Grandfather's 1933 diary - an invaluable resource for Lorna as she wrote her memoir Bad Blood
‘…I’m writing about Hanmer, about the council house (no 4 the Arowry) and about two girls called Valerie Edge and Janet Yates I played with in the gap before I went to grammar school and they stopped speaking to me, I’m about to write a paragraph about a dolls’ wedding in the summer of 1952. After that I become an insomniac I think, and pass the 11-plus.
Lorna wrote this in a fax to me when I was in Norwich, and she was in Florence, at San Francesco di Paola, a house overgrown by a Florentine garden, too hot for her to venture out in. She loved the fax machine, and was always delighted by the way it could connect you, in the moment, to the person on the other end, through paper. The immediacy of that now defunct medium made the exhilaration of the act of writing live just as the memoir itself, when finished, went on to ‘live’ for the reader.
In a different piece, dated 1998, she set out:
‘The ending, symbolically at least, is a front-page photo (Mail or Telegraph I think) …on graduation day 1964. We were news because we were the first married couple of ordinary student age to graduate together in the same subject, at the same time, with Firsts…
The actual narrative…plays on the classic romance plot, but also ends poised on the threshold of the 1960s. As in parts one and two, there will be a lot of writing about the place and time, and a fairly wide cast of characters, including the aged spinster teachers who surprisingly aided and abetted us, the best (girl) friend I betrayed…’
She was writing about Bad Blood, the book that won the Whitbread prize for Biography, and the PEN Ackerley Prize – the memoir that has shaped a view of her in the 20 years since its publication. The ‘voice’ in this book is so authentically Lorna’s, that reading out loud from it I can hear her speak.
And yet without understanding the complexity of Lorna as reader, journalist and academic, the range and variety of her writing is lost.
In the introduction to ‘Moments of Truth’ – Lorna’s decisive rejection of Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being in which she presents ‘…a group portrait of the woman artist in the last century’ - Marina Warner writes:
‘Lorna shows us – and we need reminding – that literature really can make something happen: books here became her voyage out, her forged papers out of a childhood hell. She was such a scalpel-sharp reader and such a fierce advocate of certain writing because she saw that literature and language are catalysts in the making of experience, not simply passive precipitates.’
(Marina Warner, ‘Open Questions’ from ‘Moments of Truth’ 2001)