An old friend phoned me today. I haven’t spoken to her for some time, as she’s not been well. She had a stroke and has been recovering. I have been kept up-to-date with her progress through her kind daughter Jemima Schlee. This week, I’ve been emailing all the people who are mentioned in the Acknowledgements at the back of THE VISITORS, at least the ones who I haven’t been able to tell face to face, that their names are there with much gratitude. I let Jemima know and she kindly must have told her mother Ann Schlee, who telephoned me for our first talk in some years. And it was so lovely to hear her voice, sounding so very well.
I first met Ann back in the 1990s, when I was a fledgling writer. My mother and I went on a summer school in Oxford and Ann was the brilliant tutor. She was always interesting, informative and perceptive in her lectures. Yet her greatest gift was her gentle and unerring encouragement for every writer in the room. She has a special knack of finding just the right words for how to suggest change and improvement in your writing, and yet make you feel as if you knew it yourself already and just hadn’t done it yet. We went on a few courses with Ann and met some other wonderful people there; namely Tom and Alison, both of whom have since very sadly passed away; and my good friend Kathy Kendall, who I’m still regularly in touch with today. We all bonded under Ann’s graceful direction and I still have her teaching notes and refer to them.
Ann herself is a most successful novelist, a subtle and masterful writer of prose. She was shortlisted for the Booker in 1981 for ‘Rhine Journey’ and also her children’s novel ‘The Vandal’ won the 1980 Guardian Prize and was also a commended runner-up in the Carnegie Medal. She has published at least ten books, and I imagine has written more than that in her prolific career. I love reading her novels, as one always feel entirely in safe hands.
I wanted to write this post today to say thank you to Ann for her support over the years. After those summer schools, Ann and I kept in touch and I would write or phone from time to time, and I would update her on the latest setback in my writing career. She read my work and helped enormously with advice and more encouragement. She was always honest about the difficulties of the publishing world, yet endlessly positive and made me feel after each contact with her that yes, it was worth carrying on, despite the rejections and disappointments.
When I heard about her stroke, I was very sad and worried. But it was so nice to talk around that time to her husband, Nick Schlee, the excellent artist of beautiful canvases such as this one:
And to keep in touch via her daughter Jemima. It was good to hear, every so often, of Ann’s progress and to know she was getting there.
So, it was super to talk to her today about the publication in just a few weeks of ‘The Visitors’, and lovely to thank her in person for her support and contribution to the journey which has brought me this far. She said a particularly nice thing today, which was that all the writers she’s known who have finally made it, and achieved publication, are always the ones who’ve worked the hardest. I’m sure that’s true, but none of us would have made it without the endless help and support from generous and caring writers and teachers such as Ann Schlee.
Thanks Ann xxx