Originally created 10/12/03

Writer is character in her own memoir



Her earliest dabbles in writing were love letters, and as the years passed, it was writing that became the love and life of Fay Weldon.

At the end of her new volume of memoirs, Ms. Weldon says that, with her past now analyzed on paper, she can go on in the only way she knows - by writing. Living, says the septuagenarian author, will instead "take a minor role."

In Auto Da Fay: A Memoir, Ms. Weldon uses her sharp wit, feminist views and gift of storytelling to narrate her life, from her birth in England in 1931 to her start as a professional writer in 1963. The book includes photos, among them a poignant portrait of her as a young girl painted by New Zealand artist Rita Angus.

Ms. Weldon takes readers from joyous childhood summers spent in the North Island of New Zealand with her physician father to her teenage years in London, when she had to duck into the underground to get warm. Although the memories range from precious to painful for Ms. Weldon, they are insightful and often amusing for readers. Collectively, her experiences reveal patterns and allow Ms. Weldon to deconstruct and understand her life as though she were a character in one of her novels - just what she had hoped to achieve by writing the book.

"I long for a day of judgment when the plot lines of our lives will be neatly tied, and all puzzles explained, and the meaning of events made clear," she writes.

She recognizes patterns - of marrying for the sake of convenience (which she shared with her mother and grandmother), an ability to easily change lifestyles, and a seemingly innate talent and love for writing.

er mother, Margaret Birkinshaw, and maternal grandfather, Edgar Jepson, were widely published in England.)

Ms. Weldon learned early on how life can deviate from the expected. At birth, she was given a man's name - Franklin Birkinshaw, after her father - in a country far from where she was supposed to have been, she says. Ms. Weldon was born in England, not in New Zealand, because her mother trekked back to her homeland to distance herself from the baby's father. But at 5 weeks old, Ms. Weldon made the six-week voyage to New Zealand with her mother and sister Jane.

Ms. Weldon's journey through the past paralleled an evolving society, with its industries, morals and pressures. She began life in a newly expanding colony with high expectations for the future, and came of age in postwar England, scrounging for food and shelter. During the birth of the women's movement, Ms. Weldon broke with tradition by earning a master's degree in economics and psychology, and by choosing to remain an unwed mother in her 20s.

She became a copywriter and delved into the "beat" world, where she mingled with, among others, Elias Canetti, whose celebrated novel, Auto-da-Fe, inspired the title of Ms. Weldon's book.

Ms. Weldon's regular readers will enjoy learning about the inspiration for much of her work, including the TV series Upstairs, Downstairs. She wrote the pilot and several episodes, recalling her teenage years in London, when she lived in the servants' quarters while an entirely different lifestyle took place in the lavish rooms above.

Her story concludes just as her career as a novelist begins. Readers may wonder why she chose to end her autobiography in 1963, without commenting on her rise to fame or experiences with it. But to Ms. Weldon, writing is life, so perhaps she intends to allow her body of work to serve as the second part of her autobiography, documenting her time as an author.