Carol Barker
Margaret Browne, Kara Lind
Edith Cope, Mary Haddingham, John Bainbridge
Wendy Brandmark, DJ Taylor, Elaine Feinstein


Encouraged by my success in tracking down ‘Sandra’ McAdam Clark, I’m going to have a go at tracing five more women contributors who would seem to have disappeared.

Why am I going to do this? Not least because in his last letter from Brixton, Charles wrote:

‘I do hope you try and find the missing ladies otherwise you’ll be accused of searching like mad for William New but not bothering to look for the fairer sex. If you can’t find any of the them, I suppose they will all have to be in a chapter called “The Missing”.’

I don’t think Virginia Woolf would be very impressed if I blithely set up an all-women chapter called ‘The Missing’. So in order to please Charles and Virginia both, where do I start?

Margaret Browne’s contribution to PEN New Fiction 2 is a timeless, plotless story called ‘The Country Bus.’

A boy is waiting as usual for his mother to arrive on the country bus and walk him home from the apple farm where he hangs around with the apple workers. One day his mother doesn’t turn up and it’s his disgruntled father who eventually takes him home. By the end of the story both the boy’s parents have left him and he’s been taken into care. There comes a day when he doesn’t even turn his head when the country bus slows down to stop in the same old place.


Margaret Browne’s biographical note tells me that she was born in Birkenhead, but doesn’t give the year. She moved to Kent where her fiction appeared in regional collections. She won both the Radio Kent Play Award and a Kent Creative Writing Award.

But that was prior to 1987. The only subsequent thing I can find out is that she appeared in
Virago New Poets in 1993. Her three poems concern: 1) a memory of apples 2) a last whaling ship and 3) an autumn celebration.

I don’t think there’s anything more I can do. 200 people called Margaret Browne or M. Browne are listed as currently living in the UK. And it’s quite likely that Margaret Browne was in her fifties or sixties back in 1987 and is now dead.

So I’m leaving it there. Though I doubt if a certain Brixton inmate will be any more impressed than a particular Bloomsbury icon.

PEN - Version 12

Kara Lind’s story is one of the more experimental in the anthology. Even the title suggests as much ‘The Caper 2: Clifton.’

The Clifton of the title is a reference to a district of Bristol. At the start of the story, a couple called Cynthia and Vince travel there by train. They are met by an old man, a padre, who drives them to the monastery where he lives. Cynth and Vince plan to kill him for his dosh.

Cynth’s room overlooks a cobbled quadrangle. She lies awake ‘enjoying the wind until even the expectancy of tomorrow couldn’t keep her two blue eyes open’.

A few pages later, Vince is creeping into the padre’s room in the middle of the night, ready to dispatch him. He touches the wrinkled neck with his hand and reckons “Oi Oi, something queer here, the old man’s dead already.”


But next morning the padre appears at breakfast and their scheme is temporarily thwarted. However, they have been invited back to the monastery later in the year and so decide to leave the murder until then. The story ends:

‘And so they left the fortune that doesn’t really exist, waving from the train that would take them to the coast, concealed hands clutched below the window line, content, for now, perhaps a little smug that their love was still safe and hadn’t become just another commonplace little threat in the business of living.’

The writing is odd. The meaning of sentences – like that last one with its formally annoying repetition of ‘little’ – tantalizingly elusive.

I’m curious enough to want to read more by Kara Lind, but there isn’t any more, not really.

The final pages of
PEN New Fiction 2 give the information that Kara was educated in the United States and Scotland and had lived in London since 1985. She had stories in three publications: 2 Plus 2, Bridport Prizewinners’ Anthology and Scottish Review. And since PEN New Fiction 2? Nothing, as far as I can gather.

There is a Kara Lind on Facebook. Too young. A Kara Lind who markets Kara’s Cupcakes. Too young. None of the Karas I can locate could possibly be the one I’m looking for.

So is that it?

On Googling ‘female authors who drop out of sight’, I come across an article about how male writers continue to dominate literary criticism. Women may buy two-thirds of books sold, yet magazine reviews are centred on male authors and critics.

