Tuesday, March 18, 2014

In the land of the living

When I decided to limit my blog to writers who had actively published between 1910 and 1960, I didn't particular consider the implication that I would be writing almost entirely about women who were—to put it euphemistically—no longer with us.  In fact, if I had considered it, I would likely have assumed that all the writers on my blog had already moved on to the Great Library beyond (where, surely, all books are in print and effortlessly available at one's merest whim).  It's rare enough these days for me to read an author who is actually, physically alivehowever much I might feel that their books are living, breathing things.

But recently, I decided to have a look through my database and see how many other hardy, long-lived women from my time period remained alive and to honor them with a post of their own.  I was rather surprised to discover nearly three dozen writers on my list who are certainly or possibly alive. But first, I want to pay my respects to those authors who have only recently been lost.


Mary Stewart (1916-2014)

On May 20, 2014, readers around the world mourned the loss of Mary Stewart (1916-2014), the perennially popular author of romantic suspense and fantasy.  Her Merlin series of fantasy novels were bestsellers for decades, and many of her earlier romantic suspense novels were reprinted in 2011 in charming new paperback editions by Hodder & Stoughton.

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014)

Shortly after the new year, on January 2, 2014, fans also mourned the loss of acclaimed novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, whose first novel was The Beautiful Visit (1950), but who is best remembered by many fans for her multi-volume Cazalets series, comprised of The Light Years (1990), Marking Time (1991), Confusion (1993), Casting Off (1995), and one final volume, All Change, published in 2013 only a few months before her death.

A youthful Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

2013 saw the loss of four more authors from my list. Most notably, of course, 2013 saw the passing of Doris Lessing, the only British woman to be honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature, who began her publishing career with the 1950 novel The Grass Is Singing.  Lessing is still perhaps best known for 1962 novel The Golden Notebook, about a politically-involved woman attempting to navigate between and ultimately unite the various strands of her identity.

Molly Lefebure (1919-2013), looking cheerful for someone who
spent much of her time working in a morgue!

Lessing was 94, just a bit older than Molly Lefebure, whose memoir Evidence for the Crown (1954), about her work in the London morgue during World War II, was recently filmed for television as Murder on the Home Front.  She also published biographies of Coleridge (1974), his wife (1986), and their children (published posthumously in late 2013).

Elizabeth Mavor (1927-2013)

I was also saddened last year to have to add a death date for Elizabeth Mavor.  Mavor, who was 85, is best known for her fascinating biography The Ladies of Llangollen (1971), about Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, two 18th century women who eloped together in 1778 and lived together as, for all intents and purposes, a married couple for more than 50 years—well over two centuries before any such legal entity as a same-sex marriage came into existence! Mavor also edited a selection from Eleanor Butler's journals, A Year with the Ladies of Llangollen (1987), but in addition wrote four novelsSummer in the Greenhouse (1959), The Temple of Flora (1961), The Redoubt (1967), and A Green Equinox (1973).

Gwendoline Butler (1922-2013)

And finally, in 2013 mystery fans mourned Gwendoline Butler, who also used the pseudonym Jennie Melville and wrote police procedural novelsincluding a series featuring a female Chief Superintendent, Charmian Daniels—Victorian and Edwardian historical mysteries, and gothic romantic thrillers. Emily Melton of Booklist described Butler a few years ago as "one of today's most underrated mystery writers," one who "constructs superb stories with byzantine plots, tantalizing suspense, and dark psychological overtones."  Butler was 90.


But now on to those writers who are certainly or possibly still in the land of the living.  The "possibly" comes in because there are so many women on my list for whom information is sparse, and it's difficult to know if I'm merely lacking details.  I've put question marks in the date ranges for those writers, and with my usual tendency toward overinclusiveness I'm including all who would be 105 or less as of this writing (the age at which—quite impressivelyElizabeth Jenkins died in 2010).  If anyone reading this has additional information about any of these writers, I'll certainly appreciate it. Oh, and if information about an author is so scarce that I'm unable to find either birth or death information, then I'm not including them here, though there is of course the possibility that a few of those women could still be happily with us as well.

Youngster Jane Gaskell, born in 1941

The youngster in this group is Jane Gaskell, who published her first novel in 1957 at the ripe old age of 16, and is still barely middle-aged.  Penelope Farmer is not far behind in youth or precociousness, having published her first story collection in 1960 at the age of 21.

