Sally Marmion, who for nearly 20 years abridged books for readings on BBC Radio 4’s prized slot “A Book at Bedtime”, has died at the age of 53. She had been suffering from cancer.
Often working with Radio 4 producer Di Speirs, Marmion adapted novels including Ian McEwan’s Atonement and The Children Act, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, work by William Trevor, Tessa Hadley, John Le Carré, Helen Dunmore, Colm Toibin and Naomi Alderman, and classic novels from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
Speirs told The Bookseller: “For me she will always be the best abridger I have ever worked with – she had the most amazing ability to see to the heart of a book and to bring out the spirit and the lyricism as well as the plot. Never easy when you consider the mammoth cut to 2,000 words x 10 episodes. She had both a phenomenal intelligence but also a hugely sympathetic understanding about where the emotional heft lay.” She added: “She passionately loved books, and I’m terribly proud of all the work we did. To me she is irreplaceable, we worked together so often, you develop so much shorthand."
Actor Juliet Stevenson, who often read for Marmion’s abridgements, paid tribute to her work, saying: "Sally was such a lovely modest person and yet a supreme mistress of perhaps the least appreciated art there is. But like a great film editor she could delve right into the heart of the available material and draw out everything that mattered, that made the human story sing out, in all its complexity, its contradictions, its humanity. To do that takes not only a sharp shrewd editorial eye but a great heart. How much she will be missed not only by those who worked with her but by all those millions of listeners who were given the wonderful gift of her precision, her ear for rhythm and her wise and compassionate overview.”
Novelist Sarah Hall added: "It is such a refined and rare skill to be able to abridge long fiction with such insight and sensitivity, preserving its narrative, atmosphere and particularity, and Sally certainly possessed that talent... was astonished listening to The Wolf Border how the novel’s essence had been transposed, how its characters had been brought to life, and the tenor of wilderness recreated for another medium. There seemed to be such an understanding of the heart of its story and meaning, and how it might be brought to the external ear, episodically, so to speak. I have such respect for Sally’s work, because it is very difficult to master, but also because it is so clear how respectful she is towards the work of other writers.” Deborah Levy said: "I always felt I was in safe hands with Sally. She somehow managed to chase the story without losing its complexity and humour. This is not an easy call. She always made the most astute decisions about where to end a scene and begin another - and she had a knack for bringing characters to life for radio. Sally's adaptations for my novels, Swimming Home and Hot Milk, were incredibly skilled. I am so grateful to her.”
Marmion's funeral will be held on Wednesday 1st March at 2.30pm at Marcham Church near Abingdon in Oxfordshire.