As a child I was a voracious reader—and have only slowed lately in order to keep my mind clear for my own murder mysteries (i.e., I can’t multitask). I read everything I could get my hands on—including some that were—in retrospect—inappropriate. Tom Jones and Brideshead Revisited went right over my head. Early favorites were the Oz books, Mary Poppins, and E. Nesbit’s tales of magical adventure. If a book was deemed a “classic” I’d go for it on the assumption that it wouldn’t be a classic if it weren’t good. Except for Dickens, to whom I’ve never cottoned, that rule usually held.
I particularly loved romantic suspense and mysteries, especially British ones—Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and the novels of Mary Stewart (1916-2014). In fact, in my interview for college, I tried to pretend I only read heavy tomes on historical subjects, but somehow the subject of Mary Stewart came up and the professor and I had a marvelous conversation. I learned a lesson about human nature that day. Be honest: everyone else is pretty much in the same boat.
I checked Amazon for a list of Stewart’s books and realized I read all but the last five of her romantic suspense novels plus the Merlin trilogy! From her first, Madam, Will You Talk (1957) to Touch Not the Cat (1976), I devoured them. Mostly set in Europe (Stewart was English), they usually feature an unsuspecting heroine who lands in a puzzling mystery. Along with adventure, you’re assured of a fine romance as well. Some of you may remember the movie The Moonspinners, starring Hayley Mills.
Something else I discovered: Mary Stewart lived on Loch Awe in Scotland—a place I remember fondly. It is a picturesque small loch west of Loch Lomond. The Hotel Ardanaseig—a beautiful 19th century castle—sits on one bank. Its guest quarters are in the Rose Cottage up the lane. We stayed there on the last leg of a trip I took with my family. Imagine my delight to discover that one of Stewart’s mysteries I hadn’t read was entitled Rose
Cottage! I finished it yesterday.
Stewart’s books inspired my current approach to writing a story more than any others. Like her, my heroines are feisty, my heroes clever and non-gooey, my settings exotic, and my mysteries cozy.