March 30, 2021

Mary Stewart's This Rough Magic

Mary Stewart's This Rough Magic

Linda Hengerer and Suzanne Fox talk about This Rough Magic, how she uses a dolphin as both needing rescue and rescuer, and plays characters off each other who are at the beginning and end of their career.


You can read a review of This Rough Magic by Suzanne Fox on the blog Mary Stewart Reading.

On this episode of Tart Words, Suzanne Fox and Linda Hengerer are discussing Mary Stewart’s book This Rough Magic and how she uses a dolphin as both needing rescue and being the rescuer, and plays characters off each other who are at the beginning and end of their respective careers. 

It was first published in 1964 by Hodder & Stoughton and is now available in ebook editions.  

Description from Amazon:

Lucy Waring, a young, out-of-work actress from London, leaps at the chance to visit her sister for a summer on the island paradise of Corfu, and what's more, a famous but reclusive actor is staying in a villa nearby. But Lucy's hopes for rest and romance are shattered when a body washes up on the beach and she finds herself swept up in a chilling chain of events.
 
 I shuddered, and drank my coffee, leaning back in my chair to gaze out across pine tops furry with gold towards the sparkling sea, and surrendering myself to the dreamlike feeling that marks the start of a holiday . . .


Takeaways for writers:

In This Rough Magic, Lucy Waring is a young actress at the beginning of her career, and renowned actor Sir Julian Gale is at the end of his career. While at different stages and with different skills, they enjoy each other’s company and catching up on the London stage scene. 

Mary Stewart gives the reader all the information they need to understand William  Shakespeare’s The Tempest by having Lucy and Sir Julian talk about the play; Lucy also gets information about why Sir Julian thinks Corfu was the setting for The Tempest from other characters. 

Lucy is in the bay with the dolphin when she realizes someone is shooting into the water. To scare the dolphin away from danger and to alert the shooter of her presence, she jumps out, splashes around, and shouts up to where she thinks the shooter is. Near the end of the book, the dolphin Lucy befriended helps get her to safety. 

Exercises for writers: 

Characters – How do you show characters at different stages in the same profession? How do you show tension when characters are trying to keep information from each other, using subtext and action instead of dialogue?

Backstory – Do you drip in backstory only as the reader needs that information? Read your work in progress from the beginning, and only leave in the relevant information about the character’s past that the reader needs to understand the story at that moment.

Structure – Scenes with the dolphin bookend This Rough Magic. Lucy rescues the dolphin in the beginning of the story and the dolphin rescues Lucy at the end of the story. 

Do you structure your plot lines to answer story questions in the reverse order that they are introduced in the story? 

Read your favorite book in the genre you’re writing in, and note at what point story questions are introduced and at what point, and in what order, those story questions are answered.

 

 

Transcript

Transcribed by Otter.ai; Lightly edited by Linda. Please forgive typos and grammar errors.

You can read a review of This Rough Magic by Suzanne Fox on the blog Mary Stewart Reading.

Episode 110 - This Rough Magic

17:26

Linda 00:00

Welcome to Tart Words. I'm your host, Linda Hengerer. And I'm a writer, a reader and a baker. I talk to writers about their latest book and what inspires them; chat with fellow author Suzanne Fox about what writers can learn from reading their favorite authors; and share fast and easy recipes for anyone looking for a sweet treat. Join me as I share Tart Bites, Tart Thoughts, and Tart Words. Today I'm talking with Suzanne Fox. She writes fiction and nonfiction, reviews books for Publishers Weekly, edits the online journal Society 19, and works with authors to shape, publish, and market their work. Her handmade jewelry and digital art, including that used for the Tart Words Mary Stewart podcasts, is inspired by favorite books and authors. A graduate of the Columbia University MFA writing program, Suzanne now lives in North Carolina. 

Find out more about Suzanne at www.bookstrategy.com and www.SocietyNineteenJournal.com

In this episode of Tart Words, Suzanne Fox and Linda Hengerer are discussing Mary Stewart’s book This Rough Magic and how she uses a dolphin as both needing rescue and being the rescuer, and plays characters off each other who are at the beginning and end of their respective careers. 

It was first published in 1964 by Hodder & Stoughton and is now available in ebook editions.  

