Obituary: Nancy Livingston

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The Independent Online
Janet Woolsey (Nancy Livingston), writer: born Stockton-on-Tees 18 November 1935; married 1975 David Foster; died Cambridge 19 October 1994.

Nancy Livingston often recalled the story of when she was an air stewardess and had to deal with a passenger who had inconveniently died in the Singapore/Rangoon sector of a BOAC flight. It was one of the funniest pieces of black humour I have ever heard . . . 'We flew into the tail of a monsoon.

Out of the 97 on board, 96 needed sickbags . . . ' The incident was among a curiously repeated series of encounters with death in bizarre circumstances throughout her life.

She started out to be an actress, training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and worked in the early days of live television, when her ability to play the piano during scene changes boosted the parts she was offered. When acting work became thin, she went to the splendidly named Miss Wilkinson's Academy for Gentlewomen, learning shorthand, typing and commercial French, but soon returned to television as a production assistant with Tyne Tees, ATV and finally ITN, where she adopted her pen-name as a writer because production assistants were not regarded a potential literary talents.

Perhaps because of those offbeat encounters with mortality, she turned to crime fiction, creating the gentle Mr GDH Pringle, retired tax inspector, and his engaging inamorata, Mavis Bignell. The books reflected her intelligence and wit, and Death in a Distant Land won the Punch Award for the funniest crime novel of 1988. One reviewer commented that she 'expertly mixes the hilarious, the disastrous and the sharply poignant'.

A businesslike professional with little time for the arcane ponderings of literary analysis, she published eight Pringle books and four historical sagas set in the north of England, but her heart was always with crime writing.

She became chairman of the Crime Writers' Association in 1992, the year that death touched her again when an inoperable cancer was diagnosed and she was told she had a month to live; her friends were awed by the graceful acceptance - even the humour - of her reaction.

In fact, pioneering treatment by Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge was to give her two more years. With characteristic defiance, she began Moon's Edge, her fifth saga, covering more than 1,000 years. Despite the pain, repeated treatment and loss of strength, she handed in the manuscript in May. A ninth Pringle was unfinished.

During her final illness, she wept rarely and complained never. Having dealt with death both in reality and fiction, she showed a rare and inspiring courage in living with the constant awareness of its presence. Her husband, David Foster, showed his own resilience in enduring a slow tragedy.

(Photograph omitted)

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