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Jennifer on Josephine

By SPP Reporter

Jennifer Morag Henderson's new book, Josephine Tey: A Life
Jennifer Morag Henderson's new book, Josephine Tey: A Life

by Margaret Chrystall

FOR Jennifer Morag Henderson writing the biography of Elizabeth MacKintosh turned into a quest to discover more about the three "lives" of the 20th century Inverness author – and uncovering another pen-name that is a secret to most.

But the first surprise was how much information there was available about the famously private writer, first knwon as a playwright in the 30s under the pen-name Gordon Daviot, then later as novelist Josephine Tey.

Jennifer said: "When I started out, people said it wasn’t possible to write a biography because there wasn’t enough information about her!

"Elizabeth – or Beth as her family and Inverness friends knew her – was always supposed to be this big mystery, so I thought it would be a case of putting everything I knew on paper. Then as I went on I realised I was going to have to be a wee bit more selective."

"I think it might have been down to this whole double life thing. Beth’s friends in Inverness didn’t know that much about her life in London and I think her friends in London just didn’t understand her life up here at all.

"And she was actually very private – and modest as well.

"And also because she is writing under different names, people who love the Josephine Tey books aren’t necessarily fans of the playwright Gordon Daviot!

"But there is a third pen-name as well that she did manage to keep completely secret!"

Jennifer Morag Henderson.
Jennifer Morag Henderson.

Now – with an Edinburgh book launch behind her, another at Waterstones Inverness on Thursday, November 26 and a final event with exhibition at Inverness Museum on December 9 – Jennifer can see her work on the bookshelves, published by Dingwall-based Sandstone Press.

For readers who may already be fans of MacKintosh and her well-known other pseudonyms, Jennifer includes fascinating background that may be new to them.

There is the story of Hugh Patrick Fraser McIntosh who – who loved writing as much as Beth and may have been a future partner – but the former soldier died of tuberculosis in Inverness in 1927 at 33.

And then there is Beth’s flirtation with Hollywood as she turned to film – like her friend Dodie Smith of 101 Dalmatians fame.

In 1935 – in the wake of the West End success of the play Richard Of Bordeaux – Hollywod came north to find its writer Gordon Daviot.

And, from Inverness, Beth wrote them a script for a movie called Next Time We Love which starred Jimmy Stewart.

That experience then gave her the idea for the first book by "Josephine Tey", A Shilling For Candles.

Interest in the Tey books has never waned.

Jennifer said: "Her books are always coming out in new editions,most recently with all the interest in The Daughter Of Time and Richard III who features in it – when Richard III’s bones were discovered in Leicester.

"And she’s quite modern in the way she writes and is also a bridge between the golden age of crime and modern crime fiction.

"There are a lot of writers who are fans, such as Val McDermid who has written the foreword to the book.

"I think Beth deserves more recognition for what she has done, to have written for Hollywood and this massive play that was such a success – and all her Josephine Tey books as well. And I found putting her life in the context of the Scottish literary scene gave me a different way of looking at it.

"Mainly she hasn’t been included in the history of Scottish literature, I think, because there wasn’t much known about her – supposedly.

"But now, I don’t think you can really discuss Scottish literature withut discussing her, because of her sales and influence – she is hugely important.

"Her books have been published in the US since 1930 and have been being translated since the 1930s.

"There are translations in French, German, Polish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and there are still new editions coming out – there were new Spanish editions out a few months ago. The Chinese editions came out quite recently and she is very popular in Polish – and has a huge following in America.

"I did an interview with The New Yorker around the time of the Richard III reburial and there was an article about her in Vanity Fair a few months ago.

"So it’s not just an Inverness thing. She really is an author who has got a far-reaching influence."

Even though Jennifer has been finding out more about MacKintosh, Tey and Daviot since her mother first gave her a Joseophine Tey book to read as a youngster, Jennifer’s work on the book has been an education.

Jennifer said: "Probably the biggest things I found when I was researching her was the Hollywood stuff, the third pen name and the story of her romance because those things go into the mystery of who she is.

"She managed to achieve so much across so many different genres.

"The theatre changed a lot in her lifetime too and sound cinema came in.

"In some of the reviews of her play Richard Of Bordeaux, they said ‘This is the play that is going to stop the decline of theatre’. But of course it was never going to happen.

"And Beth did then go to the cinema. After the Second World War, theatre was totally different again, but she always took changes like that as opportunities.

"During the Second World War she started writing short radio plays – finding another outlet. And she started experimenting with her style and writing comedies – and modern things rather than historical.

"I just think she wanted to work and had all these stories and things to say that no-else had said because no-one else had her experiences.

"She was definitely an original."

Josephine Tey: A Life by Jennifer Morag Henderson is out now and there is an event at Waterstones Eastgate on Thursday, November 26, at 6.30pm. There is also an official launch at Inverness Museum on December 9 from 1-2pm when Jennifer will give a short talk and the museum is holding a small exhibition of some MacKintosh personal items including information on the play Richard Of Bordeaux, the Gordon Daviot identity and the family connection.

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