Description from Amazon:

Lucy Waring, a young, out-of-work actress from London, leaps at the chance to visit her sister for a summer on the island paradise of Corfu, and what's more, a famous but reclusive actor is staying in a villa nearby. But Lucy's hopes for rest and romance are shattered when a body washes up on the beach and she finds herself swept up in a chilling chain of events.
 
 I shuddered, and drank my coffee, leaning back in my chair to gaze out across pine tops furry with gold towards the sparkling sea, and surrendering myself to the dreamlike feeling that marks the start of a holiday . . .

Welcome to the podcast, Suzanne.

Suzanne 02:14

It is very nice to be here, Linda, I'm excited to talk more Mary Stewart.

Linda 02:19

I know. today we're talking about This Rough Magic, which is one of the three books of hers in a probably a five-year span that she set in Greece. So we'll be talking about all three of them: This Rough Magic, The Moon-Spinners, and My Brother Michael. But for right now we'll focus on This Rough Magic.

Suzanne 02:39

Excellent. It's one of my favorite groups of her novels. I think they're all really successful and evocative. So they'll be fun to talk about.

Linda 02:48

I agree. Let's start with the setting. She set all three of them in Greece. And This Rough Magic is set off the coast of Greece, on the island of Corfu, up in the section that's close to Yugoslavia [NOTE: it’s Albania], because she does mention that there is some local smuggling going on into Yugoslavia, which is under communist rule at that point, but you definitely get a feel for the lush

03:13

paradise that Lucy Waring, the main character, is living in at her sister Phyllida’s husband's family country retreat. Indeed. And I think one of the things that is that makes the book rich and interesting, as well as provide some of the plot is the fact that Lucy and her sister, as you say, are staying in a villa. It's clearly very beautiful. One of the other characters, Godfrey Manning is renting one of the family's villas, so the characters right around them are quite affluent and life is very comfortable, but in very small ways, Stewart makes clear that the Corfusians, the actual residents, are often quite impoverished. And so the fact that I think the coast of you know Albania, you know, that whole Eastern Bloc is only seven miles of water or something away. And so part of the reason the smuggling happens is that people are legitimately poor, right? I think it gives it a little bit of tension that the book otherwise would not have. You are in Paradise, but you know that you know, it's almost like over the wall of the Garden of Eden,

Linda 04:17

Right? Life is not so easy. And it's interesting to it starts out with a very theatrical ambience because Lucy Waring is an actress. Her play in London has just closed so she's visiting her pregnant sister who's pregnant with twins, and one of the first conversations in the book that they have about that is what the twins are going to be called. And there's a reference to [William] Shakespeare and his play [The Tempest]. So I think that it's very interesting, especially in light of the fact that their neighbor in the broken down Castello, which is less comfortable, but bigger than the villas that Lucy and her sister are staying in is one of the leading actors of the London stage

Suzanne 05:05

Right, who has retired in mysterious circumstances and is fairly well in protectively guarded by his son, Max, a theatrical composer of among other things, Theatre and Film scores we’re told. Yes, I think that that's true. And it's worth saying that on all three of these books, Stewart's knowledge of literature, both Greek theater, and Shakespeare, really shines in a way that at least for me, I never felt that it was pretentious or distracting. But I think you're getting these wonderful physical descriptions of the setting. But you also have a sense of the myth of the setting, right? How people's imaginations have written about it and seen it and I think that's a wonderful addition. And again, as you say, since Lucy is an actress, she can natter about Shakespeare's The Tempest with Julian Gale. And I'm just gonna say real fast that the first exchange which I can't quote accurately, but I seem to recall that when they're talking about you know, well, what will the twins be named? One of Lucy's jokes as well, you can name one of them Caliban after the monster of The Tempest. And so there's a very playful way that she brings the world of the theater into it. It's, I think you're signaled right from the beginning that Lucy and Julian Gale are people who revere the theater, but they don't take themselves too seriously now, and maybe that's why all these references to is this the setting of The Tempest and things like that? I don't think that they read as pretentious or academic, you feel that they're treated with a certain amount of playfulness and humor?

