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VINE VOICEon 9 August 2009
M'lud, members of the jury - it is with a sense of deep mortification that I must confess to a hitherto shameful ignorance of the life and work of Miss Margery Allingham (late of this parish) and must therefore throw myself on the mercy of the court. In mitigation, I can only ask the court to take into account my recent diligent study of Miss Julia Jones' absolutely first rate account of the life of this eminent exponent of the fine art of detective fiction.

Seriously, though, this is an excellent biography that explores Margery Allingham's life as both a woman and a writer.

One of the main themes of the book is the tension between writing as art and writing as necessity. Jones draws out those aspects of Allingham's background and personality that drove her to write as an act of creativity, coming to regard her books as her children. At the same time, she was a professional who wrote in order to earn a living, taking her from the world of the penny dreadful and the first women's magazines to international fame as a queen of crime and guest appearances on Woman's Hour.

As a woman, Margery Allingham lived a complicated and often chaotic life split between the London of commercial publishing and the large house in rural Essex, which she and her husband, Pip, could never quite afford. In addition to visitors, the country house was also home for a variety of friends, family, inherited servants and miscellaneous dogs and horses.

As a newcomer to Allingham, I watched the BBC's dramatisation of Campion alongside reading "The Adventures of Margery Allingham" and was able to appreciate the way in which she had woven material from her life and experiences into her fiction.

A fascinating insight into the life of a fascinating, talented and slightly eccentric lady.
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on 5 February 2013
The great thing about e-books is that you can update them very easily when new information becomes available. Julia Jones biography of MA was first published in 1991 by William Heinemann and has just been republished under her own imprint `Golden Duck' with new photographs and updated information - I've just read it and am delighted that it's now also released as an e-book.

The title is a little misleading, since Allingham's adventures are `mental and moral', and mainly on paper, channeled through her hero Albert Campion in the groundbreaking thrillers she wrote through four decades. I read her books when I was in my twenties and liked them more than Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers - there was always an element of humour, clowning, with an undertow of morality. They reminded me a little of the old Mystery plays - a mix of buffoonery and serious discussion of Right and Wrong, the one highlighting the other. Albert Campion - the mysterious, aristocratic figure at the centre of the plot, is both the buffoon and the moral compass of the novel.

I was always interested to know more about the author who wrote the novels, but somehow missed the publication of Julia's book first time out (where was I?) Fortunately I've now managed to rectify that omission. Reading this biography of Margery Allingham has illuminated the novels for me in just the way I would have hoped.

I'd already read about Margery's disfunctional, workaholic, journalistic family in Julia's new book `Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory: The Working Life of Herbert Allingham (1867-1936), which shows Margery's father's heritage, writing serials for `penny dreadfuls', and depicts his marriage to Margery's mother as turbulent and unsatisfactory. Em Allingham didn't care much for marriage or motherhood and had huge mood swings that were difficult to live with. Margery was a precocious child who grew up nervy, and insecure, with a pronounced stammer. She didn't thrive on education and left school at 16 to her parents' disappointment. Encouraged to write as a young child by her parents, there seemed no other career she would ever consider and she began to submit to periodicals, as her father had done, and wrote reviews and story-lines for a film magazine.

The plot of Margery's first novel, published while she was still a teenager, was `found' during a seance with her family around a Weedja board. Her subsequent plots were rather more thought-out, but she was always an instinctive writer.

If Margery was professionally precocious, she was emotionally much slower to mature. There was a youthful `crush' on a young female friend, a brief love affair with a man, before she married someone she'd known for years - the son of a woman her father had almost married in his youth - the artist Philip (Pip) Youngman Carter. He was socially confident, handsome in a silent movie `spivvy' kind of way - the kind of man depicted in cartoon casually folded against a wall, smoking a cigarette in a long holder, wearing a striped blazer and white trousers, being charming to women. He had no regular work, but designed Margery's book covers and gave her editorial feedback. They lived in a kind of student menage with two or three other friends, all mainly supported by Margery's writing.

She had been brought up with a workaholic writing ethic - her father wrote thousands of words a week come hell or high water until he died, worn out by the treadmill. Margery did the same. She was overweight and in poor health - probably because of thyroid problems that often went untreated. This was partly her fault - she hated consulting doctors - and partly because the doctors she did consult seem to have been less than competent. At one point she was sectioned and given electro-convulsive therapy for depression probably caused by her thyroid condition. As well as health issues, she was constantly pursued by the Inland Revenue and lived, until the end, haunted by the fear that she was going to be made bankrupt by their demands. Margery wrote book after book to pay the tax bills racked up by her previous publications.

