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A Tea-Time Tutorial

LSE Literary Weekend/ Royal Society of Literature biography special events

When Patrick French was starting work on his first book, a life of the explorer Francis Younghusband, he wrote for advice to the Grand Old Man of British biography, Michael Holroyd. By return of post came an invitation to tea. What did they talk about at that first meeting, and what advice was Holroyd able to give? Is the art of biography instinctive, or can it be taught? And do biographers find their subjects, or do their subjects come looking for them? Michael Holroyd and Patrick French consider these, and other biographical conundrums, in a discussion chaired by Anne Chisholm.

Since the publication of his two-volume biography of Lytton Strachey in 1967 and 1968, Michael Holroyd has been widely regarded as one of the most innovative and influential of contemporary biographers. His other subjects include Augustus John, Bernard Shaw, and himself. Most recently, he published A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families, described by John Carey in the Sunday Times as ‘a fabulous cavalcade of a book, written with infectious verve and deep imaginative sympathy’. He is also a formidable campaigner on behalf of literature and writers, and is president of the Royal Society of Literature. In 2007 was knighted for his services to literature.

Patrick French’s first book, a biography of Francis Younghusband (1994), won both the Somerset Maugham Award and the Royal Society of Literature Heinemann Award. This was followed by Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division, which won him the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. In March 2008, he published The World Is What It Is, the authorized biography of Nobel Prize Winner V.S. Naipaul. Described by Michael Holroyd as ‘the boldest biographical enterprise of recent times’, it was selected as one of the ten best books of 2008 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. It will come out in paperback in April.

Anne Chisholm, chair of the Royal Society of Literature, is a biographer and critic who has also worked in publishing and journalism (she began her working life on Private Eye). Her first biography, Nancy Cunard (1979), won the Silver PEN Prize for non-fiction, and in 1992 her biography of Lord Beaverbrook, which she wrote jointly with her husband, Michael Davie, was runner up for the Hawthornden Prize. She has also written a life of Rumer Godden, and a study of the female survivors of Hiroshima. In April, Weidenfeld and Nicolson will publish her authorized biography of the Bloomsbury diarist Frances Partridge.

This event is supported by the Royal Society of Literature. This event follows on from Biography Writing: Lives in Context, and a break for tea for all the audience.

This is part of the LSE Space for Thought Literary Weekend, the LSE's first ever Literary Festival, celebrating the completion of the New Academic Building.


Michael Holroyd | talks
Patrick French | talks
Chair: Anne Chisholm | talks


Date and Time:

15 January 2009 at 5:45 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



Sheikh Zayed Theatre, London School of Economics
New Academic Building
Lincoln's Inn Fields

Show map

Organised by:

London School of Economics & Political Science
See other talks organised by London School of Economics & Political Science...




Available from:

This event is free and open to all, but a ticket is required. One ticket per person may be requested from 2pm on Tuesday 17 February.

Members of the public can request one ticket via the online ticket request form which will be live on www.lse.ac.uk/events from 10.00am on Tuesday 17 February.

Additional Information:

For more information, visit www.lse.ac.uk/collections/spaceForThought/literaryWeekend.

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