I’m writing this crying over my laptop, having just heard the news that the wonderful Helen Dunmore has died of cancer at the age of 64.
It’s hard to know what to say when we hear news like this. But I wanted to write something. Helen took part in the first Bristol Women’s Literature Festival in 2013. I remember her generosity and her kindness, her warmth and her enthusiasm. She spoke so wonderfully about her own work, the writing process, and I remember especially her wise words about the different attitudes women and men have to calling themselves a writer.
Helen Dunmore listens to Salma Dabbagh at the 2013 festival
At a time when, suffice to say I didn’t really know what I was doing events wise, Helen’s enthusiasm for the project and the need to promote women’s writing meant a huge amount to me. The support of her (and the other speakers) made the whole venture feel so much more achievable.
Helen Dunmore was an exceptional writer. A poet, novelist and short story writer, she wrote with a sense of wonder. Her novels were often frightening and chilling, connecting with survival and the complexity of human relationships. From The Siege to Your Blue Eyed Boy she was not afraid to look into the darkness. Reading The Siege, you feel the rawness of the cold, hunger, and desperation. Her novels span genres – historic, horror, thriller, contemporary fiction.
I recently read Helen’s last novel, Birdcage Walk. It really is an extraordinary novel that deals with motherhood, male violence, revolution and the city we both lived in, Bristol. I wrote to tell her how much I enjoyed it and I’ll treasure Helen’s reply.
I feel very lucky that I had the chance to work with this wonderful woman. That our paths crossed. I am so so sad to hear that she has died and my thoughts are with her family and friends.
Thank you Helen. We will miss you.
Helen Dunmore talks to Bidisha at the 2013 festival.