Born: January 31, 1948;

Died: September 29, 2021.

WHEN Janet Elisabeth ('Lis') Lee took up serious creative writing at the age of 50, with the advent of the Kelso Writers’ Workshop in 1998, she did so with distinction, going on to become a published poet, fiction and non-fiction writer.

Her two small volumes of poetry, Vanilla Summer (2011) and Memory Horse (2018), both published by Edinburgh’s Dionysia Press, received favourable reviews. Two of her plays were performed at The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.

She was published in many Scottish literary journals and anthologies, including New Writing Scotland, The Eildon Tree, Cutting Teeth, and many more. Some of her poems were also featured in The Herald’s Poem of the Day slot over the years.

She supported other writers and was founder member of the Borders Writers’ Forum, Selkirk Poets and Kelso Writers’ Workshop, which she later served as a guest editor. She was also a member of the Scottish Society of Playwrights, and attended the now-famous Monday Lizard workshops at the Traverse. Lis worked hard to improve her writing skills, which had been sharpened by her training as a journalist.

Lis was first diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 2010, although most of her friends and family thought she may have had undiagnosed MS many years before that.

Her second husband, the writer Tom Bryan, cared for Lis throughout the many years of her illness but it drew them even closer together even as she lost her ability to write and read poetry. He often read her own poetry to her.

As a result of her illness, much of Lis’s written work, including, perhaps, her finest work, remains unpublished in manuscript form. This includes full-length plays, short stories and lots of miscellaneous writing. Currently, it is hoped that this material can be housed in The National Library of Scotland for future research.

Lis relied on a wheelchair and often became bed-bound. Yet she never lost interest in the wider world and was genuinely concerned for the future of our planet.

Janet Elisabeth Bentley Beard was born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, to Peter Beard and his wife Joyce Riley, and grew up in Warwick. Her ancestry went back centuries in both Yorkshire and Gloucestershire; her forebears were farm workers, railwaymen, foresters and estate workers. From 1959, she took her step-father’s surname, Mansfield.

At Warwick’s King’s High School for Girls, where she excelled at hockey, her best subjects were art, French and English. She enjoyed music and singing. One of her friends and classmates was the great folk singer, June Tabor. They encouraged each other in their creative pursuits and Lis attended some of June’s first public singing performances.

On graduation, she became a trainee journalist with the Rugby Advertiser, learning the fundamentals of the trade and writing as Elisabeth/Lis Mansfield. She later worked as a senior reporter on the Cambridge Evening News and as an editorial assistant with the British Tourist Authority (Overseas Press Office) in London, whilst living on a houseboat on the Thames.

She married Roger Lee in 1973. Their son, Ben, was born in London two years later. After a plan to emigrate to Australia failed to materialise, they lived near Ulva Ferry, on Mull, from 1976 to 1981. Their daughter, Gemma, was born on the island, and Lis worked as a part-time publicity adviser for the Old Byre Museum.

The family re-located to the Borders in 1981, living in the hamlet of Bonjedward, where they at first ran a craft shop. They later lived in Easter Wooden. Lis continued her journalistic career as a part-time writer and researcher at Thirlestane Castle, Lauder, and did freelance reporting for BBC Radio Tweed.

She arrived in Kelso in 1986. Her son, Thomas was born in 1986 and Lis remained in Kelso the rest of her life, well-known and well-liked.

A skilled equestrian, she took part in the Common Ridings in the Borders, and also sailed and scuba-dived. She continued with her drawing and painting, at which she was very adept.

To support her family, she worked as a carer and nurse, showing her kind and patient nature. She worked with young people with learning disabilities and was often chosen to work with dementia sufferers because of her patience and quiet strength. She was highly valued by her colleagues and by the persons she cared for.

Lis, fluent in French and nearly fluent in Spanish, introduced Tom to Spain and its food and culture. Highlights of their time together were trips to the mainland and the Balearics.

Not content with travelling to America to visit her son Ben and his family, she twice flew to Australia to visit Gemma. She was a natural traveller, open to new experiences.

Calling upon the skills acquired from country living, she kept hens, made wonderful apple wine, once kept bees, and had an allotment in Kelso where she enjoyed growing vegetables for her family so her love for nature and our planet’s future was grounded on real experience.

Scotland’s writing culture certainly benefitted from her creativity. Although her writing career was tragically cut short her writing legacy is life-affirming, just like Elisabeth Lee herself.