I was born in Derby, England in 1944 and was a pupil at the Herbert Strutt Grammar School, Belper, where I first started writing short stories. After leaving school, I worked for some years as a librarian, where I was involved with the drama library, among other things, and wrote my first play, which was accepted by a major television company, but never screened. Meanwhile, I indulged in a great deal of people-watching and learned a lot about theatre. The library, the old Central Lending Library in Bold Lane, was rather gratifyingly haunted, by Sarah Siddons, I concluded, since it used to be Derby’s first theatre, though our spook was fairly amicable, unlike the one at Ashbourne Library, which favoured poltergeist activities. While no-one ever actually saw her in the ectoplasm, so to speak, I certainly heard her, and several of us would catch a glimpse of a shadowy figure in a long dress at closing time as we hastened to ensure the place was empty before locking up. There was never anyone there. However, I later learned that Sarah Siddons had indeed played there, twice in fact, as indeed had Edmund Kean, though I only discovered this recently. Even the great Paganini had played there, though we never heard him. The only music we heard was distorted pop from the garage next door. They always listened to Listen With Mother, ‘sitting comfortably’ we liked to imagine, on upturned oil-drums. Sadly, we could never hear the stories ourselves, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Faure’s Berceuse.
At this time, the old Derby Playhouse in Sacheveral Street was doing very well, and many of the actors came in to borrow plays and get chatted up by we girls, who were always donated a clutch of free seats at the back on a Friday night for each production. These were jealously guarded and shared out between us. Several of those actors achieved fame and fortune, one becoming Head of Comedy* at BBC Television. He later very decently came to see a show of mine and took us out to dinner afterwards, when he and my husband talked non-stop about India while I sat and chewed a serviette. – Never put a Welshman and a Bengali together, if you want to get a word in edge-ways.*
- Sorry, Gareth Gwenlan, should you be reading this in the great hereafter, I’d no idea you’d just pegged out. Should we have have the chance of a re-run of this occasion, could I possibly re-write the script first? Some strange instinct just now made me type your name into Google. – RIP Gareth Gwenlan, a great guy, great comedy director, and as I remember from the 1960s, bloody good-looking, as well. You will be sadly missed!
- At the same time, we also had much contact with amateur drama groups and local wannabees, many of whom, along with the bulk of our readers, were highly eccentric. I was amused to note a security guard in a library I visited recently. We simply kept an old chair leg under the counter, just in case.
Years later, while bringing up a family, I wrote oddments for radio, including the infamous Vitas Gerulaitis poem much favoured by Terry Wogan on his morning show. Come every Wimbledon, for years, someone would remember this! I began writing for the theatre about 1978, after a successful radio play performed on local radio by a youth theatre, and had my first professional production, REHEARSAL, a drama of the Spanish Civil War, in the Studio of the new Derby Playhouse in 1980, directed by David Milne. A Christmas show with songs, set in the Wild West, followed in 1983/4, along with some women’s theatre work at small venues, then DRESSING UP, about women on a housing estate, at Croydon Warehouse in 1985. I was commissioned to write a play without words about the early life of Buster Keaton for the Royal School for the Deaf in 1986, which was performed again in London by a different student group the following year.
When arts funding started to dry up in the late ‘80s, new theatre work dried up with it, and I took on a number of god-awful part-time jobs which don’t bear thinking about, before returning to higher education and taking a degree in Photography and Film Studies at the University of Derby in 1995. And did this open up a world of golden opportunities for me? Did it hell, but eventually I got a part-time job as company librarian for a law firm where I stayed for about eleven years, while occasionally teaching Creative Writing classes. Around this time, I started writing again, returning to my first love, the Short Story. Sometimes, too, I write about my early life(am I the only writer who actually enjoyed that?) and when I’m in a really silly mood, I write poems for kids. But always, I go back to the short story, because that’s what I love most.