VIDA, an American organization that champions women in literature, has been keeping an eye on this. According to it,
London Review of Books featured 527 male authors and critics in 2014 compared with just 151 women. That’s a shocking discrepancy and most other journals show a similar bias, if not such an extreme one.


The only literary magazine found to have a majority of female content overall was Tin House, a quarterly based in Oregon. Its editor is quoted as saying that agents send Tin House two-thirds more men than women. He found that when he rejected someone and invited them to send in something else, men were FOUR TIMES more likely than women to do so. Moreover, women that he’d published before were much less likely to send him new work than men were.

If this is happening nowadays it was obviously happening thirty years ago. Kara Lind, though showing obvious flair and commitment to her writing on one level, may have failed to follow up her publishing success. As I said up front, being accepted for
PEN New Fiction 2 bolstered me against further rejections for ten years. It looks like it did not give such armor plating to Kara Lind or to other women writers.

Why not? Men are encouraged to be single-minded and goal-orientated. Both before and after PEN2 selection I remember thinking to myself: ‘That’s it, I’m a writer, I don’t care what anybody else thinks. But I’ll do what I can to try and convince the world.’

So it’s partly a self-confidence issue. As is so much in life. What do you say, Virginia?

V.W. : “I am, I admit, relieved to hear that the BBC committee has put me off. In fact I had it in mind to write to you to say that, if no steps had been taken, I would like to withdraw. I more and more doubt that I should do my duty and attend. Therefore, if the scheme is revived, would you – accepting my best thanks for the suggestion – suppress me and invite someone else to take my place? I have never sat on a committee in my life and feel it is too late to begin.”

Yes, a self-confidence issue. One that’s been around for a while.

PEN - Version 12

Edith Cope’s story ‘The Veils’ is clearly autobiographical, harking back to her childhood in or near Liverpool.


A young girl works in Mrs Morrison’s shop. There is mention of Reckitt’s Blue, Crawfords biscuits and Queen Mary. The products have been around since the nineteenth century while Queen Mary’s dates are 1867 to 1953.

At one point in the story the 10-year-old protagonist asks Mrs Morrison if she can be paid with 5 Milk Tray chocolates rather than a bag of cheap sweets. Milk Tray first appeared in 1915. Brylcreem is also mentioned and that wasn’t invented until 1928. (I wonder if the male members of the Bloomsbury set used it.)

I would guess that the story took place in the 1930s, before the Second World War. What happens? The clever child gradually goes up in Mrs Morrison’s estimation, just as her own less gifted child goes down. Finally, the shopkeeper gives the protagonist a package, which contains veils that the bright girl is immediately fascinated by: ‘I lifted out the lilac veil, which was delicate enough almost to float. There was a fine black one, like cobwebs, and a heavier one with tiny black velvet bows scattered over it. There was a purple one, richly regal and edged with sequins. And finally a pale grey one so magical it made me think of:

Slowly, silently now, the moon,
Walks the night in her silver shoon.’

That Walter de la Mare poem is from 1913, so it doesn’t help pinpoint the period in question.

The girl plays with the veils until they become crumpled and torn. ‘All except the grey one. That I kept in its package. It was stored away in its tissue paper, diaphanous, moth-like, too precious for play. I have it still, as fragile and as clinging as these memories.’

PEN note tells us that Edith Cope had been a Senior Research Officer at Bristol and Edinburgh Universities and was Deputy Director of a large college. All those capitals give the impression that Edith was proud of her career. The clever girl grew up to make a success of herself.

PEN note finishes by saying that Edith was living in Cheshire and was developing her writing. Perhaps this was in her retirement. All the other veils were worn out, but the one called ‘creative writing’ was only now being taken out to play with.


Could she be still alive? I take a deep breath and make a search for Edith Cope. There are entries for 29 such individuals in the UK. Three of which are in Cheshire with another four in Liverpool, Manchester or Lancashire. I reckon that if – and it’s a big if - the Edith Cope in question is still alive, she’ll be one of those. Also, as Cope is clearly a name associated with the north-west of England, it is possible that I might get information about the person I’m looking for from a relative. Accordingly I write letters to seven Ediths.

Two days later I get a message left on the answerphone from Liverpool, saying that Dr Cope, who had previously lived at that address, had died. The messenger makes clear that this is all the information she has about ‘Edith Cope’ and that she would appreciate it if no more communications were sent to her address.

