At first glance. a 99-year-old socialist dedicated her life to writing and
i blazed the path of Scotland‘s
who celebrates her centenary in November.
5 Words: Lila Rawlings
readings 0 events
The bi 100 g
As Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison celebrates her centenary, biographer JENNI CALDER salutes a
I woman with an . insatiable appetite for
feminist who has campaigning would seem to have little in common with the young male shock-jocks who have
much hyped new literary scene. Writer Jenni Calder disagrees. She has spent the past five years researching and writing The Nine Lives Of Naomi i'l’liit'liiso/i. a biography of the Scottish writer
For Calder. Mitchison and the likes of Irvine Welsh would not be stuck for a good blether should their paths happen to
; cross in Charlotte Square over the next few days.
‘She has always been unorthodox in every aspect of
her life.‘ says (‘alder of her formidable subject. ‘She
was experimenting with and sexual relationships over 7() years ago.‘
Born into the wealth and privilege of the Scots
aristocracy. Naomi Mitchison
was an exceptionally bright
on bright. capable women.
child who didn‘t take long to realise the restrictions [idwardian society exercised
Married young to lawyer Dick Mitchison. she wrote her first novel The ('onqru’n'rl in l‘)23. She was not yet 26 and already had three children. The book was a success and her literary career launched in style.
Within seven years. her family had doubled and she had become involved in campaigning politics. predominately around the issues of birth control. This ability to live a number of different lives — mother. campaigner. socialist. novelist and feminist -— is something that fascinated (‘alder and provides the structure to her book.
‘I admired Naomi’s courage. her commitment and determination and the fact that she has lived so many lives.' she says.
liarly on in the book. (Talder describes an inscription on a cheap trinket that appealed to
Mitchison and became her template for life. It read:
‘Adventure for the adventurous‘. This adage she applied both to her personal life — she took eight
lovers with the blessing of her husband -r— and her
’Naomi Mitchison has always been unorthodox. She was experimenting with drugs and sexual relationships over 70 years ago.’ Jenni Calder
Naomi Mitchison: more radge than Irvine Welsh
professional life. in which she travelled the world adopting causes in aid of persecuted peoples. particularly in Botswana.
Given the zeal with which she has approached her life. together with the sheer quantity and quality of her writing (she wrote over 70 books). it seems remarkable how little acclaim she has attracted. particularly in recent years.
Calder explains that after Mitehison’s initial success as a writer in the 20s and 305. she fell out of favour with the male-dominated socialist intellectuals with whom she associated and who were intimidated both by her intellectual and sexual precociousness. and by her background.
In a way her career never really recovered. but she continued writing and campaigning regardless. More recently. the publisher Virago has done much to make her books more widely available. but there are still few in print.
(Talder hopes her book will help remedy this and that Mitchison‘s books will soon appear on the Scottish schools‘ curriculum. Although this biography is a little dense in places. it is well worth the effort. And even for those who have not read Mitchison‘s books. her life is an inspiration. Read. digest and go have an adventure.
The Nine Lives Of Naomi Mitchison by Jenni Calder is published by Virago at £20. Addicted To Naomi (Book Festival) Jenni Calder and Isobel Murray, ESPC Studio Theatre, Fri 22 Aug, 7.30pm, £3 (£2).
3990, Mon 25 Au
BookFostival. 'i" 95'
Iain Banks The successful ScOtt“‘ “3:. ‘ author talks about the adaptation org" his best—selling book The Crow for the small screen, and reads from}; his new novel A Song Of Office Theatre, 220 3990, Fri 22, 1.45pm, £3 (£2.50). '- Doris Lesslng In “The Big Fifty. the internationally acclaimed writer speaks about six key books that have; influenced her life. The following " ' day, she reads from the second v volume of her autobiography, to be. 5 published in October. See preview. i" The Big Fifty, Post Office Theatre,
220 3990, Fri 22, 7pm, £6 (£3).
Doris Lessing with Tom Adair, Post Office Theatre, 220 3990, Sat 23, 11am, £5 (£3).
Addicted To Naomi Naomi Mitchison‘s biographer Jenni Calder and writer lsobel Murray pay tribute. ‘ See preview, left.
Gillian Slovo with Hilda Bernstein The daughter of anti-apartheid activists Ruth First and Jo Slovo speaks of her childhood and reads from her biography. She is joined by family
friend Hilda Bernstein, a campaigner exiled from South Africa in the 605.
See preview. Post Ofﬁce Theatre, 220 3990, Sat 23, 5.10pm, £6 (£5).
From The Clocktower: Duncan
McLean Orkney-based author McLean launches Ahead Of Its Time, a
collection of writing from his Clocktower Press, which helped launch the careers of Irvine Welsh and Alan Warner, among others. See feature. ESPC Studio Theatre, 220 3990, Sun
24 Aug, 6.30pm, £4 (£2.50).
Carol Shields At the launch of her
new novel Larry’s Party, the award- winning Canadian author talks to Scottish writer Liz Lochhead. See preview. Post Office Theatre, 220
g, 11.10am, £4 (£3).
From Pot To E A debate on illegal drugs with former drug baron Howard Marks, Rebel Inc editor Kevin Williamson, and writer on dance culture Matthew Collin. See feature, page 20. International Cafe, 220 3990, Fri 22, 6pm, £4 (£2).
22—28 Aug 1997 me usns