Prolific Lewes writer with the ability to amaze

Lewes novelist Mary Hocking, who has died aged 92, epitomised the lonely, struggling author as she worked in her small attic room.

Little did she realise that one day her books would be in great demand.

She was a prolific writer, producing a total of 24 books between 1961 and 1996.

From her cottage in Church Row, Lewes, she wove her stories; first hand-written and then on her beloved Remington typewriter.

In later years she believed her “days in the sun”, as she called them, were over. Little did she realise that on the internet, readers and admirers were clamouring to know what had happened to her since the last of her books, The Meeting Place, was published.

Born in in London in 1921, Mary was educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Girls School, Acton. During the Second World War she served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens) attached to the Fleet Air Arm Meteorology branch and then briefly with the Signal Section in Plymouth.

Writing was in her blood. Juggling her work as a local government officer in Middlesex Education Department with writing, at first short stories for magazines and pieces for The Times Educational Supplement, she then had her first book, The Winter City, published in 1961.

The book was a success and enabled Mary to relinquish her full time occupation to devote her time to writing. Even so, when she came to her beloved Lewes in 1961, she still took a part-time appointment, as a secretary, with the East Sussex Educational Psychology department.

Long before family sagas had become cult viewing, she had embarked upon the ‘Fairley Family’ trilogy, Good Daughters, Indifferent Heroes, and Welcome Strangers, books which give her readers a faithful, realistic and uncompromising portrayal of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times, between the years of 1933 and 1946.

For many years she was an active member of the ‘Monday Lit’, a Lewes-based group which brought in current writers and poets to speak about their work. Equally, she was an enthusiastic supporter of Lewes Little Theatre, where she found her role as ‘prompter’ the most satisfying, and worshipped at the town’s St Pancras RC Church.

Close friend Jenny Barrett said: “Highly intelligent, warm, good humoured, always generous, Mary had an insatiable appetite for knowledge whether it be books, theatre, the cinema, religion, or world affairs, she just wanted to know your opinion. She would amaze, most especially in her love of poetry. Well into her eighties, she could quote verse after verse of her favourite poets.”