Alison Selford obituary | Books

My mother, Alison Selford, who has died aged 102, was a journalist and author who began her career writing for the leftwing Daily Worker newspaper before being cured, as she put it, of communism. She then spent a period as a novelist and playwright before returning to journalism, latterly with Euromoney magazine.

Born in Hendon, north-west London, to Winifred (nee Fairfield), a housewife, and Norman Macleod, an Admiralty civil servant, Alison was educated at Westcliff high school for girls in Essex before studying at the Central School of Art and Design in London.

As soon as the second world war broke out she joined the Land Army, serving until 1941, when she switched to become an ambulance attendant in Bristol and then moved in 1942 to work as a shipyard welder in the docks there.

In 1944 she began writing for the Daily Worker (now the Morning Star), after being taken on a one month trial in place of a journalist who had been called up. Before her trial had ended, the paper gave her a permanent job.

In 1945 she married James Hackshaw and they had a daughter, Catherine. The marriage ended in divorce the following year, and in 1950 she got married again, to my father, Jack Selford, a teacher.

Alison continued to work for the Daily Worker as a reporter and arts critic until 1957, when she resigned in protest at the paper’s unwillingness to criticise the Soviet Union’s crushing of democratic reform movements in eastern Europe. She also ended her longstanding membership of the Communist party of Great Britain.

While bringing up her two daughters she began to focus on other writing, including a play, Dear Augustine, which was staged by the Royal Court theatre in London in 1958. A second play, The Wrong Year, formed the basis for her first novel, the Heretic, which was published in 1965 under her maiden name, Alison Macleod.

She had a further five historical novels published over the next few years, including The Muscovite (1971) and The Jesuit (1972), but stopped after her last one, The Portingale (1976), took an inordinately long time to be released.

She then returned to journalism, initially as a subeditor on the Times newspaper’s business news section and then for 10 years with the monthly magazine Euromoney, where she started as a subeditor but was eventually sent all over the world to interview ministers of finance. In 1990 she was, according to her own account, fired from Euromoney, at the age of 70, for being too active in the National Union of Journalists.

After her Daily Worker days Alison joined the Labour party but eventually became an unrepentant admirer of Margaret Thatcher. Her last book, The Death of Uncle Joe (1997), was a memoir set in the period when she became disillusioned with communism.

Jack died in 2003. Alison is survived by Catherine and me.

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