Dr Ann Swin­fen

Pro­lific au­thor and English lec­turer, Open Univer­sity councillor and com­puter jour­nal­ist

The Scotsman - - Obituaries -

Dr Ann Swin­fen, au­thor, lec­turer and jour­nal­ist. Born: 5 Oc­to­ber 1937 in Ohio, USA. Died: 4 Au­gust, 2018 in Broughty Ferry, Dundee, aged 80

As an as­sess­ment of his ea­ger young pupil it was some­thing of a back-handed com­pli­ment.

The teacher’s in­scrip­tion on his part­ing gift, a copy of Good­bye, Mr Chips, read: “For Ann, who was not a dull oaf.”

The pair had shared an en­thu­si­asm for lit­er­a­ture with the form mas­ter spend­ing his lunch hours read­ing Chaucer’s The Can­ter­bury Tales with his young charge and, de­spite the some­what tongue in cheek remark, he had in­stinc­tively iden­ti­fied fu­ture po­ten­tial in the 12-year-old.

She would later credit him with en­cour­ag­ing her dreams of go­ing to Ox­ford and ul­ti­mately more than ful­filled his faith in her abil­i­ties, gain­ing a schol­ar­ship to the il­lus­tri­ous in­sti­tu­tion and de­vel­op­ing an im­pres­sive port­fo­lio ca­reer as Dr Ann Swin­fen, lec­turer, self-taught lin­guist, trans­la­tor, jour­nal­ist and au­thor of a string of con­tem­po­rary and his­tor­i­cal nov­els, no­tably her Ox­ford Me­dieval Mysteries se­ries and The Chron­i­cles of Chris­to­val Al­varez.

Born Rose­marie Ann Pet­tit, in Akron, Ohio, the daugh­ter of an Amer­i­can in­dus­trial safety consultant and an English mother, the young­ster pre­ferred to be known by her mid­dle name and never used Rose­marie.

She had what she de­scribed as a “rather odd, piece­meal ed­u­ca­tion”, spend­ing time on both sides of the At­lantic, in­clud­ing one term at a Par­ents’ Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Union School where she played Cae­sar in a class pro­duc­tion of Julius Cae­sar.

That was her in­tro­duc­tion to Shake­speare, the the­atre, act­ing and the Ro­mans. She was nine and it sparked her love of lit­er­a­ture, his­tory and lan­guages. Shortly af­ter­wards, for her tenth birth­day, she re­ceived a copy of his­tor­i­cal ro­mance The Woods of Win­dri which fu­elled a life­long pas­sion for the me­dieval era.

Part of her child­hood was spent on the east coast of Amer­ica where she at­tended the Roland Park School in Wash­ing­ton and spent the sum­mers in Maine learn­ing to sail, ride and sing, once per­form­ing a solo in Wash­ing­ton Cathe­dral.

She also at­tended school in Wrox­eter, Mary­land where it’s thought the benev­o­lence of form mas­ter and Chaucer fan Char­lie Dan­ner had such a pro­found ef­fect on her fu­ture, urg­ing her to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of go­ing to Ox­ford.

Then, when she was 16, fol­low­ing the end of her par­ents’ mar­riage, she and her mother moved to Eng­land where she con­tin­ued her ed­u­ca­tion at Wolver­hamp­ton High School for Girls. There she learned Latin and taught her­self Clas­si­cal Greek which she was then asked to teach to a ju­nior class.

Go­ing up to Ox­ford’s Somerville Col­lege she be­gan read­ing Clas­sics but changed di­rec­tion en­tirely to study Math­e­mat­ics, grad­u­at­ing with an Hon­ours de­gree in the sub­ject. By this time she had met fel­low un­der-grad­u­ate, his­to­rian David Swin­fen, whom she mar­ried in 1960.

While rais­ing their five chil­dren, along­side study­ing for a Mas­ter’s in ab­stract al­ge­bra and a BA and PHD in English lit­er­a­ture, she also held a va­ri­ety of jobs. To help sup­port the fam­ily fi­nan­cially she taught her­self Rus­sian so she could trans­late Rus­sian Maths text books into English for the pub­lish­ing house Perg­a­mon Press.

