Friday, 6 March 2015

Lettice Cooper's Leeds novels

Kate Baldwin writes
Janet Douglas   Photo: Kate Baldwin
Janet Douglas thoroughly engaged the audience last night at Headingley Library with her talk on Lettice Cooper, a rather forgotten name of the twentieth century. Tales of her upbringing, her activities throughout her life and even her friendship with Orwell’s wife really painted a wonderful picture of a dynamic woman with a keen interest in society (as well as a particularly keen interest in men, infer from that what you will!), an interest very much apparent in her novels. 

After regaling us with such tales as her writing reviews for the Yorkshire Post for thirty years, Janet then went on to discuss Lettice’s (we decided we felt familiar enough to call her Lettice) novels, in particular National Provincial and The New House: the only one still in print.

Through Janet’s brilliant summaries of the plots, tactfully avoiding spoilers, we discovered the charm of Lettice Cooper’s writing, especially for those living in Leeds. Although not born in the glorious city, she was brought up there and it had a special place in her heart featuring in many of her novels, not so inconspicuously with the pseudonym ‘Aire’. For a Leeds native, part of the joy of reading National Provincial would be to recognise the familiar streets and areas, all ‘disguised’ with aliases, and to imagine very clearly the backdrop for the story. Another interesting point Janet focused on was the historical accuracy of Lettice’s writing, with her stories reflecting real events such as a strike at Burton’s factory in the sixties.

The link with Leeds was enjoyed by everyone in the audience and sparked conversation in the question and answer section, with people chipping in with their own stories and comments, creating a lovely atmosphere full of communal love for a city inspired by the words of Lettice Cooper (via the brilliant Janet Douglas) and possibly the free wine! All in all, a wonderful evening.           

Some audience feedback:
Janet Douglas – lovely, entertaining speaker. Loves her subject. Really interesting. Thank you. L

 Really very interesting to hear the life and times of Leeds. I must read the books. Lovely presentation, Janet. M

Very accomplished introduction to Lettice Cooper and has inspired me to read more of her works – particularly National Provincial. Her contribution to Leeds needs to be more recognised – perhaps R

It’s interesting to learn about a writer from your own locality. I will possibly try reading her novels. T

Interesting, relevant, lively. J

Very interesting. I enjoyed it very much. K

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