SALLY BELFRAGE was the best sort of journalist, one in the Orwellian tradition who saw that her job was to bear witness, writes Shusha Guppy. For The Crack, her book about how the troubles in Northern Ireland affect women, she lived in the province on and off for a year, sharing these women's experience and befriending them. When she was writing about the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, she lived at his ashram at Poona for a month. She did not believe in the Bhagwan's teaching, but her attitude was not that of an outsider looking in and feeling cynical about it. She went through the whole belief process, exactly as though she were one of his Sanyasins, or disciples.
Sally lived alone in London, in a maisonette in Little Venice with a back view over a beautiful communal garden. And her kitchen was a communal kitchen, constantly full of London friends and people who were staying, where everyone sat round a circular table. She received a huge number of newspapers every morning. She would spread them on this table and cut out pieces to send to her friends either because they were interested in a subject or because it was a review of a book or performance of their own.
If she was in the middle of writing she would then go to her word processor. But there might often be people to lunch. She was an excellent cook and food was always produced without fuss and with whatever ingredient was at hand.
In the evenings she went out, to meetings, lectures, concerts. She was also a very good guide to the cinema. She was very encouraging about her friend's works, whether writing or any other activity. I could always recognise her voice in a concert hall saying 'More, more' from the back. She shared everything: her money, her hospitality, her goodwill; without a fuss, without gushing.
Knowing her was a genuinely life-enhancing experience. She worked at keeping her friendships in good repair, believing that human relationships are the basis of art and creativity, rather than sacrificing them to her work. She was deeply affected by the recent deaths of the writers Jill Tweedie and Brian Inglis.
She remained great friends with her ex-husband, the playwright Bernard Pomerance. With her daughter Eve and her son Moby she was more like a sister and a friend than a mother.
She had a unique gift of attention and sympathy, and was always available, spending most of her time doing things for others or supporting worthy causes. As a result of this she did not write a book every year, but one every five or six. But whatever she produced it was beautifully done, conscientiously researched. She was deeply serious about her work but kept a light touch.
Three weeks ago friends came from New York and we had a drinks party for her and for them. She knew she had little time to live, but she behaved as if nothing was amiss; she was the soul of the party, beautifully dressed, joking and laughing.
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