Laurie Lee’s centenary is being lavishly celebrated this month. ‘Laurie Lee is the most enthralling project I have ever undertaken,’ I wrote in my diary on the day I finished writing his biography, ‘so (lest we forget) thank you, Pat.’ Pat was Pat Kavanagh, my agent, who had suggested the book. ‘He’s 82 and deaf and a bit tricky,’ she said, ‘but I think you’d get on.’ He and I did indeed get on – on the telephone. We arranged to have lunch in London soon, at the Chelsea Arts Club, but on the agreed day Laurie was taken to hospital, where he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He was brought home to his beloved Slad valley and died shortly after in May 1997, watched over by Kathy and Jessy, his wife and daughter.
After his memorial, I met his daughter Yasmin. What, another one? She was born in 1939, 24 years before the longed-for Jessy, about whom Laurie wrote ‘The Firstborn’, his hymn to late fatherhood. Soon I would discover in his diary a lyrical account