All the women are listed below, and all are, of course, already included on the main list.  May they live long (or, perhaps I should say, even longer) and prosper!

PAMELA ARUNDALE (1919-     )

Apparently the author of a single novel, Bread and Olives: A Light-Hearted Tale of a Mediterranean Island (1957), which sounds distinctly entertaining, and whose main character The Spectator compared to Aunt Dot from Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond.

GILLIAN AVERY (1926-     )
(married name Cockshut)

Children's author whose works are known for their realism and their Victorian settings; her best-known novels include The Warden's Niece (1957) and The Elephant War (1960), both set in Oxford, The Greatest Gresham (1962), and A Likely Lad (1971).

MARGARET J[OYCE]. BAKER (1918-     )

Children's author whose works are often set in Somerset and North Devon; titles include "Nonsense!" Said the Tortoise (1949), Four Farthings and a Thimble (1950), The Bright High Flyer (1957), Castaway Christmas (1963), and Cut Off from Crumpets (1964).

MARGARET BIGGS (1929-     )

Children's author best known for her Melling School series, many of which have been reprinted by Girls Gone By, starting with The Blakes Come to Melling (1951) and The New Prefect at Melling (1952); others include Dilly Goes to Ambergate (1955) and The Two Families (1958).

JULIA BIRLEY (1928-     )
(née Davies)

Daughter of Margaret Kennedy and author of four novels—The Children on the Shore (1958), The Time of the Cuckoo (1960), When You Were There (1963), and A Serpent's Egg (1966).

JEAN BLATHWAYT (1918-     )
A nurse and nursery school teacher as well as author, Blathwayt published more than a dozen books for children, including Uncle Paul's House (1957), The Well Cabin (1957), Jenny Leads the Way (1958), The Beach People (1960), Peter's Adventure (1961), and House of Shadows (1967).

(married name Turner)

Author of girls' school novels, Caldwell published two books in the 1950s—Prefects at Vivians (1956) and Head Girl at Vivians (1957)—and has more recently written four more volumes being reprinted by Girls Gone By, starting with Strangers at Vivians (2011).

(pseudonym of Susan Hinde, née Glossop)

Daughter of Antonia White; biographer and author of three novels—The Diary of a Fashion Model (1958), White Huntress (1963), and My Life & Horses (1966); her biographies include The Woman Who Wrote Black Beauty (1971) and a biography of Edward Lear (1989).

PAULINE CLARKE (1921-     )
(married name Blair, aka Helen Clare)
Children’s author known for The Pekinese Princess (1948), a fairy tale set in a kingdom ruled by dogs, The Boy with the Erpingham Hood (1956), set before the battle of Agincourt, and The Twelve and the Genii (1962), based on childhood writings by Branwell and Charlotte Brontë.

Isabel Colegate

(married name Briggs)

Best known for The Shooting Party (1981), an acclaimed novel set at an aristocratic weekend shooting party just before the outbreak of World War I, Colegate's other novels include The Blackmailer (1958), The Great Occasion (1962), and the Orlando trilogy (1968-1973).

HELEN EDMISTON (1913-????)
(aka Helen Robertson)

More research needed; author of four mystery novels—The Winged Witnesses (1955), Venice of the Black Sea (1956), The Crystal-Gazers (1957), and the most acclaimed, The Chinese Goose (1960, aka Swan Song), and one additional novel, The Shake-Up (1962).

PENELOPE FARMER (1939-     )
(married names Mockridge and Shorvon)

Children's writer and novelist whose career began with The China People (1960), a collection of fairy tales, Farmer is perhaps best known for Charlotte Sometimes (1969), the story of a girl who travels back in time to 1918; since the 1980s Farmer has also published several novels for adults.

Gillian Freeman

GILLIAN FREEMAN (1929-     )
(married name Thorpe, aka Eliot George)

Critic and novelist, whose works include Fall of Innocence (1956), The Leather Boys (1961), about a gay relationship, a study of pornography, The Undergrowth of Literature (1967), and a critical study of the work of Angela Brazil (1976).

JANE GASKELL (1941-    )

Fantasy writer best known for Strange Evil (1957), written when she was only 14, which deals with a war between fairies; a later series deals with residents of Atlantis fleeing to Egypt; other titles include King's Daughter (1958), All Neat in Black Stockings (1968), and Summer Coming (1972).