The day after, I get an email from a Jean Lyons who is manager of a sheltered housing unit. She’s not sure if ‘her’ Edith is the one I’m looking for but she wanted to let me know that she sadly died several years ago. She wishes me luck in my search for Edith the writer.

But that’s it – no more replies. I guess the world has left behind that little girl who was so enamored of the gift of veils. The deeply unfashionable name ‘Edith Cope’ seems to fade the longer one considers it.

I wonder if Virginia Woolf knew an Edith Cope. She met Edith Crawley during a party in 1922. She admired the writing of Edith Wharton. And it was Edith Sitwell who said about her:

“Virginia Woolf had a moonlit transparent beauty. She was exquisitely carved, with large thoughtful eyes that held no foreshadowing of that tragic end which was a grief to everyone who had ever known her. To be in her company was delightful. She enjoyed each butterfly aspect of the world and would chase the lovely creatures, but without damaging the coloured dust on their wings.”

One deduces from this that Virginia Woolf would have loved ‘The Veils’. I think it can safely be said that she would have done everything in her power to encourage its female author.


PEN - Version 12

Carol Barker contributed an intriguing story called ‘The Petition’ to PEN New Fiction 2. In it, an accountant called Mr Nugent takes refuge in a tree at the bottom of his back garden. Where he stays all day. And night. His wife doesn’t react well to this development and a group of local women put together a petition insisting that Mr Nugent climbs down out of the tree and gets back to normal. He’s about to do so when he realizes that in a show of solidarity a male neighbor has got onto the roof of his house and was singing ‘Fight the good fight with all your might’.

This interests me for at least two reasons. In my own story ‘A Business Meeting’, which is set in an accountancy firm, work-related stress has so traumatized one worker that he has rewritten his own job description in such a way that he happily cleans the toilets. Yes, it’s a hard life, doing something as soulless as someone else’s sums for them.

But it’s odd reading a story, written by a woman, which can be interpreted as saying that men have a hard time of it and need to be given a break. A much more significant trend in recent decades is for women to recognize that their own gender has not been given the same freedom, rights or opportunities as men have. The fruits of feminism are not to be found in abundance in
PEN New Fiction 2, though Elaine Feinstein, Wendy Brandmark and Frances Fyfield do allude to the status quo. Actually, they do more than that, they speak of authentic female experience.

Her biographical note tells me that Carol Barker BA was born in Amersham in 1960. Thus she was one of three 27-year-old contributors born in that year, the others being those alpha males, Ian Rankin and D.J. Taylor.


Carol read English Literature at Leeds and was, at the time of the book’s publication, living in Otley. Where is she now? Alas, Carol Barker is a common name and I can’t go straight to that information.

I look up births in Buckinghamshire in 1960 and that doesn’t turn up a Carol Barker, so Barker may be the author’s married name. But if so, I should be able to pick up subsequent publications under that name. And there don’t seem to be any.

Hang on a minute. When I Google ‘Carol Barker’ and ‘The Petition’ what comes up is a petition currently doing the rounds concerning Rolf Harris. The petition, presently signed by nearly 2000 people, suggests that Rolf Harris was denied a fair trial when in 2015 he was found guilty of fourteen charges relating to four female accusers.

It’s a long shot, but I email Carol Barker of the ‘free Rolf Harris’ campaign. What piques my interest is that both Carol Barker’s seem to buck a feminist agenda. Just as one would have thought that a young female author in the mid 1980s would have better things to do than write on behalf of a downtrodden male accountant, so one wouldn’t have supposed that supporting a man who almost certainly used his celebrity status to enable him to damage the development of girls would have been the best use of a woman’s talents today.

Anyway, Rolf’s Carol Barker gets back to me with a friendly and amused email confirming she is not the author of ‘The Petition’.

So that’s that. End of the road. I’m tempted to go back to Virginia Woolf for a consolation of sorts. Could you do that, Virginia? Come up with a sentence that puts Mr. Nugent and Rolf Harris in their places?

V.W. : ‘Sometimes, one trembling star comes in the clear sky and makes me think the world beautiful and we maggots deforming even the trees with our lusts.’

