While looking for something else entirely, I have (re)found a great Mary Stewart quote about writing that I want to share.
The quote comes originally from The Writer magazine. I used to have two different articles on Mary Stewart from The Writer but I have somehow managed to lose them. Fortunately I have not lost Maybe You Should Write a Book by Ralph Daigh (Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1977): its chapter on Mary Stewart, called ‘Her Every Novel a Best-Seller’, is based on the 1973 The Writer article. Here is the quote:
As far back as I can remember storytelling came naturally to me. I couldn’t help it. Others may be good at golf or mathematics; I can tell stories and bring fictional people and places to life. I came to writing because it seemed the obvious thing to do with my life; and others who have this gift seem to move naturally into writing. My storywriting started when I was a child. I can remember sitting on the attic floor with my toys around me, writing stories about them with self-made illustrations. I had only three toys: a horse, an elephant and a cat, the play kind, of course. Throughout my childhood I read widely and avidly and continued writing stories for myself: poems and tales of wonder and adventure.
Then, as I got older, work came and life crowded in. I wrote a good deal of poetry while I was teaching at the university, but it was sometime later, after marriage and the tragedy of losing a first child, that I came again to storywriting. The first thing I wrote was a sort of summary of all those childhood tales. It was a long story for children called The Enchanted Journey. It was written not so much for children as for me and the child I had been. I certainly made no concessions to immaturity. So, you might say I came to the writing of novels via poetry and literature and the myth or folktale.
I am country bred, with a deep interest in natural history, and a passion for ancient history and folklore. So I find that my kind of imagination quickens most readily in beautiful places where legend and history add an extra light of excitement to the kind of life that is lived today.
I think this extract gives great insight into how Mary Stewart assessed herself as a writer, seeing storytelling as a natural gift rather like being good at maths. ‘I couldn’t help it’ is such a magnificent line for a best-selling author to take! It is poignant that she wrote of losing a first child when she was unable ever to have any children after an ectopic pregnancy; there is something moving too about her having written her first novel for the child she had been, a child who appears to me to have had a rather solitary childhood.
Mary Stewart adds some information to the few facts we have about her first novel The Enchanted Journey, which remains unpublished (for now – I live in hope that I will read this story one day). You can read what is known about this children’s novel in my Top Ten Tuesday post here and within my transcript of an STV interview by Jenny Brown here.
Finally, I have to mention the book-sales figures that Ralph Daigh states at the beginning of the chapter:
A quick index of her popularity is the fact that more than 20 million copies of her books have been printed in Fawcett paperback, with many thousand more hardcover copies in print with William Morrow in the United States and with Hodder-Stoughton in England. She is reprinted in virtually all languages.
I think these figures are astounding, especially as they date back to 1977, before her final eight books were published, and just consider how many times her books have been re-issued since – what an achievement!
As always, please get in touch if you have any questions or comments.