Some time ago I searched for the author of the brilliant first novel Here (Away From It All), by Maryann Forrest, which I’d owned as a teenager. When I asked Independent on Sunday readers to help me locate her, I received a letter inviting me to lunch.
I visited Polly Hope, writer, artist and opera librettist, living in London’s Spitalfields, where she still thrived in her studio along with four dogs, a cat, and an opera house-shaped chicken coop. Polly, aka Maryann, had been living in Greece during the military junta, and would have faced deportation over the book. She had finished a superb new novel, and I asked publishers to rediscover her. Naturally, there were no takers.
Polly’s work graces public buildings such as the Globe Theatre and the Barbican. She exhibited all over the world, but referred to herself as “a jobbing artist”. Every Midsummer’s Eve she threw a concert party filled with the kind of English eccentrics I assumed had vanished, and gave sunflowers to the cast, accompanied by a three-legged dog.
I encouraged her to republish the first book online, which she did herself at age 80. She then made a new hardback version available, painting a fresh cover. Last week I planned to visit her for lunch, – where she would serve a hot meal to any dissident composer, pornographic poet, or misfit artist who was passing through the area – and discovered that, after a brief illness, she had died. I looked at the new version of the book she’d created. Inside is a dedication: “To Chris, for finding me.” London is less colourful without her.