PEN - Version 12

Mary Hadingham’s story is called Theo’s Divorce. The first few pages concern the angst of seventy-year-old Theo’s wife upon hearing that he wants to divorce her. But by the last few pages you realise that the story is about Theo’s divorce from life itself.


The story begins in Philadelphia, on the east coast of the States. It ends at the eastern end of Lake Squamm, a bit further north in New Hampshire.

This is what the end was like for Theo Simmer…

He was sitting by the water’s edge on a small island at the eastern end of Lake Squamm in a reflective mood.

His car was parked at the general store at the north end of the lake. He’d hired a boat from there and crossed to the island at dusk. When he’d reached the middle of the lake, he’d dropped the car keys into the water.

He’d spent a night in the shack and was waiting for the ‘peace that passes all understanding’, or something like it. As he sat there he put his hand on his chest, and felt the muffled beat of his heart.

He wondered if he had left it too late. What if he was surrendering his humanity for nothing?... He lost track of time. It was late at night when Theo stumbled to his feet in the darkness…

And that’s it. Theo is not heard of again. Mary Hadingham gives us no further clues as to his fate. He has disappeared without trace. Like Mary herself.

The biographical note at the back of
PEN2 tells us that Mary Hadingham was of Scotch-Irish parentage. She was educated in America and worked as a journalist there. She’d been settled in Britain for the past twenty years. Her stories had appeared in four places: Blackwoods, Short Story International, South West Arts Review and the Literary Review. Since then, nothing.

So back to the story. As with Carol Barker’s mature man up a tree, a woman author writing in the 1980s concentrating on an old man’s suicide slightly puzzles me. After all, it was only forty years since Virginia Woolf had left home, walked to the river, filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones and walked into the water never to emerge again. Except as a corpse several weeks later. I’m much more interested in that tragic death than self-satisfied Theo’s.


Virginia left suicide notes. One (or two) to her husband and one to her sister. The one to Vanessa read:
Dearest, You can’t think how I loved your letter. But I feel I have gone too far this time to come back again. I am certain now that I am going mad again. It is just as it was the first time, I am always hearing voices, and I shan’t get over it now. All I want to say is that Leonard has been so astonishingly good, every day, always; I can’t imagine that anyone could have done more for me than he has. We have been perfectly happy until these last few weeks, when this horror began. Will you assure him of this? I feel he has so much to do that he will go on, better without me, and you will help him. I can hardly think clearly anymore. If I could I would tell you what you and the children have meant to me. I think you know. I have fought against it, but I can’t any longer. Virginia.”

That’s how to go out, Theo. With your eyes full of love looking back on the living. Not obsessed with the oblivion to come.

In much of her writing, Virginia Woolf compared a women’s lot in life with a man’s. Her essay ‘Woman in Fiction’ is double-edged. First, most women in fiction have been conceived and written by men. Thus they were truly fictions. Second, not enough women had managed to write about their own lives or the lives of other women. Which was unfortunate because female lives needed recording just as much as men’s did.

And if the lives of women hadn’t been recorded in the 1930s, one strongly suspects this was still the case by the 1980s. I mean, although Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and Margaret Drabble had written books about women, with a feminist slant, surely that had to be the start of something enormous. So, again, why does Carol Barker give us Mr Nugent up a tree? Why does Mary Hadingham give us Theo’s last days?

Part of the answer surely involves remembering that Allan Massie, a middle class man, was the anthology’s editor. By choosing certain stories he thereby rejected others.


Virginia Woolf wrote that when writing fiction as a woman, letting her imagination go, she realised there came a point when she was imagining things that simply would not do from a male perspective, which used to jolt her out of her muse.

She tells us that she struggled to free her muse, not altogether successfully. And then, like so many female authors, she had to struggle a second time with the rejections of male editors and publishers.

So that’s two barriers to a woman writing about a woman’s life. One, the male censor inside her. Two, men in all the decision-making positions of the world.

I’m not sure I can help the situation, being a man. But we’ll see.


The person who comes to my rescue is my fellow PEN contributor, Elaine Feinstein, whose chapter is coming up soon. And how she helps is as follows.

