Did you know there is a Blogging University offering free courses on WordPress? I stumbled upon it a few days ago and, because my blog skills are, well, pretty unskilled I decided to sign up. I am starting at the most basic level even though I have been blogging since August, and the first task is to publish a “who I am and why I’m here” post. This is something I have never really addressed within the blog anyway, so here goes:
I am a bookworm who works in a library; I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, feminist, Christian (for almost nine years now!), vegetarian, moderate leftie, and fan of power-naps and quiet; and I live in Scotland just north of Edinburgh. I think that just about covers everything you need to know!
I blog about the writer Mary Stewart, who wrote 24 books before her death in 2014. Why do I write about her? Because she is one of my favourite writers, someone to turn to when I want to reread a book for pleasure, for comfort, for when I want to read something written with precision and beauty. For years, Mary Stewart was a ‘guilty pleasure’ because I felt I ought to be reading literature from ‘the canon’, cutting-edge life-changing fiction, highbrow and ‘difficult’ books. And yes, I do enjoy tackling those kinds of books sometimes. But I have grown to question the canon, to wonder about the chasm between literature and popular fiction, to consider how women’s writing generally has been judged (and found wanting) over centuries, and to explore why escapism is widely disdained as somehow ‘lesser’. Incidentally, Mary Stewart wrote about the value of escapism in an article in ‘Australian Author’ (the magazine of the Australian Society of Authors) in 1977 – I wrote a post about it here that includes an excerpt and advice on how to lay your hands on a copy of the original article in full.
There is another reason why Mary Stewart is my ‘specialist subject’ aside from how beautifully she writes, how well she builds suspense and evokes setting: and that reason is Edinburgh.
I moved to Edinburgh as a teenager, to study at university. I had no idea when I discovered Mary Stewart’s fiction there, that she had lived in Edinburgh since 1956, that she had a home in Edinburgh’s Morningside (as well as in Argyllshire) and that her husband had only fairly recently retired as Emeritus Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University. Discovering this added an extra level of enjoyment to reading her books. Perhaps I felt some slight sense of ownership or affinity with this best-selling author who turned out to be a local writer.
This accident of geography also, importantly, means that I have easy access to her manuscripts and papers which are held in Edinburgh at the National Library of Scotland. Over many years I have visited the NLS to access these: the gap between visits has sometimes been several days, and sometimes several years. But I have been privileged to be able to look at countless pages relating to Mary Stewart. Which means that I feel that, in the scheme of things, I probably know quite a bit about her.
Which answers why I blog – to share the information I have about Mary Stewart. For example, it was through paperwork at the NLS that I first saw mention of her short story ‘The Lost One’∗ – a story that everyone seems to have forgotten about even though The Wind off the Small Isles features the same narrator, Perdita. And I blog because even though she was a best-selling author from her first novel onwards, I have the feeling that Mary Stewart too saw her writing as a guilty pleasure, something inferior to Great Literature, so I want to shout from the rooftops how amazing her books are, and play my small part in ensuring that Mary Stewart’s books are not forgotten.
∗ This short story is no longer forgotten: having alerted Hodder to its existence, it was published as The Wind Off the Small Isles and The Lost One in June 2017.