A Blazing Talent

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How well is Pamela Frankau remembered? She was born on 3 January 1908, so last year was her centenary. But . . . no garlands? No memorials? No flourish in the literary pages?

Well, Pamela would be the first to look on this with wry amusement, and without complaint. I am sure of this because she was my first cousin, eight years older than I, and my icon and mentor in every way from writing to life. She made me laugh a great deal: once when I was doubled up with laughter she introduced me as her young cousin and her best audience. When she died – in 1967 of cancer at 59 – a fan wrote to me, describing herself as a typical housewife with five teenage children (this appeared to be offered as a guarantee of sanity, though one may perhaps have doubts). She asked if she might have ‘some small thing that had belonged to her, of no intrinsic value, such as a pencil or rubber’, and went on to write of ‘that especial magic of hers which gets over to ordinary people like me’.

That especial magic was a quality not only of her writing but of Pamela herself. (It was Rebecca West, in her Times obituary, who said that ‘good though her books were, and they are better than most, none of them was as good as she was’ – Rebecca and Pamela had a close but sometimes stormy relationship.) She was a person of powerful attraction, dark, slight, with a look of Walt Disney’s Bambi. She had courage, a ready wit and no hint of self-pity, a power of listening with entire concentration to those (and there were many) who brought their disasters to her. She once lamented that ‘listening was a lost art’. (She did add that the lament was perhaps curmudgeonly in one who talked as much as she did.)

From the time when at 19 she published her first novel, Marriage of Harlequin, she wrote tirelessly: before she was 32 she had published twenty novels. Except for three of them, she wished them forgotten. (Nevertheless they showed early her ori

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