Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Journalist Left Gift of Fiction after Her Death; When She Died in January 2015 Few People Had Any Idea That Eileen McCabe Was Writing a Novel. DAVID WHETSTONE Tells the Story of Yours in Sisterhood

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Journalist Left Gift of Fiction after Her Death; When She Died in January 2015 Few People Had Any Idea That Eileen McCabe Was Writing a Novel. DAVID WHETSTONE Tells the Story of Yours in Sisterhood

Article excerpt

THE journalist and broadcaster Eileen McCabe was a respected figure in her native North East for many years - but another string to her bow emerged this year.

Eileen worked on newspapers, on the radio and, for a long time, at Tyne Tees TV as a presenter and producer. She then moved into public relations, ultimately setting up a consultancy with a former Tyne Tees colleague.

Politics were a special interest. She interviewed Harold Wilson several times after meeting him at the Durham Miners' Gala.

Years later she co-authored (with his former agent John Burton) a book about Tony Blair - or, more specifically, about the religious beliefs that became a factor in his period at 10 Downing Street.

It was called We Don't Do God, echoing the words used by Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's director of strategy and communications, to halt a particular line of questioning during a newspaper interview with the PM.

Facts, as you can see, were Eileen's bread and butter for most of her life. But she wasn't averse to dabbling in fiction.

Eileen's second book after We Don't Do God only came to light after her death at the age of 69 - after a long illness - on January 3 last year.

Yours in Sisterhood is the novel she had been working on for several years, rather privately, it seems. "Eileen was quite secretive about it," recalls her husband, John Ward.

"She hated me to stand and look over her shoulder while she was on the computer so I didn't really know it was happening."

Eileen had become fascinated with a figure from history, an early 19th-Century powerhouse called Princess Dorothea von Lieven who, according to the author's note attached to her manuscript, was "one of the most formidable and sensual women of Regency times".

"Casual curiosity" - to quote Eileen again - turned to "intense interest".

In his own foreword to the book, John explains: "In all of our years together, Eileen had always been drawn to powerful females, those that took risks and stepped outside societal conventions."

Dorothea von Lieven certainly broke the mould.

Born in 1785 in Riga, in today's Latvia, she was married at the age of 14 to 25-year-old Prince Christopher von Lieven, a soldier who became a leading Russian diplomat.

In 1812, when Napoleon was preparing to invade Russia, von Lieven was appointed Russian ambassador to Great Britain and sent to London, accompanied by his wife.

Von Lieven held on to that position until 1834, ample time for Dorothea to make many influential friends and prove that she was more than her husband's equal.

Tsar Nicholas I wrote to his foreign minister in 1825 that it was a pity she wore skirts. "She would have made an excellent diplomat," he explained.

Talking about his late wife's book, John makes clear that Dorothea was anything but dull. …

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