Tag Archives: Mary Stewart

Madam, won’t talk

In case you missed it, and it’s a wonder I didn’t, since I never listen to the radio: Radio 4, Mary Stewart’s Madam, Will You Talk? part one today, second part next Sunday.

It was bliss, even at the halfway mark. I’m never sure I will be able to tell the characters’ voices apart on radio, but this worked fine. And their David is perfect. As is Mr Byron/Coleridge/Shelley/Wordsworth.

Over eleven years since I reviewed the new edition of Mary Stewart’s best book, and many many years since I first read it. Obviously. That review revealed that I now know lots of fans of this gorgeous romantic thriller, but I note that we still haven’t gone on that group trip to Stewart settings.

Death in Berlin

M M Kaye wrote six ‘Death in …’ novels, each featuring a lovely young heroine meeting crime in a thriller setting, somewhere exotic. And also meeting love in the shape of dashing and mysterious man.

So, therein lies the problem, now that it’s the 21st century. On rereading Mary Stewart’s romance set in Vienna last year, I found it had grown old gracefully. Her heroines were usually a little more mature [than barely out of their teens] and her men not too frightfully macho. They had good conversation, and who cares if they were all rather unfashionable [by today’s standards] and belonging to the more entitled social classes?

Not me. Not then, and not now.

But this one by M M Kaye, the Death in Berlin one, was every bit as bleak as I recalled. Possibly because a cold and wet March in 1953 in a divided Berlin, with lots of ruins still, can never be as charming as a sunny romance in Africa or India. And I do remember being disappointed in the hero. He’d almost have been all right – at least now when I’m older and wiser – and then she had to go and compare him to Alec Guinness!

M M Kaye, Death in Berlin

And the class thing; it’s really not working. They are so frightfully British and superior in war torn Germany. Fine, you can hate the life as the wife of a British army officer, the moving round the world, and all that. But it’s not attractive voicing such hatred of foreigners. Fine, you want your heroine to do well. But in this case her man has a job. He doesn’t have to tell his new love that she needn’t worry, because he does have a private income as well. And his attitude towards this beautiful young female would be highly inappropriate today.

The crime, though, is pretty satisfying, and I couldn’t remember who did it. Quite a good thrilling end.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I liked the Berlin connection, even if it wasn’t exactly Zanzibar. It was clear that M M Kaye had lived there herself, at that time. I was amused to see that even back then there was a noticeable difference between British workmen and German ones. Seems that foreigners are good for some things, then.

Airs Above the Ground

Like The Star of Kazan, Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground features a stolen Lipizzaner and some fake jewels, plus romance and adventure galore, all set in Austria.

Well over forty years since I last read it, I discovered – again – that returning to a book often improves it. I remembered some things very clearly, and was delighted to find others that I really enjoyed.

Mary Stewart, Airs Above the Ground

Almost newly-wed Vanessa flies out to Vienna, ostensibly chaperoning 17-year-old Tim, who is crazy about horses, and the Spanish riding school especially. Both of them are travelling under false pretences.

A fire in a circus takes them all over Austria, and it turns out Vanessa’s husband leads a more exciting life than she’d hitherto been aware of. (Well, he is a Mary Stewart hero.)

Now that I’m much older than Vanessa (I wasn’t the first time), I can see that she is unreasonably mature at 24. But I like her, and I adore young Tim, who like Mary’s other ‘young men’ is truly lovely.

And as for the horse… well, not a dry eye left.

I wonder if Eva Ibbotson had read Airs Above the Ground? Or if great minds simply think alike? The final chapters in both books are so similar, in the most satisfying of ways.

Besides, it’s amazing how far £20 went in the early 1960s…

Revisiting Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart died last week. I’m sure you knew that. It’s sad that she’s gone, but I’m grateful we had her for as long as we did, and that she wrote all those wonderful books. That’s cause for celebration.

I’ll just post the links to my reviews from a few years ago, when her books were last re-issued. You can’t have too much Mary Stewart. That’s why I even looked for her settings on my holidays.

Mary Stewart, Madam, Will You Talk?

Madam, Will You Talk? began my trip down memory lane, in May 2011. It was followed by Wildfire at Midnight, and after that The Moonspinners and This Rough Magic. And last but not least, My Brother Michael.

I even tried asking for an interview, simply because I was so happy Mary was still alive, and I would have loved meeting a long time favourite author. The publishers – very sensibly – said no. Mary felt she was too old for interviews. (You can’t be too old for Bookwitches, but I knew what they meant.)

Young and hot, or perhaps not

Mary Hoffman went on a book tour to America last week, leaving us – her blog readers – with some exciting men to think about. I bet she did that on purpose.

