Mary Renault: A Biography

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9780151931101: Mary Renault: A Biography

A biography of the author of "The King must die" discusses her harsh upbringing, her scholarship years at Oxford, her work as a nurse during World War II, her writing, and her life in South Africa

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From the Back Cover:

Mary Renault wrote with such authority about Ancient Greece and of love between men that many readers believed that the author of such well-known works as The Charioteer, The King Must Die, The Persian Boy, and The Last of the Wine must be male. In fact, Mary Renault was the pseudonym of an intensely private woman - a revolutionary in sexual matters who throughout her life preferred the company of gay men. Born Mary Challans outside London, Renault discovered scholarship at Oxford in the early days of admission to women. She eventually abandoned the academic world to attend nursing school where she met her lifelong companion, Julie Mullard. Writing became Renault's avocation, and when, in 1947, she won a large literary award, the two women embarked for South Africa. There Renault, a passionate believer in Greek ideals of democracy and justice, spoke out against apartheid, but she grew disillusioned with radical politics and eventually withdrew into her own world. Based on rare interviews with Renault and full access to her correspondence, this is a brilliantly textured picture of Renault that offers a revealing analysis of the author and her novels.

About the Author:

David Robert Sweetman was a writer and television director.

David Sweetman had the continuing ability both radically to change course in his career and always to keep a firm hand on the tiller. After teaching, he worked in broadcasting, first on radio, then in television. He was a poet who wrote his many prose books with skill and determination, tireless in research, never missing a deadline. He was a regular book reviewer in the early days of The Independent on Sunday. He travelled widely and energetically in Africa, Europe and the Far East. He was wholly dedicated to his work, as he was to his friends.

Born in Northumberland in 1943, from 1960 to 1965 he studied Fine Art at King's College, Newcastle on a scholarship. As a student, he took part in and often initiated satirical entertainments and social activities with gusto and enthusiasm.

However, he did not pursue a career as an artist. He felt (objectivity was one of his strengths) that he was not quite good enough. Instead, he went to Africa to teach English and to write, first in Uganda and then in Tunisia.

His writing of another kind began during his 10 years in Africa. Every Sunday morning he would write poetry, a self-imposed discipline which resulted in a number of his poems being published in journals such as Encounter, the Listener, the New Statesman, Quarto and The Times Literary Supplement.

Once back in London in 1969, Sweetman lectured in art history at Hackney Technical College.  In 1976, Sweetman met a young Thai student, Vatcharin Bhumitchitr, who was studying design at the London College of Printing. They lived together, and made their various homes elegant and welcoming.

His Africa experience led him naturally to the BBC Africa Service, where he produced drama and features.There he was spotted by BBC Television and was invited to take a two-week course in television directing. Thus he became a television arts director, making programmes on architecture (with Roderick Gradidge), on design (with Stephen Bayley) and on ballet (with Anton Dolin and Wayne Sleep). A number of Sweetman's programmes were shown on Omnibus, but when changes were made at the BBC which Sweetman found unacceptable he resigned to become a full-time writer.

Sweetman and Bhumitchitr worked together on cookbooks, notably Bhumitchitr's The Taste of Thailand (1988) and Vatch's Southeast Asian Cookbook (1997). They bought a house in the Pas de Calais and spent four years restoring it, converting the barn into an artist's studio where Bhumitchitr does his painting.

In early 2000, Sweetman was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy, a rare degenerative condition which affects the autonomic nervous system. Sweetman's decline was rapid and irreversible. Yet he sustained his illness with his customary courage and never lost his sense of humour.


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