Tributes to the late Hugh Cross from Sarah Frances, Wendy Robertson, Donna Maynard and Hannah Shaw.

You will find details of Hugh’s First book, Scenes from a Life, on the tab above here entitled ‘beginning writing in older age‘.

And now we have his new collection:

The Bombed House and other Stories

And here are four heartfelt tributes from people who knew him well.

‘The Funniest Man in Cambridge’: Peter Cook.

My Very Good Friend Hugh Cross.

By his friend Sarah Frances

I first met Hugh 37 years ago when I gate crashed a supper he was hosting for my father and stepmother. I had pitched up from my foster family, somewhat of a surprise as my father had never mentioned having four children to Hugh despite having known him for three years and making Hugh best man at his wedding.

Characteristic of Hugh I was greeted with generous warmth, the supper of fish fingers and chips shared, followed by a great evening playing cards, listening to Roxy Music interspersed with laughter and Hugh’s hallmark mischievous and insightful wit. Hugh never batted any eyelid despite the strangeness of my arrival; this was to prove typical of the grace, humanity and great generosity of spirit that Hugh displayed throughout all the years of our friendship.

Hugh loved reading and over the years introduced me to many of his favourite authors; Hardy, James Baldwin, William Trevor. Hugh had a keen intellect and wry humour; Peter Cook , who was a peer of Hugh’s at Cambridge university, considered Hugh the “funniest man at Cambridge”. Cook invited Hugh to meet him but the recent trauma of having lost both parents and family home within a short period had left its imprint, nerves took hold and Hugh didn’t make the meeting. Hugh always wondered what might have happened if he had met Cook and wrote a very moving poem about this which he shared with me last year.

While undertaking National Service Hugh had played the piano in the Officers Mess to top up his income. He was a great pianist and could play all the lounge bar classics; he had a great love of music which was shared by his sister who had trained at The Royal College of Music. Hugh loved listening to his sister play on her baby Grand when we would visit her at home in rural France. He also loved listening to vinyl records and the radio; evenings spent together would be to a background of music from Streisand through Odyssey, Peter Sellers, Round the Horne and Soft Cell!

When I met Hugh he was living in Spennymoor close to his beloved sister and her family. Times were tough – it was the 1980’s and the North East was scarred by mass unemployment. Hugh always made the most of all situations, despite how hard, and had joined The Settlement, the local Am Dram society. His theatrical exploits lit up many a shared evening; Hugh never failed to make me laugh. Hugh loved the theatre; he subscribed to The Stage and eagerly looked forward to every new opening of a Sondheim in London’s West End. The triple passions of literature, film and theatre stayed with him a lifetime.

As I went to University and moved away Hugh would write wonderful letters to me, which I treasure, letters which sparkled with his literary talent. He could bring humour and lightness to any situation but with warmth and compassion – never cruel or sarcastic. When I would return from my adventures it was to Hugh I would land; he would greet me in a smart pink shirt, bright tie and stripey socks topped with a huge Hughie smile and hug. He made me understand what it meant to be welcomed home.

Over the years Hughie dedicated himself as a carer to a fellow with severe mental health problems. This was an act of extreme kindness which took its toll; Hugh wrote about this experience very movingly in his first book. Hugh always kept learning, kept widening his intellect and never narrowed his vision or capacity to grow as he journeyed through life. He started going to gay clubs with me when he was 60 and those hilarious evenings remain a lasting and precious memory of such happy times together. So it was no surprise to me when Hugh, encouraged by prolific author Wendy Robertson, decided to take up writing “seriously” aged 80.

Hugh visited me in St Leonard’s after the publication of his first book. He described the process of writing and publishing this book as being like a birth of a baby. He felt his book was a legacy and in its writing he had contributed something of value to life. When I introduced Hugh to my friends they were in awe of his talent and literary achievement; Hugh as ever was modest and humble in response.The confidence borne from birthing his first book helped Hugh realise how much more he had to offer as a author so he quickly turned to writing his second book, helped by both his local librarian and writing buddy Donna. This second book would be an adventure into short stories as well as memoir – from here Hugh shared that he wanted to dive deeper into fiction writing, perhaps even a novel. He told me he had written 78 stories which, with Wendy’s help, had to be edited down to produce “ The Bombed House”.

We never know when life shall be full stopped. Just after Christmas, while Hugh was happily awaiting the publication of this second book, we laughed together about the recent diagnosis of arthritis in his neck; Hugh quipped “I’ve always been a pain in the neck”. Little did we know this was something much larger and malevolent: cancer. Hugh had always been very physically strong so the swift rampage of cancer which took him was shocking. We were unprepared for his sudden exit stage left. And he had so much more to write.

Hugh remains an inspiration to me and to all others he met along the way. He was a true gentleman, best friend, creative warrior and “the funniest man in Cambridge”. Hugh gave fully of himself without expecting or demanding anything in return; a precious spirit indeed. In his last long email to me Hugh urged me to listen to Elaine Stritch singing “I’m Still Here”, a classic Sondheim number. I urge you to listen too. Hugh may be gone but his books and his legacy live on

Such a Clever, Funny Man

Wendy Robertson,

Hugh was born in Leicester in 1936. He left school to do his national service in the army before obtaining his MA at Magdalen, College Cambridge. His passions in life proved to be literature, theatre and film. These passions came to full fruition when, in his early 80s he was inspired to write.