In addition to the five untraced women, there was just one of the sixteen male contributors that I hadn’t traced, having found Jeff New. And his name is John Bainbridge. His biographical note in
PEN New Fiction 2 states that he’d had a story in New Stories 4 in 1979.

New Stories (volumes 1 to 8, sponsored by PEN), was the forerunner of the two PEN New Fiction anthologies, just as New Writing (volumes 1 to 15, sponsored by the British Council) came after its demise. So, thanks to PEN, the British Council and the Arts Council of England, in the 32 years from 1976 to 2007 there were 25 volumes of short stories published. A national treasure that my humble volume celebrates by taking a single one of the anthologies and attempting to dig deep down into it.

The 1979 anthology,
New Stories 4, was edited by Elaine Feinstein and Fay Weldon. And having got hold of a copy to read the story by John Bainbridge (about whom I don’t think I’m going to say more as I can’t trace him) I have come to realize that it contains some exhilarating writing by women.


For a start it contains ripping yarns by Emma Tennant and Angela Carter. Now I know from reading Elaine Feinstein’s autobiography, It Goes with the Territory, that both were chums of Elaine Feinstein (just as Giles Gordon and Ian Rankin were associates of Allan Massie). Emma Tennant had set up a literary periodical called Bananas in 1975, and both Elaine and Angela were part of the publication’s inner circle.

But if there was a bit of nepotism going on when Angela Carter and Emma Tennant got the nod for inclusion in
New Stories, that doesn’t disturb me in the slightest, because the quality of the writing is jaw-droppingly high.

Or do I mean dick-droppingly low? Emma Tennant’s story is about a young man who, having made love to his boss’s beautiful wife, accidentally gets locked in her walk-in wardrobe for the weekend, by the end of which he has to defecate in the heel of one of her shoes. The man is humiliated via his bodily needs. It’s a cerebral revenge for the female sex, and, though brilliant, it did not make for a comfortable read for this male ego.

Angela Carter’s story is about another young man, who, after becoming bored by
his beautiful lover, embarks on a most vivid adventure in the snow. He walks to a magical palace, where he ends up in bed with a child or a crone. He doesn’t know which. Though he does know that the creature has a skin infection, head lice, and has wet the sheets.

The two stories develop into nightmares for the arrogant male protagonists, and both present difficulties for the male reader. I can imagine the giggling, snorting and cackling that went on when Elaine Feinstein, Fay Weldon, Emma Tennant and Angela Carter discussed the anthology that was being put together.

I’ve also looked at the first three stories by women that appear in the book. Again they’re all marvelously vivid tales and they put men firmly in their place. And that place is second.


I feel I have to stop telling and start showing (again). So here we go, courtesy of Tina Morris, who is not a PEN PAL as such, but is a PEN PAL once-removed through the editorial acumen of Elaine Feinstein.

The Monstrous Yellow Tricycle.

What had she been up to? That’s what he wanted to know. For months she had kept the garage padlocked, insisting that the car must stay outside until she had finished her work.

Eventually he sneaked a peek and was appalled. Calmly she told him she knew he would climb up to the garage window sooner or later. And it didn’t matter now that he had – it was nearly finished.

On closer inspection it wasn’t just a tricycle. It had all sorts of gadgets and paddles screwed on to the cross-bar and back wheels. Puzzled, he awaited an explanation.

She was going away on it. She was going away for good.

She then explained the depth of her frustration with him. For all the thirty-years of their time together she’d looked after his needs, and in all that time he’d never seen her as a person in her own right.

“I have crawled round the walls of your life, but never once did you let me inside…. I’ve chained the wild beasts of my life in order that your peace should be not disturbed… I’ve plugged the river-flowing of my thoughts because you wanted to watch TV or read the paper…It is enough.”

He pleaded with her to stay. While reassuring himself that she couldn’t get away on her ridiculous machine, anyway. And he accused her of being hard.

“No, it is you who are hard. I’ve chiseled away at your surface with my magic tools. I’ve chipped and hammered in a desperate loneliness, but never once did I make even a scratch on your marble.”

Numb, he watched as she wheeled the monstrous thing from the garage.


“Please don’t go,” he said, trying to hold back the tears.

