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Guild Gathers to Honour O'Rall

Puckering Gazette Oct 2, 1999 - Lumpy Gaites
Crowds gathered at the Upper Puckering Community Library on Tuesday night to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Helena O’Rall’s bestseller Last Taxi to Kensington. The library, in conjunction with the South Downs Writers’ Guild, hosted a gala evening.  This included a lecture by noted literary critic Eugenia Dowley, a dramatic reading from the text by librarian Katherine Crowder-Switts as Loretta and Guild member Ian Sonderleigh as Arthur, and a fine reception.

Miss Dowley traced the history of the book’s success, noting that whilst originally dismissed by critics as "just another romance novelist," O’Rall has come to be recognized as a pioneer in feminist literature. Her heroine, the young heiress Loretta Princeton, denied her heart’s wish, Sussex farmer Arthur Kingsley, to answer the call of God and country as an RAF nurse. "Through her young lovers, O’Rall profoundly influenced a generation’s understanding of the complexity of women’s experience during that troubled but triumphant period of our nation’s history," concluded Dowley. "Loretta Princeton became a guiding light for later feminist authors."

After a half century, the identity of the author who adopted the pen name of Helena O’Rall remains a mystery. Her most famous novel, set in wartime Britain, reveals the author’s deep understanding of the West Sussex way of life. Indeed, much of the story unfolds during Loretta’s fortnight with her aunt in Puckering, and features local shops and businesses, as well as scenes set at the Upper Puckering Parish Church and in the surrounding countryside. Following the success of Taxi, O’Rall authored three additional novels, the last published in 1963.

"Based on the overwhelming success of our program tonight, we’d like to host other events honouring authors who write about local themes," said Miss Crowder-Switts. "We’re in the planning stages for an afternoon program highlighting Miss Betsy Winches’ Ten Cups a Day: A Tea Drinker’s Guide to Health, and have begun discussions on an evening built around Nigel Rockmorton’s Horses, Hounds and Hedges: Rides through Puckering and the South Downs.—Lumpy Gaites