Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Third Age: A History Lesson

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Third Age: A History Lesson

Article excerpt

Not many authors publish a book at the age of 90, and fewer still do so when they are already halfway through another book. Can there be more than one in that position, and who is also virtually blind?

Lorna Arnold, official British nuclear historian since the 1960s, passed another milestone in a remarkable career this past week with the launch in Oxford of Britain, Australia and the Bomb, an account of British nuclear tests in the 1950s. And, with six chapters of her autobiography written, the next milestone is not far off. Arnold works with pen and paper, even though she cannot read the words. "I just about know that I'm writing on the paper and not the table top, though I sometimes stray. If any thing interrupts me it's very hard to find the sequence again, so I never write in short spells, only when I can find a few hours when I won't be disturbed."

The scripts are typed by a friend in Hampshire and edited by another in Warwickshire before they return to Arnold in Oxford, where she has a scanner that converts them into speech. "The results are sometimes funny. It read one sentence as: 'This is a revel a tory book.'"

The nuclear book, a thorough revision of one she first published in 1987, was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence and co-written with the academic Mark Smith. It contains new, previously classified information that focuses in particular on the progress of weapon design, and incorporates research and ideas from before she went blind four or five years ago. …

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