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Artemis Cooper is the author of a number of books including Cairo in the War, 1939-1945, Writing at the Kitchen Table: The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David and, most recently, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. With her husband, Antony Beevor, she wrote Paris After the Liberation, 1945-1949. She has edited two collections of letters as well as Words of Mercury, an anthology of the work of Patrick Leigh Fermor; and, with Colin Thubron, she edited The Broken Road, the final volume of Leigh Fermor's European trilogy.
Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014) wrote brilliant novels about what love can do to people, but in her own life the lasting relationship she sought so ardently always eluded her. She grew up yearning to be an actress; but when that ambition was thwarted by marriage and the war, she turned to fiction. Her first novel, The Beautiful Visit, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize - she went on to write fourteen more, of which the best-loved were the five volumes of The Cazalet Chronicle. Following her divorce from her first husband, the celebrated naturalist Peter Scott, Jane embarked on a string of high-profile affairs with Cecil Day-Lewis, Arthur Koestler and Laurie Lee, which turned her into a literary femme fatale. Yet the image of a sophisticated woman hid a romantic innocence which clouded her emotional judgement. She was nearing the end of a disastrous second marriage when she met Kingsley Amis, and for a few years they were a brilliant and glamorous couple - until that marriage too disintegrated. She settled in Suffolk where she wrote and entertained friends, but her turbulent love life was not over yet. In her early seventies Jane fell for a conman. His unmasking was the final disillusion, and inspired one of her most powerful novels, Falling. Artemis Cooper interviewed Jane several times in Suffolk. She also talked extensively to her family, friends and contemporaries, and had access to all her papers. Her biography explores a woman trying to make sense of her life through her writing, as well as illuminating the literary world in which she lived.
For troops in the desert, Cairo meant fleshpots or brass hats. For well-connected officers, it meant polo at the Gezira Club and drinks at Shepheard's. For the irregular warriors, Cairo was a city to throw legendary parties before the next mission behind enemy lines. For countless refugees, it was a stopping place in the long struggle home. The political scene was dominated by the British Ambassador Sir Miles Lampson. In February 1942 he surrounded the Abdin Palace with tanks and attempted to depose King Farouk. Five months later it looked as if the British would be thrown out of Egypt for good. Rommel's forces were only sixty miles from Alexandria - but the Germans were pushed back and Cairo life went on. Meanwhile, in the Egyptian Army, a handful of young officers were thinking dangerous thoughts.
Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was a war hero whose exploits in Crete are legendary, and above all he is widely acclaimed as the greatest travel writer of our times, notably for his books about his walk across pre-war Europe, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water; he was a self-educated polymath, a lover of Greece and the best company in the world. Artemis Cooper has drawn on years of interviews and conversations with Paddy and his cloest friends as well as having complete access to his archives. Her beautifully crafted biography portrays a man of extraordinary gifts - no one wore their learning so playfully, nor inspired such passionate friendship.
Elizabeth David was born into a upper-class family and pursued a rebellious and bohemian life as a student of art and then an actress in Paris, before running off with a married man to Greece and then settling in Cairo, where she worked for the British government. After the Second World War, she returned to England, where she was shocked by poor food into writing first articles, then books on Meditteranean cooking. A Book of Mediterranean Food was published in 1950, inspiring a cookery revolution, bringing new flavours and ingredients to the drab, post-war British diet. Over the next few years, David was to become a major influence on British cooking, yet her classic cookery books show little of the colourful personality behind the public persona. Artermis Cooper, in this refreshing biography, reveals an adventurous and uncompromising personality - a woman with a passion for food, life and men. This is the whole story: of her strong friendships, her failed marriage, tempestuous affairs and the greatest love of her life, told with extensive refererence to David's private papers and letters. 'In this wonderful and creative book, Cooper has brought David to life... she not only writes like an angel, but has done her research with great skill and obvious enjoyment.' Derek Cooper, Sunday Times 'Engagingly well-written, thoroughly researched and documented. One of the delights of Artemis Cooper's book is that it makes you go back, time and again, to the source. And suddenly I will find that I have whiled away the afternoon re-reading, for the sheer pleasure of it, half of Spices or An Omlette and a Glass of Wine.' Frances Bissell, The Times 'Fluent, engaging and astonishingly readable.' Clarissa Dickson Wright, Mail on Sunday 'Artemis Cooper is skilled and wise enough to handle the contradictory sides of David's character without being either censorious or sensational.' Arabella Boxer, The Times Literary Supplement