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Rosemary Timperley

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A Biographical Sketch of Rosemary Timperley

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Rosemary Kenyon Timperley was born in Crouch End, North London on March 20, 1920. Her father, George Kenyon Timperley, was an architect and her mother, Emily Mary (nee Lethem), was a teacher. Rosemary Timperley was educated at Hornsey High School and King's College, London University, where she achieved a B.A. Honours degree in History. After her graduation in 1941, Timperley began a spell as a teacher of English and History at South-East Essex County Technical School in Dagenham, Essex. A student at the school while Timperley was teaching there, John Wood recalls her vividly: "She was passionate about teaching correct English; to submit an essay was to face something like the Spanish Inquisition but she was, to me, truly inspirational. She tried much of her work out on us. By appearance she was very dramatic. Generally all in black with long swirling dresses. She wore either long drop earrings or large hoop ones. I was in the Dramatics Club and she devoted a lot of time to us. I am certain that whatever English I possess and my great appetite for reading came from her teaching and mentoring."

Although during the war she also worked for Kensington's Citizens' Advice Bureau, it was in the mid-1940s, while working as a teacher, that Timperley first started submitting short stories to newspapers and magazines. Her first published story, "Hot Air - and Penelope", appeared in the August 10, 1946 issue of Illustrated. Other stories were published during the late 1940s in the magazines Reveille and Truth. Timperley left her teaching job in 1949 to work as a staff writer for Reveille, a popular magazine that by 1951 had a weekly circulation of over three million copies. In addition to contributing dozens of short stories to Reveille, throughout the 1950s Timperley wrote a number of feature articles and book reviews, as well as editing both the personal advice column (as Jane Blythe) and the readers' letters page.

During this period she continued to write short stories for other markets and also became an extremely prolific novelist with nearly all her books being published by Robert Hale, a publisher based in London. Her early novels include A Dread of Burning (1956), which was adapted to stage by Ted Willis in 1959 as The Eyes of Youth, and The Fairy Doll (1959), a widely praised novel that featured an imaginative and sensitive portrayal of a woman in love with her sister's husband. For her short fiction, Timperley concentrated mainly on writing ghost and horror stories, although she did write a substantial amount of fiction in other genres as well. Indeed, it is important to note that many of her short stories have nothing supernatural about them at all. Rather, a large amount of her short fiction output is made up of simply told, heartfelt tales that cover such themes as growing up, family quarrels, romantic relationships, grief, the loss of innocence, loneliness and so on. Her work appeared regularly in the London Evening News in the 1950s and 60s, and throughout these years Timperley also contributed hundreds of short stories to the Isle of Sheppey newspaper the Sheerness-Times Guardian. Other short tales were published in the London Mystery Selection, Male Mag, This Is It, Good Housekeeping, The Star, the Evening Standard, Red Letter, Truth, London Life, My Weekly, Woman's Own, Beautiful Britons, Reveille and Spick.

In the mid 1950s Timperley decided to quit her job at Reveille to become a freelance author, although her work (both fiction and non-fiction) continued to appear regularly in that magazine for years to come. It was around this time that Timperley began a successful stint writing radio and television scripts. Her plays for radio were broadcast on numerous shows over the years, including Capital Radio's Moment of Terror. At least ten of her short stories were aired on the B.B.C. Light Programme. She was equally successful writing for television. Her first television play, A Card from Alison, was produced in October 1959. Other plays were broadcast on Anglia Television.