She explained that she must, so that they could both find out who they really were.

He didn’t want to know who he was. He’d been happy.

“Yes it was comfortable for you, wasn’t it.”

The grotesque yellow machine wobbled off down the lane. She did not look back. After a few seconds, the strange wooden paddles moved, opened, and revealed themselves to be beautiful iridescent wings. They flapped and soon the machine/bird was flying, circling above what looked like a squat dwarf standing outside the empty house.

Silver hair trailing as she rode her splendid magical machine, she waved once and he could hear, echoing through the corridors of clouds… her voice singing… singing…

I like to think it was Elaine Feinstein who selected that specific story for New Stories 4. It’s so what the pages of her autobiography reveal about one side of her life with her husband. The frustrating side.

If the stories by women in
New Stories 4 are particularly strong due to the book’s female editors, that doesn’t mean that some of the women who contributed haven’t disappeared without trace.

Tina Morris herself might have flown off in her protagonist’s monstrous yellow tricycle for all that she published after 1979. And how about Elizabeth Troop, who contributed a delicate story of war- time loss, ‘In Memoriam Brian Rosenfield’?

Her biographical note at the back of
New Stories 4 tells the reader that her third novel Slipping Away would be published in spring 1979 in America, while an earlier novel, Woolworth Madonna was to appear in Penguin in 1979. Moreover, a short story was to appear in the Jubilee edition of Winter’s Tales.


Elizabeth Troop off and flying surely. There would be a fourth novel, Darling Daughters, published in 1980. But no fifth novel. And there is no information on the web as to what happened to Elizabeth Troop. Somewhere in these British Isles lies the wreckage of an airworthy yellow tricycle. Or even several.

It takes an effort of will to conjure up the image of Tina Morris (or Elizabeth Troop or Edith Cope or Kara Lind or Carol Barker or Margaret Browne or Mary Haddingham), silver hair trailing as they ride their splendid magical machines through corridors of cloud, their voices singing…

Their voices faltering.

Their voices silent.

PEN - Version 12

At this point I’m going to mention again Granta’s 1983 list, Best of Young British Novelists. Of the 20 names only six are women. What has happened to those six?

Ursula Bentley dropped out of the literary world after her second book. She later published a third and fourth novel but they were largely ignored.

Buchi Emecheta published most of her work before 1983 and hasn’t published anything for nearly 20 years.

Lisa St Aubin de Teran’s first two books from1982 and 1983 won prizes. She has a website that hasn’t been updated since 2000, since when she hasn’t published much anyway. Her books have received only a smattering of reviews on Amazon.

The other three have published widely and have sold a lot of books. Maggie Gee is now Professor of Creative Writing at Bath University. Rose Tremain has won many awards for her fiction, including the Whitbread Award for
Music and Silence in 1999, and the Orange Prize for The Road Home in 2008. Pat Barker is a particularly well-known author. She won the Booker Prize in 1995 for the third part of her Regeneration trilogy.


Bizarrely, neither Pat Barker nor Maggie Gee have websites. Rose Tremain’s website is a commercial one that is maintained by Random House.

These three women writers may have been successful, but not like male writers - Martin Amis, William Boyd, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes - from Granta’s 1983 list have been successful. All five of these men have official websites that reek of gravitas. These guys are not giving up their place at the top of the pile easily. Their support teams won’t let them.

Is Rose Tremain’s website a humble thing, or simply not fit for purpose? I turn to it again, note the lack of active links, the absence of analysis, and the phrases that come to mind are ‘going through the motions’ and ‘run of the mill’. Tremain’s back-up boys and girls should be doing a lot better.

I turn to DJ Taylor’s
The Prose Factory (2016). Alas, none of the six women from Granta’s 1983 list appear in its index. Of course, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, William Boyd, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes all have multiple entries. And a second tier of male writers from the Granta in-crowd are there too: Kazuo Ishiguro, Shiva Naipaul and Graham Swift. So that’s zero out of six women as opposed to eight out of fourteen men. Statistically significant or what?

