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Rolling news and notices from the club and its members, as well as items of interest from the world of biography.

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The Shortlist for the 2017 Tony Lothian Prize has been announced.

The prize awards £2,000 to the best proposal for an uncommissioned first biography. The Prize, run by the Biographers’ Club, is sponsored by the Duchess of Buccleuch in memory of her mother, Antonella, Marchioness of Lothian, OBE (1922-2007).


The shortlisted proposals are (in alphabetical order):


Lin Rose Clark, The Boxing Parson of Killarney

The author tells the story of her grandfather Robert ‘Bob’ Hilliard, a roisterer and rebel who met an early death fighting with the International Brigades against Franco. While still a schoolboy he scandalised his Protestant family by supporting the cause of Irish Independence, and pitted himself against the world thereafter. A Classics scholar who boxed for Ireland in the Paris Olympics of 1924, he left his studies for love and a shotgun wedding. His career in journalism was interrupted by sudden conversion to Christianity, upon which he became a respected parson; abandoning that, he joined the fight against the growing threat of Fascism by going to fight in Spain.

Funny, eloquent and wayward, he was both hero and anti-hero: ambitious, backsliding, loved and castigated in equal measure. This biography explores the personal crises that sprang from the extraordinary era in which he lived and throws light on a paradoxical man and his times.


Oli Hazzard, Enter a Cloud: A Book On/With/For/After W.S. Graham

W.S. Graham was one of the most brilliant and influential poets of the twentieth century. A close friend of Dylan Thomas and Edwin Morgan, published by T.S.Eliot at Faber, inspiration to Harold Pinter and cherished by figures from all branches of poetry he nevertheless lived most of his life in poverty and obscurity. Enter a Cloud traces in idiosyncratic fashion his remarkable, difficult life, from interwar childhood in Scotland through the Second World War and his extraordinary poetic output, to post-war New York and London with their thriving poetic circles and eventual residence in Cornwall and his involvement with the artists of St Ives.

The book eschews any traditional biographical techniques to approach Graham’s life aslant, through imagined interviews, fictionalised encounters, transcribed conversations, email exchanges, and unpublished archival materials. Graham’s amused and amusing scepticism about the very act of biography is honoured in a way that might well have pleased its subject.


Susan Kelly, Willibald’s Journey

Willibald, born in Anglo-Saxon England in AD700, was the greatest traveller of his age. His fame rests upon a ten-year pilgrimage he made to Rome and then the Holy Land, then a Muslim Caliphate, during which he faced perils and setbacks that would have felled a lesser man. He was arrested as a spy and nearly executed; he survived malaria and bubonic plague; he courted the death penalty, climbed a live volcano, and encountered lions and crocodiles,snakes and scorpions. Once settled as bishop in Bavaria, he told all this and much more about his extraordinary travels to his kinswoman Hugeburc, whose narrative forms the basis of this book.

It is extraordinary that Willibalds’s story has not been told before, given the richness of the material and the exciting, detailed narrative, now supplemented with the tales of other pilgrims and travellers, and up-to-date archaeological evidence. It evokes a long-lost world and a remarkable man’s place within it.


Philip Ward, Every Other Inch a Gentleman: The Lives of Michael Arlen

Michael Arlen was a literary sensation among the smart set of the 1920s. A self-styled chronicler of Mayfair society, he published a string of stories and novels that made him a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic, none more successful than The Green Hat, made into a film with Greta Garbo. Courted by Hollywood, and married to a Greek countess, the millionaire author set up home on the French Riviera and remained immaculately tailored, endlessly clubbable, even after his star dimmed …

Yet this was only one of his lives. For ‘Michael Arlen’ was born to Armenian parents who had emigrated to Lancashire: a young adventurer who re-invented himself as a dapper man of letters, and moved among the brightest stars of the Jazz Age. This book explores this complex figure and the rise and wane of his reputation; in doing so it will also be a chapter in the history of taste.