Later she worked as a com­puter jour­nal­ist and part-time lec­turer for the ex­tra-mu­ral depart­ment of Dundee Univer­sity. Ex­traor­di­nar­ily in­dus­tri­ous and hugely pro­duc­tive, she served for nine years on the gov­ern­ing coun­cil of the Open Univer­sity and spent sev­eral years with com­puter com­pany ICL, run­ning a small team of tech­ni­cal au­thors.

Al­though she gave up full­time work to con­cen­trate on writ­ing, she con­tin­ued teach­ing English lit­er­a­ture part­time and in 1995 founded Dundee Book Events, a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­mot­ing books and au­thors to the gen­eral public.

The ini­tia­tive ran for 15 years and brought a wealth of high-pro­file lit­er­ary fig­ures to Dundee Univer­sity, in­clud­ing Alexan­der Mc­call Smith, Kazuo Ishig­uro and Vic­to­ria Glendin­ning.

Her own bib­li­og­ra­phy even­tu­ally ran to 23 nov­els, the first three – The An­niver­sary, The Trav­ellers and A Run­ning Tide – were pub­lished by Ran­dom House and fea­tured con­tem­po­rary set­tings but with a his­tor­i­cal res­o­nance.

She then turned her hand to his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, con­cen­trat­ing not on the great fig­ures of the past but on the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple, “those who have gone to their graves un­sung and un­recorded,” she said, “but who form the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion at any pe­riod in his­tory.”

Most of her books were self­pub­lished un­der her own im­print, Shakenoak Press, a ref­er­ence to a Ro­man ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig she worked on in Ox­ford­shire as a grad­u­ate stu­dent, and were enor­mously suc­cess­ful.amongth­emwere: the Ox­ford Me­dieval Mys­tery se­ries, set in the 14th cen­tury in the af­ter­math of the Black Death; the Chris­to­val Al­varez se­ries which fea­tured a young Mar­rano physi­cian re­cruited as a code-breaker and spy in a se­cret ser­vice; and the Fen­land se­ries set in East Anglia in the 17th cen­tury.

One of her works, This Rough Ocean, is based on the real-life ex­pe­ri­ences of the Swin­fen fam­ily dur­ing the 1640s, at the time of the English Civil War. Oth­ers have be­come au­dio books.

A reg­u­lar blog­ger, less than a year ago she ex­cit­edly shared the news that she was sign­ing up with a pro­duc­tion com­pany that wanted to make a ma­jor tele­vi­sion se­ries of the Chron­i­cles of Chris­to­val Al­varez and re­vealed that she had been ap­proached by no less than four sim­i­lar com­pa­nies.

Her blog helped her to keep in touch with her read­ers with whom she shared her thoughts on var­i­ous top­ics – her dog Suki in­cluded – as well as her ex­per­tise on as­pects of writ­ing and re­search.

Once, dis­cussing the sources of her in­spi­ra­tion, in­clud­ing char­ac­ters who she found sim­ply stepped into her con­scious­ness, she pon­dered: “How does it hap­pen? It is one of the mysteries of writ­ing. It is as though th­ese peo­ple are al­ready there, just on the other side of a thin veil. You have only to draw it aside and they come forth.”

Pre­de­ceased by their daugh­ter Ka­t­rina, she is sur­vived by her hus­band David, chil­dren Tanya, Michael, Nikki and Richard and 11 grand­chil­dren.


The Scots­man wel­comes obit­u­ar­ies and ap­pre­ci­a­tions from con­trib­u­tors as well as suggestion­s of pos­si­ble obit­u­ary sub­jects.

Please con­tact: Gazette Ed­i­tor

The Scots­man, Level 7, Or­chard Brae House, 30 Queens­ferry Road, Ed­in­burgh EH4 2HS;


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.