Me: “What were you thinking about, David? Perhaps you couldn’t get Thackeray and Orwell out of your mind. I know the feeling well enough myself: being brought up to believe it’s a man’s world in general, and our literary world in particular. But I have come to understand that such a viewpoint is biased, based on privilege, and unsustainable. Women are taking over the asylum Or at least they’ve got every right to have equal numbers on the committees that run the place.”

DJT: “You don’t understand, Duncan. My next book will be called
The Prose Garden.


DM: “And will it be full of the literary outpourings of women, including those who contributed to PEN2?”

DJT: “In so far as I can trace them, yes.”

PEN - Version 12

Another PEN contributor enters the discussion. I mean Wendy Brandmark, and she does it like this.

I send her a copy of this chapter to date and beg her not to shoot me down. Sorry, I ask for her objective critical assessment. She writes back saying that she likes the investigations into the missing women, which she thinks are like stories in themselves. She’s not so keen on my judgement that the contributions by women in
New Stories 4 are stronger than those in PEN New Fiction 2. And she is not impressed that I choose to quote a section from the earlier volume.

These mild rebukes I take on the chin. And after wiping down my face I focus on the following sentence in Wendy’s email:
‘Carol Barker I think taught creative writing at Birkbeck College in the short courses programme in the English Department. I did interview and hire her back in 2005.’

Wendy gives me the email address of the person who handles the course and who ought to have an email address for this Carol Barker. After a frustrating correspondence with the course administrator and her second-in-command, I am no further forward. I report this to Wendy who comes up with two possible email addresses for Carol from her own records. And so I find myself writing:

‘Apologies if you're not the Carol Barker I'm trying to trace, but if you were responsible for putting Mr Nugent up a tree at the bottom of his garden, could you kindly let me know so that I can ask you a couple of questions about your PEN experience and subsequent career.’ 

Nearly three weeks pass, and then this arrives:


Thank you for your email and apologies for taking a while to respond. Yes, I am the Carol Barker you're looking for. I'm intrigued as to how you managed to trace me; it was a long time ago and many things have moved on since then! I'm happy to hear from you again, though can't promise I will have useful responses to any questions you may wish to put (or that I will want to answer them!). I have not pursued a career in writing, though writing-related activities have remained a part of my life.

Best wishes, Carol

Well, how about that? A missing woman contributor is missing no longer. I waste no time in asking Carol my questions. She can’t back off now, surely.

Hi Duncan,

Thank you for explaining how you identified me. I hadn't made the connection between Wendy and
PEN New Fiction 2. It's a good reason to go back and remind myself of the 32 contributors! I wasn't at the launch party in 1987. I'm assuming I would not have wanted/been able to make the journey from Yorkshire where I was living at the time.

Why am I still banging on about that launch party? Because it presented a brief opportunity to reach for the stars. Because it is an itch that still has to be scratched.

You ask some interesting questions about 'The Petition'. The exact circumstances of its writing elude me now. It was not at all typical of my writing at the time, or since. I would describe it as a 'one-off'. My more usual style is more fluid, more internalised, interested in revealing character interiority and allowing the 'true' story to gradually emerge - or partially emerge - through narrative layers.

Is that what I’m doing in PEN Pals? Allowing the ‘true’ story of the PEN2 contributors to gradually emerge through narrative layers?

It is possible the story was written in response to an exercise from a WEA writing class I was attending at the time…


That’s the Workers Educational Association, which runs creative writing classes.

… I do remember the tutor writing in feedback that he had 'giggled his way through it' and that he thought it 'sufficiently offbeat to be a winner'. Clearly, that has stayed in my mind all these years, even if other aspects have faded!

Ah yes, praise is something one doesn’t forget as a young writer. Mind you, I didn’t get any, except lashings of it from myself.

The question of gender is interesting too. I don't recall consciously thinking about it. My story triggers tend to be a phrase, an image, an opening line, perhaps an atmosphere, tone or sensation. I'm not sure I would have made a deliberate decision about gender. However, looking back and reflecting from a 2016 vantage point, I realise my partner at the time was an accountant - and a disaffected one at that! Perhaps I was giving him a voice - or my perception of what he was experiencing - a voice. 

I’m glad I gave Carol space to answer that question without presenting her up front with the non-feminist interpretation. My take on feminism may lack subtlety and be under-researched.

