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Saturday 20 January 2018

Anne McCaffrey

Irish-based science-fiction writer's career was made by dragons, says Liam Collins

THE prolific writer Anne McCaffrey, who died at her Wicklow home, 'Dragonhold', was a best-selling science-fiction and fantasy writer who sold enormous quantities of books world-wide, many of them relating to her obsession with those mythical creatures, dragons.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA on April 1, 1926, Anne McCaffrey attended the prestigious women's university, Radcliffe College, graduating with a degree in Slavonic languages and literature.

In 1940, her younger brother Kevin spent time in hospital with a broken leg and Anne would later incorporate him into her novel, The Smallest Dragonboy, which was the beginning of a series that would make her famous.

In 1950 she married Horace Wright Johnson, who worked for DuPont, and they had three children together. The family grew up in various locations in the United States and for a brief period in Germany, when her husband was transferred there.

In 1968, Anne McCaffrey visited Ireland for the first time, and immediately after filing for divorce in 1970, she moved with her two youngest children to Ireland, where the new Charlie Haughey legislation had recently exempted writers and artists from income tax. It is unlikely that she was influenced by this incentive at the time, as she had not yet had any commercial success as a writer.

She had written and published a number of short stories while in America but in 1971, after she had settled in Dublin, she quickly completed her "works in progress", Dragonquest and two novels -- The Mark of Merlin and The Ring of Fear -- which were the earliest of the hundreds of book she published in the years that followed.

In her early days in Dublin, she moved from rented house to rented house, struggling to make ends meet. She sold the rights to one of her first books, Dragonboy, for a mere $154 to get some cash. But she was beginning to make a name for herself in the field of mass-market science fiction, which was dominated by McCaffrey and another ex-pat in Ireland, Harry Harrison.

After she was signed to the publisher Futura to write books about dinosaurs for children, she became a one-woman publishing industry and was able to take out a mortgage on the home, Dragonhold, near Newcastle, in Co Wicklow, where she spent the rest of her life.

Her dragons were based in the mythical world of 'Pern', which soon became McCaffrey's universe.

Her son would later reflect that she "first set dragons free on Pern and then was herself freed by her dragons" -- meaning she no longer had money worries because of the success of her books.

She then went on to write six 'Pern' novels and became one of the best known and prolific science fiction and fantasy writers in the world. She regarded herself as a writer of science fiction and enjoyed "cutting them short" when she was referred to as a "fantasy" writer. Her books won a host of awards and the McCaffrey family became a writing industry.

Anne McCaffrey had three children: Alec Anthony, born 1952; Todd, born in 1956; and her daughter Georgeanne, (Gigi) born in 1959.

She suffered a serious heart attack in 2000 and the following year was afflicted with a stroke.

According to her daughter, the writer was getting ready to return to hospital last Monday because she was feeling "puny" when she collapsed and died.

Her daughter and her son-in-law Geoffrey Kennedy were with her at the time.

"We were well-prepared and knew we were on 'golden time' with Mum these past 10 years and more," Georgeanne wrote on the archive dedicated to her mother.

As well as winning numerous awards for her fiction, Anne McCaffrey was a "great cook, magnificent mother, doting grandmother, ardent quilter, knitter, bridge player, horsewoman, fencer, actress, singer and all round nice person", added her daughter.

"We know that we haven't lost Mum -- that she has truly passed on her legacy of love and honour to all those who were touched by her -- and that we have only to open one of her books to find her again," Georgeanne concluded.

The funeral service of Anne McCaffrey was held in Bray, Co Wicklow, yesterday and she was buried in nearby Kilquade cemetery.

Sunday Independent

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