A Brief CV
1953: born in London
1972-1975: BA in English Language and Literature, St Hugh’s College, Oxford
1975- 1976: Voluntary Services Overseas: taught English at the University of Alexandria, Egypt
1983: (ed.) A Durable Fire: the Letters of Duff and Diana Cooper
1986: Married the historian Antony Beevor
1989: Cairo in the War, 1939-1945
1991: (ed.) Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch: The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper
1992: Watching in the Dark: A Child’s Fight for Life
1994: with Antony Beevor, Paris after the Liberation 1944-1949
1999: Writing at the Kitchen Table: the authorized biography of Elizabeth David
2003: (ed.) Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor
2012: Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure
2013: (ed., with Colin Thubron) The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor
2016: Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence
I was born in London on 22 April 1953, and was educated at the French Lycee, the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Woldingham and Camden School for Girls in North London. I thought I wanted to be a picture restorer, but after a couple of years I gave that up and went to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where I read English. I spent a year teaching English in Alexandria, Egypt, and then I lived in America for a while – mostly in New Mexico.
My first book was an edition of the letters of my grandparents, Duff and Diana Cooper: it was called A Durable Fire, and came out in 1983. I met my husband Antony Beevor in London, and we married in February 1986. By now I was researchingCairo in the War 1939-1945, which is about the extraordinary society of spies and diplomats, writers and celebrities, soldiers and cypherenes who passed through the city while Europe was occupied and the Desert War was in progress. That was published in 1989; then 1991 came another edition of letters, Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch: the Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper.
I was working on this book when, in the autumn of 1990, our daughter Eleanor (then eight months old) went from perfect health to the brink of death in twenty-four hours. I told the story of her recovery in Watching in the Dark: A Child’s Fight for Life (1992.) Soon after that, I was commissioned to write a book about post-war Paris. It was crucial that the book be in the bookshops in time for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the city in 1994, but I was pregnant again and it was impossible to deliver a book and a baby in the same year. Antony came to the rescue, and Paris After the Liberation: 1944-1949 appeared under both our names (and on time) in 1994.
Writing at the Kitchen Table: the authorized biography of Elizabeth David, which came out in 1999, was my first biography; and a close study of Mrs David’s cookery books improved my culinary skills considerably. Then I was offered the job of writing the biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor: I knew it was a chance in a lifetime, but also left me feeling very apprehensive that I might not be up to the task. I had interviewed Paddy at length for my book on Cairo, and we had known each other for years; but while he and his wife were unfailingly kind and hospitable, Paddy was a very private person who hid behind a torrent of dazzling conversation. It took me years to gain his trust, and during that time I edited a book of his best pieces of writing:Words of Mercury, which appeared in 2003.
Paddy had stipulated that his biography was not be published until after his death. By the time he died in June 2011 the book was almost finished, and Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure was published in October 2012. The following year, the travel writer Colin Thubron and I edited The Broken Road, which was the last and posthumous volume of Paddy’s trilogy about his walk across Europe in the early 1930s. It was so sad that Paddy wasn’t thereto enjoy the warmth and enthusiasm with which everyone greeted his final book.
Click here for an interview I did about PLF for the Kathimerini English Edition
In March 2013 I started writing the biography of the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, which was published in 2016.