While researching our next walks book for children, we have come across this obituary of the fabulous and extraordinary Rumer Godden, writer of the most glorious children's book Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, among others.
Parts of the obituary below is taken from the Daily Telegraph on Sunday 14th November, 1998: Read full biography here
Margaret Rumer Godden was born at Eastbourne - "the most dreadful place", as she later came to think - on December 10th 1907. At six months she was taken by her parents to India, where her father ran a steamship company in the Bengal delta. Rumer Godden, cursed with a nose that resembled the Duke of Wellington's, was the only plain daughter. She was especially jealous of her elder sister Jon, who was as talented as she was beautiful.
"Everything she did was marvellous," Rumer Godden recalled at the end of her life, "and nobody took any notice of me, which was very healthy. To be ignored is the best possible thing for a writer. My writing was an effort to outdo Jon."
In 1920 she and her sisters were sent to school in England. With their wild, precocious ways, and their sing-song Eurasian accents, they were ridiculed by teachers and fellow pupils alike. Rumer Godden trained in ballet, and back in India in 1925 opened a multi-racial dance school in Calcutta, which she ran successfully for eight years. But in 1934 she became pregnant as a result of a liaison with the dashing Laurence Sinclair Foster, "one of the Worcester Fosters", a stockbroker who thought that Omar Khayyam was a kind of curry.
"You'll just have to marry me and pretend you like it," he told her. So the knot was tied; the baby, however, died four days after birth. Rumer Godden's first novel, Chinese Puzzle, was published the next year.
Two further daughters survived, but the marriage did not prosper. When she sat silent and icy at cocktail parties, Foster would say: "Can't you be more chatty?"
In 1941 he left to join the Army, leaving her encumbered with debts which mopped up the proceeds of Black Narcissus. She retreated to Kashmir, and moved into a cottage high in the mountains with no electricity or running water - "the most beautiful place you could imagine", as she thought. To support her girls she got up at 4am to write, and returned to her desk when they had gone to bed until 11pm. It was while they were living in Kashmir that a cook attempted to poison them by mixing powdered glass, opium and marijuana with the lunchtime fare of dahl and rice. "It's gritty," her elder girl complained. In consequence, none but the dog perished.
In 1949 Rumer Godden married a civil servant called James Haynes Dixon, who looked after her devotedly, leaving her free to produce a steady stream of books in the 1950s and 1960s. "A nice, ugly man," she described him. "He would do anything for me, but it was not the other way round." Her heart, she claimed, had been given to Jane Austen's Mr Darcy: "I loved him far more than my own husbands."
She also wrote books for children, including The Doll's House (1947), The Mousewife (1951) and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower (1961). In 1972 she won the Whitbread Award for The Diddakoi; Kingsley Amis called it "the sort of book children had to fight for to get it from adults".
"There are several things children will not put up with in a book," she reflected. "You have to have a proper beginning and an end; you cannot have flashbacks. Then you can't have a lot of description: keep it to a minimum. And you must be very careful with words. I find I use fewer, and they have to fit the case exactly and be chosen with extreme care."
Don't you just love her?