John Woolf, Queen Victoria’s Freaks: The Performers at Buckingham Palace

This books offers the untold story of the ‘freaks’ that Queen Victoria loved to stare at. The royal household was a revolving door for ‘dwarfs’, ‘giants’, ‘Siamese twins’, ‘Aztec children’ and ‘exotic freaks’, who were summoned by royal command from the boards of the Victorian freak show to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle for the entertainment of the monarch, her family and her royal guests. They would often leave with gifts presented by Her Majesty, and their royal patronage helped to make their careers.

These encounters were recorded in Victoria’s journals, and splashed across the press; they show the monarch in a new light. And by resurrecting the triumphant and tragic lives of the freaks who met Victoria this book humanises the inhumane, and tells the story of the freak show across the nineteenth century: a world that permeated all aspects of Victorian culture.


The winner will be announced and the Prize awarded at the Biographers’ Club Christmas party, to be held on Tuesday 12th December 6.30-8.30 at E6 Albany, Piccadilly, London W1J 0AR

Special Joining offer at The London Library
1 month’s free membership: 12 month’s for the price of 11, saving £42.
Those seeking a peaceful place to write, read and research need look no further than The London Library.
Long regarded as an essential home-from-home for writers, The London Library was founded by writer Thomas Carlyle and has been a source of inspiration for generations of authors, poets and playwrights for over 175 years.
From Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Lord Tennyson to Agatha Christie, Siegfried Sassoon and T.S. Eliot, The London Library is a haven for all authors, including many of our leading contemporary authors and playwrights, from Sarah Waters and Bill Bryson to Victoria Hislop and Tom Stoppard.
For anyone who loves books and the written word, The London Library is the perfect place in which to work, research and be inspired.
Everyone is welcome to join.
BIO and Washington Biography Group member Dr. Stephen H. Grant is coming for a rare visit to the UK in October to lectures on his new biography about the founders of of Folger Shakespeare Library.
Johns Hopkins University Press in Baltimore released Dr. Stephen H. Grant’s biography, Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger, on the Ides of March 2014 to coincide with the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth in 1564. It is the first biography of the quiet, secretive Brooklyn couple who founded in 1932 the Folger Shakespeare Library, housing the largest Shakespeare collection in the world in a stunning marble memorial two blocks from the U.S. Capitol. 
Dr. Stephen Grant will be giving a series of lectures in October 2017 based on his biography of the founders of the Folger Shakespeare Library in which he will share aspects of the trips the Folgers took to England.


11 October 8:00pm
8 PM Talk #1 Blackheath Halls 
Blackheath Halls Recital Room, 23 Lee Rd, London SE3 9RQ

13 October 
5 PM Talk #2 St Andrews Library  
St Andrews University Library, North Street, St Andrews KY16 9TR

16 October
5:15 PM Talk #3 at Oxford Bibliographic Society 
Oxford Bibliographic Society, Christ Church Upper Library, Oxford OX1 3BG
(introduced by Henry Woudhuysen, Rector of Lincoln College)

20 October
4:30 PM Talk #4 Cambridge University Library
Cambridge University Lib., Milstein Room, West Road CB3 9DR

23 October
7:30 PM Talk #5 Bath Royal Lit & Sci Inst 
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute Elwin Room, 16 Queen Sq., Bath BA1 1BA

26 October
2 PM Talk #6 Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6HP

Grant is guest blogger ( for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England and for the Johns Hopkins University Press (

Former chairman of the Biographers’ Club Anne de Courcy’s latest book is published here by Weidenfeld & Nicolson) and in Australia on Thursday 1 June. The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York tells the story of the thirty-year period – roughly between 1875 and 1905,and known as the Gilded Age – during which over hundred American girls married into the peerage;  and the real reasons behind the obvious one of cash for coronets. Anne will be speaking at various festivals round the country and American publication will take place in the late spring of next year.

The Biographers’ Club member Gill Blanchard has had her first biography published. Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson was published by Amberley Publishing a couple of weeks ago. You can find details at:

There will also be a book launch at Jarrolds in Norwich on 13 July at 6pm. See:

Other events will be taking place later this year, including an exhibition about John Lawson at the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre.

