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Thursday 12 August 2021

Gone Before Their Time: Andrea Badenoch

(13 June 1951 – 4 January 2004)

By Lynne Patrick

The north-east has long been fertile and supportive ground for emerging writers, but sadly not all of them are afforded enough time to fulfil their potential and achieve the degree of success and acclaim they deserve.

Andrea Badenoch had produced only four novels when she succumbed to breast cancer at the tragically early age of 52, but she had already garnered first-rate reviews and a great deal of respect. She was born on Tyneside, and returned to live there after her education in Leeds and Manchester, and a period spent working in London, where she became involved in a women's writing project in the late 1970s.

Andrea studied and taught literature for most of her adult life; along with feminism, it formed a focus for her life. She was part of  a group of women writers in Newcastle, co-edited the journal Writing Women for six years and helped to bring its two anthologies to fruition, and edited The Virago Book of Writing Women in 1998 and 1999.

It was her time in London which supplied her with the background for her first urban thriller, Mortal, published in 1998. Another, Driven, followed a year later, but it wasn’t until Blink, published in 2002 and signalling a return to the more familiar ground of her birthplace, that she began to find the balance between the grit and grimness of social realism and the sympathetic protagonist who can hook the attention of devotees of the crime genre.

Analysis of social issues and faithful depiction of time and place were at least as high a priority to Badenoch as the crime and thriller element. She took backcloths such as grim underpasses and seedy pubs and issues like homelessness and the loss of teenage innocence, and wove them together into a rich tapestry of which murder and psychological suspense formed only a part, albeit one which carried her work to a wider audience.

Many people regarded Blink as Andrea Badenoch’s coming of age as a novelist: the work in which she began to achieve her ambition of straddling the divide between ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ fiction. It was all the sadder, therefore, that her breast cancer was diagnosed while she was writing it. She completed the novel while she was undergoing chemotherapy, then, after turning briefly to children’s fiction to clear her mind of the gloom of urban crime, she embarked on her most ambitious work, Loving Geordie, which drew on the notorious Mary Bell case from the 1960s, and also on the reminiscences of people who had lived in Newcastle’s old West End.

Loving Geordie was to be her swan song. After her untimely death little more than a year after its publication, she was remembered with great warmth not only by her friends and family, but also by the many people she had met while carrying out the copious and meticulous research which went into her books, and numerous students she had taught on various creative writing courses; she had built a reputation as a generous and supportive teacher and facilitator of aspiring writers.

As a mark of that respect and affection, the  Andrea Badenoch Fiction Award was established in 2004. The award is offered annually as one of the Northern Writers Awards for prose fiction, either novels or collections of short stories, written by women over 42 – the age at which Andrea herself published her first novel.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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