About the author
I’m always writing or thinking about what I’d like to be writing and, even after nine books, the thrill of holding the first copy of a new book has not lessened. This year sees the publication of That Woman: a life of Wallis Simpson Duchess of Windsor alongside a C4 television documentary based on my book and the new information I have unearthed. Publication by St Martin’s Press in the US will follow early in 2012.
Most of my previous books have been about strong women who have carved out a life against the odds from Enid Bagnold, to Mother Teresa and Laura Ashley, and most of my journalism is about women who have fought for their own rights or the rights of others. I call them all Fighters and Writers. In 2009 I wrote and presented a Radio 3 docu-drama called The Daffodil Maiden about the pianist Harriet Cohen. Gillian Reynolds described it as “This frank and moving account … beautifully produced.” (Daily Telegraph) In 2010 I wrote and presented another musical story, this time for Radio 4, called ‘Who Was Joyce Hatto?
But if you’ve come to this page it’s probably because you want some information about me to use as an introduction for a talk since these days I talk almost more than I write.
Here it is then:
Anne Sebba is a biographer, lecturer, journalist and former Reuters foreign correspondent. Her first job was at the BBC World Services in the Arabic Department. She has written eight books, several short stories and introductions to reprinted novels. She has presented documentaries on BBC R3 and BBC R4, is a member of the Society of Authors Executive Committee and her latest biography is of Wallis Simpson called That Woman.
Before Wallis I wrote about another American woman who shocked the British establishment, Jennie Churchill: Winston’s American Mother was published by John Murrayin 2007 in the UK and by W.W. Norton in the US where they called it American Jennie: the Remarkable Life of Winston Churchill’s Mother. That book too was the basis for a C4 television documentary called Lady Randy: Churchill’s Mother, broadcast to coincide with the launch of the paperback and for which I acted as consultant. There is an audio version (on Tape or CD) movingly read by Joanna David, available to order from any library.
Before turning my attention to Jennie, my previous book was called The Exiled Collector: William Bankes and the Making of an English Country House first published by John Murray, now re-issued by Dovecote Press. Edmund White said of it: “Anne Sebba has written this record of exquisite taste and brutal suffering with equal measures of tact, verve and eloquence.” I have lectured on this book in New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia for the Royal Oak Foundation and in many other cities and have also completed a radio play, The Trial of William John Bankes, still awaiting a performance.
In 1998 I wrote Mother Teresa: Beyond The Image published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in the UK and Doubleday in the US and with translations appearing in France, Spain, Portugal and Brazil, the Czech Republic and India. Mother Teresa was serialised in The Times. Geoffrey Moorhouse described it as “A biographical triumph” and Peter Stanford in the Daily Telegraph as “a meticulous, balanced and forthright biography.”
The book was not just the story of Mother Teresa’s life but also the issues raised by her work. It became a bestseller in the UK and the US and received wide critical acclaim from all sides. The Vatican used it in the beatification process for Mother Teresa. In 2003 I was Associate Producer and originator of the idea for the award-winning Channel 4 Film: Mother Teresa; the Saint Making Business. This film received enormous attention and came third in the 2004 Sandford St Martin Prize.
I am a multiple contributor to the New Dictionary of National Biography and to the Dictionary of 19th Century Journalists and have written several introductions to reprinted classics including The Squire by Enid Bagnold (Virago) The Happy Foreigner (Virago) Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (Persephone) The Shuttle by Francis Hodgson Burnett (Persephone) Safe Passage by Ida Cook (Mira Books – HMB).
How did it all start? I can never remember a time when I didn’t want to be a journalist and my parents encouraged me by giving me a toy typewriter for my tenth birthday. I followed up this important start with a history degree at King’s College, London University from where I walked across the road to the BBC world services in Bush House and talked myself into a job in the Arabic Services – quite an achievement since I spoke no Arabic. I was mostly putting away files and cataloguing tapes. But I was now part of the global communication process, which was instantly thrilling. I continued the adventure by walking down the road toFleet Street and was taken on as a Graduate Trainee for Reuters. I was told that as I was the first woman they had taken on this scheme they would ignore the fact that I spoke French, German and Russian by sending me to Rome, even though I spoke no Italian. This prompted me to write, many years later in 1993, a history of women reporters called Battling for News: The Rise of the Woman Reporter, and I have been invited to lecture on the subject in several university media departments.
My first biography was Enid Bagnold; A Life, published in 1986. Bagnold, author of National Velvet and The Chalk Garden, was an ambulance driver in World War 1 before marrying Sir Roderick Jones, head of Reuters. Terence de Vere White’s comments about this book still delight me: “I know of no other book with a theatrical background which gives such an absorbing picture of what it is like to be involved in the production of plays.”
Bagnold was followed in 1990 by Laura Ashley: A Life By Design published in UK and US and also reached several bestseller lists. This was a biography of a businesswoman, wife, mother and proto-feminist who became one of the leading influences on British twentieth century design and marketing. It was serialised in the Daily Mail and in Australia. The Sunday Telegraph described it as “a moving book. Anne Sebba has written a vivid, true story with frankness and without frills.”
I left Reuters in 1978 to pursue a freelance career as a writer and broadcaster. I married, moved to New York and, after the birth of my first child, produced a monthly diary about being a Mother in the Big Apple as well as my first book, a History of Samplers. I now have three children and, although I write and lecture full time, I am forbidden from writing about them!
I have a long standing involvement in two NGO’s – PEN, the writers’ organisation, and YaD, a charity promoting cross fertilisation between Jewish, Arab and other cultures. I am on the Society of Authors Broadcast Committee and a member of Artsrichmond Advisory Committee, a charity promoting the arts and libraries in Richmond Upon Thames. I am an officially accredited Nadfas lecturer.