Obituary: William Raeper
Wednesday 12 August 1992
IT WAS not until 1984, at the age of 25, that William Raeper made the firm decision to write. Once decided, he was set on a disciplined course that produced a wealth of literary delight.
Among Bill Raeper's short stories is 'The Miracle of Jonah', published in the collection The Red Hog of Colima (1989). It received outstanding reviews and established him as an exciting new Scottish writer. Raeper's range was extraordinary. His children's books include a collection of short stories, The Troll and the Butterfly (1987), and a novel, A Witch in Time (1992). A recently completed novel, A Warrior of Light, is to be published posthumously. His educational books Luke: a gospel for today (1989) and A Beginner's Guide to Ideas (1991) are ambitious and successful in communicating theological ideas to beginners.
But Raeper's most significant work was his biography of the Victorian novelist George MacDonald, published in 1987. Like MacDonald, Raeper was a Christian and a Scot. MacDonald came from Huntly, as did Raeper's forebears. During the writing of this book Raeper endured constant economic hardship, but the vitality and rigour of his research, his painstaking attention to detail and his care and respect for MacDonald, all make him stand out as an inspired biographer.
Raeper was born in Kirkcaldy in Fife in 1959. He won a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, where he read English and had the rare distinction of being twice elected President of the Junior Common Room. I once asked him why he chose Oxford. His answer was typical: 'Because I thought it was by the sea.' He spent the early Eighties at mime school in Paris and then read for a theology diploma at St John's College, Nottingham.
I met Bill in a coffee bar in Oxford in 1980: he was wearing odd socks, his jumper had holes in it and he had most of his possessions in a carrier bag. Like so many new graduates he had not yet decided on his career. He rarely spoke of his desire to write and it was not until I read my first letter from him that I had an inkling of how good he was. For more than anyone I have ever known he had the ability to observe human nature and idiosyncrasy and to comment on it with ample portions of Scottish good humour.
Bill Raeper was a tremendously gregarious man with more friends than anyone I have known. The quality of his love and care were clearly seen in his dedication to the comfort and welfare of his writing companion, Martyn Hoftun, a quadraplegic. They had co-authored Nepal, a work on the Nepalese revolution, published earlier this year. They were travelling together to Kathmandu and then Bhutan to complete their latest literary adventure, a book on modern Bhutan and the myth of Shangri-La. Their Thai Airways flight crashed headlong into Langtan Himal during monsoon weather. There were no survivors.
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