In the mid-1990s Chrissie Glazebrook was part of a women novelists' writing group in the North- east, alongside Julia Darling, Debbie Taylor, Penny Sumner, Andrea Badenoch, Margaret Wilkinson and me. At these meetings extracts of Glazebrook's great comic novel were read and discussed, and it was no surprise when the finished product was published by Random House, after a serious bidding war. It had long been her ambition to write a successful, caustic, funny novel: The Madolescents (2001) was it.
Set on Tyneside, it describes the bizarre world of Rowena Vincent, an anarchic 16-year-old trainee mortician with a passion for Baileys and chips. Attempting to free herself of her weak mother and disgusting stepfather, Rowena ends up being part of a teenage therapy group, which she labels the "madolescents". The book was a huge success. Described by reviewers as, "hilarious", "brutally funny", "a cult classic" and "irresistible", it was also a big hit with teenage audiences. Just 17 magazine voted it book of the month.
Born in 1945 and adopted at eight weeks old by Mary and Ernest Wright, who brought her up in the Black Country alongside her adoptive sister, Mary, Chrissie later discovered that her natural parents were an American soldier and an Irish woman, participating in what Chrissie referred to as a "drunken GI blunder".
After Cannock Grammar School in Staffordshire, she trained as a secretary but at 17 did a runner to Cornwall where she joined a hippie colony in St Ives. Returned home by the police after a drugs bust, Chrissie's punishment was enforced factory labour. Secretarial work followed and in the late 1960s she married Terry Glazebrook and moved to Scarborough. Here she had several jobs including PA for the Managing Director at Flamingo Land theme park. After her divorce a few years later she managed a vegetarian restaurant and wholefood shop before venturing into theatre administration.
Between 1982 and 1990 she worked freelance, presenting a show on BBC Radio York, writing for Jackie magazine, and producing her first book, the satirical Pocket Guide to Men (1986). In 1989 she produced a 13-part cookery series called Flavour of the Month for Tyne Tees Television, quite a feat for a woman who claimed to be missing the "domestic gene".
I met her in 1990 when she took a temporary secretarial post with Northern Arts (now Arts Council North East), becoming Administrator for Published and Broadcast Arts the following year. At the time I was doing a short Literature contract with the regional arts board, based in the same office space as Chrissie and the Literature Officer, Jenny Attala. One male executive officer dubbed us "the three witches" and both Chrissie and I were reprimanded for singing in the corridors.
Humour came naturally to Glazebrook but her wit, a mixture of seaside-postcard slapstick and acid shock tactics was not to everyone's taste; had she been male, reactions might have been different. She was a talented writer and never dull company, often gleefully playing devil's advocate if anyone began pontificating too solemnly.
Outwardly confident, like many other writers Glazebrook had to contend with demons. Hers came in the form of depression, which she battled the whole time I knew her. And although she could appear brash to some, she was often self-deprecating. When I approached her to submit a story for an anthology of northern writing I was editing for Iron Press (Biting Back, 2001), her first reaction was, "You don't want me in that, it will bring the tone down."
Not convinced a sequel to The Madolescents was the next best step for her, and being a perfectionist, she was disappointed with her second novel, The Blue Spark Sisters (2003), written in the midst of severe bouts of depression.
Glazebrook was centrally involved in establishing the ProudWORDS gay and lesbian literature festival, and she was also an inspiring tutor on the MA in Creative Writing at Northumbria University, a course she herself had graduated from in 1989, winning the Waterstone's Prize for Prose. Diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, she lived alone in her house on the outskirts of Newcastle until the illness escalated, when she moved to a wonderful flat provided by Denise, her devoted niece, overlooking Scarborough's south bay.
There was so much writing left for Chrissie Glazebrook to do, so much talent unexcavated; even the week before her death, trapped in the hospice bed, her wicked humour still shone through.
Kitty FitzgeraldReuse content