Gaynor Arnold was born and brought up in Cardiff, Wales. An only child, she grew
up in a rented house with her parents (both shop assistants), grandparents and
aunt. When she was 10 she asked her parents for a typewriter and proceeded
to 'churn out three plays a week'. She turned to reading fiction following
the death of her father when she was 11; it was then that she read David
Copperfield for the first of many times.
Although both her parents left school at 14 years old, she stayed on, eventually winning a place to read English at St. Hilda's College, Oxford, where she acted in many plays, notably at the Edinburgh Festival and in a tour of the U.S. She describes her time at Oxford as "bliss" - it "was such a hedonistic experience that, when I left, I thought I really must do something with my life."
After two years of social work training she married her husband, Nicolas (who she met at Oxford, where he was studying history at Magdalen College). They moved to Exeter in the south of England, where she frequently visited some of the most deprived and dysfunctional households.
Over time she says the job became increasingly grueling. Speaking to the British Daily Telegraph she says, "I took some time out after having my second child, and when I came back to working with children in care, it got harder and harder. The types of problems became more severe, and the whole lid came off the sexual-abuse issue, which we naively thought hardly ever happened when I started out. All the child protection processes became more entrenched, and it became harder and harder to do the job."
Since 1996 Arnold, now sixty-three years old, has worked for the Birmingham City Council as part of a recruitment team for adoption and fostering. She and Nicholas, a retired university lecturer, live in a large Victorian terraced house on the outskirts of the city. They have two adult children.
For almost 40 years, "jobs, children and life" got in the way of her writing. Then she joined a writers' group in the Nineties and rediscovered her love of writing.
Her first novel, Girl in a Blue Dress, was published in the UK in early 2009 (Aug 2009 in the USA). The book was long-listed for both the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker prize.
This biography was last updated on 09/01/2009.
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A Conversation with Gaynor Arnold,
author of Girl in a Blue Dress
What inspired you to write Girl in a Blue Dress?
It's a long story, starting in my childhood when I first became fascinated by the novels of Charles Dickens. Later, I graduated to reading about his life and became equally fascinated by his rags-to-riches story, his thwarted loves, his doomed marriage, and his secret mistress. The more I read, the more intriguing it seemed that a man so full of compassion for his fellow menand who was such a supporter of family life and the sanctity of the homecame to act so harshly towards his wife. I was fascinated by the contradictory psychology of the man, and the psychology of the whole marriage (a supremely Victorian marriage), but it did not occur to me for many years that there was a novel in it. After all, the facts were a matter of public record, painstakingly researched by professional biographers; what could I add? I was in the meantime busily writing about contemporary men and women. However, the "Charles Dickens story" niggled away at me and gradually the notion evolved that maybe I could write something from the point of view of the scorned wife, a woman about ...
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