Antonia Fraser

How would Jane Austen have fared at a book festival?

I’ve been to two of my favourite book festivals recently, Chalke Valley History Festival and Charleston, and the experience has set me thinking about festivals in general. If I could listen to a great writer — any great writer — at a literary festival, I think I would choose Anthony Trollope. He would probably go

The last of Rebus?

Exit Music by Ian Rankin ‘You … are … history.’ Approx- imately halfway through Ian Rankin’s latest and surely most brilliant thriller Exit Music, these appalling words are spoken to D. I. John Rebus by his superior. What is worse, Chief Constable James Corbyn means it. He’s not simply referring to the fact that Rebus

A meditation

I’m at Washington airport on a book tour. My escort, an agreeable man whom I have encountered on several previous occasions, says farewell and then asks, ‘Are you still writing?’ I smile nervously. ‘A few more years left?’ he ventures, either in hope or dread, it doesn’t matter. Still. The ‘still’ word. ‘Are you still

Diary – 14 October 2006

‘History in the making can be most exhausting.’ When I first read these words — by Noël Coward — I immediately assumed they applied to the writing of it. Having just finished a long book about the loves of Louis XIV, I thought I knew all about that exhaustion. So much for solipsism. Noël Coward

Staying with the old firm

There have been many books over the years with titles that approximate to Why I Am Still a Catholic. In the Fifties a dream team would have included, I suppose, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene with Alec Guinness, received into the Church in 1956, as a promising newcomer. In 1955 my mother Elizabeth Pakenham, later

From Africa back to Scotland

The publishing world is full of romantic stories, not every one with a happy ending. (I was brought up on the tale, possibly apocryphal, that Evelyn Waugh’s brother-in-law, Edward Grant, kept a framed copy of his letter turning down Gone with the Wind in his office.) One truly happy story, however, so far without an

A most superior street

Nancy Mitford did not enjoy readers’ letters, according to Harold Acton’s sprightly memoir (how unlike us, Miss Beale and Miss Buss). But she did enjoy this one from a certain Mavis Mitford-Potts, following the enormous success of her first historical biography, Madame de Pompadour. It was along these lines: ‘I live alone in a bungalow

Swedish exercises in crime

Henning Mankell, the Swedish crimewriter who is the creator of Inspector Kurt Wallender, is being taken increasingly seriously: an international bestseller but also the subject of profiles in literary papers. He has already won the prestigious (British) Crimewriters’ Gold Dagger Award with Sidetracked. It seems the measure of the success of his dour, dispirited and

Diary – 28 June 2003

The word ‘traitor’ seems to be bandied about a good deal at present. ‘So you’re a traitor, then,’ said the complacently smiling lady sitting next to my husband Harold Pinter at the British Library literary dinner – rather a surprising venue for such an accusation, I thought at the time. They were discussing our recent

Diary – 15 March 2003

A non-stop drive for housing: when my father, then Frank Pakenham, fought as Labour candidate for Oxford in 1945, he hired a pony and cart and, stuffing his numerous children in the back, set forth along the streets with this striking placard. Unfortunately, the pony came to an abrupt halt quite soon and would not