A tribute to Ann Somerhausen

Ann Somerhausen

The BWC is in mourning over the loss of one of our loveliest and longest-standing members, Ann Somerhausen. Wise, honest, a little bit cheeky and always classy, here we share some memories and stories about our dear friend, and how she touched our lives. Our little group is the less without her.

“Ann had been coming to the BWC for the best part of ten years and was one of our staunchest members. I will particularly remember her for her novel, The Runaway Housewife, which she completed (several times indeed!) with the help of the group and which, in my opinion, was the most commercial and publishable novel I have seen from a group member. It’s only sad that Ann did not live to see it appear on bookshelves everywhere as it so richly deserves.

She also produced memorable works on her life as a diplomat’s wife in Cuba, Brazil and in India and read these out to the group. Her latest contribution to the BWC was to host the Sunday afternoon sessions at her apartment in Uccle.

We will greatly miss her.”
David Ellard

“I saw Ann twice. She was the person who left the strongest memory of my very first meetings with the BWC. I was struck by her grace. I still remember vividly an aura of light illuminating the place where she was sitting. She was wearing a beautiful hat and she was dressed like an elegant woman of times gone, bringing with her all the memories of a lifetime, the wisdom and the peaceful reconciliation. We talked about her house in Long Island, which she was hoping to sell. Her soft voice still resonates, as when she invited us to Sunday readings at her place, giving us all the instructions to get there, sweetly reassuring us that there would be tea served…

I regret not having had the chance to attend Sunday meetings at her place and to listen to her stories. There hasn’t been enough time to get closer to you, Ann. But I will not forget your light.”
Barbara Mariani

“I once commented to Ann that when I first heard of the Writers’ Group my thoughts were of a group of people like the Algonquin Roundtable, but later I felt embarrassed for thinking so. She said, ‘But why should you feel embarrassed? We are like the people of the Algonquin Roundtable.’ Indeed.”
Nathan Johnson

“One evening after a BWC meeting, Julien and I invited Ann back to our apartment for a drink. I think it says a lot about Ann that she was perfectly happy at the idea of coming home with two 30-year olds she only knew through the writers’ group, at 10 o’clock at night. That evening she told us stories about her incredible life, and it wasn’t until she mentioned getting married in 1946 that we realised she was much older than we’d thought. That’s just it: she was always so engaged, so spirited, so productive and independent, that you never would’ve imagined she was in her 80s. Then again, my grandmother is the same (and she was born in the same year, in the same country), which is one reason I always felt at home with Ann: it was like having a slightly saucier version of my own grandmother with me, living as I do very far away from my actual grandmother.

I saw her at pretty much every meeting I went to, and each time I looked forward to her strikingly honest comments (she had a way of ‘telling it like it is’ when she thought something was no good, and yet she somehow managed to be diplomatic about it at the same time) her classy outfits and her gentle smile. For me she really was at the heart of the group, and in her tales and her comments she expressed what it’s all about: honesty, dedication and, of course, a big wallop of humour. It’s almost impossible to believe that I won’t be seeing her again. I’ll really miss you, Ann.”
Sarah Wiecek

“I can’t believe she is no longer with us. She was such an inspiration and a wonderful member of the group.”
Sarah Van Hove

“Ann was seated at The Falstaff on my very first Thursday session. I immediately took to her and Kathleen. Perhaps it was a subconscious connection to fellow Americans as I’d only recently moved to Brussels from Chicago or maybe it’s because Ann and Kathleen were very much like ladies from my beloved writers’ group I left behind in Chicago. Ann was one of the reasons I kept coming back.

Ann was bright, engaged and had a lot of spunk. She had a creative spirit, embracing all types of writing and encouraging every writer. The last time I saw Ann was the Thursday before her birthday. We were at the Falstaff, putting on our coats at session’s end. She was proud to tell me that she was turning 86, happy to be celebrating with her kids. But what made her most happy was my telling her how much I was enjoying Brussels. She flashed a grin of someone proud of her adopted home. Then we parted, going off into the Brussels night. No doubt, it was drizzling.”
Todd Arkenberg

“Ann will be deeply missed.”
Klavs Skovsholm

“I’ve lost a very dear friend of many years. Our friendship goes back to the American Women’s Club which we both joined in the 1990s. We met at the Club attending one of the meetings of its Writers’ Group. At that time Ann wrote short stories. She even got a literary agent in New York who helped her to publish one of them in Miami. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy.