Our meeting came at a time when in my own writing I was focusing on the organic relationship between memoir and literary fiction – an interest which culminated in the publication of my short story collection Kaleidoscope.

Through some years Hugh and I had many in-depth conversations about this organic relationship between memoir and literary fiction. Before long –  he began to write his own short stories – built as they are just around elements in his own life – including places, school, family, friendship college, army life, hospital stays, and the day-to-day life in a small north-eastern town.

As a late-coming writer Hugh was unique as in these new writing adventures he was also building on lifelong scholarship and literary insight. We have to admit that this might not be available to many new writers in their eighth or ninth decade. I am always impressed that despite knowing the English literary canon almost off by heart, in his own writing he had never resorted to derivative imitations His writing was fresh and from the heart.  

The fictional structure of Hugh’s stories allowed him to tell some truths of his 20th century experiences while avoiding the self-indulgence of personal disclosure: in this way he transformed his own personal experience into insights with which many of us can identify.

I should explain here that following a fallow time due to illness, the restrictions and problems of the 2020 lockdown and the national emergency have delayed the publication on Damselfly of Hugh Cross’s new book. Hugh’s writing has been much admired here on Damselfly – see for example his essay on Iris Murdoch.

Sadly Hugh died early 2020 – but not before leaving for us this new collection of his writing.  However, constraints in the last months have prevented me from taking Hugh’s book through last edit to publication. But now here we have it – showcasing Hugh’s insights, sensitivity and real writing talents.

So it is a true delight for me to announce that Hugh’s second book, The Bombed House and Other Stories, is now in paperback and on Kindle and available on Amazon. Here

In the introduction to this new book Hugh says, ‘Last year I published my first book, Scenes From a Life. The positive reaction I have from readers has encouraged me to produce the second book of more recent writing.’

This second volume, The Bombed House and Other Stories, continues with a series of cameos, short stories and reviews that serve to illuminate aspects of 20th century life with which many people will identify.

So, The Bombed House Another and Other Stories will sit alongside Scenes From a Life as the work of a talented writer. These are two marvellous works from a writer who came late in life to the creative process of writing – in his early 80s – and flourished.

To whet your appetite I have listed here the contents list of this new book.

Growing Up: The Bombed House/ Inspiration/   Politics/ Naivety/ Initiative/ So Proud.

Recovery: Aunt Edie/ A Nightmare/ Sherry With Aunt Maud/ Freddie Gets A Shock/ The Village People/

Living: A New Friend/ Eat Drink And Be Merry/ Opinions/ Company For Visiting: Follies/ Reunion/ Reconnecting

Stories: Encounters/ Who’s Kidding Whom? / Harry’s Story/ Santini’s Ice Cream Parlour

Reading: Breakfast On Pluto/ The Green Knight/ The Book Of Evidence/ Less/ An Englishwoman In France

More tributes from people who accompanied and encouraged Hugh on this late life creative journey.

We Laughed a Lot.

Hannah Shaw, Library Assistant, Spennymoor Library

In his first book, Hugh thanked me for “dragging him into the twenty-first century”! To be honest I don’t remember it quite like that but I do have very fond memories of the two of us discussing how he was going to use his old laptop computer to write his memoires, and the very many one-hour dates we had in Spennymoor Library as he progressed over the following months.

We laughed a lot, and I think he told me much more about his life than ever got to print!! Our sessions soon became my favourite time of the week and, although I was delighted when he finally learned enough about things to work on his own, it did make me sad to know that he wouldn’t be coming in the door every Monday at 2pm.

As well as using the library as a place for learning and borrowing books, Hugh was also a well-liked and respected member of the Spennymoor Library Book Group. It has to be said that his views on the monthly book tended to differ somewhat to other members and he always saw a different side to the story to other book group members – but his notes were always so well written and his point of view so well put across that few could disagree with him for long!

I continue to miss Hugh a great deal, in particular his wonderful sense of humour and the mischievous glint in his eye. But it brings me comfort to be able to read both his books, which I know he was immensely proud of, and hear to his voice in my head as I do so.

He was so funny, brave and dear. I miss him.

Donna Maynard PhD

Preview(opens in a new tab)

I met Hugh at a memoir writing course led by Wendy Robertson.  Wendy felt that Hugh and I would make good writing buddies and we began to meet fortnightly to discuss writing and books: Our conversations enriched my life.  Hugh was an astute, intelligent reader who absolutely thrived on discussions about literature and writing. His analysis of a book was always sharp and insightful, sometimes scathing, often wickedly funny.

He was always thrilled to be introduced to a book by an author new to him – this, because he was so well-read – was difficult. If attracted by a writer he would digest that writer’s entire body of work.  

I have Hugh’s first book on my bedside table, seeing his name will bring to my mind something clever, well-considered and rational that he said, often rounded-off with a flourish of Pythonesque humour! He was so funny, brave and dear. I miss him.

HUGH CROSS 1937 – 2020

RIP

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