Today’s The Broke and the Bookish Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie on book covers. Yes! I’m going to share a mixture of the rare, unusual and favourite Mary Stewart covers in my collection. Incidentally, all of my pre-2011 Mary Stewart books are second-hand. They cost anything from 25 pence to… well, there is one first edition that I paid a small fortune for in an eBay bidding war some years ago and I’m too embarrassed to say what it cost. It was about five times dearer than my second most expensive Mary Stewart item! And it doesn’t even make my top ten. Okay, okay, it was £96 – and yes, I am hanging my head in shame.
1. The rarest Mary Stewart book I own: this absolutely has to be my copy of children’s book Ludo and the Starhorse. I would really like to know the back story to this limited edition. It is really stunning, with all gilt edges and gilt illustrations engraved into its leather front and back covers (nope, I don’t have a grasp of book terminology, hopefully this description makes sense but if anyone knows the correct terms, I’d love to hear from you). Plus it contains the signatures of Mary Stewart and illustrator Gino d’Achille ∗ underneath copperplate handwriting stating that my copy is ‘number 3 of Five copies’. You can’t get much rarer than that! My book is a bit bashed and scuffed, and the leather has tanned(?) the book-boards but that I suppose is why it was cheaper than some of my first editions – I love this book (though its rarity means that I’m a bit too afraid of damaging it to, you know, read it!), and I hope you do too.
∗(Gino d’Achille’s Telegraph obituary mentions that he illustrated the work of Mary Stewart – as well as Daphne du Maurier etc.)
2. My favourite proof copy: I own three Mary Stewart proof copies (uncorrected proofs, advance reading copies, ARCs), and I have been following a fourth on eBay for ages in hopes of the price falling. I realise that this is further evidence of my long-term addiction to Mary Stewart books. In my defence, I don’t do this with any other writer. Um, that’s it, my full defence. Moving swiftly on, I think this The Crystal Cave cover is much better than the first edition one, I really like the chess analogy and I think it looks great even on grey card. And I love that, actually, it isn’t quite finished yet…
3. My most unusual Mary Stewart book: well, I know nothing about cricket, I’m no huge fan of royalty, and until I stumbled across this book I had never heard of the Lord’s Taverners – this is from their website: ‘Founded in 1950 at the Tavern pub at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the Lord’s Taverners is the UK’s leading youth cricket and disability sports charity dedicated to giving disadvantaged and disabled young people a sporting chance. The Lord’s Taverners benefits hugely from the fundraising activities of the Lady Taverners, our regions and 4,500 members, many of them from the world of sport and entertainment.’
This book cover is actually pretty atrocious but I have to include it because it is so unusual, it is the only anthology I have ever found that features a short story by Mary Stewart: this is the book you need if you want to read her illustrated story The Loch.
4. My favourite omnibus edition: this has to be The Spell of Mary Stewart for me. A fab cover by Herb Mott, a great title, and an excellent choice of novels: This Rough Magic, The Ivy Tree and Wildfire at Midnight. I love this cover so much, I have its image on a locket and a tote bag.
5. Most educational edition: the OUP Bookworms Library produces ‘graded readers for secondary and adult learners’ for ‘English language learning’. This includes abridged, simplified versions of The Moon-Spinners and This Rough Magic, retold by Diane Mowat, illustrated by Rachel Ross and including a glossary and exercises. Of the two, I prefer my copy of This Rough Magic because it also has a page ‘About the Author’ (Mary Stewart not Diane Mowat!) and because I prefer its richly blue and dolphin-featuring cover.
6. Most exciting find: this can only be ‘The Lost One’, Mary Stewart’s complete short story (featuring Perdita who later appears in The Wind Off the Small Isles), that appeared in the magazine below. From finding clues to this story’s existence in Mary Stewart’s papers at the National Library of Scotland, to writing to Mary Stewart on the subject and receiving her reply, to tracking down my own copy of this story, and finally to sharing my information on this blog, all adds up to make this my most exciting Mary Stewart ‘find’. And the irony of the title is the cherry on top.
7. Favourite book club edition: what’s not to love about this Companion Book Club edition of This Rough Magic? We have a passionately smooching, soaking-wet couple in or beside the sea; the man is bare-chested and – um, what? – clutching a knife; there are imposing Gothic-y buildings in the background; there is a full moon shining on the water; and it is washed in a pleasing shade of bluey-green. Oh, and our couple is kissing beside a very dead body in the water. Victor Bertoglio, I salute you, this illustration is seriously brilliant.
8. Favourite first edition: some Mary Stewart first edition (UK) book covers are not terribly attractive to my eye (The Last Enchantment came to mind immediately). I love, of course, the Shirley Hughes one for children’s book The Little Broomstick but I have chosen this Airs Above the Ground book cover. If anyone knows who the illustrator is then please let me know. Of course the girl looks far too young to my mind (police constables, teachers, drivers and doctors are all starting to look far too young to my mind). I adore the ‘ghostly’ quality to the horse and the (surprise!) Gothic-y building, I like the curious tilt of the girl’s head and I love this greeny colour even better than that of our previous book cover. I would expect to detest the block caps and orangey-redness of the book title but, somehow, it works for me.
9. Best for learning more about Mary Stewart: I mentioned that This Rough Magic at number 5 has a page about Mary Stewart. Even better than this is the foreword by Katherine Hall Page to the Chicago Review Press edition of Madam, Will You Talk? But my favourite is Mary Stewart’s preface in Mary Stewart Omnibus 1, where she evaluates her own writing as she introduces Madam, Will You Talk?, Wildfire at Midnight and Nine Coaches Waiting. Definite minus points for the book title: what were people thinking? I did dislike the cover itself for some time but it has managed to grow on me, ignoring the cliche of red roses I do like how vibrant they are on a muted background that manages to include that apparently Gothic-y bluey-green, and what’s more, they have put this colour on a woman’s face. Unexpected! It is certainly a cover of its time, which is something I like.
10. My favourite Mary Stewart paperback cover: there is stiff competition here but actually the newest issue, the UK 2017 covers, are the best ever Mary Stewart book covers, in my opinion (three of the four I own – so far – are pictured in the featured photo at the top of this article). I think these are the first book covers in the UK, perhaps anywhere, to be beautiful and also to treat Mary Stewart’s writing with the respect it deserves.
Nevertheless, I am going to pick a trashy, pulpy cover as my favourite because that is how I read Mary Stewart for decades, picking up books for as little as 25 pence from Edinburgh charity shops in the 1980s and then re-donating them or passing them to friends. This cover is special for somehow, mysteriously, having survived all those re-donations, all those flat and house moves, to survive in my book collection till now. Despite Thunder on the Right not being a favourite of favourites, this book holds a special ‘survivor’ charm. And, while it may lack that lovely bluey-green in favour of baby pink, the cover does include the staple ingredients of a Gothic building in the background and, the clincher, woman-in-an-improbable-dress-up-a-mountain in the foreground. Again, I would really like to know who illustrated this book.
I hope that you have enjoyed this wander through my bookshelves, this post has been great fun for me to put together. Thank you, The Broke and the Bookish!