Linda 06:41

Yes. And they don't assume you know everything about Shakespeare and The Tempest, whatever you need to know about it in relation to the story, Mary Stewart explains through the characters in a very organic way. So I, who am not up on my Shakespeare and not The Tempest, was never feeling like I was at sea with her references to either Shakespeare or the play.

Suzanne 07:07

I think that's right, I guess because I'm on the Tart Words podcast, with my friend who bakes as well as reads and writes, I'm going to flub this metaphor being a person who does not cook at all, although I'm very happy to eat what other people cook, but I think the literary references are garnishes are flavors, they are not the body of the cake or art. So I think they add this wonderful flavor that helps make the books distinctive, but you still get the delicious baking, whether or not you even know what that flavor is. And I think that that is part of why, you know, you can come to the books in all sorts of levels of knowledge of what the heck she's talking about, you know.

Linda 07:53

Right. Let's go and you can take it on a very surface level, you know, it's about two sisters, one of whom is spending time with her pregnant sister in the last stages of her pregnancy, while the husband is unable to get away for extended periods from his, I'm assuming it's a high level banking job, given the family's wealth and position, but she is happy to leave the leading light of the London stage alone until she runs into his son and is I guess, made aware of his presence. And then when she actually does meet him, and they have a little exchange of actually play where they're, you know, she hears him reciting something from Shakespeare, and she replies in kind, and I just thought that was really charming.

Suzanne 08:43

I think it's completely charming. There's a second scene where they see each other again, where a wonderful white cat is walking around, and Lucy follows the cat. I don't honestly remember whether it's to just make sure it gets home, okay, or to say, where is it going. And she's sort of seduced into this old rose garden. That's on the grounds of that older giant house. And that also she kind of wends up to the house. I will also say that for people who have not read the books, as well as for writers, the older sort of hunting lodge that Julian Gale and his son have rented, because it's much more remote, you can close it up much more than you can, the villas that are, I think, more open to ordinary people. But it's an extremely funny setting. It's filled with crazy weapons from the 19th century, the bathrooms clearly have not been updated since the 19th century. It has wine cellars and caves and tunnels underneath it. It's just a wonderful setting. And it's an example of a writer really only describing the setting. I think you're only really in that place for a few pages all together in the book and yet it's very memorable. And sort of unexpected in just the fact it's a very theatrical place, it's almost like it's a stage set for something like clue rather than a real residence,

Linda 10:05

Right. But it's the perfect place for someone like Julian Gale to reside. Because when you are larger than life as you would need to be to project from the stage to the back of the hall, this falling down hunting lodge with its tunnels and caves and marble bathrooms and just ridiculous for the current age, but perfectly normal for a master of acting in the way that he is. It just seems like very fitting. And maybe it's because as an actor, he's used to being in these fabulous stage settings. 

Suzanne 10:40

I hadn't thought about that. But I think that's absolutely true. And he's a playful character. And so I think he's amused by it. So 

10:47

I would think that his son who is afraid that his father is going to sort of be pursued by the press, etc, likes it because he can protect his father there, it's easier to kind of close it off. It's actually it's a structure that has, you know, kind of gates and things like that.

11:04

But Julian's well defended.

11:07

Great. It is a fortress of sorts. And it really is, I mean, that's what it's designed life, but Julian Gale clearly enjoys it. And I'll add that what's interesting about him is that you're absolutely right. He's there very much as a representative of the greatness of the English theatre. And yet we find out that he's been coming to Corfu for many years that he knows the island very well that he has an extended relationship with some of the families that he's actually the godfather of the twins, you know, the Greek twins that factor into the story. And so he is particularly fun because he can talk about Corfu and its history and why he thinks it's the setting of The Tempest, but he actually has a lot of local knowledge. And yet he still does read as being someone who very much as part of the English Theatre World.

Linda 11:56

Yes. And as you mentioned earlier, he does not take himself so seriously, he is willing to engage in the rap party with Lucy and quite enjoys her company, in fact, and he's aware that his son would prefer that he not see outside people, but he does welcome Lucy in as a fellow actor, you know, a fellow thespian and someone with whom he can really have fun.