MARY KELLY (1927-     )
(née Coolican)

Author of 10 acclaimed mystery novels, including A Cold Coming (1956), Dead Man's Riddle (1957), The Spoilt Kill (1961, reprinted by Virago), March to the Gallows (1964), and Dead Corse (1966); Kelly stopped publishing after 1974's That Girl in the Alley.

ORIEL MALET (1923-     )
(pseudonym of Auriel Rosemary Malet Vaughan)

Novelist best known for Marjory Fleming (1946, reprinted by Persephone), about the famous child poet, Malet's other works include Trust in the Springtime (1943), My Bird Sings (1946), and the children's novel Beginner's Luck (1953).

(aka Anne Fellowes, aka Frances Lang, aka Jane Langford)

Author of numerous historical and romantic novels from the 1950s to the early 1980s, including Happy Is the House (1951), The Secret Fairing (1956), A Pride of Princesses (1961), The Leaping Lords (1963), The River Runs (1964), and children's books including Tinker's Castle (1963).

(married name Dale)

Possibly (but not likely to be) the same as Margaret Dale above; children's author whose works often focused on Scotland; titles include Seven Men of Wit (1960), The Queen's Music (1961), Gunpowder Treason (1968), Plot for the Queen (1969), and The Far Castles (1978).


Author of Kiss the Girls Goodbye: On Life in the Women's Services (1944), a useful resource regarding women's roles during World War II; she later co-wrote what appears to be a travel book about the Soviet Union, The Sickle and the Stars (1948).

Edna O'Brien

EDNA O'BRIEN (1930-     )
(married name Gebler)

Acclaimed Irish novelist, dramatist, screenwriter, and biographer, best known for her Country Girls trilogy—The Country Girls (1960), The Lonely Girl (1962), and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964) and numerous other novels; O'Brien published a memoir, Country Girl, in 2012.

Children's author most active in the 1950s and 1960s; her titles include Polly of Primrose Hill (1956), All Because of Posy (1957), The Camerons Lead the Way (1957), Aunt Biddy Began It (1960), Number One, Victoria Terrace (1962), and Sally Anne Sees It Through (1967).

H[AZEL]. M[ARY]. PEEL (1930-     )
(aka Wallis Peel)

Author of horse stories for older children and adults, beginning with Fury, Son of the Wilds (1959), some of which have been reprinted by Fidra; others include Pilot the Hunter (1962) and Jago (1966); in recent years, Peel has written fantasy novels under her pseudonym.

K. M. Peyton

K. M. PEYTON (1929-     )
(pseudonym of Kathleen Wendy Herald Peyton, née Herald, aka Kathleen Herald) (children's)

Children’s author whose first book, Sabre, the Horse from the Sea (1947), appeared when she was 18; best known for the Flambards series, beginning with Flambards (1967), set in a crumbling manor house in the early 20th century; several of Peyton’s titles have been reprinted by Fidra.

(married name Farr)

Children's author who, like her sisters Christine and Josephine, focused on horse stories such as I Wanted A Pony (1946), Three Ponies and Shannan (1947), Janet Must Ride (1953), The Boy Who Came To Stay (1960), and Ponies In The Valley (1976).

Josephine (l) and Diana (r) Pullein-Thompson

(aka Josephine Mann)

Sister of Christine and Diana and also an author of children's horse stories; her titles include Six Ponies (1946), I Had Two Ponies (1947), Prince Among Ponies (1952), Show Jumping Secret (1955), The Trick Jumpers (1958), Fear Treks The Moor (1978), and Ride To The Rescue (1979).

RONA RANDALL (1911-????)
(pseudonym of Rona Shambrook, née Green, aka Virginia Standage)

Prolific author of hospital romance, gothic fiction, and historical romance from the 1940s-1980s; titles include The Moon Returns (1942), The Late Mrs. Lane (1945), Delayed Harvest (1950), Young Sir Galahad (1953), The Cedar Tree (1957), Knight's Keep (1967), and Dragonmede (1974).

KATHARINE SIM (1913-????)
(née Thomasset)

Biographer, travel writer and novelist, known for her advanced knowledge of Malaya and extensive travel to other regions, also reflected in some of her fiction; novels include Malacca Boy (1957), The Moon at My Feet (1958), Black Rice (1959), and The Jungle Ends Here (1960).

