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Fay Weldon: The Author Who Re-wrote the Script for Women

by | Jan 10, 2023 | Articles and Reports, News

Fay Weldon: The Life and Love Of An Author That Challenged Patriarchal Society

Writer Fay Weldon, best known for books including 1983’s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, who died on the 4th January 2023, at a nursing home in Northampton, England, at the age of 91, was one of few female authors that began a movement in changing the narrative of female characters.

Fay Weldon, a mischievous and prolific British author who explored women’s lives and relationships in novels such as “The Life and Loves of a She-Devil,” challenging assumptions about gender, love and domesticity while acquiring a reputation as both a feminist and an anti-feminist.

Her son Dan confirmed the death. Ms. Weldon “had a number of strokes,” he said in an email, but was still working until her death, “writing poems in her head and dictating slowly.” In late 2020, Weldon revealed on her website that she had suffered a stroke and broken a bone in her back, meaning she had been “hospitalised for much of the last year”.

The author published more than 30 novels across her career, as well as collections of short stories, films for television, and pieces of journalism.

Weldon was born in the UK but was brought up in New Zealand.

She published her first novel in 1967 and went on to be shortlisted for the Booker and Whitbread literature prizes for her works Praxis and Worst Fears.

Weldon’s witty, cutting and mischievous stories about the lives and loves of women often drew on her own colourful and turbulent private life and relationships.

Much of it was also semi-autobiographical — inspired, she said, by her “mildly scandalous” early life, which included a nomadic upbringing in New Zealand and England, single motherhood at age 22, and a marriage to a high school headmaster who, according to Ms. Weldon, pimped her out to friends and advised her to get a job as an escort.

At age 35, she “stopped living and started writing instead, as a serious person,” as she put in her 2002 autobiography, “Auto Da Fay.” While sitting on the stairs so that she could keep an eye on her young children (she had four sons in all, her last at age 47), she wrote screenplays for shows including “Upstairs, Downstairs,” an acclaimed period drama about English servants and their masters, winning a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain award for writing the 1971 pilot.

In a TV interview in 1982, she said she wasn’t motivated by indignation with men but “a dislike of the conditions in which women have to live and the expectations placed upon them, that they should do all the work and have none of the fun”

She also began defying literary convention by populating her books with protagonists who were women rather than men, plump rather than petite. She later recalled that male writers were furious that she dared to write about issues like dieting and marriage, telling the Daily Mail: “Men would walk out of rooms when I walked in because they were so angry and upset that women were no longer willing to iron men’s shirts.”

Soon her books were climbing bestseller lists in Britain and receiving praise on both sides of the Atlantic.

Not caring what anyone thought of her was an important part of Fay’s make-up. In a recent interview she said her writing students — in 2012, she took up a professorship at Bath Spa University, having previously taught at Brunel — often created alternative universes in their novels to avoid expressing what they thought about this one. “It seems important that you should risk not being liked,” she said.

The younger of two girls, she was born Franklin Birkinshaw in Alvechurch, Worcestershire in 22nd September, 1931. Her father, Frank, was a physician who had worked as a driver for British army officer T.E. Lawrence in the Middle East. Her mother, the former Margaret Jepson, was herself a novelist and the daughter of another author, Edgar Jepson, whose literary acquaintances included T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Ms. Weldon’s parents had moved to New Zealand shortly before her birth, and she was raised there with her older sister, Jane, as their parents’ marriage collapsed. Her mother went on to raise the children alone, supporting the family by writing serialized romance and adventure novels. After World War II, they returned to Britain, where Ms. Weldon earned a scholarship to a London girls’ school and studied at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

After stints as a waitress and hospital orderly, she joined the British Foreign Office, where she wrote propaganda leaflets that were airdropped on Poland during the Cold War. In her early 20s, she had a son, Nick, from a relationship with Colyn Davies, a musician and nightclub doorman whom she left for a brief marriage to Ronald Bateman, a headmaster who was 25 years her senior and, according to Ms. Weldon, simply wanted a child and wife for his résumé.

She later wrote about the marriage in the third person, distancing herself from the relationship in her autobiography.

By the late 1950s, Ms. Weldon was working as a copywriter for an advertising firm, helping to create the egg-industry slogan “Go to work on an egg,” which endured for years, and suggesting the line “Vodka gets you drunker quicker” for a liquor campaign, which her bosses rejected.

Her experience writing concise, snappy ad copy came in handy when she launched her literary career in the early 1960s, shortly after marrying her second husband, Ron Weldon, a musician-turned-antiques dealer. She adapted one of her TV scripts into her debut novel, “The Fat Woman’s Joke” (1967), and later worked on screen projects including a BBC miniseries adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” (1980).

After three decades of marriage, Ms. Weldon’s husband left her for his “astrological therapist.” He died in 1994, the day his divorce to Ms. Weldon was finalised. Within a year, she married Nick Fox, a poet and bookseller who became her manager. They settled in a 19th-century stone house in Dorset, where Ms. Weldon continued to write, publishing books including “Chalcot Crescent” (2009), a dystopian novel about the future of capitalism, and “Death of a She Devil” (2017), the sequel to her earlier hit.

Ms. Weldon was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001 for services to literature, shortly after she gained notoriety in the literary world for her novel “The Bulgari Connection.” The book was sponsored by the jewellery company Bulgari, which paid for Ms. Weldon to reference its products. She had worried the tie-in would sully her literary reputation

 

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