About the Author
Anne Sebba Historian
Welcome to 2023! Just as we may have thought we had seen off Covid and were learning to live with the virus and all its variants, Russia attacked Ukraine and the world turned on its axis. War, brutality and uncertainty are still with us a year on. So it somehow seems fitting that I am researching a new book about a grim subject for grim times… the extraordinary story of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz. It’s a story of female solidarity and the redemptive power of music as well as survival against the odds and will be published in 2025 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the liberation of the camps.
This year, 2023 is also the 50th anniversary of the execution of Ethel Rosenberg, electrocuted for for Conspiracy to Commit Espionage and my biography of Ethel will be published in France. Having spent years thinking about one woman in one prison, I am now contemplating the lives of hundreds of women in one of the most appalling prisons in history. Living in isolation helped me a little in my understanding of the tragedy which befell Ethel. But entering imaginatively into the lives of women in Auschwitz is a far harder task and listening to their testimonies (thankfully there are hundreds of these online) does keep me awake at night. I never forget though that as the great giant of biography Richard Holmes wrote, self identification with one’s subject is the first crime of the biographer, it still is a kind of duty to try and help the women who survived as well as those who did not bear witness to what they saw. I tried to tell the story of an era through the story of a woman, Ethel Rosenberg, I shall try and do the same with the current book.
incidentally Ethel has a variety of titles – An American Tragedy in the US Ethel Rosenberg A Cold War Tragedy in the UK and for the paperback it is called The Short life and Great betrayal of an American wife and mother.
My previous book was published on July 14th 2016 – Bastille Day – Les Parisiennes, about women in Paris from 1939-49, in US, UK, France, Czech Republic, China and other countries. There are stories in it about resisters, collaborators, spies, writers and actresses, couturiers and jewellery designers, housewives, concierges and prostitutes. It won a prize and is being turned into a multi-part screenplay for TV (watch this space!) I have always been fascinated by French History and the reverberations from this period are still being felt in the country today. Although I loved writing the story of Wallis Simpson (and she even has a cameo role in this book) I wanted to write a book of history this time and move away from biography for a change.
For two years of my research I was chair of the Management Committee of Britain’s Society of Authors, a great honour and privilege in difficult and challenging times for authors as the Society fights for Authors’ rights in a number of areas and is desperately needed. I am now on the SOA Council. But when I am not busy reading or reviewing someone else’s book, I will be concentrating on talking about my books, including Les Parisiennes. As any writer will tell you, you never quite leave your old books behind. New material keeps coming your way and you are constantly re thinking your work!
In 2011, I published That Woman: a life of Wallis Simpson Duchess of Windsor in the UK 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 followed in 2012 and the book became an international bestseller in the UK, US and Australia. Even after ten books, the thrill of holding the first copy of a new book with my name on the spine has not lessened.
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? Before Wallis I wrote about another American woman who shocked the British establishment. Jennie Churchill: Winston’s American Mother was published by John
Murray in 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.
Here is a video of me talking about women reporters:
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 as much as I write.
Here it is then:
Anne Sebba is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL) a biographer, lecturer, journalist, former Reuters foreign correspondent and author of eleven books for adults. She read History at King’s College London and her first job was at the BBC World Services in the Arabic Department. Her latest book is Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy (2021 publication and film rights sold to Miramax)) and before that she wrote about Paris from 1939-49 through women’s eyes, Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940’s published in 2016, ‘a standout social history,’ according to the US trade journal, Booklist and winner of the Franco-British Society prize. Film rights have also been sold, with a multi-episode TV drama planned.
She has written many other critically acclaimed books of non-fiction, mostly about iconic women who enjoyed using power and influence in different ways such as Enid Bagnold, Mother Teresa, Laura Ashley and Jennie Churchill. She has also written several short stories and introductions to reprinted novels. Her biography, THAT WOMAN, the Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, quickly became a bestseller on publication in Britain in August 2011 as well as in Australia and in the US following publication in 2012. Anne’s discovery of a new archive of letters and diaries shedding dramatic new light on this important story was the subject of a Chanel 4 TV documentary, The Secret Letters, based on her work.
Anne makes regular television appearances, has presented radio documentaries about women including Harriet Cohen and Joyce Hatto – both pianists – is an official lecturer for the The Arts Society, formerly the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (Nadfas) and regularly gives talks on cruises, to corporations, clubs and institutions including The English Speaking Union, The British Library, The Royal Oak Foundation, National Trust and Women’s Institutes. She has three children and six grandchildren, is a former Chair of Britain’s 10,000 strong Society of Authors, now on the SOA Council, and former President of ArtsRichmond. She is a Trustee of the National Archives Trust and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.