Writers

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Jenny Diski

Jenny Diski (1947-2016) was born Jenny Simmonds, the only child of Jewish immigrants. Jenny’s first foray into foster care was as a 6-year-old; her mother, Rene, had a breakdown when her father deserted the family. James, who had done time for fraud, came back but left again, permanently, 5 years later. Jenny’s involvement with the local council included them arranging boarding school for her. It was at St Christopher’s, a boarding school in Hertfordshire noted for being progressive, that Jenny met Doris Lessing’s son, Peter, who, although not a close friend, asked if his mother could help Jenny when she was expelled from the school.

At 15, Jenny moved in with Doris Lessing who had recently published The Golden Notebook (1962) to critical and feminist acclaim. At the beginning of her stay with Doris, Jenny continued doing paid work—as her father had insisted—but Doris soon persuaded James that Jenny should go back to school. However, Doris couldn’t persuade St Christopher’s to take her back, so Jenny went to a local day school while Peter remained at boarding school. At 19, Jenny was in her final year of school and given her exit orders by Lessing, shortly before her father died. Doris then retracted and said Jenny could stay while she went to university, but Jenny left. After a stint working as a teacher, Jenny Diski went on to become a productive writer – of 11 novels, of reviews and essays for the London Review of Books (who published a selection of these in Don’t (1998)), and of 9 non-fiction works. Jenny Diski and Doris Lessing remained in contact with each other until Lessing's death in 2013.