Sayers’s Daily Grind



Every writer is different. Each has his or her own way of working, a method for getting words down on paper. Some are procrastinators, some are methodical, some write in between juggling a daytime job and caring for a family.
Dorothy Leigh Sayers (June 3, 1893 –December 17, 1957) was a novelist, playwright, essayist, translator, copywriter, and poet. She is most famous for writing the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels and short stories, but she was also a serious student of ancient and modern languages who translated Dante and wrote the scripts for a brilliant but controversial cycle of radio dramas on the life of Jesus.
In 1924, when she was 30, Sayers secretly gave birth to an illegitimate son, John Anthony who was cared for by her aunt and cousin and passed off as her nephew to friends. Two years later, she married, not the father, but a Captain Oswald Atherton "Mac" Fleming, a crapulous Scottish journalist, and they both worked for a living, until he was invalided out of his employment due to worsening health as a result of wounds received during the Great War. The marriage was not a happy one, because of Mac’s drinking, truculence and his domineering attitude towards his wife (which nevertheless proved unfruitful because of Dorothy’s strong spirit). He died in 1950.
During their years together, Sayers held down a job as a copywriter at S.H. Bensons, an advertising firm, and would write in the evenings after work. In the nine years that she worked there, she managed to produce seven full-length Wimsey books, and one volume of short stories. The average length of these books was about 90k words. But that was not all her output. She was a member of the Modern Languages Association from 1920 and contributed to their journal as well as penning a translation of Tristan and Iseult, which was written by Thomas of Britain in the twelfth century; she also contributed detective stories featuring Wimsey and Montague Egg to various magazines. All this she managed to accomplish while running a household, attending to chores, scrimping and saving and continuing her academic studies. In 1929 she left Bensons to concentrate on her writing. Latterly she became famous as a lecturer on religious subjects, wrote many articles and letters, and in the 1940's began to translate Dante, for which she had to teach herself Italian.

Hers is a story of dogged effort, sometimes under adverse circumstances, that paid off. She always expressed mild distaste for the writing of detective fiction because she felt it wasn’t “serious” work. Serious or not, her detective books have become classics of the genre and eventually brought in enough income that she did not need to worry about money again. In the end, Dorothy L. Sayers became a household name and secured her place as a doyenne of twentieth-century detective fiction.

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