Category Archives: News

New Book Deal: Biography of E. Nesbit

E. Nesbit

Some news! I’ve just signed a contract with Duckworth Overlook for book two, a biography of the brilliant and complex author E. Nesbit. I’m really excited about getting properly stuck in. Here’s the blurb from my agent’s website:

Edith Nesbit (1858-1924) is considered the first modern writer for children and a key influence for writers from C.S. Lewis to J.K. Rowling. Inventor of the children’s adventure story, her books remain hugely popular and are regularly adapted for stage and screen. A founder member of the Fabian Society and ‘a committed if distinctly eccentric socialist’, she railed against inequity, social injustice and state-sponsored oppression, incorporating her views into her books and influencing generations of children.

Described by George Bernard Shaw, one of a string of lovers, as ‘audaciously unconventional’, Nesbit’s unsettled childhood and vivid imagination conjured up fears and phobias that lasted into adulthood; she confronted them in the stories she populated with family, friends, lovers, and events from her life, often writing herself as twins – one brave, one retiring. A progressive woman, she cut her hair short and smoked incessantly. Yet, she never supported women’s suffrage and she remained loyal to her serially unfaithful husband, raising his live-in-lover’s children as her own.

This new biography, the first in more than two decades, will explore one of our most important writers in all her guises. Friends agreed ‘she could be morose as a gathering thundercloud…when she emerged – a sunburst!’ One described her as ‘wise – and frivolous; kind…and so intolerant’. She was intensely attractive to men and formed deep friendships with women too. Temperamental at times, she was also huge fun, always creative and often playful. Her parties were legendary, her ghost stories, terrifying, and her tales of adventure changed the world.

Publication (c) early 2018 all going well!

15 Comments

Filed under News

Win a Copy of Wilde’s Women

I’m running a giveaway on the Goodreads website for signed copies of Wilde’s Women. Enter here.

 

Wilde’s Women - cover

Leave a comment

Filed under News

Wilde’s Women in The Irish Times

Wilde

My book, Wilde’s Women was officially published yesterday, which was Oscar Wilde’s 161st birthday. It was lovely to have the opportunity to mark the occasion with a feature in The Irish Times. There’s a link to it here and I’ve posted it below:

Oscar Wilde: ladies’ man

Oscar may have been gay but many of the key people in his life were women, says author Eleanor Fitzsimons. He also championed women writers and feminists

“Do you have any other ideas?” With these words my endlessly patient agent ended his explanation of why the book proposal his naive new client had devoted the best part of a year to wasn’t generating sufficient interest among publishers. Sure, they admired my writing style and found my subject compelling but, and I’m paraphrasing here, in the cut-throat world of bookselling, they considered my biography of Harriet Shelley, tragic first wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, too niche to take a punt on.

It felt at that moment as if the heady days of securing representation, winning a couple of literary prizes and dreaming of one day holding a book in my hands that had my name on the cover had come to an end. But nobody likes to leave an uncomfortable silence and it seemed impolite, if not downright remiss, to admit to having no more ideas at all. And so it was that I blurted out the words “Wilde” and “women”.

What was I thinking? Why would anyone in their right mind choose to write yet another book about Oscar Wilde? Well, unlike poor Harriet, he is universally renowned. Think about it. Not a single day goes by in this, the country of his birth, and in most other countries, without some broadcaster or columnist channelling Wilde’s wit, some theatre director reprising one of his sharp social comedies, or some aspirant author pitching a book about the minutiae of his life. Why shouldn’t I join them?

Anyway, I wasn’t really going to write about Oscar Wilde at all. I was going to write about the women in his life. “The women,” you ask. “What women? We thought he was gay.” Well, he was, but he was also a loving husband, a besotted boyfriend, an affectionate brother to his lovely little sister, a devoted son, and a brilliant best friend to some very impressive women. In Aspects of Wilde, Vincent O’Sullivan described his friend’s uncommon fondness for women:

I have always found, and find today, his [Wilde’s] warmest admirers among women. He, in his turn, admired women. I never heard him say anything disparaging about any woman, even when some of them required such treatment!

Even Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s beloved Bosie, admitted: “With women he succeeded a great deal better than with men.”

Ever since I first encountered Lady Jane Wilde, Oscar’s flamboyant mother and an enduring heroine in his native Ireland, I’ve been intrigued by the influence she had on her son’s life and work. Jane was a poet, a revolutionary, a feminist and a lifelong campaigner for better access to education for women. She was also an incorrigible snob and a brilliant conversationalist whose Saturday conversazione and literary Wednesdays were always packed. She never doubted the genius of her sons and her wholehearted support may have made them reckless.

Far too little has been written about Wilde’s first love, Florence Balcombe, who left him for Bram Stoker and fought tenaciously to secure her rights to her husband’s literary estate. Best remembered for her beauty, she was described by writer Horace Wyndham as “a charming woman and brim full of Irish wit and impulsiveness”. Wilde found brief happiness and stability with his wife, Constance, mother to his two beloved sons. Beautiful, accomplished, politically active and hugely supportive of her brilliant husband, she did her best to stand by him until the end of her heartbreakingly short life.