The Biographers’ Club has received the following CALL FOR PAPERS:

Transnational Perspectives on the Writing of Artists’ Lives, 19th -21st centuries.
An Interdisciplinary Workshop
25-26 January 2018, University of Amsterdam

Some writers are so fascinated by other artists that they study their biographies and tell their life stories, in fictional or non-fictional form. Whereas artist’s lives have been written throughout the ages, they have become increasingly popular since the romantic period, with the rise of the artist-hero in the Künstlerroman. Many romantic and post-romantic writers portrayed an artist from their home country as iconic of the nation, thus establishing or consolidating a national cultural tradition.

However, there are numerous examples of authors who wrote the life stories of writers, painters or musicians from countries other than their own: Alexander Pushkin tells about the rivalry between two famous composers in his theatre play Mozart and Salieri (1830) ; André Maurois narrates the life story of Shelley in Ariel ou la vie de Shelley (1923); The Moon and Sixpence (1919) is a fictional biography of Paul Gauguin written by Somerset Maugham and Symphonie Pathétique (1935) is Klaus Mann’s biographical novel of Tchaikovsky. More recent examples are the literary biography of Jane Austen written by the Canadian novelist Carol Shields in 2001; Caryl Phillips’ Radio Play A Kind of Home: James Baldwin in Paris (2004) and Julian Barnes’s novel The Noise of Time (2016) in which he examines the biography of Shostakovich.

All these examples show literary writers who, in many different ways, construct their subject’s life stories in order to reflect on life and art and to define their own aesthetic position. Whether they criticize their ‘hero’ or identify with him/her as a formative model and make it their own, they establish a trans-national relation with this particular artist.

We will further investigate the dynamics of such transnational relations and appropriations in a two-day international workshop on artists’ biographies in the 19 th -21 st centuries. We will focus on the lives of artists, written by artists, such as literary biographies, biographical novels and operas or theatre plays that clearly rely on biographical elements.

We aim to examine four central issues:

1. the various forms and usages of artist’s biographies. How and why do writers engage with the lives of other artists? Which elements are foregrounded and which elements are ignored in the life narrative they construct?

2. the truth and fiction about an artists’ life. To what effect do writers fictionalize certain biographical elements? What kind of ‘truth’ do they convey through literary writing?

3. the historical development of the artist-hero in modern literature, literary biography and portraiture. Should we consider the romantic period as ‘tipping point’; a period in which artists begin to write about artists? Are there similar tipping or turning points in the twentieth century in the writing of artists’ lives?

4. the transnational dynamics of identity formation. What is the importance of studying ‘foreign’ artist’s lives in the formation of artistic identities? To what extent does this contribute to the sense of belonging to a (trans)national, European or cosmopolitan artistic community? How do politics come into play here?

Proposals, no longer than 200 words, should be sent before 1 June 2017 to Kasper van Kooten ( and Marleen Rensen (

Jeremy Lewis – author, former publisher, and noted supporter of the Biographers’ Club – has died. He had been suffering from cancer.

After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin in 1965, Lewis worked for publishers including OUP, Collins (as it was then), and Chatto. He was deputy editor of the London Magazine, and more recently deputy editor of the Oldie and editor-at-large of the Literary Review.

A genial figure likened by Anthony Powell to a “floppy Labrador”, Lewis was an astute and witty writer who had the gift, particularly apparent in his publishing memoirs such as Grub Street Irregular, of portraying characters candidly but without unkindness. He appeared to be too amused by people to dislike them, and he brought this sensibility to weightier works including biographies of Cyril Connolly, Allen Lane, the Greene family, and the Astors.

Lewis was a judge of the 2015 Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Prize.

watling_sarahBea Hemming at Cape has bought Noble Savages by Sarah Watling, the proposal for which won the Biographers’ Club’s 2016 Tony Lothian prize for an uncommissioned, debut biography. Cape won a six-way auction to sign UK and Commonwealth rights from Tracy Bohan at the Wylie Agency – where Watling works. Publication will be in spring 2019.

