book. Extraordinarily, he had never written a word of fiction before. He began writing during the evenings in 1966, taking two years to complete. The story was rejected by six publishers, all concerned that older children would not want to read about rabbits and that its dark themes were too “adult” for younger children. In 1972, when Adams was aged 52, Rex Collings agreed to publish the work. The book gained international acclaim almost immediately for reinvigorating anthropomorphic fiction with naturalism. 

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An Aldo Galli illustration for a new edition of Watership Down

Over the next few years Watership Down sold over a million copies worldwide. Adams won both of the most prestigious British children’s book awards, one of six authors to do so: the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. In 1974, following publication of his second novel, Shardik, he left the Civil Service to become a full-time author. 

“It was rather difficult to start with. I was 52 when I discovered I could write. I wish I’d known a bit earlier. I never thought of myself as a writer until I became one. If I had known earlier how frightfully well I could write, I’d have started earlier”.

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Cover of First Edition

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