Penelope Lively made a Dame in New Year’s Honours | Friend and admirer of Rosemary Sutcliff

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Penelope LivelyCongratulations to author Penelope Lively, who is made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours List. Perhaps best known for her Booker-winning novel Moon Tiger, she was a friend and admirer of Rosemary Sutcliff and gave a eulogy for her at the memorial service in the year of Rosemary’s death which I organised at St James, Piccadilly. After Rosemary’s death, Penelope Lively added to the obituary published in the Independent newspaper:

I first visited Rosemary Sutcliff 20 years ago, writes Penelope Lively (further to the obituary by Julia Eccleshare, 27 July).

We invited ourselves, with diffidence, because the children were devotees, as was I. We sat in her study, she in her wheelchair behind the desk, the rest of us uneasily perched, the children – as they then were – awed into total silence. A housekeeper brought tea on a trolley: cucumber sandwiches and dainty little cakes. Two chihuahuas snarled from a cushion and occasionally shot out to snap at our ankles (on subsequent visits I learned how to deal them a surreptitious kick). It was all dreadfully genteel and strained. I made some comment about the fantail pigeons on the lawn beyond the window. ‘Actually, they’re a nuisance,’ said Rosemary. ‘They crap all over everything.’ And suddenly we all relaxed, the children recovered normal speech, the gentility subsided and we got over the shock that first meeting her must have induced in anyone – the amazement that from that tiny misshapen person, whose whole being seemed subsumed into the enormous, alert eyes, sprang those vivid, intensely physical books. 

The children had brought copies to be signed. I remember looking at those hands and wondering – idiotically – if she could hold a pen. Of course she could, in a wonderfully idiosyncratic and innovative way, writing almost upside down, it seemed, and she drew them her dolphin logo and a great flowery signature, in their cherished Charles Keeping-illustrated hardbacks.

I have a hefty prejudice against historical fiction – but I could read Rosemary avidly, and still do. There is a marvellous passage in her memoir of childhood, Blue Remembered Hills, in which she describes her wheelchair falling over, when she was quite small, depositing her in the long grass, where, instead of yelling for help, she simply lay, observing and recording the close-up miniature world of plants and insects. The incident sums her up, in a curious way.

see BBC News – Penelope Lively’s life in books
and The Independent

2 comments

  1. Seeing how you’ve mentioned it, this is the full Daily Telegraph report of the 1992 memorial service (much longer and more detailed than the Times one available elsewhere).

    The Daily Telegraph (page 23, column 3)
    Wednesday 4th November 1992

    Miss Rosemary Sutcliff

    A memorial service for Miss Rosemary Sutcliff was held yesterday at St James’s, Piccadilly. The Rev Ulla Monberg officiated, assisted by the Rev Peter Trafford.

    Mrs Sarah Palmer read a lesson and Mrs Jill Black read from Miss Sutcliff’s “Sun Horse, Moon Horse”. Mr John Bell read from Rudyard Kipling’s “A Song to Mithras” and Mr Anthony Lawton (cousin and godson), Chairman of Sussex Dolphin, read from Miss Sutcliff’s autobiography “Blue Remembered Hills” and from “Puffin Passport”. Addresses were given by Mr Murray Pollinger and Mrs Penelope Lively. “Blue Remembered Hills”, an Air for Rosemary Sutcliff, by Mr Steafan Hannigan, was played by him on the Irish Pipes.

    The Secretary of State for National Heritage was represented by Mr Vaughan Rees. Among others present were:

    Mrs Anthony Lawton, Rowan Lawton, Dominic Lawton, Miss Heather Lawton, Mr Michael Palmer, Mr John Sutcliff, Miss Rachel Sutcliff, Mr and Mrs Richard Wood, Mr Jonathan Wood, Mr James Wood, Mr Edward Sutcliff.

    Viscountess Hanworth, Lady Reynolds, Mr Philip Attenborough (Hodder and Stoughton), Miss Margaret Clark (Bodley Head), Mrs Elizabeth Attenborough (Penguin Books), Mrs Jane Nissen (Hamish Hamilton), Mr Maurice Lyon (Puffin Books), Miss Julie Myerson and Miss Caroline Royds (Walker Books), Miss Catherine Toseland (Random House), Mrs Julia MacRae, Managing Director, Julia MacRae Books.

    Miss Nina Bawden, representing the Royal Society of Literature, Mr Mark Le Fanu, General Secretary, Society of Authors, Mr John Paxton, representing the West Country Writers’ Association, Miss Paddy Moon (Association of Disabled Professionals), Mr J Eagle (the Ninth Legion).

    Mrs Murray Pollinger, Mr Walter Hodges, Miss Shirley Felts, Miss Emma Chichester Clark, Mr Donald Fisher, Miss Gillian Avery, Mr David Davis, Miss Christine Long, Mr Christopher Fry, Mrs Robert Gittings, Mr and Mrs Brian Alderson, Miss Naomi Lewis, Mrs Anthony Burgess, Mrs Jill Paton Walsh, Mrs Elaine Moss, Miss Philippa Pearce, Miss Vivienne Menkes and Miss Frances Lincoln, together with other friends.

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