We both were learning how to use those early computers for consumers, like Amstrad. We were frustrated and delighted when we mastered one or another trick. I was working at my first novel ‘Nadine. Meeting in Paris,’ which she liked very much. I had a small success with the first draft among my circle of readers but did not find a publisher and moved to active journalism.

Meanwhile, Ann moved to South America and later to North America. But I remained in regular contact with her, her diplomat husband Jean and other members of her family.

On her regular visits to Brussels we always met. Otherwise, there were letters. The main bond between us was our writing. As you all know, not only final things matter, but ideas and projects as well. Ann and I had a lot of projects and enjoyed discussing them.

It was then that Ann started working on her ‘Cuba Memoir’, though rather cautiously, because some people from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs –prototypes of her characters – were still alive and she was reluctant to put their names into print. She came back to the ‘Cuba Memoir’ a few years ago and finally her book entitled Hostage in Havana was published on Amazon. She presented it at the American Women’s Club. The proceeds from the sales went to a nursing home in Brussels. The library of the American Women’s Club has a copy.

Our annual trips to the weeklong writers’ courses in Paris given by the American University strengthened our friendship more than anything else. Then there was our common political views and love for literature.

When Ann and Jean moved back to Brussels about nine years ago, we once again met regularly. Ann tried to resurrect the writers’ group at the AWC but it did not last long and then we both came to the BWC. She loved the group and the members’ writings very much and when she was not traveling she tried not to miss a session.

We lived close to one another and frequently attended some events together like meetings of ‘Les Amis de la Monnaie’ or ‘Democrats abroad’.

We both contributed our articles to Rendez-Vous magazine which was published first monthly then quarterly by the AWC. Ann covered the books, both those recently published and classics. Everybody enjoyed her reviews. They will be missed.

She was a regular visitor in our house and got to know my daughter and her family. Our guests enjoyed listening to her stories about exotic places, where she and Jean lived and about their sailing voyages.

She was generous, interested in people, life, opera, music. Up to the last moment she continued visiting her friends and her family, traveling within Europe and to the US. For years every summer she attended a Shakespeare festival in California with her sister Pat.

Losing her husband, a companion of over 50 years, was a severe blow but Ann resumed writing, completed her first book, then a second one entitled ‘Runaway Housewife,’ which many members of the BWC have heard. She started working on a third book, her ‘Indian Memoir’ based on letters she and Jean wrote at the start of 1950s.

She was very good persuading people to complete the projects. I remember one particular case when she tried to persuade Kathleen to proceed with her book. I hope Kathleen will do it in the memory of Ann.

She enjoyed attending the BWC meetings and especially enjoyed Steven’s humor, Nick’s writing, Robert’s Seychelles saga and Norton’s crisp stories.

This year she did not to go to the Writers’ retreat since she would be leaving for the States a couple of days later. But she was very sorry about that and planned to attend it next year.

I owe her something personal. She liked my first novel and was unhappy when I dropped it. She regularly reminded me that I should finish it but I kept on postponing doing so. Now I feel that out of respect for her I should resume working at it. If she liked it so much, probably there is something in it.

I will miss her as a friend and as a sunny and kind-hearted, generous and compassionate person. With her departure I feel a big wound in my psychological cloak.”
Larisa Doctorow

“I will remember Ann as a very warm, generous and self-effacing lady who was extremely helpful and encouraging to me when I first joined the group. She was great fun to talk to, was a great raconteuse and had a keen appreciation of English literature. I found her very open minded and had an amazingly broad range of interests from travel to opera. As a diplomat’s wife she saw a side of life many of us do not come into contact with very often and it was beautiful and quite humbling to see how deeply affected she had clearly often been by her experiences of other cultures and people. The latest project was writing up her memoires as a new bride in India and a trip she and her husband had taken with her mother-in-law. The descriptions of people and places were so wonderfully warm and vivid and were just an example of the well of memories she conserved intact until the very end. Ann will be greatly missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know her.”
Nick Hogg

Sarah Strange wrote a poem about Ann, which you can read here.

“Three occasions stick in my memory when I think of Ann.

She was at the first ever meeting of the Brussels Writers Group I attended one Thursday night at the Belladonne Brasserie in Saint Gilles in 2012. I happened to have taken a seat near hers at the end of the long table. She looked chic in a beige dog-tooth patterned jacket with a beautiful gold brooch on a lapel. As contributors read their work, I noted how carefully and honestly she commented on each piece. I loved her courteous way with words and her warm American accent.

