Katherine Langrish remembers Jan

I’m delighted to share this Facebook post from August 2022. Katherine Langrish is the author of the Troll Fell trilogy of novels, From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my Nine-Year-Old Self and Seven Steel Miles of Thistles. Meet her over at http://www.katherinelangrish.co.uk

I’m on a Jan Mark spree, and enjoying her work so much. Last four titles I’ve read: They Do Things Differently There – astonishingly brilliant – Stratford Boys, which wittily imagines Shakespeare’s first ever dramatic effort – Turbulence, about a new, emotionally needy neighbour who sets local families at odds, and The Sighting, about a family feud triggered by a UFO ‘sighting’. She was such a wonderful writer, and here’s a story about her.

I’d been reading her books for years, but I had never met her until the publication of my own second title, Troll Mill, for which my publisher HarperCollins arranged an event at Oxford’s QI club. Jan, I may say, had reviewed my debut novel Troll Fell for the Guardian and had some criticisms (though she liked my little Norse house spirit, the Nis). Anyway, I turned up at the QI club accompanied by my then teenage daughter, where the HarperCollins team (lovely people) were standing by to introduce me to Oxford’s brilliant and best.

However I failed to catch the name of a slim woman with dark, curly hair, so I turned to her and said: ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name, was it Mary?’

To which she replied, ‘No, I’m Jan Mark, but you can call me Mary if you like.’ 

I think my jaw dropped. I went, ‘Oh my God, I’m so glad I asked! I love your books! Especially…’ 

The upshot was that she spent a fair bit of the evening chatting to my daughter, who had also read some of her books and who shares the same name as her daughter – and she and I ended the evening singing together some ridiculous song we’d both learned at school. 

The last time I saw her was at a school event where I was able to tell her how much I’d enjoyed her most recent book, Riding Tycho. I’m glad I did, because she died very suddenly not long after and I felt, perhaps too boldly, that I’d been robbed of a friend. She was, aptly I think, described to me once as a prickly rose. And she was and is the most amazing, intelligent and interesting of writers.