William Hollingsworth Wood was born in Burton-upon-Stather in Lincolnshire on 4th November 1914, the elder child and only son of Edwin Wood. Edwin had started his working life as a blacksmith apprenticed to his father, continuing a family tradition that stretched back at least four generations. After he married, and motivated by his wife Betsy's dissatisfaction with the uncertain earnings of a blacksmith-farmer, Edwin gave up the traditional job in exchange for the better pay of a steel worker in Scunthorpe. William started his education at the local Normanby School and shortly after that, the family moved to Scunthorpe. Later in life they would return to Burton to run the village Post Office.
William, or Billy as he was known to family and friends, was not destined for the rural life. He went to Scunthorpe Grammar School and then on to University College, London, where he earned a First Class Honours Degree in English and gained the annual prize awarded by the Early English Text Society as best student at his college. This achievement was reported in the local newspaper. The newspaper article notes that, even at this time, a teaching career was likely. In truth, as he revealed later, Billy really wanted to try his hand in journalism in Fleet Street, but conditions of his University loan from the local authority required him to teach for at least some time. After training at Westminister College in London, he took up the post of Head of English at Loughborough College School in 1938. At this time, he actually lived at Hazelrigg Hall at Loughborough College, an establishment not connected with the school but use for accommodation. Part of the arrangement was the (not connected to the school) and assumed a role of resident tutor there.
At this point, the Second World War intervened. In 1940, he joined the Engineers. After a spell at Sandhurst, he joined the Royal Armoured Corps and saw service in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy and Austria. In 1942, during a short 48 hour period of leave, he returned home to marry his sweetheart Mary Gwendoline Temple, from Barton-on-Humber, who at the time was nursing at The Middlesex Hospital in London.
The desire and flare for writing first showed itself during the war, when he produced and edited (and contributed significant amounts of material to) "Track", the magazine of the Royal Armoured Corps Training Depot (RACTD) in Rieti, north of Rome. (A full set of these magazines were discovered in a dusty old chest after his death. At some stage I may try to include more about them...)
Following the war, Billy returned to Loughborough College School to continue his teaching post. Here he produced his first works: Thring of Uppingham and Stormy Petrel were documentaries written for BBC Birmingham. He also worked on the beginnings of his first books.
However, he became increasing unhappy. His real desire was to make a career of writing, and began to get depressed at what he saw as wasting his life away teaching. Very aware of this problem growing in their life, Mary was the one to find a possible answer. In 1950, a close friend of her family had an elderly and infirm mother who lived alone in a large house in Cornwall, and needed a live-in housekeeper to look after her. Mary, with her nursing background and inclination to hard work, was ideal for the role, and, even though she really did not like the idea, proposed to Billy that they moved. In exchange for her work, the family would live in the old lady's house, and Billy free to write, and hopefully make their fortune.
In Polruan, Billy had a little hut on the hill overlooking the harbour, an idyllic spot, where he hid himself away to write. His first books were published at this time: The Disobedient Cuckoo Clock, The Road that Lost its Way and The Train that Tried to Please Everybody paved the way for a lifetime writing children's fiction. This period was a productive one for writing, and material for a number of future books was created here. Billy undoubtedly was content with his writing, but for Mary it was not a happy time. She hated the work, and after less than two years, she could take no more. In 1952 they moved to Mary's parents in Barton-upon-Humber, where Billy continued writing, but ultimately without the family having any real income. Eventually he was persuaded that he needed to go back to teaching to earn money, and reluctantly took up the post of Head of English at Jones' West Monmouthshire Grammar School in Pontypool, South Wales. He must have now realized that he was destined to teach, but the disappointment of not making his living from writing hung over him for the rest of his life, and he suffered periods of depression over his lost opportunity.
Regardless of these tensions, Billy had what was probably his most productive time in Pontypool. The House in the Sea, published in 1952, and The Ship by the Shore, published in 1957, both shown the influence of Polruan and the Cornish coast, while The True Book about Captain Scott and The True Book about Sir Francis Drake were a foray into children's non-fiction. Stories for Telling was a collection of short stories, most of which were broadcast by the BBC as part of Children's Hour. Finally during his time in Pontypool, Perils of Pacifico and Crown of Gold, both published in 1959, were illustrated by the celebrated illustrator and cartoonist, George Adamson.
After living in Pontypool for eight years, in 1961 the family moved to the village of Llandenny, an idyllic rural spot in the Wye Valley. This was to be the family home for the next thirty-seven years. Even though the environment must have been much more conducive to writing than previously, Billy was to have published only two more books: More Stories for Telling and Mr Punch in Bubble Land. He wrote a number of short articles for various magazines, including two published in Lincolnshire Life about his grandfather, and reproduced elsewhere on this site. His last significant writings that were intended to be books, Pomposo and his Merry Muddles and The Deddo Time, were never published.
In 1998 Billy and Mary moved from the long-time family home to a smaller and more suitable house in Raglan, a nearby larger village. Billy had been having heart problems for some while, and had suffered a number of minor heart attacks. These problems gradually increased, and Billy eventually died of heart failure on 3rd June 2000, aged 85.