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March: Week 1 Featured Author - MARY STEWART

 

Airs above the Ground

 

 

 

What author or authors turned you on to mystery and/or romantic suspense? While I started with Nancy Drew and later Agatha Christie, I discovered Mary Stewart's books when I was in high school and I've loved them ever since.


Technically, our featured book is AIRS ABOVE THE GROUND but in fact I want to talk about all of her books this week. Which were your favorites, and why? Do you love Mary Stewart as much as I do?

 

 

Vanessa March, two years married and very much in love, is propelled from London to Vienna by a shocking discovery. In her charge is young Timothy Lacy, who also has an urgent problem to solve.

But what promised to be no more than a delicate personal mission turns out to involve the security forces of three countries, two dead men, a circus and its highly colored personnel, a mysterious Mr. Lee Elliot and -- among others -- the famous white stallions of Vienna.

The "airs above the ground" are the beautiful leaps and dancing steps made by the white Lipizzan stallions of the Spanish Riding School. They are also the peak points of the story, which happen literally in high places: a terrifying night on the rooftop of Schloss Zechstein; a high-wire act in the Circus Wagner; the fighting finish in the Gleinalp.

With her characteristic flair for description Mary Stewart brings alive the Austrian countryside with its clear air, rolling meadows, onion-topped churches and fairy-tale castles. Her equally characteristic understanding of animals provides her with her finest writing. This is a novel which will bring pleasure to everyone.

—jacket, William Morrow edition, 1965

 

 

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cover of Ludo and the Star Horse

 

Little Broomstick image

 

Frost on the Window 

 

"I wrote a great deal of verse when I was young, and it did come as naturally as leaves to a tree. That does not imply (nor did Keats mean it to imply) that it was not technically hard work, but rather that I did tend in youth to think in terms of poetry, to shape life in those terms, catching things seen and heard in imagery, as a painter sees the surrounding world in his own terms of colour and form.

The poems lay forgotten for many years, and only lately did I begin to wonder if I should make some attempt to preserve them, if somewhere I might have written a few lines that would be worth keeping. So I have put together some of the verses of my youth."

—from the foreword, 1990

 

The Circle

I cut my finger on a thorn,
  Drew a circle with the blood,
Traced it round a-widdershins,
  Then silent in the middle stood.

Came a maiden tall and fair,
  Passing fair to look upon;
Came, and wept, and as I looked,
  Lo, the lovely maid was gone!

Came another, fairer yet,
  Sea-green eyes and hair like mist;
Like a wraith she poised, and smiled,
  And vanished when I would have kissed.

I leaned from out the circle-charm,
  Plucked a bulrush from the stream,
Split it. There a maiden stood,
  Lovely as a moon-mad dream.

The blood upon my finger dried;
  The maiden smiled, and made to stay;
But I from out the circle stept,
  And laughed, and went upon my way. 

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http://www.marystewartnovels.com/biography.html

 

Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow was born on September 17, 1916 in Sunderland, County Durham, England. Her father, as a young adventurer, had sailed around Cape Horn to New Zealand, where he met and married Mary's mother. The couple returned to England, and he started his career as an Anglican clergyman. Mary was their first child, and was followed by a son and another daughter.

 

Writing and storytelling always came easily to Mary, and she began writing and illustrating at the age of five. She started at Durham University in 1935, and received a First Class Honours B.A. in English in 1938 and a teaching certificate in 1939. Her goal was to become an English professor at Oxford, but at the time of her graduation WWII had made jobs scarce, and she settled for a job teaching elementary school. In 1941 she was offered a post at Durham University and taught there until 1945. She also received a M.A. in English during this time.

 

She met her future husband, Frederick Henry Stewart, in 1945 at a VE Day celebration at the university. It was a costume party, and she says, "He was not hard to spot; he was the chap wearing a girl's gym tunic and a red ribbon in his hair. He looked quite dreadful, but he had a lovely voice." They were married three months later.

 

After her marriage, Mary continued teaching part-time and began to focus on her writing. At the urging of her husband in 1953, she finally sent the manuscript of Madam, Will You Talk? to a publisher and was offered a contract by Hodder and Stoughton. The book was an instant success. She continued publishing about one book a year from 1955 until 1980, each becoming a best seller.

 

Mary's hobbies include gardening and the study of natural history, especially wildlife, plants, and flowers. She also has an avid interest in ancient Rome and Greece, as well as painting and theater. All these interests appear extensively as themes throughout her work.

 

Mary and her husband moved to Edinburgh in 1956 when Frederick was appointed Regius Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University. They traveled extensively, and these trips provided inspiration for the spectacular and exotic settings that her novels are so famous for. Frederick Stewart died in 2001, and Mary continues to live in Edinburgh.

 

Mary Stewart's legacy as an author is vast. She is considered by many to be the mother of the modern romantic suspense novel. She was among the first to integrate mystery and love story, seamlessly blending the two elements in such a way that each strengthens the other. Pamela Regis writes, "Stewart's influence extends to every writer of romantic suspense, for Stewart understood and perfected this hybrid of romance and mystery and used it as a structure for books so beautifully written that they have endured to become part of the canon of the twentieth-century romance novel." Popular authors continue to list her books among their favorites and cite her as influential to their own work. And even thirty years after publication, her books continue to be reprinted again and again.