Emma Smith in 2013

EMMA SMITH (1923-     )
(pseudonym of Elspeth Hallsmith, married name Stewart-Jones)

Best known for her novel The Far Cry (1949, reprinted by Persephone), Smith also wrote Maidens' Trip (1948, reprinted by Bloomsbury), a memoir of working on the canals in World War II, and a late novel, The Opportunity of a Lifetime (1978).

SHELLEY SMITH (1912-????)
(pseudonym of Nancy Hermione Bodington, née Courlander)

Successful author of psychological mysteries; titles include Death Stalks a Lady (1945), Come and Be Killed! (1946), Man Alone (1952, aka The Crooked Man), The Party at No. 5 (1954), and The Lord Have Mercy (1956, aka The Shrew Is Dead).

JOAN K[????]. SNELLING (?1926-????)
(?married names Catlett and Kite?)
More research needed; author of three novels in the 1940s (the first written during the Blitz when she was only 14)—Queen by Proxy (1942), described by one reviewer as "unbelievably nonsensical," The Cruise of the Carrier Dove (1946), and Morning Waits (1947), set during Queen Anne's reign.

SYLVIA THORPE (1926-      )
(pseudonym of June Sylvia Thimblethorpe)
Popular and prolific author of historical romances from the 1950s to 1980s, including those set in Regency, Georgian and other periods; titles include Beggar on Horseback (1953), Rogues' Covenant (1957), The Highwayman (1962), Fair Shine the Day (1964), and The Scarlet Domino (1970).

FRANCES TURK (1915-????)

Prolific popular author of light romantic novels, including the wartime Candle Corner (1943), about a pilot recovering from injuries on a farm, and The Five Grey Geese (1944), about Land Girls; others include Ancestors (1947), Salutation (1949), and Dinny Lightfoot (1956).


Diarist and author of two novels; best known for Pilot's Wife's Tale (1942), about her attempts to maintain a domestic life with her pilot husband during World War II, and his recovery from injuries in the Battle of Britain; her novels are The Prophet Bird (1958) and A Vacant Chair (1979).


  1. What an interesting list, thank you. Was going to offer Cynthia Harnett, but she was a Victorian baby.....

    1. Thanks, Gillie! Yes, sadly it looks like Cynthia Harnett died way back in 1981 (though at the fairly impressive age of 88!). But thank you for reminding me of her, as I do think her historical novels sound interesting. More to read!

  2. Thanks for this information, Scott. Glad to see so many are still around and, I hope, still with it.

    1. Well, the Emma Smith and K. M. Peyton photos are from recent interviews, so they are certainly with it still--in fact, Peyton looks more fit than I feel on some days, and sounded like a high-energy and very interesting person. I hope I am as with it even in 10 or 20 years, let alone at age 80+!

  3. How nice to see who is still with us. Gillian Avery is also known for her books on the real-life world of Girls Own, including a history of my own Alma Mater: Cheltenham Ladies, An illustrated history of the Cheltenham Ladies' College (London: James and James Ltd, 2003).

    I picked Margaret Biggs' The Two Families off my shelf last night and am much enjoying it.

    1. Oh, how interesting. How did I miss Avery's other books? I will have to look into them more fully. Cheltenham Ladies actually sounds like it could be great background for my girls' school reading. I just started Antonia Forest's Autumn Term and became quite addicted!

    2. I still regard Antonia Forest as one of the best GO writers. Gillian's book "Best Type of Girl: History of Girls' Independent Schools" would give you a wider view of girls' education as a background - and it's cheaper.
      I give a talk to womens' groups called "'Pull your socks up Angela!' - the English Schoolgirl in Fact and Fiction". It's astonishing how much overlap there is. Though sadly we never had the sort of adventures that these schoolgirl heroines enjoy!

    3. Our library has Best Type of Girl, so it's on my "to read" list and I may have to get it soon. Somehow, last night I ended up online reading a bit about Cheltenham. You have some impressive fellow alums, including a fair number from my list!

  4. Emma Smith also wrote "As Green as Grass" one of the best books I read last year.

    1. Thanks, I don't know how I missed that one. It looks like great fun. Another book for the "to read" list!


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