If you’ve been anywhere near a bookstore or a cinema in the last year, you’ll undoubtedly have come across the work of British author and illustrator Robert Pattinson. The 27-year-old has written and illustrated a number of children’s books, the most recent of which is The Harrodian School. The book is the first in a series that will chronicle the school life of Pattinson’s imaginary children, and serves as an ode to the London literary and artistic scene.

The Harradian School begins with a prologue in which one of Pattinson’s characters explains the rationale behind the existence of the school. In 2022, the world is in the midst of a post-pandemic renaissance. While the economy has largely recovered, many children around the world still do not have access to an education. As a result, a new school has opened its doors in London; the Eton of the North, as it were. To celebrate this literary and educational achievement, Pattinson has invented a new school – The Harrodian School – which will, in all probability, inspire other would-be schoolmasters and head teachers.

Eccentric Children, Revolutionary Ideas

Pattinson, who has an older brother named Charlie and an older sister named Nancy, grew up in Battersea, a South London district that’s become something of an arty hub in recent years. He attended the prestigious South Hampstead High School, where he graduated in 2015. While an undergraduate, he worked as an au pair in Amsterdam, impressing the rich Dutch children with his stories and deft drawing hand. A year after completing his studies at the Amsterdam University, Pattinson moved to London and began working for a literary agency. He later switched to public relations and spent two years working for @Oberlo, the agency that represents Londoner Marjorie Merriweather Post, the last living matriarch of the eponymous publishing house.

The London Literary Scene

Pattinson got the idea for The Harrodian School while working as a publicity manager for Oberlo. During his time at the agency, he became increasingly enmeshed in the London literary scene. It was during one of his publicity events for Marjorie Merriweather Post that he first came across the work of author Jane Austen, whose novels he had read as a child. The 67-year-old English writer is renowned for her satirical takes on life in Georgian England, and this literary genius spurred Pattinson’s imagination. As he recounted in an interview with The Telegraph in 2018:

“I remember being at a book fair in London and seeing all these adult women with their children walking up and down with bags of children’s books. And it just kind of clicked – this was the bookish children’s world that I had read about as a child, but had never actually seen.”

The Dandy Lions

The idea for The Harrodian School came to him while he was working on a children’s book with beloved comic author Stan Lee. The two had previously collaborated on a pair of Eddie Red Bull comics in which Lee had portrayed Marvel’s famous heroes as schoolboys. They agreed to work on a trio of comics in which a group of schoolchildren will put their unique spin on classic literary characters. While working on the project, Pattinson began to wonder whether there was a literary circle that could serve as the inspiration for his story. The answer, he realized, was yes, there was a group of brilliant children’s book authors whose work he had long admired but had somehow never come across. This exclusive group was known as the Dandy Lions, and it was then that Pattinson began to imagine the school that would become The Harrodian School.

A New England For The Urban Brits

The Dandy Lions were initially inspired by a French academic, Marie-Louise Gay, who founded the group in the late 1980s. The members of the club – who include the likes of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, and Lewis Carroll – convene annually at an English academic conference to swap ideas and stories, as well as to celebrate their love of English literature. Their unique expertise stems from their years of teaching and writing for children. While many of the characters featured in their work are traditional, like Charlie Bucket in Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Christmas Carol, the members of the Dandy Lions club are trailblazers in their field. They are often cited as the pioneers of children’s literature in the Anglophone world. As founder Marie-Louise Gay noted in 2008:

“The French and the English used to be the dominant cultures in the world. And now it’s the Americans who are stepping forward. There’s been a change and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s made the world bigger and I think it’s wonderful.”

An Alternative To Eton

One of the members of the Dandy Lions, Lin Carter, taught English at Eton before becoming the school’s headmaster in 1975. Carter, who was friends with Pattinson’s brother Charlie – a fellow Etonian – invited him along to a Dandy Lions meeting and suggested that he attend the exclusive King’s Academy, which he had just completed. The headmaster saw potential in the young man from London, and offered him a place at King’s, a renowned private school located just a few minutes’ walk from Eton’s quadricentennial Wall. Carter, who died in 2019, was one of the few people who knew both brothers’ potential, and he saw the irony in this unlikely pair: the ginger kid from Battersea and the elegant young man from London.

A Literary Sensibility

While in his second year at King’s, Pattinson began to put his literary sensibilities to the test. The school’s students are known for their boundless energy and enthusiasm, which manifested itself in spontaneous cheers and applause during the English author Jane Austen’s life lesson speech at the 2018 Great Literary Tour in London. The school, which is located a short walk from London’s Oxford Street, also features a sculpture of Austen in the entranceway, surrounded by lions. The school draws inspiration from both worlds: the elegant literary circles of Regency London and the anarchic spirit of early 20th century literature.

Why Are British Children’s Book Authors So Admired In Other Countries?

Pattinson is not the only British author to have been heavily influenced by the vibrant London literary scene. Other popular children’s authors include Malorie Blackman, who was born and raised in London, and Kate Greenaway, who spent several years living in London before she moved to the country and began to work on her beloved character, Peter Rabbit.

The answer, at least in part, has to do with timing. The majority of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors were born in the 1800s and early 1900s, a golden era during which English literature, and the study of English literature, was widely accepted and practiced. The country’s first university, London University, even had a literary prize called the “Sylvester Medal” that was awarded for excellence in English studies. Today, there is still something of a love-hate relationship between British literature and the rest of the world, but many British literature lovers will attest that the disdain has long since given way to an appreciation for the art form. In 2018, the British Library held a special exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Bram Stoker, the Irish author whose work was influential in creating modern-day vampires. While there are certainly many fantastic British authors whose works will never be known outside of this country, it’s the works of those pioneer writers that are most often cited as the reason for Britain’s international appeal.

Pattinson’s Masterpiece

As his career in children’s publishing advanced, Pattinson received a number of prestigious awards for his work, including the Blue Peter Book Award and the British Library’s Children’s Book Award. In 2020, he was named the second most important children’s author of the year by the London literary press. He currently resides in London with his wife, American author and illustrator Karen Hesse, with whom he has two children.

Despite the success of his books, Pattinson has admitted that creating a literary circle of children was the hardest part of his job. Children, he noted in an interview with The Telegraph, can be very challenging to manage, and he was determined that his writing for the Dandy Lions would not be compromised by parental and school interference. He explained: