Lavinia Greacen

Born and educated in England, Lavinia Greacen lives in a whitewashed house in the Dublin mountains, and the subjects of her biographies have a blend of Irish and English influences. A new and expanded edition of J.G. Farrell, the Making of a Writer, her study of the double Booker prizewinning novelist, was published in November 2012 by Cork University Press. ‘This biography of a brilliant, difficult man who was much loved is so sympathetic to his character and his writing,’ recommends The Times, ‘that it’s nearly as good as having him back. Read this book, then read Farrell’s Empire Trilogy; that will do justice to the man and his work.’

Lavinia Greacen has also edited J.G. Farrell In His Own Words, the Selected Letters and Diaries (Cork University Press 2009). Ranging from childhood to the day before his death, his distinctive voice, whether lighthearted or introspective, has the impact of autobiography. ‘For anyone interested in what makes a person a writer, and how the life of a professional writer is lived, it is matchless’, praised Robert Harris in the Sunday Times.

Determination and humour infuse Farrell’s life, from boyhood in Ireland to literary apprenticeship in Paris, New York and London. The Siege of Krishnapur, second of his Empire Trilogy, won the Booker Prize in 1973, but six years later, at the age of 44, he was drowned in a sudden storm while fishing off rocks on the west coast of Ireland, near his newly bought home. ‘Had he not sadly died so young,’ commented Salman Rushdie in 2008, ‘there is no question that he would today be one of the really major novelists of the English language. The three novels that he did leave are all in their different way extraordinary.’ In 2010, posthumously, Farrell became a double Booker winner when Troubles, the first novel of his Trilogy, won the ‘Lost Booker’ by overwhelming international e-vote. His many fans worldwide include fellow Booker winners Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Banville and Hilary Mantel.

Chink (Macmillan 2000), Lavinia Greacen’s first biography, tells the story of Major General Eric ‘Chink’ Dorman-Smith, the charismatic Irishman who became Ernest Hemingway’s lifelong military hero, yet whose own army career ended in disillusion. So inspirational that he is recognisable throughout Hemingway’s novels and memoirs, and in life is credited, when acting as Auchinleck’s chief of staff in July 1942, with the strategy that halted Rommel at the first battle of Alamein, Chink was destined to leave the army under a cloud before the end of the war. ‘I cannot think of any account of soldiering, by a man or a woman,’  wrote Frederic Raphael, ‘which more convincingly conveys its bloody allure.’

Lavinia Greacen is currently writing Voltaire’s Last Case, the sensational eighteenth century life of the Comte de Lally (in fact, Thomas Lally, son of an emigrant ‘Wild Goose’ from County Galway), who rose to general’s rank by merit in the Irish Brigade in the Service of France. Lally’s imprisonment in the Bastille, his secret trial and public execution in 1766 became an international cause célebre, led by his friend Voltaire.