She writes about some very attractive young men in her own books, and I trust Mary has done a lot of research to make our reading experience the best ever. But I am too old for her boys. I simply cannot lust after a teenager. Even setting propriety aside I find I can’t. I need older men.

Like the ones I was too young for when I was a teenager. Except in those days there wasn’t much in the way of teen books, so a girl had to lust after grown older men, or not lust at all. Lord Peter Wimsey is one such example mentioned by Mary. (And don’t tell anyone, but I did like him.)

That’s life. Nothing is ever right.

So, in those days I liked the Scarlet Pimpernel (even without Leslie Howard), and I adored Steven Howard in MM Kaye’s Death in Cyprus and Richard Byron in Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk. Various Alistair MacLean heroes, and Carl Zlinter from Nevil Shute’s The Far Country. (Go on, ridicule me!)

If there were any boys, I have forgotten them, which means they can’t have been all that special.

More recently I have liked Margery Allingham’s Campion, Mr Knightley, and Robert Stephens’s voice as Aragorn in the radio version of Lord of the Rings. There aren’t all that many attractive men in modern children’s or YA books, but there is Lupin. And from an old classic we have Daddy Longlegs.

If I absolutely have to find young men in current fiction they won’t be vampires. Not even faeries (sorry, Seth McGregor). I liked Wes in Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever, and Sanchez in Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan is quite a boy. And now that I think about it, the Cathys (Cassidy and Hopkins) do lovely young ones.

Abby and Ducky

Men on the screen, however, have got easier with age. The ten-year-old me knew it was wrong to be in love with Ilya Kuryakin, 23 years my senior. But he was so cute! And this being a lasting kind of passion, it was David McCallum who got me started on NCIS. He is still very good looking for a man approaching 80. And it was at NCIS I found Very Special Agent Gibbs, a man of the right age. At last. I reckon he is a modern Mr Knightley.


So, for me it is No Thanks to ‘hot young men.’ I need them to be grey these days.

(Link here to an older post about pretty boys. I seem to have grown out of them.)

Bookwitch bites #59

Happy 95th Birthday to Mary Stewart! It’s so fantastic to know that someone I began admiring over forty years ago is still alive, although retired from writing those wonderful novels with the perfect heroines and their dashing love interests.

If I hadn’t been so forgetful earlier, I wouldn’t have needed to ask Shaun Tan about who handed over the Astrid Lindgren award earlier this year. I had carefully saved this photo of Shaun with Crown Princess Victoria. He looks fairly pleased, and she is wearing a nice blue dress.

Shaun Tan and Crown Princess Victoria

And while not exactly an award, who’d have thought that Severus Snape would turn out to be so popular? Snape won the Bloomsbury vote for favourite Harry Potter character, followed by Hermione and Sirius. I suppose it was all that moody and half romantic swoosh of the cape that did it.

I’m not in the slightest surprised that Michelle Magorian’s wonderful book Just Henry has been picked by ITV to be filmed. Actually, it has already been filmed, as far as I understand, and it will turn up on television this Christmas. That’s definitely something to look forward to.

A little sooner than that there is the Bath Kids LitFest later this month. Surprise, surprise, but I’m not going to be there. Again. I’m still recuperating from excessive LitFesting. One year I really will make it down to that very beautiful city. Decades after my first visit I still remember all the tearooms I found. Anyway, enough about food I’m not going to eat. They have a relay blog story thing going during the period leading up to the start of the festival and on until the ‘bitter end.’ Lots of big author names are taking part, and even the odd blogger.

Bath Big Story

Click here for the first instalment. Then you need to follow the trail for each chapter.

I’m now getting ready to dance on the table, so have no more time for this blogging business. See you tomorrow!

My Brother Michael

For years I always remembered My Brother Michael as one of Mary Stewart’s more ‘boring’ romances. Then one day I re-read it and wondered what that had all been about, because it was absolutely fantastic.

Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael

It’s a low-key kind of romance, so maybe I was too young the first time, wanting something more exciting, and not getting it. I used to think of the hero, Simon, as someone who wasn’t terribly fanciable. Possibly even a little boring. How wrong a witch-in-waiting can be!

But then, I myself am so boring that I would never do what Camilla does. Barely hesitating when offered the keys to a car that needs to be driven to Delphi for someone by the name of Simon, she gets in the car and off she goes.

Well, it saves money and she’s low on funds. She’s also low on self-esteem, having a recently broken engagement behind her, and her travelling companion had to cancel. Naturally she runs into Simon, who may or may not be the Simon the car is intended for.

