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Helen Dunmore appreciation: ‘To be with her was to laugh with joy’

Novelist and journalist Amanda Craig remembers a warm friend… and literary inspiration

Like many readers, I “met” and loved Helen, who died aged 64 of cancer last week, through her writing. Her arresting novels, with their exquisitely judged prose, mesmerising plots and complex characters driven by love, lust, hunger and loyalty, entranced me as soon as I discovered them, as did her poetry and children’s novels.

From Zennor in Darkness, about DH Lawrence in Cornwall during the first world war, to her cold war thriller Exposure, she was always original, moving with ease between historical and contemporary. At a time when women novelists received censure for creating characters who weren’t instantly sympathetic, she could depict incestuous siblings, adulterous lovers and child killers in a way that made you feel their humanity even as you recoiled. Her mothers, daughters, wives and sisters tend to evolve from vulnerable ignorance into formidable heroines; the ferocity of their desire to protect their families from famine or injustice was, I am certain, Helen’s own. She reclaimed the female as life-changing – even Death, in her heartbreaking last poem, Hold Out Your Arms, is seen as a mother.

To discuss literature with her was to have the pleasure of talking in almost dizzying depth

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