“I put the phone down,” Mr. Goff said. “She asked the jurors again if they had changed their minds. “Then I’ll vote for Coetzee,” she said. I let number two run to the phone. I heard another “Wait a minute,” but ignored it. Mr. Coetzee won the prize.
Mrs. Weldon was born Franklin Birkinshaw in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, on 22 September 1931, the second child of Frank Birkinshaw, a physician, and Margaret (Jepson) Birkinshaw, who herself went on to write novels as Margaret Birkinshaw. (Her mother’s father, Edgar Jepson, had been a prolific author of popular fiction.)
Her parents lived in New Zealand not long before she was born when an earthquake separated them. Her mother, who was pregnant with her at the time, returned to her native England for the birth, taking her eldest daughter, Jane, then 2, with her.
Mrs Birkinshaw soon reestablished contact with her husband and returned to New Zealand. But the couple divorced some years later and she returned to England with her daughters, where she worked as a housekeeper and a janitor in the subway before writing novels.
After a secondary education in North London, Mrs. Weldon attended the University of St Andrews in Scotland, graduating with a degree in economics and psychology.
Her early adult years described a remarkable trajectory. As what she called a “lost girl” in the great city of London, she did a Cold War propaganda writing spell at the British Foreign Office, and also worked for a time as a reader’s advice columnist at The Daily Mirror.
In her early twenties she had a son, Nicolas, by Colyn Davies, variously described as a folk singer, busker and nightclub doorman. She refused to marry him, but ended up in a bizarre, short, and unhappy marriage to a man 25 years her senior, Ronald Bateman, a high school principal. He needed a son for his resume, she wrote, but preferred her to have sex with others and urged her to work as a nightclub hostess and escort.