pen name of LIZ HOLDEN
1943 - 2013
With more than twenty novels published under the pen name 'Louise Lawrence', her first published poem appeared in the Lydney Grammar School magazine. Liz Holden worked in libraries across the Forest, was a key member of the Dean Writers' Circle and a great supporter of other local writers.
Early Life & EDUCATION
Rhoda Elizabeth Holden was born on 5th June 1943 in Leatherhead, Surrey. Her mother, Rhoda Cowles, was born and grew up in the Forest of Dean, her family having links with Bream, Ellwood and Clearwell. Liz's mother moved away to find work, and met Fred Holden who she married in 1940. Liz, and her younger sister Catherine, were born in Leatherhead were they lived until the 1950s when the family moved to Ayburton. They had already visited family in the Forest several times, before moving, Liz developing a close relationship to her grandfather William Cowles.
By 1958 the family were living in Ellwood, close to grandfather William. Elizabeth secured a place at Lydney Grammar School and went on to pass several O levels. Her poem, The Moon, was published in the school magazine in 1958 (you can read the poem on the Sungreen website here)
wORK AND career
Marrying in 1963, she had three children. She worked in various libraries around the Forest of Dean as a library assistant. One local friend recalls Elizabeth having read a science fiction novel at one of the libraries, and realising she was capable of writing a more compelling novel herself. By 1971, having had rejections of her first few novels, she was successful in finding a publisher for her novel Andra, a futuristic story focussed on the eponymous heroine, a teenage girl. It was serialised into an 8 episode TV Programme in Australia, (produced by ABC), premiering in September 1976, aimed at a teenage / young adult audience.
From the Louise Lawrence.net website it is evident that Elizabeth continued to work in various roles whilst bringing up her young family, going through a divorce from her first husband and concurrently continuing to have further books published. Jobs included work in restaurants, gardening, and undertaking multiple craft activities, the items made being sold in local craft shops.
INVOLVEMENT IN WRITERS' CIRCLES
Elizabeth was a key early member of the Dean Writers’ Circle, joining in 1979 about a year after its creation; her membership continuing until she moved to Ireland in 1998. The group published a review of Elizabeth’s life in January 2014, shortly after her death, which can be accessed on their Facebook page. Dean Writers’ Circle has published a number of volumes of local writing, (Forest Leaves), to which Elizabeth made contributions, not only in terms of prose, but also through poetry and artwork.
Elizabeth was very supportive of other local authors, including Mo Day (who published under the pen name of Joanna Trevor).
Following her move to County Mayo, Elizabeth continued to be involved in a number of literary festivals as well as a further writing circle (Pen and Ink Writers, Kiltimagh). One festival with which Elizabeth was closely involved was the Raftery Festival (In Sight of Raftery) in Kiltimagh, in November 2009. She won the ‘Festival Slam’, which involved two rounds of poetry readings - here she is reading one of her poems Mary's Time (she'd remarried in 1987):
In February 2014, two months after Elizabeth’s death, an event was held at the Realta Tea Rooms, Kiltimagh to remember Elizabeth through reading short pieces of her work.
Elizabeth married twice, firstly to Keith Wintle in 1963 with whom she had three children. The couple subsequently divorced, Elizabeth some years later meeting and marrying her second husband in August 1987
Elizabeth moved to Church Road, Cinderford, to a property which they renovated over a period of some ten years. In 1998 the couple relocated to County Mayo, in Ireland. Elizabeth did not have many new books published after this move, though was involved in writing circles and festivals there. By shortly before her death, with the support of her husband, Elizabeth was producing new novels, one, The Witch and the Weathermage, being released as an e-book.
Elizabeth died unexpectedly at her home on 6th December 2013. Initially thought to be the result of a heart attack, the death proved to be due to the rupture of a brain aneurysm.
A FriEnD Remembers Liz...
Toni Wilde is a long-time member of the Dean Writers’ Circle, and close former friend of the author. Like Elizabeth, Toni worked for several years at Lydney Library, although she started work there in 1978 shortly after Elizabeth left such that they were not co-workers. Staff still working at local libraries when Toni joined the workforce often spoke of Elizabeth and her writing.
Both Elizabeth and Toni also were employed for a time near to Coleford, overpainting fabric to copy an original underlying tapestry image. Toni comments that this was detailed and tiring work.
When Toni first joined the Dean Writers’ Circle in 1980/81 she recalls, in common with other members, initially being in awe of Elizabeth, who had by this time had a number of her books published.
Elizabeth was both a participant in and organiser of local events, also arranging open evenings attended by both Dean Writers’ Circle and members of other writing circles.
Within the Writers Circle Elizabeth was often involved in other activities, including taking a leading role in putting on a ‘tongue in cheek’ pantomime for the general public, held at the Lydney Library. Toni recalls that Elizabeth wrote the pantomime, made the costumes and then went on to direct the production.
Group members would often present their poetry and / or read aloud from their current draft prose material at group meetings. Toni comments that, despite her success as an author of fiction aimed at young adults, Elizabeth recognised that this work generated an income, while poetry writing, for much of her life, was for personal satisfaction – she reported not feeling it to be very good.
