Led there by the excellent appreciative but disappeared bluerememberedhills.blogspot.com I found this posted in 2003 to an ancient history website (which I also cannot find now) about Rosemary Sutcliff.
I knew Rosemary as a friend and, briefly, as her editor…most of her best writing was done in the 50s and 60s, beginning with The Eagle of the Ninth and ending with The Mark of the Horse Lord, which is my own favourite. What she really wanted to do, however, was to write romantic novels full of sex, but here her experience, and imagination, let her down. She was crippled by Still’s disease, contracted as a child – She had no movement in her legs, and hands whose work (including writing and miniature painting) was done with just a forefinger and a tiny, rudimentary thumb.She had, as did Henry Treece, a mystical communion with the past, which enabled her both to recreate tiny details, and to confound military historians with her understanding of the art of battle in any situation she cared to devise. Her sense of place was uncanny, in that she could get no nearer to a site than the seat of a car on an adjacent road. Friends often served as her eyes, and also as her researchers, but it was the conclusions she drew from the evidence, and her re-creations of them, that made her contribution to the literature about the ancient world so distinctive. Where she was simply embellishing recorded history, she was no better than anyone else. She also had one of the rudest senses of humour in anyone I have met.”
I grew up with Rosemary in my life and much rings very true to me. She did indeed have a rude sense of humour (in both senses). I am, however, not so sure about her wanting to be a romantic novelist above all. Nor do I think her finest books were only in the 1950s and 1960s; for example the award-winning Song for a Dark Queen was written in the 1970s. Her autobiography, Blue Remembered Hills points to the romantic love of her life – a rafish RAF pilot who emigrated eventually to Australia.