Her marriage to Pip, which had begun with such cheerful, youthful optimism, soon stagnated. Pip was extremely selfish, unwilling to have children, and a serial adulterer. While he philandered in London, living the high life (he was in the same social circle as Prince Philip), Margery stayed in her Essex home and wrote. When doctors found a lump in her breast, she ignored it.

After her death, Margery's papers and those of her father, were left to her younger sister Joyce, who had lived with her during the final decade of her life, and - through Joyce - they were made available to Julia Jones. The results are two carefully researched and beautifully written family stories - Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory: the Working Life of Herbert Allingham, and `The Adventures of Margery Allingham'. I enjoyed them both and, as a good biography should, have been tempted to re-read the novels.
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on 4 September 2011
This is a detailed and sympathetic biography, but not blind to the difficulties of the subject. It is clear that the author was regarded as a trusted friend of the subject's family, but that has not made her deferential or caused her to skirt problems. The book presents a fascinating glimpse of a chaotic and variously driven household, from which the emergence of a notable series of distinguished crime novels seems miraculous. Both Allingham and the army of supporting and incidental characters are depicted with grace and conviction, and there is plenty of unobtrusive academic apparatus to assist future students. Sound, readable, and persuasive.
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on 4 October 2013
This is an incredibly detailed and thorough biography - one feels its subject would have approved of the amount of hard work and painstaking research that has clearly gone into it, workaholic as Allingham was. Jones has told the whole story of the writer's life, with warmth and yet with detachment, her enthusiasm for Allingham's work balanced by her hard look at the contradictions in this woman's life and the lives of those around her. Poor 'Marge' was indoctrinated with the work ethic as a writer, by a family of writers, and kept it going throughout her life, plagued by ill health and a dead weight of hangers on. Julia Jones is much fairer to Marge's husband Pip than I would be - I'd like to kick him in the nuts quite frankly. Allingham was trapped at a time when women were beginning to have financial success as genre writers, and she always felt obliged to work and support her family, yet she exhausted herself further trying to be the 'woman' to her oxygen thief of a husband who did nothing but live on her earnings, shag around, and ignore her sufferings. This was a significant time for women, after WW1 and then through WW2, and it's also fascinating from a class point of view, as the upper/upper middle classes learn to do with fewer or even no servants and actually meet people from other class backgrounds. Her massive sense of responsibility was as heavy as the extra weight she carried, something she struggled to manage - let down by typical male doctors of the time, who gave her ECT (hideous cruelty) when she clearly had thyroid problems. Oddly even after this had been diagnosed and treated it was sort of forgotten again. Interestingly, Sayers used hypothyroidism as the subject for a Lord Peter Wimsey short story, so the symptoms were known about. I have to admit here I've never taken to Allingham's books before, though will now have another go - I just couldn't warm to Campion, her sleuth - and of the Golden Age, I love Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, and at one time Christie, much much more. Fans of her fiction will find this book even more enthralling. I was fascinated by all the historical detail, the attitudes, and the actually quite tragic yet triumphant life of Allingham herself and the formidable output of work she produced. Julia Jones clearly had much primary material and the trust of the family and has been true to her subject and those around her.
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on 11 September 2013
Margery Allingham is one of my favourite mystery writers, but I knew very little about her and had no idea she had such a difficult life. An excellent biography.
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on 1 May 2009
Don't know why it has the title The Adventures of Margery Allingham as she had few 'adventures' during her life mainly spent at home in Suffolk/Essex. She never ventured abroad like Agatha Christie who spent time Mesopotamia. Though Margery is much the better writer and probably her best book is 'Tiger in the Smoke' a classic, clever. occult novel.
However, her life story is mundane it discloses her thyroid problem, and subsequent over-weight, which went unrecognised and untreated for too long. Sad she never had any children, although her husband and close friends relied on her to be the grown-up, responsible one in their 'family' - she referred to them as 'the kids' in her diaries.
I've always enjoyed reading Margery Allingham as she writes so well which is no surprise really, coming as she does from a family of writers - mother, father, aunt, grandparents. This biography will be found interesting by all aspiring writers and fans of Margery A.
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on 25 May 2009
This book is a superb edition of a fascinating Biography. Thank you.
Christine Draycott, suffolk.
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on 25 May 2015
An extremely thorough, well researched and well written biography of a great writer.
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