 

Her Arthurian novels have become classics, mostly because of the quality of the writing, but also because of their originality. Her retelling of the story was groundbreaking because it is so different from standard versions: Merlin is the narrator, not King Arthur; they are set in the 5th century, rather than the 12th ; and the settings and customs of this time period were thoroughly researched and meticulously described. Her stories take a beloved, if rather tired, legend and make it fresh again.

 

Mary Stewart has always been hesitant to categorize her novels, uncomfortable naming them thrillers, or mysteries, or romances. She says, "I'd rather just say that I write novels, fast-moving stories that entertain. To my mind there are really only two kinds of novels, badly written and well written. Beyond that, you cannot categorize...Can't I say that I just write stories? 'Storyteller' is an old and honorable title, and I'd like to lay claim to it."

 

 

Please visit our Mary Stewart bibliography to view the resources used to write this biography.

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http://www.marystewartnovels.com/herwords.html

 

 

 

 

"Teller of Tales," in The Writer, Vol. 83, No. 5, May 1970

"[I] take conventionally bizarre situations (the car chase, the closed-room murder, the wicked uncle tale) and send real people into them, normal everyday people with normal everyday reactions to violence and fear; people not 'heroic' in the conventional sense, but averagely intelligent men and women who could be shocked or outraged into defending, if necessary with great physical bravery, what they held to be right."

"Wildfire at Midnight was an attempt at something different, the classic closed-room detective story with restricted action, a biggish cast, and a closely circular plot. It taught me technically a great deal, but mainly that the detective story, with its emphasis on plot rather than people, is not for me. What mattered to me was not the mystery, but the choice the heroine faces between personal and larger loyalties."

"The story comes first and is served first...These novels are light, fast-moving stories which are meant to give pleasure, and where the bees in the writer's bonnet are kept buzzing very softly indeed. I am first and foremost a teller of tales, but I am also a serious-minded woman who accepts the responsibilities of her job, and that job, if I am to be true to what is in me, is to say with every voice at my command: 'We must love and imitate the beautiful and the good.'"

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Raymond H. Thompson's Interviews with Authors of Modern Arthurian Literature, 1989

"The publishers didn't want me to write The Crystal Cave in the first place, because they were doing so well with the earlier books. Publishers never want you to change; if one horse is doing well, they don't want you to change horses."

 

"I've written stories since I was three and a half, and I think you're either born with the storyteller's flair or you're not. You can learn much about the craft of writing, but you either have the storyteller's flair or you don't. It's no virtue of mine. It's just there."

 

Contemporary Authors, Vol. 1, 1967

She has said that she has a very good visual memory, "almost like a movie camera. When I start describing something in a book, I find myself putting down things I didn't know I'd caught. I'm a sponge, a happy thing for a writer to be."

 

Ms. Stewart once claimed Thunder on the Right as her least favorite novel. "I detest that book. I'm ashamed of it, and I'd like to see it drowned beyond recovery. It's overwritten. It was actually the second book I wrote, and for some strange reason I went overboard, splurged with adjectives, all colored purple."

 

 

Literary Guild Review, August 1964

"Perhaps the commonest question of all is: 'I suppose you have to have had all the experiences you describe?' Considering the kind of thing that commonly befalls the heroines of my books, this always startles me a little. What sort of life do people imagine that I lead? The answer to that, of course, is that the word "imagine" means nothing to them, and to them one can hardly start explaining how imagination allows a writer to describe vividly something he has never done or seen.

 

"I personally have never been threatened with a gun while driving a racing Mercedes at ninety miles an hour. I have never been hunted with a fish-spear off the coast of Crete. I have never even been alone with a homicidal maniac on a Scottish mountainside. But I think I know how it would feel if I were. The place for truth is not in the facts of a novel; it is in the feelings."

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The Moon-Spinners movie edition

 

http://www.marystewartnovels.com/extras/moonspinnersmovie.html

 

The Moon-Spinners was made into a movie by Walt Disney in 1964, starring Hayley Mills as Nicola. Peter McEnery played Mark, apparently giving Mills her first on-screen kiss. The movie received mixed reviews and didn't do that well in the box office. But for light-hearted fun, it's a pretty entertaining movie.

 

The book's Cretan setting and a few story elements are evident in the movie, but Disney took plenty of license with the plot, as you can see from their description:

 

"Start with a fortune in stolen jewels. Add a dash of danger. A pinch of romance. Season with Hitchcock-like intrigue and comic flair. What do you have? A mystery thriller for the whole family ... with the Disney touch. Set against the sun-bleached beauty of the Isle of Crete, the story pits a young English tourist (Hayley Mills) against a wily Greek jewel thief (Eli Wallach). Mistaken identities and perilous escapes -- including a nail-biting battle with a windmill -- lead the junior-miss detective to a final confrontation aboard the yacht of an eccentric millionairess (Pola Negri) with a passion for priceless gems and pet cheetahs!"