Timperley's short stories continued to appear in most of the aforementioned newspapers and magazines throughout the 1960s. It was in this decade that Timperley began contributing stories to various ghost, horror and science fiction anthologies. Her work in the ghost story genre won her particular acclaim, with Timperley being called upon to edit five volumes in the Barrie & Jenkins "Ghost Book" series of anthologies from 1969-1973. In her introduction to The Fifth Ghost Book (1969), Timperley explained in some depth about her personal interest in ghosts and how she was first attracted to the genre after reading Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Despite her busy writing schedule, Timperley still found time to travel extensively around the world, visiting Italy (a number of her stories are set in Venice), Morocco, Belgium, Russia and Greece. Her publisher, Robert Hale, remarked that Timperley's first-hand knowledge of foreign countries and diverse work experience served as inspiration for her novels, plays and short stories. Indeed, Timperley is said to have held a variety of different jobs since becoming a freelance writer, working at times as a waitress, counter assistant in a police canteen, typist and artist's model! A serious illness in 1964 meant that Timperley had to spend some months undergoing treatment in hospital. Shortly after this experience, which affected her very deeply, Timperley began work as an auxilary nurse in a Surrey hospital. Her spell in this profession undoubtedly inspired such novels as The Tragedy Business (1969), The Haunted Garden (1966) and The Washers-Up (1968). She also drew inspiration from her time as a school teacher, as evidenced by the fact that children play a predominant part in much of her work. Furthermore, her own childhood experience at Hornsey High School is said to have inspired the background of her first two novels. Timperley lived in the London suburb of Richmond for much of her life and many of her stories are set in her home city. Timperley knew London well, and in particular her novels exhibit a number of references to various locations in London. It's obvious from reading her stories that Timperley travelled by tube and bus a good deal, eschewing the use of a car (quite right too!) and despite being city born and bred loved open spaces and aspired to lead an uncluttered, "carefree" life.

As for her literary influences, anyone who has read her novels will have noticed the many diverse quotations taken from various classic works of literature that appear throughout her stories. One writer whose name is mentioned time and again is Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). Indeed, many of Timperley's characters proclaim Maugham to be their favourite writer! One can surmise that Timperley's concise writing style - and the undertone of resignation that pervades many of her stories - is indicative of Maugham's influence, though it is evident that he was one of many authors and playwrights that left an indelible impression on Timperley. Other writers who influenced Timperley include Carl Jung, August Strindberg, Henrik Ibsen, Hermann Hesse, Lao-tzu and Anton Chekov.

Details on Rosemary Timperley's personal life are scarce. It is known that she married James McInnes Cameron, a physics teacher, in 1952, and that they lived for a time in Essex. However, it would appear that they were separated by the early 1960s. Interestingly, Timperley remarked in 1961 that she lived alone in an old-fashioned flat and existed on black coffee, pink gin and cigarettes - like so many of the characters in her novels! She went on to say that her writing was down to a "mysterious compulsion" and that her work carried no particular "message". Timperley remained a writer for the rest of her life and to my knowledge she never remarried after the death of her husband in 1968. In later years Timperley is quoted as saying: "Now that I'm old I lead rather a recluse-like life. Although I've written a lot, I've never had a best-seller or 'hit the headlines', which is probably a good thing, as I don't think I could have stood up to any sort of notoriety--what the shrinks call 'inadequate personality'. I live very much in my own mind and in the fictional world of my rather unsuccessful little novels. I regard myself as lucky in being able to scrape a living out of doing something I enjoy doing, when so many people are tied to jobs they don't like."

During the 1980s Timperley concentrated more on writing novels than on radio and television scripts. She is said to have preferred writing in this medium because it allowed her far greater scope for self expression. Her novels continued to be popular throughout the 1970s and '80s. Sadly for Timperley, a major outlet for her short fiction was lost when the final issue of the London Evening News was published in October 1980. Two years later Timperley lost another market for her short stories when Norman Kark's London Mystery Selection folded after a 33-year run. Having contributed a total of 51 stories to the London Mystery Selection down the years, it was fitting that two of Timperley's short stories were printed in the final issue of that magazine (one of them under her pen-name Ruth Cameron). By the early 1980s, other short fiction markets such as Reveille, Truth, the Sheerness-Times Guardian and the Evening Standard had all either ceased publication or stopped printing short stories. However, a few markets for her short stories still remained and in the mid 1980s various Timperley stories appeared in Weekend magazine and the best-selling Pan Book of Horror Stories series. Timperley also continued to publish several excellent novels in the '80s including powerful, imaginative works such as The Spell of the Hanged Man (1981) and Chidori's Room (1983). Sadly, Timperley passed away on November 9, 1988. No local or national newspapers picked up on the fact of her death at the time so no obituaries for Timperley ever appeared. Her last novel, the beautifully written Shadow on the Roof, was published posthumously in 1989.

Richard Simms, 2005

 

 

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