Suzanne 12:21

Yes, I think that's right, that he sees her for him. It's this breath of London, where she will just come from and where she was actively working in the theatre, even though she very quickly admits that her last job ended abruptly when the play closed. And it was not a very good play. And she had a very small role. And yet, you know, she's sort of giving him something that he hasn't had, which is this fresh news. And there's a reference to them being able to sort of do some theatrical gossip together, which is really fun. So he is one of my favorite characters in the Stewart books. He's just a wonderful character, I think

Linda 12:57

He really is. And also, when Lucy's telling him about her play closing, he of everybody else can understand that you can have a great part and you can be terrific in it. And the play can close for circumstances beyond your control. And it's not a reflection on your skills as an actor, but you still find yourself out of work.

Suzanne 13:21

Right? And certainly, if he was any doubt when he recites as some lines from The Tempest, and as yet he can't see her she answers back long from The Tempest, even before he sees her. He knows that this is someone serious enough to understand the theater and some of the classic texts of the theater. And that I think, Stewart is also telling us as the reader, yes, she may be a younger actor, she may not be successful yet. And yet, this is something that she lives and breathes and knows very well. So it's a serious vocation for her.

Linda 13:58

Yes, absolutely. But she's willing to step outside of that comfort zone and do what needs to be done where she is. And one of the things we've talked about in the past, is her willingness to jump into the bay when the dolphin is being shot out with no regard at the moment for her own safety. And one thing I've thought about, is when you're in the character's point of view, you are with them at the moment so I could totally see you think that someone is unaware that the dolphin is in the bay. And so when she jumps to its defense, hoping to a) alert the shooter that there's someone there and b) to scare the dolphin away that you're not thinking that oh, my God, he could shoot me too. Like she wasn't thinking in terms of someone deliberately trying to shoot it. She was thinking it was an accidental shooting, and that it would stop as soon as they were made aware of her presence, which they do, but not for the reasons exactly that she thought,

Suzanne 15:01

Right? The dolphin really propels her into the mystery. The dolphin shooting is what introduces her to Max Gale. So the dolphin almost becomes the character that beckons her into the mystery. We could talk about Stewart as someone who just writes about animal life really beautifully. She doesn't always do it, but she does it beautifully when she does do it. And I think that scene also, in terms of the setting, it sets up this kind of tension that the water people on Corfu, particularly right here on the coast, the water is life giving its way brings a lot of people their income. The references to The Tempest make clear that it is a place that begins the play in a sort of magical moment when you're safe from shipwreck and you know, the bay is absolutely gorgeous and it has more or less time dolphin in it. So right you get on the one hand that water is life-affirming and beautiful and magical. But throughout the book, the water will lend itself to some of the scariest scenes.

Linda 16:05

Yes, and it occurs to me as we're talking about it to just the way the book is laid out. Lucy meets the dolphin and then shortly after meets Godfrey and at the end the dolphin is what saves her from Godfrey who turns out to be the villain of the piece.

Suzanne 16:22

That's a great point, that she saves the dolphin when they first meet but the book ends when it helps push her to safety after she has ended up on a boat with the villain. And there really is no way of getting off a boat in the middle of seven miles of water or whatever it is with the villain. The only way you can save yourself is not to be in the boat.

Linda 16:43

This has been so much fun talking about This Rough Magic with you as always. It's been a pleasure, Suzanne. Thank you.

 Suzanne 16:49

Thank you, Linda. It's a delight to be with you.

Linda 16:52

Thank you for joining me this week. To view the complete show notes and the links mentioned in today's episode, visit Tart Words.com/tart110. Before you go, subscribe to the podcast to receive new episodes when they're released. Subscribe now in the app you're using to listen to this podcast or sign up for email alerts through an easy signup form for bakers, readers and writers at Tart Words.com/About. Thank you again for joining me, Linda Hengerer, for this episode of Tart Words.

 

Suzanne Fox

Guest

Suzanne Fox writes fiction and nonfiction, reviews books for Publishers Weekly, edits the online journal Society Nineteen, and works with authors to shape, publish and market their work. Her handmade jewelry and digital art (including that for the Tart Words Mary Stewart podcasts) is inspired by favorite books and authors. A graduate of the Columbia University MFA Writing program, Suzanne now lives in North Carolina. Find out more about Suzanne at www.bookstrategy.com and www.societynineteenjournal.com.