Diana Raymond: a life in fiction

Today Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books talks about Diana Raymond‘s novel Lily’s Daughter. Corazon Books, which is dedicated to bringing readers “great stories with heart”, is reissuing Raymond’s novel, originally published in 1988, as an ebook. Have a read … it sounds like a great story by an interesting author and I’m sure it will delight today’s readers just as it did those who read it many years ago.

The author Diana Raymond lived through most of the twentieth century, and the experience of two wars had a profound impact on her writing. But just as real events influenced her novels, the literary world had a lasting effect on her personal life.

Lily's Daughter by Diana RaymondDiana’s popular novel Lily’s Daughter contains many autobiographical elements. Lily’s Daughter is a bitter-sweet, yet often witty account of a young woman’s coming of age in 1930s England, and there are a number of similarities between the author and her protagonist, Jessica Mayne.

Born in 1916, Diana lost her father in the preliminary bombardment to the Third Battle of Ypres the following year. In Lily’s Daughter, Jessica’s father also died fighting in the Great War, in her case the year before she was born. The sense of loss caused by a fatherless childhood is a key theme of the story, and drives many of the poor decisions Jessica makes.

Diana was an adult when she first visited her father’s grave, at Brandhoek Military Cemetery in Belgium. His final resting place was traced by her husband, the author Ernest Raymond. In Lily’s Daughter, seventeen-year-old Jessica has never visited her father’s grave, although during the course of the story her aunt reveals where he is buried, and Jessica considers that ‘Perhaps one day I would go myself.’

Diana Raymond

Both before and during the Second World War, Diana worked in Whitehall. At the Committee of Imperial Defence she was personal assistant to General Ismay, who was to become Winston Churchill’s chief military assistant. In 1938, Diana leaned from her office window to see Neville Chamberlain give his ‘peace for our time’ speech. Despite the Prime Minister’s reassurances, she felt that war was inevitable. In Lily’s Daughter the rumble of the approaching storm in Europe is a constant throughout. This threat is embodied in the character of Aaron, a Polish Jew, who is about to return to Warsaw:

I tried to ask him questions about his country and, making his last preparations for departure, he said he was going to visit a small village called Oswiecim where he had friends who would help him to persuade his father to leave. I made no comment, for at that stage there was no comment to make: Auschwitz had not yet been built there.

While life experiences and historical events are reflected in her fiction, aspects of Diana’s own life were shaped by literature. The novelist Pamela Frankau was her cousin, and was a great support as Diana pursued her goal of becoming a writer. When Diana’s first manuscript was rejected, Pamela said to her, not unkindly: ‘That’s what happens with your first novel. Now you get on with your next.’. At twenty, Diana became a published author, with her novel The Door Stood Open (published under her maiden name, Diana Young). The literary ties between the two cousins continued. Near the end of her life, and knowing she was very ill, Pamela asked Diana to help her finish her novel, Colonel Blessington. After Pamela’s death, Diana completed the book, to critical praise.

Literature was also the catalyst for Diana’s first meeting with her future husband, the acclaimed novelist Ernest Raymond. They met at a young PEN club gathering, where she found his energies were entirely given to novels. She later wrote: ‘This, of course, formed one of the many bonds in our marriage, we talked books, discussed endlessly the craft of the novelist; I learned much from him in the art of storytelling, more especially as I typed his books as well as my own, and corrected his proofs.’

Another very important literary influence with a special significance for Diana was the poet John Keats. Before enlisting, her father was Lecturer in English at Goldsmiths College, London University; his last book, published posthumously, was an anthology of Keats. Diana loved Keats, and spent many hours at Keats House, which was near her own home in Hampstead. She wrote a play, John Keats Lived Here, which was performed by the Hampstead Players in November 1995, to mark the bicentenary of Keats birth. The play was also later produced for one night at the Wyndham Theatre.

In later life, on re-reading her father’s introduction to his anthology of Keats, Diana said: ‘. . . the echoes there of my own love for Keats are comforting, like a hand held out across time.’

Diana Raymond (1916-2009) wrote 24 novels, as well as theatre criticism, poetry and a play about Keats.

Lily’s Daughter by Diana Raymond is published by Corazon Books www.amazon.co.uk/Lilys-Daughter-Diana-Raymond-ebook/dp/B00HZS2OV8

3 thoughts on “Diana Raymond: a life in fiction”

  1. Oh dear bang goes my new March 2014 resolution to stop buying books for a while until I clear some of my bookshelves and reduce the height of my reading pile. I read the few pages on Kindle look inside and am attracted and have managed to purchase a used paper copy from the great south american river. I will comment again when I receive and read. The cover sold me the book … the lady definitely from the 1930s in the same colour scheme as Unravelled. An excellent colour mix!

    Alexander

    1. I have finished reading this book. Interesting style in the beginning, almost ghost like and with dreams with her mother and relations. Not my normal reading matter but still worth a read from a writer’s or editor’s point of view for the presentation and style and pacing. Nicely hooked in by a gradual dripping tap of tension and uncertain events. The background of families and relationships riven apart by war is well portrayed. Glad the book was not longer. Looks to be selling all right.

      Alexander of Allrighters and Ywnwab!

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