Visit The Moon-Spinnersimdb page.

 

The movie was released on DVD recently and is available.

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[ Edited ]

See a gallery of Mary Stewart covers here:http://www.marystewartnovels.com/extras/coverygallery.html

 

View a bibliography here:http://www.marystewartnovels.com/bibliography.html

 

Take a "which Mary Stewart novel should I read" quiz here:

http://www.gotoquiz.com/which_mary_stewart_novel_should_you_read

 

These are the ladies who compiled most of this information:

 

 

http://www.marystewartnovels.com/aboutus.html

 

Hello and thanks for visiting MaryStewartNovels.com. We are Jennie and Julie, sisters living in North Carolina. Our love of Mary Stewart began when we were girls and our mother handed us her beat-up, much-beloved Mary Stewart novels. The books were a hit with us, and we've read and reread them for years.

 

We've often joked that we should build a shrine to Mary Stewart in our living room, but decided that would definitely cross the line into creepy. And what a better use of our time to create this website, so that we can share our love of Stewart with the world.

 

When not reading Mary Stewart novels, Jennie is a librarian-in-training. She also has a blog devoted to books. Julie is a graphic designer and has a blog about sewing and crafting.

 

We hope this site has provided you with the information you were looking for. If you have any suggestions we'd be glad to hear them. You can leave a comment on the Mary Stewart Novels blog or email us at contact@marystewartnovels.com.

 

Which are our favorite Mary Stewart novels? Tough call, but here they are, in order of preference:

 

Jennie's top 5: This Rough Magic, Madam, Will You Talk?, Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael, Thornyhold

 

Julie's top 5: Wildfire at Midnight, This Rough Magic, Nine Coaches Waiting, Touch Not the Cat, The Moon-Spinners

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[ Edited ]

What are your favorite Mary Stewart novels?

 

 


 

It's very hard to pick, but my favorites are:


 

  • THE IVY TREE

  • TOUCH NOT THE CAT

  • THE CRYSTAL CAVE

  • AIRS ABOVE THE GROUND

  • WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT

 

 

 

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Re: March: Week 1 Featured Author - MARY STEWART

INTERVIEW WITH MARY STEWART

by

RAYMOND H. THOMPSON



HOUSE OF LETTERAWE, LOCH AWE, SCOTLAND 
14 APRIL 1989

   The drive to the town of Lochawe in Argyllshire took me through some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland on a fine spring afternoon: along the banks of Loch Lomond with its islands reflected in the still water; up by the Falloch River into snow-covered mountains; over Strath Fillan and down Glen Lochy between Beinn Udlaidh and Ben Lui; then to Loch Awe itself, with mountains rising steeply on every side. That night, in the House of Letterawe, Lady Mary Stewart, to give her her full title, gave me a fine dinner, then beat me in a game of rummy. It was suitable preparation for the interview she gave the following morning. Initially, she did not want the interview to be taped, but finally agreed, despite misgivings, after I promised to give her editorial control over the material. As I had foreseen, she found nothing to object to.
   Stewart's suspense novels were best-sellers when she turned to Arthurian legend in The Crystal Cave (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970). Despite the doubts of her publishers, this proved equally successful, and they were happy when she decided to continue the story of Merlin in The Hollow Hills (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973) and The Last Enchantment (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979). She concluded with the story of Mordred in The Wicked Day(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984). Although she did not set out to write a series, Stewart's Arthurian books have remained firm favorites with readers, rarely out of print since their publication. It is a tribute to her skill as a storyteller.

 

http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/intrvws/stewart.htm

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Here are more blogs and sites about Mary Stewart:

 

http://niranjana.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/revisiting-an-old-flame-mary-stewart/

 

http://www.rambles.net/stewart_cave.html

 

http://www.funtrivia.com/quizzes/literature/authors_q-s/mary_stewart.html

 

http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:mbsOs6GcbicJ:www.racyromancereviews.com/2009/04/10/academic-talk...

 

 

 

From Random House:

 


 

author spotlight


Mary Stewart was born in Sunderland, County Durham, England, but has lived for many years in Scotland, where she divides her time between Edinburgh and the West Highlands.

Lady Stewart's career as a novelist began in 1956 with Madam, Will You Talk? Since then she has published twenty novels, all bestsellers, including her Merlin trilogy about the legendary enchanter Merlin and the young Arthur (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day), and, most recently, The Stormy Petrel and Thornyhold. Her books for children include The Little Broomstick, Ludo and the Star Horse, and A Walk in Wolf Wood. She has also published a book of poetry entitled Frost on the Window.

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Re: March: Week 1 Featured Author - MARY STEWART

The cover I just showed is the one I have, the original I bought many, many years ago.

 

I don't recall what Mary Stewart book I read first - I think it may have been MADAM, WILL YOU TALK? or NINE COACHES WAITING. I remember buying TOUCH NOT THE CAT and THE GABRIEL HOUNDS when they first came out, and I saw THE MOONSPINNERS when it first came to the theaters.

 

What about you? What memories do you have about these fabulous books?