All over the country, on hearing that P.D.James has died, people have been talking about her and I'll bet that not one of them had anything negative to say about her.
I can't claim to have known her but I did meet her. I think it was 1980. She was sixty and I was almost thirty. I don't even remember the conference. I used to go to a lot of conferences those days. I had had nothing published but a couple of short stories and I was so excited about the idea of being a writer.
She was standing behind me in the lunch queue and I had no idea who she was. I'm hopeless, I never know who anybody is and we started chatting. I think it was that afternoon that she gave her talk about her new book, Innocent Blood. (I was so impressed that I went home and put a murder into the romance I was writing.)
I think it was the following morning. I was up early. I was always an early morning person and I went into the dining room and there she was, waving at me as though we were good friends, sitting me down beside her to have breakfast. At first I was so over awed I didn't know what to say but she could handle all that. I think her daughters were probably about my age at the time and I love talking to people about my own daughter's age so perhaps she was the same. I had the loveliest breakfast. We were joined by some bloke who was running the Society of Authors. I don't remember much about him either, other than he was very nice and wearing a lovely suit!
After that I saw her occasionally on television. I remember a year or so back she'd been asked to one of these review programmes where people tear apart theatre and books and such. It was a circle and she was the last to speak. It was about a musical and they had really gone for it. I hate musicals and probably would have done the same, but not P.D.James. She said that she thought it had been absolutely delightful and she beamed around at them.
We were to have lots in common. I'm not rich and famous and never was half the writer that she was but we both had tragedy in our lives. Her husband, a doctor, went to war and came back broken and when he died after a dreadful time, the authorities would not give her a pension and she was obliged to work very hard in order to bring up her two young daughters.
My husband died when my daughter was seven.
Tragedy puts steel into you. Yes, she was a great writer and a lovely woman but by God she knew how to get what she wanted, she was a fighter She never married again. Neither have I.
The last time I saw her in person was when she came to Durham Cathedral to speak about her work. The place was packed and she came in on the arm of the great Ian Rankin, a tiny frail figure at his side and they wowed the audience together. Two of the greats in my favourite genre. They have both made it their own in different ways. There she was, giving it rock all, as she alway did.
She had great faith. Rest in Peace, wonderful inspiring person and thank you for the memories.