The poem ‘Mary’s Time’ (subsequently posted as detailed above on YouTube, when recorded at the Raftery Festival, November 2009) was actually written prior to Elizabeth’s move to Ireland, and appears in Forest Leaves 3. Toni recalls a friend having found a copy of this poem some years ago, posted on a tree in Yorkley. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing who posted it, whether Elizabeth or an admirer of her poetry.
Several of Elizabeth’s poems have featured in the Forest Leaves series produced by the Dean Writers’ Circle, with four poems being included also in an anthology of women’s poems, compiled by Toni in collaboration with Heather Randall, entitled ‘Seven Ages of Women’ (Blue Funk, 2014). The final section of one poem, entitled Dear Doctor is included within this review, with Toni’s kind consent. She notes that, when this poem was written by Elizabeth, her health had declined:
As a published author and member of Dean Writers’ Circle, Elizabeth was often invited into schools to give talks, both about her work and the process of creative writing. Toni recalls that for a time Children the Dust was a set book in many senior schools.
Elizabeth once told Toni that ideas for her books often came to her during the night: she would get out of bed and jot these ideas down on the wallpaper of her bedroom – it is possible that a future home owner will come across these scribblings when redecorating their home!
The first year after Elizabeth moved to Ireland around nine members of the Writers’ Circle travelled over to visit her camping on the lawn at her house, and being taken to visit some of the many beauty spots in the country. Toni recalls that members of the circle made two further groups visits to Ireland.
Both in the Forest of Dean and in Ireland Elizabeth was a keen gardener. Her interest in this may well have come from the time spent with her grandfather, visiting the Forest as a child.
Toni recalls Elizabeth having been a close friend of Maureen Davies (Mo Day), who wrote under the pen name Joanna Trevor, the two often holidaying together.
Toni herself continued to have close contact with Elizabeth, through reciprocal visits, emails and letters until her death in 2013.
Another former member of the writing circle, Olivia Rowan, had moved to Dublin. Elizabeth and Toni made at least one visit to her prior to her death, also attending the scattering of her ashes, an event also attended by other members of Dean Writers’ Circle.
The Power of Stars (1972)
The Wyndcliffe (1974)
Sing and Scatter Daisies (1977)
The Star Lord (1978)
Cat Call (1980)
The Earth Witch (1981)
Calling B for Butterfly (1982)
The Dram Road (1983)
Extinction is Forever (1984)
Children of the Dust (1985)
The Warriors of Taan (1986)
Ben Harran’s Castle (1992) (also published as Keeper of the Universe)
The Disinherited: The Bodley Head, London (1994) (also published as The Patchwork People)
Dream Weaver (1996)
The Llandor Trilogy:
The Crowlings (1999)
The Witch and the Weathermage (2013)
4 poems published in:
Seven Ages of Woman: An Anthology of Women’s Poems: compiled by Toni Wilde and Heather Randall (2014)
influence of the Forest IN HER Writing
She found her main niche in writing books aimed at older teenagers / young adults, often focussing on complex themes, such as murder and the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Her characters are also often complex, some undergoing change in beliefs and / or aspirations in the course of the novel, others proving resistant to change.
The majority of her books have a science fiction / fantasy focus, the most well-known and acclaimed being Children of the Dust (1985), for which she was runner up in the Whitbread Children’s Fiction award for that year.
Elspeth Scott, retired member of the School Librarians’ Association recalls that:
"(We) stocked quite a few in the school library. She was well regarded as a quality author and got good reviews in our (professional) journals”.
Many of Liz Holden's works have settings that are clearly specific to, or inspired by, the Forest of Dean. In illustration, this is very evident in the post – apocalyptic Children of the Dust. In the opening pages of the book, immediately before a series of nuclear strikes changed the world for ever, the young Sarah is described setting out from her school to return to the family home:
“She saw the streets spread out beneath her, the river estuary shining silver in the distance, white piles of the nuclear power station on the opposite bank, and the Cotswold Hills beyond. She had to remember it….Gloucestershire green in the sunlight, a blackbird singing and the wind blowing warm through her hair”
The writing is very evocative of the Forest of the present day, which makes the stark contrast of the changes wrought by the nuclear strikes all the more powerful to those with local knowledge.
Throughout the book the action, taking place over many decades, is divided between the Bath base of those who gained access to a nuclear shelter and their descendants and ‘the Dean’, home to those who survived and evolved / mutated ‘outside’ in the aftermath of the attacks and subsequent nuclear winter. The conflicts between the ‘think tank’ mentality of many of the former, and the adaptability and practical skills used by those forced to survive ‘outside’ is well explored, as is the harsh reality of life and death from initial attack and subsequent illness.
Another book which takes the Forest as its key location is The Dram Road in which the central character, a teenage boy from Birmingham, learns new values after his arrival in the Forest, where he meets a number of Foresters and undergoes experiences which change his life path in many ways.
South Wales similarly forms a focus as a setting in several novels whilst others are set off world and / or in the future.
Written and researched by Reading the Forest volunteer Caroline Prosser.
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