Since the late 60s I’ve had a favorite writer, one I have blogged about in the past. She wrote under her maiden name, D.E. Stevenson, though in “real life” she was known as Mrs. James Peploe. She was born in “the Lighthouse Stevensons” family of engineers who built, among other things, the lighthouses around the dangerous rocky waters of Scotland. Her father’s first cousin was Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame. One of her husband’s uncles was Samuel Peploe, an artist of the Scottish Colorist school.
For 44 years I’ve been enjoying her 40 novels and have more than one copy of all of them. Of course I read a lot of other books, and reread a number of other favorite authors, but she is my default author.
And since 1997 when I was a co-founder of a discussion list of her books, I’ve had an ongoing conversation with friends who also love these books, and meetings with them, both in Boston where her manuscripts and papers are housed in the special collections library of Boston University, and last summer when we met in Edinburgh and also visited North Berwick where the Stevenson clan had their summer vacations when she was growing up, and Moffat, a lovely town in the Scottish borders to which she and her husband retired after Glasgow was seriously bombed during WWII.
Her novels are sometimes classified as “romance” but all her fans realize there is a lot more going on, not that there is anything wrong with romance in life or books. And some of her works are beginning to be rediscovered and reprinted by some of the small new niche publishers such as Persephone Books and Bloomsbury Press. Miss Buncle’s Book has been a top seller for Persephone since they brought it out, and just a few weeks ago they had the launch of the sequel, Miss Buncle Married. These are warmhearted and very amusing books. I’ve often lent them to friends who were having difficulties in their lives. I read them then myself.
For many years I’ve thought I had read all of her books, with the exception of one of two early books of poetry, The Starry Mantle, which I think I could read in person at a few major libraries such as The National Library of Scotland, but nowhere else. And when, years ago, I finally tracked down a copy of Five Windows and realized it was the last of her books I would be reading for the first time, I was quite sad.
Then something wonderful happened. Her younger son John passed three boxes of papers on to his niece Penny and when she was going through them she discovered the manuscripts for two unpublished books her grandmother had written. After a time, and with the help of a Dessie ( what her fans from the reading group call ourselves) a publisher was found for these books, Emily Dennistoun, probably written in the 1920s when she was learning her craft and The Fair Miss Fortune, written in the 30s when some of her funniest books were penned. DES was between publishers at the time, and it was never published and WWII began and her books changed somewhat.
Now these two rather unread treasures have been published by Greyladies Press in Edinburgh, a company associated with The Old Children’s Bookshelf there which many of us visited last summer.
I now have two copies of each. One to keep on my DES shelves and a copy of each to lend out.