As an individualist, Wilde believed that few limits should be placed on anyone’s life. He chose as some of his closest friends, freethinking women who challenged conventional gender roles and pushed their way into the public sphere, ignoring the tut-tutting of a society determined to keep them down. He traded witticisms with these women, promoted their work, collaborated with them on theatrical productions, dedicated stories to them and drew inspiration from their lives. Several of his most outspoken and memorable characters are women: Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Ernest, Mrs Erlynne in Lady Windermere’s Fan, Mrs Allonby in A Woman of No Importance.

While some of Wilde’s friends, Lillie Langtry, Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt, are household names, he also engendered extraordinary loyalty in women who are largely forgotten: witty and vivacious Ada Leverson, who inspired his sparkling dialogue; and kind-hearted Henrietta Vaughan Stannard, who published bestselling novels as John Strange Winter and invented her own line of cosmetics. When Wilde toured America, society women paved his way. When he edited The Woman’s World, a progressive women’s magazine, he invited contributions from feminist campaigners and leading thinkers on gender.

At Oxford, Wilde dedicated his Newdigate Prize winning poem, Ravenna, to George Fleming, nom de plume of playwright and novelist Julia Constance Fletcher; he admitted that he was “attracted by her in every way”. He gave renowned feminist and pacifist Helena Swanwick her start in journalism and she wrote of him: “His extravaganzas had no end, his invention was inexhaustible, and everything he said was full of joy and energy”.

At the height of his fame, Wilde was welcomed into the most fashionable drawing rooms in London. As O’Sullivan put it:

In the upper reaches of English society it was not the men, who mostly did not like him, who made his success, but the women. He was too far from the familiar type of the men. He did not shoot or hunt or play cards; he had wit, and took the trouble to talk and be entertaining.

Yet many of these women distanced themselves after he was imprisoned and poet Alice Meynell, formerly an admirer, declared “while there is a weak omnibus horse at work or a hungry cat I am not going to spend feeling on Oscar”.

The women in Wilde’s Women are deserving of at least one book each, and in some instances these biographies exist. Their lives are fascinating and fraught with the challenges of operating in an oppressively patriarchal world. By examining them collectively in terms of their relationship to Wilde, I hope to bring them to the attention of a new readership, and to expose a neglected facet of the most-talked-about man in the world.

Wilde’s Women by Eleanor Fitzsimons is published by Duckworth Overlook on October 16th

Leave a comment

Filed under News

Coming Soon….

Wilde’s Women - cover

The reason for neglecting my blog will hit the shops on 16 October 2015, the 161st anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s birth. I’ll be adding a lot of Wilde related posts soon!

Leave a comment

Filed under News

The Kindness of Oscar and Thomas

I was delighted to be named a finalist in the Biostories Essay Contest. The theme was kindness and I wrote The Kindness of Oscar and Thomas, which deals with Oscar Wilde’s time in Reading Jail. I think the winning entry, The Old Spiral Highway by Liz Olds, is lovely. The other finalist, Julie Goodale has written Escape, a very powerful and evocative piece. Both are well worth reading.

Faces_Cover.jpg

Leave a comment

Filed under News

I’ve won the Keats-Shelley Essay Prize 2013

Eleanor Fitzsimons and Salley Vickers

I’m absolutely thrilled. I’ve won the Keats-Shelley Essay Prize for 2013. This means a lot as I am working on a biography of Harriet Shelley and I’m hoping that this takes me a step closer to publication. Fingers crossed! Here are some details:

Keats-Shelley Prizes 2013 won by Irish Writers:

On Thursday evening, 7 November, in front of a distinguished audience that filled St. Martin’s Hall in St. Martin’s Crypt to capacity, the prestigious Keats-Shelley Essay prize for 2013 was awarded to Eleanor Fitzsimons for her essay ‘The Shelleys in Ireland: Passion masquerading as insight?’ and the prestigious Keats-Shelley Prize for Poetry was awarded to Patrick Cotter for his poem ‘Madra’. This is the first time in the sixteen year history of both the poetry prize and the essay prize that an Irish person has won, so it’s remarkable to have achieved the double.

The Keats-Shelley Prizes were established in 1998 by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, which actively champions and celebrates new voices and emerging writers. In her introduction, acclaimed novelist and chair of the judging panel, Salley Vickers described the essays submitted this year as, ‘rich and various, scholarly and for the most part pleasingly original’.

On presenting the prize to Ms. Fitzsimons, Salley Vickers described her winning essay as, ‘a thoughtful, exciting account of political reform’, and spoke of how her own admiration for the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was tainted somewhat by his behaviour towards his first wife, Harriet. She chose Patrick Cotter’s poem for: ‘It’s mysterious power to conjure the non-verbal animal world via language – a non-verbal world that stayed in my mind and remained tangible in my imagination’.

Eleanor Fitzsimons is a researcher and freelance journalist. She is represented by literary agent Andrew Lownie and is working on a biography that examines Harriet Shelley’s fascinating, turbulent and tragic life. More information here: http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/authors/eleanor-fitzsimons/books/a-want-of-honour-the-short-life-and-tragic-death-of-harriet-shelley

Patrick Cotter is the Artistic Director of the Munster Literature Centre in Cork and the organiser and jury chairman of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His published work includes a verse novella and two poetry collections Perplexed Skin (Arlen 2008) and Making Music (Three Spires 2009).

The winning essay and poem will be published in the next issue of the Keats-Shelley Review. For further information see http://www.keats-shelley.co.uk/keats-shelley-prize

 

Leave a comment

Filed under News