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Obituary: Jini Fiennes

Jennifer Alleyne Lash, writer and painter: born Chichester, Sussex 27 February 1938; author (as Jennifer Lash) of The Burial 1961, The Climate of Belief 1962, Get Down There and Die 1977, The Dust Collector 1979, From May to October 1980, (as Jini Fiennes) of On Pilgrimage 1991; married 1962 Mark Fiennes (four sons, two daughters); died Odstock, Wiltshire 28 December 1993.

JINI FIENNES was a novelist and painter of unusual insight who combined her creative energy with a gift for unlocking other peoples' lives.

She had a magnetic presence like a gypsy's: she wore long shawls, took her friends by the arm, looking at them with searching eyes. Her energy seemed limitless; in her crowded life she raised seven children including a foster-child and established countless friendships.

But she was also engaged in her own passionate search for truth and fulfilment which became more intense and dedicated in her last six years when she heroically defied attacks of cancer.

An unhappy childhood had made her determined to give out to other people. She had been brought up a Catholic by her Irish mother and her father, Brigadier 'Hal' Lash, who served on Sir William Slim's staff in Burma, and she spent eight years at a convent boarding school. But she felt unloved, left home at 16 and eventualy found a job as under- matron in a prep school in Gloucestershire.

She wrote her first much-acclaimed novel, The Burial, published by Rupert Hart-Davis in 1960, when she was 19; it was followed by four other imaginative novels, with a strong Irish influence, in which she grappled with dark forces of violence and terrorism.

After a period of personal uncertainty she secured a happy and secure home life with her husband Mark Fiennes, who was first a farmer, then a distinguished photographer. They led a nomadic life, building or renovating 15 consecutive homes in Suffolk, Ireland, Wiltshire and London; yet gave their children a confidence which led to striking success particularly in drama and music.

She ceased to be a practising Catholic but retained an intense spirituality and belief in the power of love - refusing to condemn evil in anyone - which overflowed in her novels and later in her paintings, which conveyed human nature, often with a raw ferocity, but with vitality and understanding.

When six years ago she first learnt she had cancer she refused to give in to it. After painful treatment and an operation she appeared to overcome it, and embarked on a solitary pilgrimage through France to Santiago de Compostela in which she sought to find her own answers to the meaning of life.

'Poor cancer, the word is dark and terrible,' she began her book about her journey, On Pilgrimage, published two years ago. But she saw cancer as a challenge: 'A star may be sharp and full of pain, but it may also be a guide, a useful companion on a dark night.' She was inspired by Tibetan Buddhist traditions as much as Catholic rituals, and she revelled in the pagan, earthy aspects of pilgrimage, particularly the gypsy ceremonies at Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

She returned to be faced with a recurrence of cancer which she continued to fight with extraordinary courage until she found serenity in the final hours, with her family round her.

(Photograph omitted)