27 OCTOBER 2001, Page 32

Embattled biographers

From Mr J.D.F. Jones Sir: Christopher Booker's hilariously personal abuse of me for my recent biography of Sir Laurens van der Post (Books, 20 October) would be more understandable if he had admitted that he himself once aspired, in vain, to write that biography. Sour grapes?

His insults might also have acknowledged that he was a sycophant of Sir Laurens for many years, a frequent house guest for a while in Chelsea, and that he has long been close to the family, which is now attempting to strike back against a book which — I regret — must be distressing to them.

As for Booker's curious interest in the size of my publisher's advance (for four years' work), it would be put in better perspective if he had added, as he presumably also knows, that Lucia van der Post accepted £10,000 for 'authorising' this biography of her father.

I cannot allow Booker's smear that I failed to do the interviews. Contrary to what he has been told. I spent countless hours talking with many members of the family, both here and in South Africa, and in particular with Lucia van der Post and with Tom and Jane Bedford. Booker seems to have forgotten that I made at least three attempts to call on him early in the project, when he was always too busy to see me.

I'll truly look forward to the 'grown-up' biography which Booker calls for. Would he like to offer himself again? He is welcome to my 2,700 footnotes.

J.D.F. Jones Ilminster, Somerset