Laying the Foundation for Literature's Future; What Makes Someone Use Their Inheritance to Set Up a Trust for Women Writers? Caroline Foulkes Went to Meet Sarah Hosking to Find Out
Byline: Caroline Foulkes
Somewhere between the washing of the nighties and pyjamas and the scrambling of yet another pan of eggs, Sarah Hosking had an idea.
Not an idea that would change the world; not the kind that would bring world peace or a cure for some illness.
Just a simple idea, that would make a difference. One that would - willhopefully change someone's life.
It was her mother that set her off. 'I was cleaning up for her, and she said to me 'I don't ever want your brother to have to do this',' she says.
'And suddenly there it was - zing - this idea.
'I thought of all the women throughout history, clever women, witty women, glorious women, who had to do work way below their abilities just because they were women.
'And I decided to help them.' Her brother, meanwhile, was still in bed. Sarah, now 61, was thinking of the kind of women who, like her, dropped everything to spend years egg-scrambling and nightiewashing for ageing and ailing parents.
Women over 40, women who had a talent, a gift for writing, but who never quite got their chance.
The kind of women that Virginia Woolf was thinking of when she wrote 'a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.'
'I like making things happen,' she says, brewing coffee in the tiny pantile floored kitchen of her home near Stratford, where a collection of delicate painted eggs swing gently in the breeze beneath a feather trimmed archway.
'I have always made things happen. I've worked in the arts all my life getting together exhibitions, writing books, handing out grants.'
She scoops up the tray and pads across the kitchen floor and up the step into the tiny book lined room she calls the parlour, followed by her little tan and black dog, Bessie. 'Women have such a rough time,' she explains, trickling the coffee out of the pot and into large white cups.
'When my parents became ill, I dropped everything and went to look after them. So many women have to do that; it's what's expected of them.'
'When they died, they left rather more money than I expected, about pounds 100,000.'
She could have done anything with that money. She could have gone on a cruise, run off to South America, bought a racehorse. Although there have been men in her life - 'one married, two gay and the other crackers' - she has never married, so there was no one holding her back: 'Men are a closed book to me. I always used to be bad at money and bad at men. I got better at money.'
Instead, she invested it in her idea, buying a tiny cottage in Clifford Chambers and setting up Hosking Houses Trust, to help women writers over the age of 40 by offering them a place to work from for a year.
'It took a year of hassle to get it through the charity commission and about pounds 500 in solicitor's bills,' she says.
'It's not a big place, but you cut your coat to fit your cloth, don't you?'
Although she originally intended the Trust to come into being on her death, when her cottage would pass to Hosking Houses, she later got the chance to buy another house nearby for pounds 55,000.
Walking down the path which leads from her cottage to Church Cottage, she says the tiny two room house, which dates back to medieval times, is 'chocolate boxy, a bit like a doll's house.'
At just 15 feet square, the oak beamed, wisteria-draped cottage might sound too small even for dolls, but was once home to a family of eight. …