As your typical ‘macho’ Classics teacher, Simon takes over. He’s in Greece to look into the death of his brother Michael many years earlier. This being a romantic mystery there is plenty that goes wrong, before it goes right.

Those English school teachers are really something! And there is yet another ‘charming young man’, of the kind Mary Stewart does best. With colourful socks.

This Rough Magic

Mary Stewart, This Rough Magic

Sometimes in Shakespeare I come across a quote I recognise, and I say to myself, ‘that’s a Mary Stewart title’. Which of course is the wrong way round to look at things. Or perhaps it isn’t. Why shouldn’t I learn about Shakespeare through my other reading?

Anyway, I did. And in This Rough Magic it’s The Tempest all the way. This being a romance, we have Lucy who is ‘resting’ from her acting career, and has come to Corfu, where her sister lives, to do the resting. One of the neighbours just happens to be the Shakespeare actor of all times, Sir Julian Gale. And he just happens to have a handsome son, Max Gale.

And the neighbourhood just happens to have mystery involving twins and with a handsome young Greek by the name of Adonis.


Lucy – obviously – stumbles straight into this mystery, and Max – obviously – is also involved, somehow.

It wasn’t just old Shakespeare quotes, though. I learned about the fancy things old actors have in their bathrooms, too. They had many bathrooms, even in those days, or perhaps especially in those days of the early 1960s. They could afford to be rich then. And charming.

Oh, to be able to rattle off a whole lot of Shakespearian quotes!

The Moonspinners

Crete is where sausages wander around in the open air. Well, not really, but it’s one of the things that made a lasting impression on me all those years ago.

Mary Stewart, The Moonspinners

The Moonspinners is my third favourite Mary Stewart. I have been running across that dry Cretan landscape many, many times, although so far always in my dreams. If you’re in luck you could stumble across some wounded and handsome man in dire need of a torn petticoat. I’ve always wondered how you go about tearing up clothing for dressings, suspecting the fabric would withstand such a noble sacrifice.

But first you need to find your injured man, and I recommend huts and caves. Go on holiday with a dear friend or relative, go for a walk, encounter savage Greek, find your man and set about generally helping and falling in love. With petticoat, as I said. (Now, me, I would wear trousers, so the petticoat would have been safely not ever bought in the first place. Which may be why I rarely encounter romance in caves.)

Apart from wounded hero, we have another instance of young boy with plenty of charm as well. So our heroine Nicola has lover boy Mark, younger brother boy Colin and fierce Greek minder Lambis on one side, and the rest of Crete (or so it seems) on the other.

They all speak Greek, which perhaps stretches belief slightly, but then again, why not? It’s how you can tell what the baddies are saying.

And despite the introductory petticoat Nicola looks good in tight jeans, which I suppose was rather improper back in 1962. So was spending the night together, even if nothing much happens. But you just can’t leave a hero who’s been shot and who gets a bit delirious and very cold. You keep them safe and warm.

Wildfire at Midnight

I can only assume I put the memory of Wildfire at Midnight away for safe keeping at the point where I took up holidaying in walking centres, especially those in Scotland. Now they are just a memory, too, so I’d feel almost ready to go back to that hotel on Skye where Gianetta went to avoid the Coronation in 1953. With a bit of luck I’d come across her handsome ex-husband, and with even more luck he would be neither ancient nor dead.

Mary Stewart, Wildfire at Midnight

More luck still and I’d look like the lovely Gianetta, who’s a fashion model. But then there are the murders that start to occur all over the majestic landscape. Blaven is bleak but beautiful, and more and more bodies end up there. Could it be the ex? Or any of the other men? And why?

When I let the Resident IT Consultant read Wildfire at Midnight, because it is set in the Scottish hills, he was disappointed there was so much romance. Walks and murders would have been enough for him. (I’m not letting him read any of the others. Pigs. Pearls.) But he did comment on how the guests all socialised in the hotel. They talked and walked. And considerably more.

Sort of reminds me of those latter day walking centres. Minus the murders.

I doubt I’d have travelled all the way to Skye had it not been for this novel. The weather was the same, but I couldn’t afford the type of hotel where the guests murder each other.

It’s very romantic. And that’s good. This is another one where I can remember quotes after all those years. I learned a few things, the oddest of them being Gianetta’s mother saying ‘there are the pips’. Puzzled me for years, that did. Kept visualising oranges, somehow.

And before you all write in to say the cover doesn’t fit the story, I’ll just say that it’s purple, which is nice, but you are quite right. It doesn’t. Gianetta did not look like that, because only an idiot would climb the Cuillins wearing a coat and a pert little hat.