Noble Savages follows the story of the four Olivier sisters, whose lives span the 20th century. Brought up in the Fabian milieu, the sisters were determined and emancipated in an era when society still punished women for being so. Watling draws on recently available documents and on interviews with the sisters’ descendants to offer “a vivid portrait of sisterhood in all its complexities”.

She said: “I’m a huge admirer of the Cape list and I look forward to working with everyone there very much. It’s a privilege to be part of the new list Bea is building.”

Hemming added: “We were all captivated by Sarah’s proposal, with its rare mixture of sensitivity, imagination and intelligence, backed up by such extraordinary research. I feel certain that this book launches a major new talent in biography writing, and I’m thrilled to be publishing Noble Savages at Cape.”

Watling holds a degree in history from the University of Cambridge, and a master’s in historical research from the University of London.

vl_prCentreHouse Press is publishing The Vagabond Lover by long-standing club member Garry O’Connor. 

What happens to the Vagabond Lover, the legendary broadcasting and Variety star Cavan O’Connor, is a central theme and issue of Garry O’Connor’s autobiographical account of his father and himself up till his father’s death in 1997.

O’Connor has worked as daily theatre critic for the Financial Times, and as a director for the RSC, before he became a fulltime writer. As well as his novels and plays, O’Connor has published many books on actors, literary figures, religious and political leaders, including Pope John Paul II and the Blairs. He has had plays performed at Edinburgh, Oxford, Ipswich, London and on Radio 4, and contributed dramatised documentaries to Radio 3, scripts and interviews for BBC 1, as well as having his work adapted for a three-part mini-series.

the-man-who-designed-the-future-grey-jpg-232x300Former Tony Lothian Prize runner-up B. Alexandra Szerlip is to publish a new book, The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes and the Invention of Twentieth-Century America, with Melville House in the US.

Decades before Philippe Starck (or Steve Jobs) there was Norman Bel Geddes, the original enfant terrible designer, the man who made ‘streamlining’ a household word. In the course of his astonishing career, Bel Geddes crossed paths with everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright and Amelia Earhart to Chaplin, Balanchine and Gershwin. He put his hands to everything from oceanliners and 20-engine aircraft to ‘skyscraper’ cocktail shakers, from typewriters and sports stadiums to some 200 Broadway shows, from  “underwater” restaurants to Futurama at the 1939 N.Y. World’s Fair. His life offers a fascinating window into his era — from the early days of cinema to the early days of television, from pre-WWI aesthetics to post-WWII economics.

Szerlip’s book is out on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, with a launch at 7pm at the City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco. This will be followed by talks and book signings on Sunday, April 23 2017, 2-4pm at Queens Museum, Flushing Meadows, NY, and on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 7pm, Cooper Union (Rose Auditorium), NYC.

Szerlip has been a two-time National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellow, a Yaddo fellow, and runner-up for the Tony Lothian Prize for a first biography in progress. She has contributed to The Paris Review Daily and The Believer, among other publications, and has worked in professional theatre, as a book editor, sculptor and graphic designer. Raised on the East Coast, she lives in San Francisco.

The Club has been contacted by Caroline Church, who is seeking a biographer to help write the recent history of her husband’s 130 year old family business. Her husband has travelled widely and has many amusing and some chilling stories to tell.

The “book” would be aimed at family, friends and those who know him and the company. It will therefore be a paid job, rather than speculative venture.

For more information, please contact:

The funeral for Club member Tatiana Roshupkina will take place at Honor Oak Crematorium, Brockley Way, London SE23 3RD at 9.30am on Thursday 16th March. Members of The Biographers’ Club have been invited to attend if they wish.

The service will be taken by High Church Of England Vicar Mother Anna Macham. Tatiana converted to the church around 2011 and was baptised by Mother Anna.

The undertakers making the arrangements are: F A Albin & Sons Funeral Directors, Arthur Stanley House, 52 Culling Road, London SE16 2TN.