In praise of JAGS writers: Anita Brookner & Y10 Poppy Thwaites
JAGS Prefects 1945-46, featuring Anita Brookner
Two JAGS writers: Anita Brookner, prefect 1945-6 & Y10 Poppy Thwaites
JAGS salutes the extraordinary life and career of alumna Anita Brookner, whose novel Hotel du Lac won the 1984 Booker prize. Born in 1928 she came to JAGS at the beginning of the war and died as she had lived, in privacy in London on 10 March 2016. The safety she found at JAGS was mirrored darkly at home in Herne Hill. She loved her parents “painfully”, as The Times obituary quoted, but disliked the eclectic mix of those adults who surrounded them. When Anita came home from a day in the normality of JAGS, “I had to rearrange myself before I went in,” she said.
Anita explained she wrote about unfortunate women, but was not herself unhappy. Perhaps a better description is that she was reserved. Alumna Kath Davies was in the same class as Anita Brookner. “During our last year at JAGS, a group of us chose to spend time on holiday, helping with a farmer’s harvest in Kent. We shared a large tent as accommodation. Anita, a very quiet girl, did not readily join in with us all, especially when we put on a singing and dancing show, (being silly, I’m sure!) I saw her again at an old girls’ meeting. Her friends there very much admired her career – and she always wore glamorous clothes!”
The image shows Anita Brookner fourth from the left in the back row, perfectly comfortable in role as prefect at JAGS 1945-6.
Who knows what lights the touch paper for literary genius? Whatever it was for alumna Anita Brookner, Y10 Poppy Thwaites warmed to the writing of Katherine Rundell after her visit to JAGS years ago, promoting her novel Rooftoppers. Poppy began to write freely herself. Now Poppy finds herself shortlisted for Warwick University’s Young Writer's Prize. She’ll be going to a presentation at The Shard on 6 April where the overall winner from six finalists will be announced.
Entrants had to write a short story (up to 2500 words) on the theme of ‘Movement’. The competition is part of the University of Warwick’s “social education network for the brightest young people all over the world.”
Poppy’s story, An Urban Odyssey, is set on the edge of a city, with countryside in view, and follows what happens to children who don’t really fit in and who want to be wild and free. Somerset Maugham and Roald Dahl’s darker short stories have given her some clues to the process. “There’s little room for development, so you take one or two characters, concentrate on the location and how they feel. You either have to do something bizarre or have a twist at the end,” she says.
Poppy is clearly already a gifted writer; she has just finished writing her first novel. Hear Her People Calling is currently 91,500 words! It’s set in one large city and has distinct dystopian, political, fantasy undertones. Poppy relishes reading novels in other genres, however, including steampunk. In her room at the moment are We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks. There’s so much to absorb and to inspire.
Good luck, Poppy. You – and Anita – both started your journeys at JAGS.