Friday, July 20, 2012

'ANITA: A Memoir' - Anne Dunhill's moving book about her late daughter

The veteran Palestinian-British publisher Naim Attallah takes a particularly hands-on approach to the selection of titles for publication by London-based Quartet Books, of which he is chief executive officer. If a manuscript takes his fancy, he will promptly give the green light for its publication and once it is published he takes a personal interest in promoting it, including on Twitter and on his blog Naim Attallah Online.

For the British novelist, translator, language teacher and former model Anne Dunhill it was a Facebook friend request from Attallah that paved the way for the recent publication by Quartet of her book ANITA: A Memoir. Anne wrote the book as a tribute to her eldest daughter Anita Ferruzzi who died of pancreatic cancer in 2009, at the age of only 35.

In one of the instances of synchronicity that seem to recur in Dunhill's life, she received Attallah's Facebook friend request just as she had finished writing the memoir and was facing the task of trying to find a publisher. "I still don't know what miracle prompted him to make the friend request," Anne says. When she sent Attallah a message accepting his friend request, she mentioned her book.

Speaking at the launch of ANITA: A Memoir at the Phoenix Arts Club, Attallah recalled that when he and Anne became friends on Facebook about a year ago "she told me about her manuscript and I invited her to show it to me. I read it over one weekend and rang her on the Monday to say how pleased I would be to publish it."

The London newspaper the Evening Standard commented: "Aspiring writers take note: we all knew about Facebook's power to advertise a book, but comely heiress Anne Dunhill has demonstrated how the networking website can be used actually to get one published."

Dunhill had never met Attallah before he sent his Facebook friend request but "I'd often read about Quartet and all the glamorous young women working there over the years and wished I was one of them. So even though I was far from young when I got there I was thrilled to be part of it, and the experience completely lived up to expectations."

She adds that after Quartet took her book on, "Naim was a joy to work with, very quick in responding to everything I sent him and always constructive in his comments. He also chose the perfect editor for me, Anna Stothard, who took endless trouble and who I've become extremely fond of."

Anne was among the guests present at the Royal Yacht Club in London's Knightsbridge in April to hear Attallah's talk to the British Lebanese Association   on the theme of the  Life and Adventures of a Dedicated Publisher

Anita and Anne

Bereavement is always painful, but for a parent the death of a child is especially devastating. Anne has written a moving and revealing book which is likely to ring bells with others who are on the long, often lonely journey through grief with its tumultuous emotions, memories and sometimes regrets.
In ANITA: A Memoir Anne recounts Anita’s life, and chronicles her illness and death, depicting the dynamics of the family and the sometimes difficult mother-daughter relationship.  The eventful life stories of mother and daughter are skilfully interwoven in the text. 

Anne is the granddaughter of Alfred Dunhill, founder of the Dunhill tobacco company. But she describes media references to her as "the Tobacco Heiress" as irritating and inaccurate. Her father only worked for the family firm for a limited time, and by the time Anne was born he had long stopped working for it. Dunhill's parents had been living together for six years when she was born but her father was still married to another woman. In 1951, when Anne was four, her father's wife died and her parents married.  Her father died in a car accident when she was 12, a tragedy with far-reaching effects on Anne.

When Anne's aunt Mary Dunhill published a book entitled Our Family Business in 1979 she referred to Anne’s father and his previous girlfriends - but Anne and her mother were left out. Anne says that her father and Mary had fallen out over money and had not spoken for many years “so it’s possible she didn’t even realise my parents had married.”

Anita was blonde and beautiful like her mother, and a striking five feet 11 inches tall. Anne recalls how when Anita was 15 and getting more beautiful by the day model scouts  constantly stopped her in the street. In early 2009 things were going well for Anita. At 35 she was "at her most beautiful" her mother writes. She had overcome earlier problems with drink and drugs and had left behind a dysfunctional marriage and various broken love affairs. Anita had trained as a Pilates instructor and was successful in building up a Pilates business first in Sierra Leone, where she lived with a boyfriend for a time, and then in London. She had appeared on BBC Breakfast TV in August 2008 demonstrating Pilates, which was in the news because the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was reported to be practising it.  

Anne and Anita modelling in 1979

The first indication that all was not well with Anita's health came in late spring 2009 when she started to  suffer from stomach pains. The  first doctor she went to put the symptoms down to stress and suggested that she might have a pre-ulcerous condition. Anita was indeed under stress: her Italian painter father Roberto -"Bobo" - Ferruzzi who lived in Venice had been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas not long before, although he had not been told of his diagnosis. Anita's own pains started not long after his cancer diagnosis. (Bobo would outlive his daughter, dying in February 2010).

An ultrasound revealed Anita had lumps in her liver and she was sent for a CT scan. When she went with her mother to get the results, they arranged to meet first at an Italian cafĂ© in Tottenham Court Road. Anne writes: “I saw her walking towards me, slim and graceful in her summer clothes and smiling and waving as she spotted me. No, I told myself disbelievingly. It’s quite impossible there can be anything seriously wrong with her.”

But the scan showed she had a tumour in her pancreas and several smaller ones in her liver. And on 1 July 2009 came the shocking diagnosis: Anita had stage four cancer of the pancreas. She was likely to survive about three months without chemotherapy, or six months with the treatment. Anita decided she would not have chemotherapy, and opted for NHS treatment in the Royal Marsden hospital.

