Ida's life is every bit as dramatic as her many novels
There are lots of books on shelves in the sitting room of Ida Pollock's home. And most of them are written by her. At 102, Ida has published a book for just about every year of her life, all of them romantic novels.
Ida's latest book Starlight, though, is perhaps the most fascinating of all, being the story of her own life.
From narrowly escaping being smothered with a pillow by the nurse who attended her birth, to travelling to Morocco alone as a teenager after suffering a mental breakdown, Ida's young life was pretty eventful.
Much later, she had the distinction of being named as the "other woman" in Enid Blyton's divorce petition, after falling in love with the famous writer's estranged husband Hugh Pollock, a distinguished soldier. They subsequently married and had a daughter.
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It was Ida's ambition to be a writer that led to her first meeting with Hugh, who worked for Newnes, Enid Blyton's publisher.
Ida had started to write stories while she was still at school, encouraged by her devoted mother, a single parent (Ida never knew her father, rumoured to be a Russian duke, who her mother met at a ball in Greenwich).
Emboldened by securing her first commission for a regular short story from a magazine, at the age of 20 Ida got the train up to London from their home in Hastings with her first full-length manuscript. She took it to Newnes, handing it in person to the firm's head, George Newnes. Then she took the train home again, fondly imagining that she would soon have a response.
"I left it three months, then I wrote and said 'have you made a decision about my novel?'" she says. "They said 'what novel?' Hugh was appointed to find my book, and he eventually did. It was sitting in a cupboard in George Newnes' office.
"Hugh wrote to me and said 'we apologise for what has happened to your novel and we are paying you £25 and you can do two other novels for £25 each'," she recalls.
Ida went up to town to meet Hugh and he took her out to lunch.
"When I saw him I felt I knew him, and had seen him before," she says. This was the start of their long friendship which gradually evolved into romance.
By the time war broke out, Ida was lodging in London in a hostel for girls where she endured Blitz bombing raids in the shelter. One night, Ida had a narrow escape when she slipped back upstairs to collect a brand new suit she had just bought, which was in her bedroom.
"I said to the girl who was sleeping next to me, 'I've got my new suit I have left it in the bedroom. She said 'well, we will go and get it'," she recalls.
"There was one girl who frightened me out of my wits by presenting me with a box of chocolates every time she was paid and throwing herself on top of me when the bombs fell. She even went down to Hastings to tell my mother I was safe."
She was not the only one who found Ida irresistible. There was also Harley Street doctor who made a pass at her when she went for a job as a secretary, and the News of the World editor who invited her into his office then locked the door. She'd been hoping for a commission for a story, but he obviously had other ideas.
"I said 'not on your life' and I got the door unlocked and flew down the stairs and into a taxi," she recalls.
Ida left London behind her when her future husband got her a job as his secretary at the army training centre in the Surrey Hills. Hugh Pollock had left publishing to join the army and by now was living away from his wife, Enid.
Ida had her one and only conversation with Enid when she rang the famous novelist after Hugh was rushed to hospital after being shot in a bungled firearms training session in nearby woodland.
"I said 'your husband is in hospital, and I thought I thought you would want to know.' She said 'why?' and I said 'he's your husband isn't he?' She said 'oh my dear girl, I can't go to a hospital, I hate hospitals'," recalls Ida. "She was awful, she really was."
Shortly afterwards, Ida went home for a weekend to her mother's in Hastings, hoping for a bit of a rest.
"We were sitting after a late supper at 11 o'clock on a May evening. I had one of Georgette Heyer's novels I was reading and I heard this plane coming in from the sea – we were right by the sea. The next thing that happened was an enormous explosion."
Ida escaped stunned but unhurt, protected by the kitchen door which fell on top of her. Her mother was in hospital for two weeks. They were homeless.
This was to be the catalyst for Ida and Hugh getting married.
Hugh paid for Ida to stay in smart London hotel Claridges, and, taking her out to lunch, told her he was divorcing Enid.
They were married in a low-key ceremony at the Guildhall in London. Enid remarried also, within a few weeks.
Ida's career as a writer really got going after her marriage – and her daughter Rosemary's birth – as a way of supporting her family.
Hugh's career in publishing was finished by his divorce from Enid. His old firm Newnes also represented Enid, and they were not about to let her go. The divorce had another, more bitter, consequence, in that Hugh never saw his daughters Imogen and Gillian again. Enid forbade them to see him, and they were adopted by their stepfather.
From then on Hugh struggled with alcoholism, and while he got other work he ended up being made bankrupt while Ida supported the family with her writing. She started to make serious money when she was taken on by Alan Boon of Mills and Boon, securing a book deal on the strength of her first novel.
It was their daughter Rosemary's bad asthma which brought the Pollocks to Cornwall, where Ida and Rosemary live to this day.
Inspired by snatches of John Masefield's poem West Wind – "the west land... the old brown hills" – they arrived by train in Truro, heading for lodgings in Portscatho on the Roseland Peninsula, which Ida had found in The Lady.
"By the time we got to Portscatho it was already dark, but I could smell the sea and hear its voice," writes Ida in her autobiography. Next day, she and Rosemary went down to the beach.
"It was magic, and yet it was real," she writes. "For the first time ever, a place had gone beyond what I expected of it."
For a time, Rosemary's asthma improved, and Ida settled in to writing prolifically for Mills and Boon, looking over the view towards the Nare's Head.
They moved around from house to house in Devon and Cornwall, also living in Ireland, Malta and Switzerland, where they successfully obtained a lasting cure for Rosemary's debilitating asthma.
Ida kept on writing with an impressive speed. Finding she had many more novels stacking up than the six a year which Mills and Boon were commissioning, she successfully approached other publishers. One took a novel called Nightingale in the Sycamore that Mills and Boon had considered too risque.
"Looking through it today I can't for the life of me work out where the shocking bits were supposed to be," she says.
Ida is still a lively personality at 102. She lives with her daughter Rosemary, at Lanreath, a village in the Fowey river valley in South Cornwall. Last year, she helped the Romantic Novelists Association celebrate its 50th anniversary, as one of the organisation's founders.
"I've had ever so many publishers. I remember one publisher who looked at my manuscript, read it, and then said 'very nice' and kissed me on the nose." And she laughs.