In Memoriam Siobhan Dowd
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd August, 2007
I was up at the crack of dawn this morning, in order to write an obituary of the writer and human rights activist Siobhan Dowd (who died on Tuesday, aged only 47) for the Guardian. Even when one has known someone for years, there’s always lots of research to do, and people to phone and email, before sitting down to craft a piece within a set number of words. Then one has to think hard what to highlight and decide the pitch at which the article should be tuned. In Siobhan’s case, this was virtually self-determined, as she had such a strong and motivated personality, with clearly defined goals and activities.
I knew her through English PEN, which campaigns for the humane treatment and preferably release of writers and journalists incarcerated for their work. Siobhan edited the first PEN anthology of writings by such prisoners, as well as carrying out meticulous case-work relating to individuals. Later, she developed her own, strong fictional voice, becoming a writer of distinction for children and young adults. The tragedy was that not much more than a year after her first book came out, she was dying of cancer, and at least two of the works that she is likely to be remembered for will be posthumous. When so many people remain wilfully ignorant of some of the terrible things that are done around the world — and I do not exonerate Britain completely in that respect — it is important that there are brave voices such as Siobhan’s speaking out.