Anne was desperate for her daughter to go to the Fuda Cancer Hospital in China, but Anita declined this proposal. Anne says: "After Anita decided not to go to China, things between us were never the same again because I knew she was going to die and there was nothing I could do to save her." Anne still believes "one hundred per cent" that going to the clinic in China would have been Anita's only chance.

Anita died in the Royal Marsden Hospital in August, just six weeks after the diagnosis.There is a  touching account of her final days spent mainly out of hospital, with members of the family rallying round.  All was  not gloom: "One therapy we all agreed on was the value of laughter. We started a campaign to make Anita laugh every night" with the help of funny films and DVDs.

One consolation for Anne was that her relationship with Anita had markedly improved in the period before Anita became ill. “Because we were both single for most of her last year, we spent a lot of time together and became closer than we had probably ever been before,” Anne writes. They were "extraordinarily close" during the Christmas 2008 break and  “it seemed that Anita and I had healed our relationship and that all was peace and harmony between us at last."

The lives of Anita and Anne were in some aspects parallel - including the early loss of a father (in Anne's case through death, in Anita's thorugh separation), stints of modelling, an urge to write, and the attracting of numerous suitors. Anne was a debutante during the 1964 season and then enjoyed success as a model. In 1965-69 she modelled in London and Paris and in Milan, where she spent six months. 

In 1968 she married a man named Ken Sweet, who turned out to be violent. A month after the breakup of the marriage she went on a Mediterranean tour "in the footsteps of St Paul" with her Aunt Dorothy. Terrified of Sweet, Anne was reluctant to return  home and so stayed on in Venice. There in 1969, at the age of 22, she met Bobo who was 19 years her senior. "I moved in with him two weeks after our first date for all the wrong reasons," she writes. Bobo was married when he and Anne met: his Danish-German wife was seeking a divorce. Anne and Bobo were together for six years, but never married. They had a son, Ingo, and then Anita was born. Anne thinks what what went wrong between her and Bobo was having children: "Before that we had been so carefree." 

Anita and her father Roberto Ferruzzi - Bobo - in 2009 

In 1975 Anne and Bobo broke up and she married Anthony Russell-Roberts, the nephew of dancer and choreographer Frederick Ashton. Anne and Anthony had two daughters, Tabitha and Juliet, and in 1983 he became the Administrative Director of the Royal Ballet. Anne went on Royal Ballet tours including to Moscow and Australia. But after 20 years of marriage, "I learnt that, to quote Princess Diana, there were three people in my marriage” and she and Anthony separated.  

Anne subsequently had a relationship with Jeremy Isaacs, General Director of the Royal Opera House, which began on a Royal Ballet tour of Japan. Isaacs was married, although Anne thought at the time, she now thinks mistakenly, that his wife was  having an affair.  The affair ended in a blaze of tabloid scandal. “I got my decree nisi in December 1995 and shortly after that Jeremy was doorstepped by a news cameraman coming out of my house. He accused me of selling him to the newspapers and dropped me flat”. Anne managed to get a letter from the journalist concerned, saying that Anne had neither tipped her off nor been paid, and she sent it to Jeremy who apologised, but it was too late. 

Anne's memoir of Anita is not the first time she has turned her own experiences into a book. She had always wanted to be a writer, and has kept a diary for every day of her life from her 11th birthday, apart from the period 1966-70. Anne's first novel A Darker Shade of Love was about her ill-fated marriage to Ken Sweet. She wrote it in 1971 in less than four weeks but it was not published until 20 years later, in 1991, by American Michael O’ Mara and his wife Lesley, through the publishing company Michael O'Mara Books.

The association with Michael O'Mara had begun when, through Anthony, Anne was commissioned to ghostwrite a book by dancer Marguerite Porter, Ballerina: A Dancers Life. After the original publisher Pavilion wanted changes, Dunhill and Porter took the book elsewhere and Michael O' Mara published it and went on to publish her two novels.
Anne's second novel Web of Passion was based on her relationship with Bobo, although she made his character an antique dealer rather than an artist. The publisher's blurb describes the novel as "a story of sexual passion and intrigue set in Venice and London in the 1970s." 

Anita also aspired to become a writer, and while working part time for the Prince's Trust she wrote a novel about her stormy marriage. Anne quotes parts of the novel in ANITA: A Memoir

In 1986, at the age of 39, Anne started a  BA in English and Italian at Royal Holloway, University of London. She was asked to translate a feminist Renaissance work by Venetian Lucrezia Marinella, entitled The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men. It was published in 2000 by the University of Chicago Press in the series The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. In 2002 she did an MA in Representations of Italy at Royal Holloway. Alongside her studies and translating she taught  English at the famous Berlitz Language Centre in London. 

Anne has always searched for the spiritual dimension of existence. In the early days of her relationship with Bobo she wrote: “I seem totally liberated – sexually etc – but perhaps I find it easier to liberate myself sexually than to begin the painful struggle of spiritual liberation.” In 2002 she converted to Catholicism, something she had been drawn to doing for many years. At the same time she retains an interest in  astrology, clairvoyance, healing and  alternative therapies. 

 The pages of ANITA: A Memoir are crowded with people, incidents, encounters and places. An  index would be useful: perhaps one will be provided in a future edition.

by Susannah Tarbush


John said...

This article is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand, Thanks for sharing the picture it has great detail in it and i really appreciate your true artistic work!

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starbush said...

Thanks John! I appreciate your comments.

starbush said...
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