Published: 11 October 2016

Liverpool Literary Festival: Bel Mooney on Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and “beautifully written” readers’ letters

Liverpool Literary Festival

Ahead of her appearances at Liverpool Literary Festival, journalist Bel Mooney says she would advise Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to “end the marriage very quickly”, if the couple corresponded with her in her role as a national newspaper agony aunt.

The Liverpool-born writer and broadcaster is taking part in two panel sessions at the festival, which runs from October 28 – 30. The first considers The Life of Ted Hughes, with his biographer, Jonathan Bate. The second explores readers’ letters in a session alongside Avril Horner and Professor Frank Shovlin, who examine the correspondence of Iris Murdoch and John McGahern respectively.


Bel Mooney, who knew the former Poet Laureate prior to his death in 1998, said of his relationship with Plath: “What a terribly tragic marriage it was.

“You have two incredibly talented people, and my advice to both would have been to end the marriage very quickly.

“Ted Hughes was congenitally unfaithful and when a woman is married to anyone like that she is destined to be hurt.

“There are couples who seem to have everything going for them, and I often think about that with them, but what goes on under the surface of a marriage no outsider can disentangle.

“I often wonder whether things would have been different if only they hadn’t moved to Durham, because it forced her to be alone all the time.

Bel Mooney

“Ted Hughes loved women, and women loved him and he did not know how to say no. If someone is unfaithful the marriage hasn’t got a chance. I feel very sorry for them both, but especially for her.”

Bel and Jonathan Bate will be discussing the latter’s Samuel Johnson Prize shortlisted work,Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life, which focuses on Hughes’ lifelong quest to come to terms with the suicide of his first wife, Sylvia Plath.

An agony aunt at the Daily Mail since 2007, following a two year stint in the same role at The Times, Bel will be sharing readers’ letters in her second Festival event, Writers and Their Letters.

Powerful and poignant

But while her co-panelists, Avril Horner and Frank Shovlin will be looking back at the correspondence of literary giants, Bel will make the case for “ordinary people, who have no pretension whatsoever to be writers”.

She said: “Some of these letters are more interesting and more beautifully written than anything in the volumes of major writers.

“Powerful and poignant, the message might be that many people could have been writers if life had led them along that path.”

Bel says the letters she has received over the last ten years, across two newspaper titles, have changed very little. They continue to be “absolutely universal” in subject matter, and concerned largely with “relationships, marriage, grief, family problems and angst”.

The Life of Ted Hughes with Jonathan Bate and Bel Mooney takes place at the Victoria Gallery & Museum on Saturday, October 29 from 11.30am-12.45pm. Book your tickets here:

Writers and their Letters, with Bel Mooney , Avril Horner and Frank Shovlin take place on Saturday, October 29 from 2.15-3pm at the Victoria Gallery & Museum. Book your tickets here:

For more on Liverpool Literary Festival visit

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