Helen Dunmore
(United Kingdom, 1952)   
Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore was born in Yorkshire and studied at the University of York. She began to write poems as a child, and has published nine collections of poetry, of which the most recent is Glad of These Times (2007). Her second collection, The Sea Skater, won the Poetry Society’s Alice Hunt Bartlett Award; The Raw Garden was a Poetry Book Society Choice, and her collection of poems for children, Secrets, won the Signal Award for Poetry. Bestiary was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. She has been published by Bloodaxe Books since her first book, which was one of Bloodaxe's earliest titles. Since her early twenties she has given poetry readings and led poetry workshops around the UK and abroad.

To date she has published eleven novels and three collections of short stories. Of these, Zennor in Darkness won the McKitterick Prize, and A Spell of Winter won the inaugural Orange Prize for Fiction. The Siege was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize for Fiction, and the Whitbread Prize for Fiction. Her writing for children includes short stories, novels for older children, including The Ingo Quartet, and poetry.

Her published critical work includes introductions to D.H. Lawrence’s novellas, to a selection of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a selection of poems by Emily Brontë, and introductions to novels by Robert Louis Stevenson, Anita Brookner and Barbara Trapido. She has written a new introduction to the Folio edition of Anna Karenina and a study of Virginia Woolf's relationships with women.

Helen Dunmore’s work has been translated into twenty-five languages. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Award-winning novelist and poet Helen Dunmore received first prize in the National Poetry Competition 2009 for her poem 'The Malarkey', described by the judge Ruth Padel as “very adept but quite unobtrusive – it's not a flashy poem at all, but there's a lot of integrity to it. It shows what a poem can do.” Helen Dunmore’s writing is known for its quiet lucidity with an impressive aesthetic edge: The New York Times praised her novel The Siege for being “elegantly, starkly beautiful”. Her novel The Spell of Winter won the inaugural Orange Prize for Fiction.

Dunmore was born in December 1952, in Yorkshire. She has said that poetry was very important to her from childhood: “I began by listening to and learning by heart all kinds of rhymes and hymns and ballads, and then went on to make up my own poems, using the forms I’d heard.” Dunmore studied English at the University of York, and after graduation taught English as a foreign language in Finland. At around this time she began to write the poems which formed her first poetry collection, The Apple Fall, published by Bloodaxe. She has since gone on to publish several collections of poems with Bloodaxe (including Bestiary, shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize in 1997, and a selected works, Out of the Blue: Poems 1975–2001.) Her poems have been frequently anthologised. Dunmore has also reviewed poetry for Stand, Poetry Review and the Observer.

Her poetry has been described as “at once intimate and strange […] These are statements of faith as well as recognitions of our double nature, our fears and weaknesses” (Peter Pegnall, London Magazine). As with the magical realism of Margaret Atwood or Angela Carter, Dunmore conveys the sense of a world through the looking glass, equally intensely aware of the interiority of experience of living inside a female body, and the exterior world around her.

One night I slipped out of my skin. It lollopped
hooked to my heels, hurting. I had to spray on
more scent so you could find me in the dark,
I was going so fast. One of you begged for my ears
because you could hear the sea in them.

(‘Three Ways of Recovering a Body’, Recovering a Body, 1994)

© Aviva Dautch


Glad of These Times, Bloodaxe, 2007
Out of the Blue,Bloodaxe, 2001
The Raw Garden, Bloodaxe, 1998
Bestiary,Bloodaxe, 1997
Short Days, Long Nights, New Selected Poems, Bloodaxe, 1991
Recovering a Body, Bloodaxe, 1994 
The Sea Skater, Bloodaxe, 1986
The Apple Fall, Bloodaxe, 1983

Counting the Stars, Penguin, 2008
House of Orphans, Penguin, 2007
Mourning Ruby, Penguin, 2003
The Siege, Penguin, 2001
With Your Crooked Heart, Penguin, 1999
Your Blue-Eyed Boy, Penguin, 1998
Talking to the Dead, Penguin, 1996
A Spell of Winter, Penguin, 1995
Burning Bright, Penguin, 1994


Helen Dunmore won the First Prize in the National Poetry Competition Prize in 2009 with her poem ‘The Malarkey’. View all of the winners’ poems at the website of the The Poetry Society.

See Dunmore’s own website here.

Dunmore won the inaugural Orange Prize in 1997 with her third novel, A Spell of Winter.

Dunmore’s fiction is published by Penguin.


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