The last time I spoke to Claire Rayner was when she rang me this summer. It was in the aftermath of the General Election, and Claire was contacting friends to encourage them (“encourage” is probably in an inadequate word) to support a petition demanding electoral reform.
She was, to the end of her life, the supreme activist – someone who believed that it was not enough to have the right, civilised, liberal views. It was one’s civic duty to act on them.
We talked about the days, back in the 1980s, when I was a publisher and had been the editor of several of her novels. They were great, bustling family sagas, in which the story and the hero-or-villain characters mattered more than any subtlety of prose.
Claire was not always the easiest of authors, being someone who believed that, once she had finished a novel, that should be that. She was a busy woman and did not take kindly to the idea of revising prose that she had already spent time on.
There were one or two battles between us, most of which I have no doubt she won.. I treasure the dedication she included in one novel: “To Terence, who fought back”.
Claire was easy to parody and now and then her eagerness to condemn wrongdoing made her vulnerable to smart-arse satirists like Chris Morris, who memorably set a trap for her and other celebrities in Brass Eye.
She was good-hearted, though, and used her astonishing energy as a force for good in the world, never forgetting how tough life could be for those who lacked her strength, determination and talent.
There is precious little of that great communitarian spirit around, now that we need it more than ever.