Writers sell gems to fund retreat

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Leading writers have donated a feast of literary treasures for auction to raise money to help fund a country retreat for writers. Authors as diverse as John Mortimer, Carmen Callil, Seamus Heaney and Nadine Gordimer have given items in the 76-lot collection to be sold by Sotheby's today.

The auction is on behalf of the Royal Society of Literature's Almedingen appeal, launched earlier this year after the Russian-born novelist EM Almedingen expressed a dying wish that her 18th- century cottage in the Mendip Hills be turned into a retreat for writers.

Among items on offer is a letter by Anton Chekhov in 1899 to thank Dora V Zhook for her interest in translating his short stories into English. It is accompanied by a signed photograph and a volume of Tales and Stories, anticipated to realise up to pounds 9,000. There is also a 1926 letter from F Scott Fitzgerald to his publishers, Chatto and Windus, about his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby. It is expected to fetch pounds 1,000-pounds 1,500.

Chatto & Windus have also donated a letter from Joseph Conrad, which they describe as "grumpy". In response to their treatment, Conrad wrote in 1918: "No doubt many writers can shake 50,000 words out of their sleeve in their spare time but I have not that facility."

Nigel Nicolson has donated the gardening book of his mother, Vita Sackville-West, and Auberon Waugh has given his father Evelyn's ear trumpet.The ear trumpet was most famously closed at a Foyle's Literary Luncheon when Malcolm Muggeridge began speaking.