Hearing that the story had been accepted for the anthology meant a huge amount to me at the time. It was my first experience of having a story accepted. I remember shaking with excitement for some time after I heard the story had been selected. I was in a quandary when the payment cheque arrived. I wanted to keep it as a memento, but also needed the money! I went to the bank and asked if it was possible to retrieve the cheque once it had been cashed. The cashier explained it wasn't but she very kindly photocopied it for me. She was interested to hear what the cheque related to and about PEN.

I can identify with that. I reckon I would have been shaking with excitement too. And I vaguely remember thinking something similar about the tiny cheque that eventually arrived. But for a specific memory I’d have to go to the time Jeremy Beale told me on the phone that he would indeed like to publish Personal Delivery. The fourth of my books to be written, the first to find a publisher. Cue goal-scoring celebrations that one can see any Saturday night on Match of the Day.


I had a cluster of other small successes in the year or two after - inclusion in anthologies, Radio 4 broadcasts, competition places/wins. Those continued - mostly short stories, some poems, an unpublished novel that was long-listed for the Virginia Prize…

The Virginia Prize is for unpublished novels by female writers and is named after Virginia Woolf. So that’s neat.

…However, it has always been the process of writing, not the outcome, that has mattered to me and that has characterised my writing 'ambition'. Any recognition that has come along the way has been rewarding, but not essential. But I do retain a soft spot for the PEN experience, for the reasons outlined above.

True enough. I now get huge pleasure from the process of researching and writing a piece for my Evelyn Waugh website, usually over several working days. And then I enjoy putting it online and reading it through one more time in all its self-published glory. Writing an upbeat round-robin email to 50-odd Waugh aficionados gives pleasure, as does receiving the occasional response to it. But nothing like the thrill of creating that essay-cum-castle of steel and glass.

Yes, the other strand has been the opportunity to teach creative writing. That happened by accident really. I trained as a teacher (FE and adult learning) in my early 30s and the first vacancy I was offered was to teach creative writing (rather than literature, which is my main specialism). From that many other opportunities flowed, from adult education courses, residential and summer schools, judging competitions, community projects to teaching for Birkbeck (Wendy was one of the interviewers who appointed me). That has all been a huge pleasure too and I do believe that being able to demonstrate a 'track record', such as the PEN publication, was a useful part of that.

I subsequently went on to postgraduate study and research in literature, an MA and PhD, and that is the focus of my academic work now.


I wonder what Carol’s MA dealt with, and what her PhD was/is about. I will ask her.

However, my own writing is always there and I believe always will be a presence in my life, and a great pleasure.

I suppose that puts her in the same category as Ralph Goldswain, Wendy Brandmark, Robert Mullen and Jeff New. That is one proud category.

I've answered at some length and apologise if this is more than you wanted. I hope there may be some details of use or interest in what I've written and, if you want to draw on them, that's fine by me.


Thank you for getting in touch and I hope work on the project continues to go well.

Best wishes, Carol

What’s this? An email later I find that an image is coming together…

I’m standing in the middle of a tree. A yellow plane is circling in the sky above. Suddenly it seems to be flying straight at me. I duck down and as I look up through thrashing leaves and branches I catch – or think I catch - a glimpse of two co-pilots smiling down on me. Wendy Brandmark and Carol Barker looping the loop? Perhaps they are sharing a joke about ex-boyfriends.

I would wave up at them, but if I did that I would risk falling out of my tree. I wave anyway, though the plane is now just a dot in the distance. And as I’m waving I realize that there are an awful lot of leaves in the tree and that some of these leaves are leaflets. I grab one and see that it is closely printed on both sides and that there is what I take to be a title of Carol Barker’s MA dissertation: ‘Representations of pleasure in the novels of Frances Burney.’


I pick up another leaflet. Which reads: ‘To suffice to herself. Female Self-sufficiency in the Work of Women Writers 1740-1821.’ The title of Carol’s PhD thesis?

If so, I’d like to read more. But to do so I will need to climb down out of my tree and pick up the paper that is scattered all over the lawn. Am I in a position to do that yet? Or must it wait until my perspective on gender matures further?

I'll wait. Though I've a feeling I might be up here for a while.

PEN - Version 12


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