Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

10th February 2016

MARGARET FORSTER: A SAD LOSS

Two chapters in the Life Class – The Sofa Hunter and Mean with Money  - tell of my encounters with journalist Hunter Davies and his wife the novelist and biographer Margaret Forster.  I sent the draft off to them last year for approval as I usually do when a story involves named people.  It always fascinates me to discover a different narrative sometimes several additions. We each see the same incident or conversation differently. However there was only one minor point that Hunter gently mentioned so I changed it.

I sent  a signed copy of Life Class to them  a few weeks ago and was distressed to hear from Hunter that Margaret was in a hospice. I sent her a letter, reminding her that when my husband was terminally ill in 1994 she had sent the most succinct, intelligent and sensitive letter to me and it had been a great comfort. I still have it as an example of how to write when words are difficult. I thanked her for the joy and inspiration her books have given me.

Margaret was a person who described herself as anti social so we learned to leave her alone to enjoy the exhibitions at the gallery with just a nod of acknowledgement.  I used to stop for a rest at their house in Loweswater on my bike training circuit and was always offered a glass of wine, sometimes an enthusiastic  tour of Hunter’s latest additions to his many collections and a lively exchange of gossip. In return I invited them to supper at Castlegate House. Hunter immediately accepted but  Margaret said she would come only  if she could sit at the end of the table in the kitchen facing Cumberland -  my big  Sheila Fell painting. She then added that I must not be offended if they left soon after 10pm because they usually did. She also hoped nobody would ask her what she was writing because it was boring (to her). I was secretly delighted when I waved them off with the other guests well after midnight. We’d had a lively evening and nobody had mentioned her books.

When I mounted a large Sheila Fell exhibition in 2007 they generously lent me their 2 small fell paintings. Margaret confessed that she found  owning expensive things uncomfortable. Her beliefs were nothing but puritanical.

In 2008 I was distressed to hear she had cancer in her spine but pleased when she came to the gallery the following spring. Another beautiful letter followed saying it was her first gallery visit since the diagnosis and treatment,  thanking me for such an enjoyable exhibition. I have that letter before me now as I write lying next to today’s Guardian open at her full page obituary.

Margaret Forster was a brilliant woman who came from a Carlisle council estate, won a scholarship to Oxford and wrote her first book, Georgy Girl, in her twenties which became a best seller and a film. Since then she has written 25 novels and 14 biographies. My favourite Forster novel is The Diary of an Ordinary Woman as it is written so convincingly that you believe it to be a true story - well I did anyway. Another great  success was Ladies Maid - the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning seen through the eyes of her maid and her masterful biography of Daphne du Maurier.

Margaret will be sorely missed by her family, her friends, her readers and by us Cumbrians who were proud to have her among us.

chris

REMINDER Don’t forget to book up for the talk Behind the scenes at the Gallery at Theatre by the Lake on Sunday 6th March at 6.00pm (017687 74411) or www.theatrebythelake.com .  Have a look at all the other good things in the programme as well. The day and season tickets are good value.

 Life Class is now available on Kindle and is climbing the Amazon charts so please leave a review on the site if you wish. You can now get it in bookshops or pre-order it on Amazon when it will be released on the 26th February.

 

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