Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 27 February 2016

MARGARET FORSTER AND ME by Gill Stewart










Margaret Forster, novelist, biographer and writer of truly memorable memoirs, died this month aged 77.


When I heard of her death, I felt I had suffered a personal loss. I felt as though she was a contemporary, a friend, who had experienced the same things I had and that now we would never be able to talk them over together. This is ridiculous in so many ways: she was my mother’s age, not mine; she was brought up in a council house in Cumbria while I was bought up in ‘nice’ private houses in Cheshire and then South Africa; she was a scholarship pupil at Oxford whereas I was a very average student at the University of Cape Town. And yet, and yet … in some strange way she was my friend, part of my family even.

My parents spent the last fifteen years of their lives in Cumbria, latterly very close to Carlisle. My mother loved the books of Hunter Davies (Forster’s husband of 56 years); my sister and I loved the books of Margaret Forster, especially her memoirs. As a family we were constantly giving each other Margaret Forster or Hunter Davies books as gifts, and conversations often contained references to them. Their lives and experiences seemed interwoven with ours.

Margaret Forster was a special person: clever, talented, generous, perceptive and yet shy and unassuming. I loved her. OK, I’ve never met her, but I loved what she gave me through her writing. Her beautiful style, a sense of hope and the possibility of achievement, an ironic acceptance of her own foibles and therefore mine. I was particularly moved by her last book, My Life In Houses , in which she shares her obsessions with the houses she had lived in – and those she hadn’t. This is an obsession I have too! When she imagined living in those houses she walked passed in Carlisle it was as though she was describing me. I could completely identify. As a student in Cape Town, South Africa, I used to plan my routes home from lectures depending on which houses I wanted to dream about that day.

Margaret Forster’s writing does something that really great writing can do – it validates and enhances our own life experience, allowing us to think differently about things, giving us new meaning.

A great loss, but also how lucky we are to have ‘known’ her, even if only through her books.

16 comments:

  1. So eloquent - makes me want to read her work! I may come knocking, Gill!

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    1. She's brilliant, thoroughly recommend!

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  2. I really enjoyed this Gill. I do have one Margaret Foster and I'm ashamed to say it is still languishing on my shelves so now I shall read it. It is strange how close you can feel to someone you have never met. Books and enjoyment of reading are great gifts.

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    1. They really are, aren't they? Thanks Gwen.

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  3. What wonderful memories to share with your sister, Gill - all the family discussions of Davies' and Forster's work. You have written so beautifully about Forster's writing that I'm off to add 'My Life in Houses' to my TBR pile too!

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    1. Although I don't want your TBR list to totter completely over Rae, it really is worth looking out for.

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  4. Brilliant blog post. I just have to buy My Life In Houses now! The village of Bourneville in Birmingham is like that for houses....all different, all covetable, all enough to send me into a daydream.

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    1. Thanks Linda. I do love houses! Not as much as books, of course, but it's a close thing.

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  5. Love this post. I do have several of her books but I too will be buying My Life In Houses!

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    1. Thanks Jennie. I feel that by sharing my love of MF with others I can maybe do her (and her memory) a tiny favour for all the joy she has given me. Hope you enjoy it!

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  6. Nice post, Gill. I enjoyed Forster's books, especially her novels and memoirs (though I was less keen than you on her biscuit one). I haven't read My Life in Houses and might give it a go but I see she has a new novel coming out in March.

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    1. Thanks Mary.Do give My Life In Houses a try, I really loved it.

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  7. A wonderful Blog Post but I was very sad to hear that the author Margaret Forster is no longer with us. A brilliant author, I have read many of her novels. I too will be buying My Life in Houses.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Camilla. I'm so pleased to hear my love of Margaret Forster's writing is shared.

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  8. Gill, I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I've never read any Margaret Forster. But I think I will try My Life in Houses.

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    1. I'd definitley recommend it. Also I think you'd enjoy 'Hidden Lives', which is mostly a memoir of her grandmother and mother and then parlty of her own life.

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