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– Introduction –

I am interrupted at my desk, to hear the stop-start, digressive movements of the episode. As it is recounted. As it is remade into a serviceable anecdote. The other writer in the Oxford hotel is also stalled, but she says that she’s happy to join Anna for a drink. Two commissions are put on hold. Can I guess who the woman was? I don’t have to try, Anna tells me: Joanna Kavenna. I wonder, now, if Kavenna was working on ‘Realia’, her piece for this book? Does Anna’s intervention cast even the palest shadow on Kavenna’s text? ‘For some reason Anthony had put his invented woman in an invented house by his invented version of the Thames – and this was why he was in Oxford.’

Kavenna writes about Virginia Woolf ‘refusing the “reality” of others’. A place, a set, let us propose the lobby or the bar of a hotel in Oxford, a former bank. There is a theme, in the stories written by women, about bereavement. The drama begins after their fathers die: as fiction, as fiction derived from an actual trauma. Dark forebodings, paradoxically, bring a sharper light to the landscape. To the road of exile, the airport runway, the dead path down which ghosts shuffle. To validate the story, I would have to cook up the tension. Who was my wife meeting? Was the writer composing a blackmail letter to a former tutor? Had she drifted into an episode of Morse? Were these ­modest coincidences a blip in the space-time continuum? Did any of it really happen?

Five writers deliver. Five writers invoke other xv

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