Ted Hughes's daughter gets lottery aid for life story Nicholas Hellen, Social Affairs Editor

From Sunday Times, 4th August 2002

THE daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, who in the past has lashed out at others who have cashed in on her parents' tragic lives, has accepted a 50,000 lottery grant to write her life story. Frieda Hughes, who was not yet three when her mother committed suicide in 1963, is to chart each of the first 40 years of her own life through poetry and painting.

The grant, to be announced this week, has been awarded by Nesta the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts a fund chaired by Lord Puttnam and intended primarily to help inventors market their ideas.

Previous projects have included a driverless taxi, a new kind of bicycle pedal and a maths agony aunt.

Hughes's book, entitled Forty Years, may prove to be a publishing phenomenon. To be published in Britain by Bloodaxe Books, it has also attracted interest from HarperCollins in America and Fremantle in Australia.

Hughes, whose third husband is the Hungarian painter Laszlo Lukacs, has inherited the striking good looks of her mother. She caused a sensation when she accepted a posthumous literary award on her father's behalf and read out a confessional letter in which he admitted he might have enjoyed a more "fruitful career" had he made public his letters years sooner.

The grant of lottery money is likely to be controversial. Clarissa Roche, a friend of Plath, was critical of Nesta's decision. "Lottery money is supposed to be charitable how is this a good cause?" she said.

Hughes, who initially sought a career as a painter to avoid the burden of comparison with her poet parents, said her father had warned her to steel herself against unfair criticism. "He told me that `everybody's going to make comparisons. Don't write differently because of it'," she said.

She disclosed that it was her return, two years ago, to the house where she was born which persuaded her that she was ready to confront her past through poetry, despite some scathing reviews. The occasion was her unveiling of a blue plaque to her mother at 3 Chalcot Square, London.

According to Neil Astley, managing director of Bloodaxe, the poems will go much further than her previous oblique references to her inheritance.

In one poem, Readers, she lashed out at those who attempted to hijack her mother's memory after she had gassed herself: "When she came out of the oven,/ They had gutted, peeled/ And garnished her./ They called her theirs."

This weekend Hughes promised her new work would provide a "very honest" account. "You can't be glib in poetry," she said. "It's not about some huge secret. Everybody thought they saw my parents. I saw something else."

The flow of revelations is to continue with news of the sale to the British Library of letters from Ted Hughes and from Plath's mother, Aurelia.

In Hughes's letters to David and Elizabeth Compton he laid bare his sense that people were circling him in the hope that he would die of "remorse" because of his implied responsibility for Plath's suicide. "They realise that would be justice, as I do too," he wrote.

Few were closer to Hughes and Plath at the time of the breakdown of their relationship than the Comptons. It was in their house in Devon that Plath had taken refuge on the night she found out about Hughes's affair with Assia Wevill.According to Elizabeth, speaking this weekend at her home in Cornwall, Plath told her: "Ted has become a little man. He has started to lie to me."

After Plath's death, the Comptons took over Hughes's house in the village of North Tawton, north of Dartmoor, where they continued to receive letters from him.

In one he described rumours that Aurelia was creating a "sort of spy ring" around him to probe his life. He also urged them to hide his family photographs from her. In another letter he broke off from a discussion of his problems in buying a suitable house to describe how, like a cornered animal, he was running out of options.

His parents could not cope with the scandal that followed him, Frieda seemed to understand too much and the future poet laureate worried that the Queen would never invite him into her presence. "I shall be blackballed for ever from a knighthood," he wailed.