Lucy C has written to let us know that there is some precious audio footage of Mary Stewart online! You may remember Lucy from her lovely guest review of Mary Stewart’s essay The Loch or from when she shared with us that it is possible to buy a transcript of Mary Stewart’s appearance on Desert Island Discs – you can read about this in the comments under this post and in the September 2017 bulletin.
The audio Lucy has found is from Last Word, BBC Radio 4’s weekly obituary programme, and this episode originally aired a fortnight after Mary Stewart died in May 2014. The presenter is Matthew Bannister and the parts of the programme that feature Mary Stewart are from 00:24-00:35 and 22:34-26:33 minutes. Neither the source of the audio clips of Mary’s voice, nor when they were recorded, is disclosed. My guess as to when would be around 1990, when her poetry Frost on the Window and Other Poems was published.
I imagine that this radio programme may be available for a limited time only, so do listen while you have the chance! I have made a rough and ready transcript as follows:
Matthew Bannister (MB): On Last Word this week, the best-selling novelist Mary Stewart.
Mary Stewart (MS): It’s an inner compulsion. If you’re born a writer, you’re a writer and that’s all there is to it – it’s like being born a fish, you can’t come out of the water.
MB: Now the best-selling novelist Mary Stewart launched a new genre of fiction, romantic suspense. Her stylish novels sold more than five million copies, and included titles like The Crystal Cave, The Ivy Tree, and The Gabriel Hounds.
Mary was married to Sir Frederick Stewart, a leading geologist and professor at Edinburgh University. The couple divided their time between the Scottish capital and a Victorian house by Loch Awe in the Highlands. She explained how she began her first novel:
MS: My husband is a very keen fisherman and his friend used to call and they used to talk about fish. So one cold January evening in Durham, I decided that I wasn’t going to listen to them talking about fish any more. I went into the other room, with a pencil and a piece of paper, and I started to write a book. It was eventually published as Madam, Will You Talk? and this is how it began:
[MS reads aloud the first paragraph of the book].
MB: Mary was born Mary Rainbow in Sunderland, where her father was a vicar. She was sent to boarding-school at the age of eight, where she was bullied because she was clever. She drew on her childhood sadness when writing her fantasy novel Thornyhold.
MS: I think you could almost say that the unhappy bits of Thornyhold are true and the happy bits are fiction.
[MS goes on to read a paragraph from the first chapter: ‘We lived in a bleak, ugly colliery village… and was ignored’]
As for poetry, it’s awfully difficult to talk about, you know, it’s been so much a part of my life, ever since I was a child. I thought in terms of poetry, I think. All my verses lay, more or less forgotten, for many years, and now that I’m getting old, I looked through them again and it occurred to me that perhaps there were one or two there which it would be a pity to lose.
[MS reads aloud her poem ‘Song’ (p43 in my copy of Frost on the Window and Other Poems)]
MB: Mary Stewart, who has died aged 97.
Lucy wrote of finding this radio programme: ‘there is precious little about Mary Stewart around – it is like discovering ancient treasure’ and I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much for sharing the treasure with us, Lucy.
As ever, I invite your comments: what did you think of this programme? Were you saddened, as Lucy and I were, by Mary Stewart’s comments about her childhood and Thornyhold? What about the description of Thornyhold as a fantasy novel? And if anyone knows the original source of these Mary Stewart sound clips, please let me know.
I now have the soundfile of the entire episode of ‘Bookshelf’, the BBC Radio 4 programme from which the audio clips are taken. The episode was aired in 1991. You can find out how to obtain your own soundfile in my post Mary Stewart Bulletin, April 2018.