Shirley Hazzard was in her late twenties when, in 1959, somewhat diffidently, she submitted her first short story to the New Yorker. It was, William Maxwell remembered, ‘an astonishment to the editors, because it was the work of a finished literary artist about whom they knew nothing whatever’, and he immediately accepted it for publication.
Hazzard’s arrival as a fully formed and refreshingly cosmopolitan writer was a result of her peripatetic and often unhappy early life. ‘By the time I was 25, I had emerged from a lot of trouble,’ she recalled. ‘I had also, more interestingly, lived for appreciable periods in six countries and diverse languages.’ She was born in Australia, but her family relocated to Hong Kong, where at the age of 16 she joined the Office of British Intelligence and fell deeply in love with an older colleague.