There are many, many good writers whose work flourishes for a few years and then fades from view. One of the reasons why I feel so committed to working on the archives of the CWA and the Detection Club (not that I have any training or professional expertise as an archivist) is that I'd like to help in some way to keep memories of such writers alive. And on Friday, I heard from Maxim Jakubowski, the recently elected CWA Chair, the news that Anabel Donald, who was undoubtedly a good crime writer, has died at the age of 76.
I came across Anabel's books, published by Macmillan, when I was reviewing crime for 'The Criminologist'. It's twenty-five years since I last read her, but I recall that I enjoyed her writing. She created a female TV researcher and detective called Alex Tanner and she wrote with plenty of zest. There was a short series of books about Alex and they might have made good TV. Yet it's almost twenty years since Anabel's last novel appeared. I don't know why she gave up, but regular readers of this blog will know that I regularly bemoan the fact that talented writers so often stop publishing after few books, sometimes because of frustration with the publishing world, sometimes because the well of inspiration runs dry, sometimes simply because life gets in the way.
I once had the pleasure of meeting Anabel. In fact, she inscribed three of her books for me - one of them, In at the Deep End, to 'Martin, the non-working solicitor'. This was back in May 1995, a jokey reference to the fact that I was a full-time partner in my firm but still determined to attend crime fiction events whenever I got the chance! Having liked her work, I was glad to have a chat with her. I remember she struck me as charming and good company but for some inexplicable reason my abiding memory of her is an anecdote about her having, as a student at Oxford, taken part in University Challenge. I'm not even certain now exactly where we met - it may well have been at a CWA northern chapter event, since at the time she was living in Doncaster.
She was born in India and published her first novel as long ago as 1982. After many years as a lecturer, she became a head teacher. In at the Deep End is actually dedicated to the pupils of St Mary's School, Doncaster. Her husband Miles was an author, while one of her sons is an agent and another, Dominick, scored a hit three years ago with his novel Breathe (which I haven't read, but which sounds excellent). Her contribution to the genre may not have been on the grand scale, but it made a positive impression on me, and I am sorry that she did not write more.