Mary Stewart RIP

Such sad news that wonderful Mary Stewart died on 9 May. I have been watching again the interview she gave to Off the Page on Scottish television.

In 2006 the Romantic Novelists’ Association gave Mary Stewart a Lifetime Achievement Award. I collected the tributes. From my own archive, as far as I can tell, this is what we told her then.

The Romantic Novelists’ Association salutes
Mary Stewart
and says thank you for
hours of wonderful reading
for inspiring so many of us
18th August 2006

From RNA Members
Diane Pearson writes

Mary Stewart, almost single handed, brought the gothic romantic novel back into contemporary popularity, giving it a unique new quality that was essentially her own. Her books are now household names.

Diane Pearson, editor and author, wrote international best sellers ‘Czardas’ and ‘Summer of the Barshinskys’, among others, and [is] was President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

republished bestseller, Kindle edition

Jan Jones writes

“It was the egret, flying out of the lemon-grove that started it.”

That, the opening line from The Moonspinners, sums up what Mary Stewart means to me. The to-die-for sense of place expressed in just a few skilful words. The delicious hint of adventure and romance. The promise of a glorious few hours, curled up with one of my favourite authors, oblivious to the outside world.

I could read Mary Stewart’s books over and over – and every time I do, I’m transported again to that precious state where nothing else matters except what you are reading.

Thank you, Mary.

Jan Jones is the author of ‘Stage by Stage’, winner of the 2005 Joan Hessayon Award for a First Novel and many others,most recently ‘Fairlights’.

inspired by Mary Stewart’s work

Pamela Hartshorne writes

Mary Stewart’s writing is such a model of intelligence and good taste, that I can’t help feeling she would have little patience with gushing appreciation . … but it is hard not to gush when I think about the enjoyment she has given me as a reader, and the influence she has had on me as a writer. Impossible, too, to choose which of her books is my favourite. I can narrow it down to six (Madam Will You Talk?, This Rough Magic, My Brother Michael, The Moon-Spinners, Airs Abover the Ground and Nince Coaches Waiting) but no further. Every time I read these books, I find something new, something that strikes a chord, something that makes me think “What must it be like to be able to write like that?”

I love the intelligence and integrity of her characters, the way her heroes are barely described and yet are so extraordinarily attractive, but I think what draws me to these books most particularly is the sense of place they evoke, so that I fell when I close the book as if I have actually been on a Greek mountainside, or swum with a dolphin in Crete. And as for the food . . . ! Anyone who has ever read Madam, Will You Talk? remembers the wonderful meal Charity shares with Richard Byron in the Stewart fans, comparing it with the midnight feast after the Easter Ball in Nine Coaches Waiting or the dinner at Delphi in My Brother Michael, all remembered as vividly as if we had eaten them ourselves. It is thirty-five years since I first read a Mary Stewart, but her lucid, luminous prose remains a matchless source of pleasure and inspiration.

Pamela, who also writes as Jessica Hart, is a multi prize winner. In 2005 she won the US RITA for Best Traditional Romance for Christmas Eve Marriage and in 2006 the RNA Romance Prize for Contracted Corporate Wife. Her  most recent novel is ‘The Memory of Midnight’.

Marina Oliver writes

Mary Stewart is a storyteller par excellence. Not only can she evoke great tension, her plots are intricate and satisfying. She transports the reader to the places she describes so vividly, that I can imagine myself on a Greek hillside, or a Lebanese valley, smelling the flowers, feeling the heat.

She is also versatile, with books set in different eras and today. The backgrounds are always so convincing. A friend from my reading group who read one of her novels said to me, ‘It’s so good to read a real book.’

Marina Oliver, former Chairman of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, is writer, editor, tutor and reviewer. She has written ‘A Cut Above the Rest’ and many other novels.

Jenny Haddon writes

There are some authors whose words walk with you throughout your life, encapsulating a moment, a feeling. ‘Ah yes, I recognize that,’ you say, for a moment completely aware. From Nine Coaches Waiting:

The air was very still. Below me, in the valley-depths where the river ran, I could see, quite distinctly now, the pale drift of mist. The owl cried again once, very sadly, form the wood. There was a strong wet smell of earth and growing things; the smell of spring . . . not softness, not balm-and-blossoms, but something harsh and sharp that pierced the senses as the thrust of new life broke the ground. The cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of a dead land . . . yes that was it. That was it. Not for the first time I was sharply grateful to Daddy for making poetry a habit with me. The best words in the best order . . . one always got the same shock of recognition and delight when someone’s words swam up to meet a thought or name a picture. Daddy had been right. Poetry was awfully good material to think with.

So is Mary Stewart.

Jenny Haddon has written forty something books, mainly under the pen name Sophie Weston, most recently ‘To Marry a Prince’ by Sophie Page. She [is] was then Chairman of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.


What a writer we have lost.

12 Responses to “Mary Stewart RIP”

  • Cryssa Bazos:

    Thank you for sharing. I felt the old thrill again reading those quotes and words. Her contribution can’t be understated.

  • Sarah:

    From the age of 10, I spent an evening a week with a very elderly great-aunt (born in 1880), where I learned to appreciate cribbage, ginger-nuts-in-tea, and The People’s Friend. She let me graduate to Mary Stewart when I could tell the fake love interest from the first episode of a PF serial. I’ve still got my great-aunt’s battered Hodder paperback copies (though the covers of the latest reprints are gorgeously elegant). Mary Stewart introduced me to Donne (in My Brother Michael) and I never said thank you – for that, or for the writing that a young teenager and a Victorian lady enjoyed together. So, belatedly, here, as well as anywhere – thank you, Mary Stewart.

    • Sarah, you always make me think – I love your aunt’s graduation test. I am fascinated that teenager and Victorian lady met at Mary Stewart’s writing, too. I have been thinking a lot about the reasons for that, as I reread some of my favourites. If I can construct an hypothesis, I will blog about it.

  • Thank you for putting these up again, Jenny. You said it right – what a writer we have lost.

    • She touched so many of us, Jan, as you illustrate with your own moving tribute. Interesting that you and Sarah both found your way to John Donne through My Brother Michael. I think she would have been pleased.

  • Thank you for posting these wonderful reminders, Jenny. I only recently started re-reading Mary Stewart, feeling once again the thrill of discovering her the first time round when I was in my teens. I know I’m now going to have read them all and I can hardly wait to get started.

    • I’m reading her again too, Barb. Someone wrote in one of the papers that she has dated but actually I think it is just that her romantic suspense novels were truly set in their own time. The characters seem as believable to me now as when I first read them which, in itself, was a good slug of time after they were written.

  • So sorry to hear that she is gone. Loved her books so much, and like others am now impatient to re-read. As for whether she has dated, isn’t that sometimes just what we want, so that we’re transported in time as well as place? RIP Mary Stewart.

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