Mary's Biography


From The Charlotte Austin Review Ltd.

I am from north-eastern England, having been born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, a city famous for being the place to which coals are superfluously carried, not to mention the original stamping grounds of the Animals. I shall not go on too much about the general geographic area, for the descriptions in Catherine Cookson's novels cannot be bettered. And yes, we had a clothes mangle. In fact, I once mangled my younger sister's fingers by accident, but we don't talk too much about that.

As it happened, I was one of those children always being told to put my book down and go out and play. Apparently I was reading by the time I went to school, my mother having taught me more or less in desperation because I kept asking what it said on the butterfly-decorated label of the Fussell's condensed milk tin. As a teenager I always said that I wanted to be a writer and live in a garret and now, some years later, I have achieved at least half of those two o'er weening ambitions.

My first published writing appeared in sf fanzines duplicated on clunky old Gestetners. Ah, how rich was the person who actually owned a duplicator, as opposed to those like me, who put them out by staying behind after work to crank out reams of quarto sized dreams. Writing this conjures up the feel of those big squishy tubes of ink, the pear drop smell of the scarlet corflu (correcting fluid)that bedaubed floppy, waxy stencils, the whiff of charcoal when technological advances brought the wonders of electro-stencilling.

Being able to run a duplicator without putting the stencil back to front on the drum was a useful skill to boast when interviewing for the secretarial posts which were my first forays into the working world. Later on I began to do much more interesting jobs. One of my favourites was running the Theology Faculty office of the University of Oxford. Another was working for Sir Clive Sinclair, whose company was housed at that time in a converted paper mill in a village near Cambridge. That was the job where I had the dubious honour of being filmed for a tv science programme, riding the prototype Sinclair electric bike around the office. This feat caused great excitement when viewed by my young nephews and niece up north and it's strange to think that it may still exist somewhere, recorded on an old spool of film lurking in the BBC archives.

A couple of years after that I emigrated to America. The two events are not, of course, connected in any way.

Thus it was that I was living in Illinois when I sold my first story in the late l970s. It was, ironically, to the BBC World Service Radio's short story programme. "Aunt Ba's Story" was inspired by two things- a dream and "Home From Sea", the Pre-Raphaelite painting. Emboldened by this success, within a couple of years I had ventured out onto the uncharted waters of the literary seas and was publishing nonfiction articles with quirky topics. Subjects like canine companions to the saints, cheese rolling, Dr. Merryweather's Tempest Prognosticator (a weather forecasting device using leeches), English high teas, that sort of thing.
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I originally set out to write ghost stories after the style of M. R. James and E. F. Benson, two of my favourite authors. As it turned out, I began writing mystery stories, the first of which appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in l987. "Local Cuisine" is set in England and was inspired by an old folk tale concerning the dining habits of crustaceans. Numerologists maybe interested to note that the first story that Eric and I co-wrote (and indeed the first story about John the Eunuch) was published six years later.

One For Sorrow
was published six years to the month after that first John story saw light of day. Of course there are many more tales to be told, not only about John the Eunuch, but also concerning our modern day Mongolian policeman, Inspector Dorj, as well as other characters as yet unknown to the world. A modest ambition of mine is to write a story that includes a naturally-occurring reference to Fussell's condensed milk. I wonder if they still make it?

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