In a break in the readings she asked me about my work. I had to admit the commitment to writing a novel was proving to be a struggle, that I wasn’t making much headway and hoped the BWC might be able to help. “Oh yes. You’ll be surprised what you can do with that novel here.” And she mentioned the memoir she was writing. On several further occasions she read aloud sections from The Runaway Housewife and it seemed a very promising work. She was determined to get it right. Ann was always positive about my contributions and helped to make me believe in my own writing project.

In May 2013 Ann attended the BWC Writers’ Retreat and she and I happened to be in the same group for David Ellard’s workshop. Ann impressed me with the speed of her writing. It was humorous and witty and very well crafted in the blink of an eye. She was great company for the whole weekend.

This year I was sorry she could not attend the Retreat as she had planned. I last saw her at the AGM in July where she generously offered to host the Sunday group at her flat. We left the meeting early, the room in the Falstaff was hot and stuffy and the Agenda had been dealt with, we paid for our drinks at the till and stepped out into the hot summer night. Ann looked so elegant in a summer hat, beige blouse, black trousers and in sharp contrast to the dress-down holidaymakers thronging the street outside. We said our goodbyes and I hoped to see her again soon, perhaps at the Thursday group.

Then came the sad news last week and I realised that although my contact with Ann has been very fleeting, I will remember her most for her love of writing, honesty and positive spirit.”
Ann Kronbergs

“When I met Ann, she was completing a draft of her novel, Runaway Housewife. The adventures of her endearing, unassuming protagonist were praised by members, as they always would during the three years when I heard her read from it, first in third person, then in first person in a later draft. That was no mean feat, but the first-person version seemed as effortless and engaging, if not more, than the previous one.

Ann herself was no less charming. I remember admiring her allure as she walked in the BWC meetings with slow steps but a straight back, wearing tailored suits and makeup. Her elegance did not stop there. She was well-mannered and kind to everyone, encouraging to other writers, gracefully cool in her response to the men who put on their best behavior in the visible hope of impressing her.

Although we knew her health was fragile – how could it be otherwise, at her age? – she remained cheerful and a joy to be with. She gave the impression of being contented with the life she had, with the habits she had made for herself in her last years.

It is true that Runaway Housewife deserved to hit the shelves. She spoke of wanting to see it in the supermarkets, both utterly sincere and poking fun at herself. A completed version might be published. But I like to think that reading it aloud for all this time, rewriting it in first-person once she was done with a polished draft in third-person, showed that the recognition from her peers at the Brussels Writers’ Circle, as well as spending time with her characters, already made her happy.

I remember her smile. Her transparent blue eyes. Her makeup and jewelry. How considerate she was, how she gave you her full attention. Her humour. How she sometimes spoke of her travels when she was married to an ambassador, but never flaunted her social status, which is the mark of a true lady.

I will miss her.”
Sabine Sur

“My heart is full and broken at the same time as I think about Ann’s passing. It’s hard to imagine the Brussels Writers’ Circle without her. Her writing was always so enjoyable to read, and like her, was witty with a hint of mischief. She told fascinating stories of a life well lived and always had time to give words of wisdom and encouragement to me. I valued her feedback so much, but I valued her as a person so much more. I have met few people as warm, interesting, and full of life as her. When I left Brussels for DC, she wished me a “prompt return to Brussels” – she was one of the people who made leaving that bit harder and the prospect of a return sweeter. It’s hard to imagine and difficult to accept that she won’t be there when I do come back. Rest in peace, dear Ann. I was so privileged to know you.”
Claire Handscombe

“Ann was a great writer, both of non-fiction and fiction, and I will hugely miss her readings of her travels in India and of The Runaway Housewife. What’s more, Ann consistently provided excellent feedback, commenting on my science fiction with admirable patience. Her words of encouragement have helped immeasurably in improving our writing. Her hosting of the Sunday group this summer in Uccle has been just one example of the incredible support she showed to the rest of us writers. She will be in our hearts forever. RIP Ann Somerhausen.”
Jack Gilbey

“It has been such a pleasure and a privilege to have known Ann for the past ten years. Her presence at our meetings was always reassuring, especially when I read. I was sure that I would benefit from her thoughtful comments, her considerable editing skills and her constant encouragement. After reading the last chapter of my novel eight days before her death, she handed me a page of useful comments ending with, “To be honest, I would love this scene to end with them going to bed together for a great, splendid love-making.” Needless to say, her advice will be heeded.

Ann’s friendship, kindness and support will be sadly missed.
Robert Grandcourt

Ann at the BWC retreat

Ann at the retreat


Ann and Kathleen looking festive