I got my start in English studies in early modern textual editing, but over the last two years have transitioned into postwar (queer) literature. As I’ve explored how queer fiction was published, marketed, and sold in an era that criminalised homosexuality and had a powerful network of obscenity codes, I have, from time to time, been surprised to discover that some of the actors I am studying are, in fact still, alive. And remarkably willing to assist my research.
A few months ago, while researching in the publishing archives at the University of Reading, I came across a reference to an author who had written several books featuring bisexual and lesbian characters in the 1960s and early 1970s. The author had a somewhat unusual surname. After a bit of Googling, I found an address and telephone number that matched her entry in an old copy of Who’s Who. I picked up the phone and dialed. A thin voice answered. I announced that I was a PhD student and asked if she was the author of … and then I rattled off the titles of her novels. She said she was. I asked if I might interview her. She said she disliked speaking over the phone because her hearing was bad. Email? She was over 80 and didn’t ‘do’ the internet. Letter? A letter was acceptable.
That call began a remarkable correspondence — she sends me letters written on her typewriter — in which she kindly provides background information, fills in details, and tells about her experience as a young woman novelist writing stories with queer themes in the 1960s and 1970s. But we also write to each other about our gardens, how we’re getting on through lockdown; she tells me about her rescue cat, and the orchids she’s kept alive for 17 years.
Research has led to an unexpected discovery — a friend.
Chris Adams is an IES PhD student.